The Military Front
“They want more than the Donbas. What they say is a lie.”
The Ukrainian crisis has now evolved into a three-front war that simultaneously includes military battles in Ukraine, a refugee crisis in Poland, and the crippling impact of Western sanctions on the Russian economy. Today’s commentary will focus on the dramatic developments taking place on the military front. Subsequent commentaries will focus on the humanitarian crisis and the impact of Western sanctions.
Putin’s Plan A
Putin assumed that his invincible war machine would quickly capture Kyiv, decapitate the Ukrainian government, and easily suppress any scattered resistance. He also assumed that the divided and distracted NATO countries would only offer token opposition. These Plan A assumptions have all proven to be flawed. Inspired by President Zelensky’s courageous leadership, Ukraine’s forces have exposed serious weaknesses in the Russian army. At the same time, an aroused and united NATO alliance has imposed unprecedented sanctions on the Russian economy while at the same time pouring lethal weapons into Ukraine.
Russia’s botched invasion and fierce Ukrainian counterattacks have inflicted severe losses on Putin’s army. American intelligence estimates that as many as 10,000 Russian soldiers have died since fighting began on February 24. If accurate, this staggering loss would exceed America’s combined military casualties in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Keep in mind that Russia’s population of 140 million people is only 41 percent of America’s population of 340 million people. A Russian loss of 10,000 soldiers would thus equate to a proportional loss of 25,000 U.S. soldiers in just one month!
Russia’s New Game Plan
The Russian casualty rate is clearly unsustainable. Battered Russian forces are now assuming defensive positions as their ground operation toward Kyiv grinds to a halt. However, at the same time they are intensifying military operations in the Donbas region in southeastern Ukraine. The Russian Defense Ministry confirmed this shift in strategy by announcing that the “first stage of this operation” has now been “mostly accomplished” thus enabling Russian forces to secure the Donbas region.
Today’s map highlights Russia’s extensive campaign in the east. Russia’s relentless and barbaric bombing has destroyed 90 percent of the buildings in the strategic city of Mariupol. Their atrocities now include deliberately bombing a theatre sheltering innocent women and children. Reports now indicate that this heinous war crime claimed the lives of about 300 people.
Russia’s apparent shift in military strategy raises a number of questions. Does the new messaging from Russia represent a face-saving exit ramp that will enable Putin to claim victory and end the war? Could the Ukrainian government accept a negotiated settlement that includes the loss of the Donbas region? Or is Putin simply stalling so he can buy time while he resupplies the Russian army? One deeply suspicious Ukrainian official offered this assessment: “They want more than the Donbas. What they say is a lie.”
FOR DISCUSSION AND WRITING
1. List 3 flawed assumptions in Putin’s Plan A invasion.
2. Given the current military situation, should the Ukrainian government accept a cease-fire that includes the loss of the Donbas region?
3. “They want more than the Donbas. What they say is an absolute lie.” Write a short response in which you agree or disagree with this assessment of Russian intentions.
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION
Today’s commentary draws upon reports from ABC News with David Muir and Anderson Cooper 360. In addition, the Washington Post article “Russia Shows Signs of Changing Course” and the New York Times article “Russia Shifts From Kyiv to Eastern Front” provided a comprehensive overview of the current military situation in Kyiv.
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