Napoleon’s One Hundred Days were effectively ended at the Battle of Waterloo. Defeat at the battle signaled the end of his military and political career. Post-Waterloo Napoleon would live out his days on the island of St. Helena, exiled to the farthest corner of civilization. It was an ignominious end for one of the greatest military commanders in history. Napoleon only had himself to blame for taking his ambitions to the most extreme limits. Vladimir Putin is no Napoleon, but he could meet a similar fate due to his invasion of Ukraine.
Scaling Back – Russia Finds A Rare Success
As the one hundredth day of Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine approaches, the consensus is clear. Vladimir Putin’s wartime leadership has proven to be inept. His defining characteristic has been malevolence. Any veneer of statesmanship has been stripped away, revealing a man of such cynicism that he is being compared (not unfairly) to Hitler. That is quite an achievement for a man whose nation inherited the Soviet legacy of ending Nazism in Europe. Putin’s regime has singlehandedly managed to resurrect fascism. In the process, Putin has joined a pantheon of history’s worst demagogues while prosecuting the most violent military campaign in Europe since the end of World War II. The Russian war effort in Ukraine has exposed Putin as an incompetent military strategist. And yet despite, or perhaps because of Putin’s grotesque decision making, the Russian Army persists in its campaign to subdue Ukraine.
During the past few weeks, the Russian military has finally enjoyed some rare successes on the battlefield. They are now on the verge of capturing the entire Luhansk region. Much is being made of this in the international media. Commentators are beginning to say that the supposed Russian military colossus has finally gotten its act together. That may or may not be true. After several months of disaster on the battlefield one thing is clear, Russia has scaled back its military objectives to something more attainable. The giant pincer movement to surround all Ukrainian forces in the Donbas region, has been turned into a more limited operation to do the same thing on a smaller scale. It is doubtful whether the current offensive can be sustained much longer. What happens next on both sides of the battlefield could go a long way in deciding the war.
Difficult Decisions – The Fog of War
The fog of war has descended upon the Ukraine-Russia conflict, leaving more questions than answers at this crucial juncture in the war. The biggest question is a quite simple one, who is winning the war? It is on everyone’s mind, but it is impossible to answer. The Ukrainians scored one success after another during the first two months of the war, but the past couple of weeks have dealt their military effort several setbacks. The first was the fall of Mariupol after the last Ukrainian forces defending the Azovstal Iron & Steel Works surrendered. This was the first true loss of the war for Ukraine. While it had been expected, the collapse of resistance at Azovstal offered a boost to the Russian military. The conquest of Mariupol showed that their strategy of constant bombardment was successful. They have implemented the same kind of tactics in the Donbas, where the relatively flat, open terrain is advantageous to the Russians.
While the fall of Mariupol was a blow to Ukraine, no one can quantify how much their resistance, altered the course of Russian strategy in other theaters of the war. That resistance bought them time to bolster their defensive works across hundreds of kilometers in eastern Ukraine. This was crucial since the Russian war effort has now shifted entirely to the Donbas, specifically the Luhansk region where they are slowly plodding forward. At this moment, the Russian forces are on the verge of surrounding Severodontesk, the last city to hold out in the region. The Ukrainians are now left with a difficult decision. They could continue the fight and inflict more damage on the rapidly dwindling Russian forces. The problem is that this strategy runs the risk of repeating what happened in Mariupol. The other option is to cede territory. The Ukrainian Army could do this by pulling back their forces to the high ground at Kramatorsk and Slovyansk, two key cities located in the Donetsk region. The latter seems the better strategy, but the foundation of Ukrainian resistance is built on superior morale.
Giving up territory, even as part of a strategic retreat, is a difficult decision. One that many Ukrainians will have trouble stomaching. When Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky says the situation in the Donbas is “incredibly difficult” and makes a morale boosting trip to the front in Kharkiv, that says a great deal about the difficulties Ukrainian forces are facing in the near term. If the Ukrainians do decide to pull back, their loss may turn into an opportunity in the long run as the Russians will have to further extend their supply lines. The deeper they get into Ukraine, the more precarious their position. This is a crucial point because the Ukrainians are due to be supplied with long range missiles from the United States that could rain destruction down on Russian supply lines.
Supporting Success – Calls For Assistance
The delivery of weapons to Ukraine by NATO members and other European allies could turn the war’s tide in its favor. Conversely, if the weapons are not forthcoming – which has already happened on several occasions – it could lead to failure on the field of battle with dire geopolitical consequences. For Ukraine failure is not an option. Their existence is threatened by defeat on the battlefield. The same holds true to a lesser extent for its closest allies such as Poland, the Baltic States, Romania and Finland. Other nations such as Sweden, Canada and the United States have been extremely supportive of Ukraine’s war effort.
This is crucial because the difference between victory and defeat in the Battle of Donbas is based upon continued assistance from its allies. Right now, Ukraine’s immediate situation on the battlefield is difficult. That should improve in the coming weeks, but only if they are provided with the weapons and ammunition needed to defeat Russia. Up to this point in the war, Ukraine’s calls for assistance have been mostly answered. They must hope that this support continues, their existence depends upon it.
Click here for: No Win Situation – Ukraine & Russia Fighting To The Finish (The Russian Invasion of Ukraine #89)