Ukraine is no Verdun and 2022 is no 1916. Yet, both the Russian and the Ukrainian forces are battling hard to wear down each other by stretching the conflict. As the Ukraine war readies to enter its fifth month, Russian President Vladimir Putin should be dreaming to shatter the record of Verdun’s 300-plus war-days to deplete Ukraine’s men and machinery to the point of debilitation. Such theories are prodding global military analysts to ask how long will this war of depreciation and disintegration go on.
Truly a Ding-dong Battle
A difficult question it is. Expectedly, analysts are perplexed at the alternating successes and setbacks of Russian and Ukrainian forces. While Russia has posted quick gains in the south, it had to slow down in Mariupol and near Mykolaiv. A determined Ukraine is proving its mettle and beating Russia down in these two theatres with its stiff resistance. The Ukraine war is truly a ding-dong battle now.
Such now-in and now-out positions inject great suspense into this tortuous Ukraine war. Reportedly, Russia has taken over most of the eastern city of Severodonetsk, but Ukraine is putting up resistance in the industrial zone in the west. The seesawing continues. In eastern Ukraine, Russia did manage to log in net gains. But, again those do not mean much. Despite both sides knowing well nothing conclusive will come about soon, they are soldiering on, possibly to do a replay of Verdun.
On the Same Losing Scale
Despite Russia putting up a brave front, its losses exceed Ukraine’s, in terms of men, money and war machine. A Western estimate puts the loss of life around 20,000 for the Russian and allied forces in the 106 days ended 9 June 2022. In the same period, Ukraine lost slightly more than 10,000 lives. As on end May 2022, Russia’s net gains in eastern Ukraine, according to Rochan Consulting, are slightly over 450 square kilometres, which is nothing major.
These figures do not imply Ukraine is in a happy state. Despite lack of conclusive evidence of its losses, analysts say Ukraine’s losses are expanding to World War proportions. If this is to be believed, Ukraine is on the same losing scale as Russia, whose failures are not characteristic of a global superpower.
Slaying Goliaths Not Strange
If analysts are tempted to equate the Ukraine war with the battle of Verdun, will the former too end the same way? Though Verdun began as a smart German offensive, it concluded finally as an offensive victory for the French. Can we expect the Ukraine war to end in a victory for Ukraine?
Such a possibility cannot be ruled out totally. Ukraine has the support of many large nations and gets financial and advanced military aid from them, plus plenty of psychological and moral support. Without directly diving in, United States has unconditionally committed itself to the cause of Ukrainians. Reportedly, US is training Ukrainians on its rocket launchers. What more, you have a gritty and a determined Zelenskyy to infuse so much firepower into this weaponry. Davids do slay Goliaths.
Willing to Wear the Boots
Take a close look now at the military recruiting strategies of Russia and Ukraine. While Russia has been forced to induct former service men at a high cost-to-exchequer, Ukraine is fighting pretty with an unending source of spirited soldiers, professional and amateur, trained and untrained.
This constant supply of motivated fighters is doing wonders for Ukraine. More new recruits for its crucial offensives in the east and south can turn the tide in Ukraine’s favour. As Russia girds itself to take over Severodonetsk, many ordinary Ukrainians have expressed their willingness to wear the boots. This will make a positive difference to Ukraine.
The Incorrigible Sceptic
No doubt, Ukraine too is prepared for a long-drawn conflict. Its confidence stems from the rapid rises in its stockpile of weapons, continuously replenished by sympathising and supporting nations across the globe. This war inventory will make Ukraine a dreaded David. The midget is becoming proficient in handling sophisticated weapons. President Biden’s $40bn package will help Ukraine tone up its military muscle.
Least bothered, Putin’s body language appears to be saying. The incorrigible sceptic he is, Putin loves to mock the antagonists of his autocracy, particularly the West. He feels fissures are widening within Europe to his advantage. He is confident of driving a deep wedge within the anti-Russia lobby with his ability to push energy prices and disturb the equilibrium in their economies. Precisely, it is this arrogance translating now into staying power for Putin.
High time Putin realised cockiness crashes before a collapse. Writing on the battle of Verdun in May 1916, a French lieutenant noted down in his diary: “Hell cannot be so terrible. Men are mad.” Putin’s attritional war in Ukraine will prove he is a mad man unleashing a terrible hell on earth.
Not everything is lost for our planet. Consider, the embattled Verdun finally transformed into a capital of peace. Ukraine might do this tomorrow. Let the autocrats of today look at the poignant image of the German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and the French President Francois Mitterand holding hands for long in wind-propelled rain in 1984. Hope the eyes of our autocrats see Putin and Zelenskyy there instead.