PODCAST: Where Does the Ukraine War Stand After 6 Months?

Six months ago Russian forces began a full scale invasion of Ukraine. Today the prospect of a quick victory and Ukraine’s capitulation has now given way to a protracted conflict
31st August 202220 min

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Transcript 

[00:00:00] Yusuf: Six months ago Russian forces began a full scale invasion of Ukraine. The world watched in horror as Russian forces bombed Ukraine’s cities and swallowed up the territory. But the war didn’t go according to the Russian plan, Ukraine’s Capital held out and Ukrainian forces caused significant problems for Russia as Western arms continued to arrive in Ukraine. The economic war also expanded as Russia was kicked out of the global financial messaging service, otherwise known as SWIFT and sanctions were placed on Russia. The prospect of a quick victory and Ukraine capitulation has now given way to a protracted conflict. We’ve got Adnan Khan here, the founder of Geopolity to dissect it all for us today. How are you keeping Adnan?

[00:00:53] Adnan: I’m good Yusuf how are you?

[00:00:55] Yusuf: I’m good. I’m good.

Um, did you think that this war was gonna last this long?

[00:01:00] Adnan: I was one of the people who didn’t Russia would eventually invade. I think this was a discussion we had in a podcast at the beginning. I think I predicted like many that’s unlikely Russia would invade when Russia did invade. Uh, I thought Russia would go for a swift victory with overwhelming force. However, they fell into significant problems straight away and although they’ve adjusted, it’s basically cost them and as you mentioned in your introduction, it looks as though we are now really somewhere in the middle of a long protracted conflict.

[00:01:36] Yusuf: So can you summarise the last six months for us?

[00:01:40] Adnan: OK, so I think when we look at the invasion of Ukraine, we should really look at it as two wars. You had the first month and then you’ve got the remainder of the war. In the first month, Russia invaded, it carried out full scale invasion. We are now very clear that Russia’s aim was to conquer the country, conquer the capital. The government was going to be overthrown. The president was gonna be captured and there will be a swift russian victory. However, in the first few weeks, it all came to a standstill and fundamentally Russian logistics, the historical enemy of Russia really caused its significant problems again. So the famous pictures of the column of tanks and armored vehicles going from the north Belarus to Kyiv all came to a standstill. They run out of petrol. They ran out of vehicles to come and bring petrol to the front line. You’re at war you can’t just go to a local petrol station and fill up your tank. And this was really just the beginning of some of the significant problems Russia had. So they invaded from the north. They invaded from the east in the Donbas region which russia’s occupied since 2014. They invaded from the south through Crimea and the hope was that these three fronts will meet each other in Kyiv the capital and that would be the end of the war. Funny enough, the soldiers who were on the front lines even took their parade uniforms with them because Russia estimated within three days, it would overthrow the regime and it would actually carry out a parade. We know this because some of these soldiers were captured or when they were defeated around Kyiv they legged it and they left all their equipment and a lot of this parade equipment was actually found by the Ukrainian forces. So what we’ve seen is Ukraine has put up a spirited defense, which actually surprised Russia and this war will probably always be remembered for the numerous assumptions russia made about a quick victory. None of them actually came true in the end. We also saw the west start an economic war. I think it’s official now Russia is the most sanctioned country in history and after six months, we’re pretty much at a stalemate. Russia now needs more troops, more weapons, more money just to capture territories in front of Crimea and Donbas regions is occupied for over five, six years. And yes, Ukraine suffered terrible losses. Its cities have been bombed back to the stone age, but they continue to receive modern weapons from the west, which will allow them to continue fighting in this war. As long as public opinion remains for the war.

[00:04:10] Yusuf: I think it would be good adnan if we can go back a little and explain to myself and the audience, why Russia invaded in the first place, was it something that it had to?

[00:04:20] Adnan: So Yusuf this is actually the million dollar question. Why did Russia invade, did it really need to even invade. Since the collapse of the Soviet union, Russia has consistently made clear the importance of Ukraine. It sees Ukraine as a nation that gives it strategic depth. It obviously has cultural links with the country. One thing that has been consistent is the importance of Ukraine for Russia. Russia’s leaders have been watching since the 1990s, the EU expand further and further to Russia’s border. They’ve seen NATO expand further and further to Russia’s borders. And really Ukraine was the final straw for Russia. So on this side they’ve been making it very, very clear that Ukraine is a existential issue and at some point Russia would respond. So last year in November for Russia enough was enough. You had talks of Ukraine possibly beginning talks to join NATO. So Russia began moving its troops around Ukraine. And from November until February, the debate was will they really invade. It this really just a show of force. And obviously we saw end of February they invaded. Now what makes this action of invading quite interesting is Russia’s had significant problem the last couple of years in other territories, which are former Soviet Republics. So we’ve seen in Kazakhstan, there was an uprising last couple of years, there was a war between Armenia and Azerbaijan, where Armenia that supported by Russia faired really, really badly. And then even in Belarus and uprising about two years, Because there was a contested election. In all of these cases, Russia didn’t deploy its army. It didn’t invade, it used its economic card. It used its energy wealth and it politically maneuvered into a favorable position. And I think we’ve gotta keep in mind that the Baltic states Estonia, Lavia and Lithuania. The first two share borders of Russia. They’re part of NATO and they’re part of the EU. We see no invasion by Russia. So I think it’s one of those things we have to wait until the war’s over. We have to wait until Russiam officials give us the official line, but Russia has always viewed Ukraine as existential. It’s always seen it as a strategic issue and for them the encroachment of the west, something had to be done.

[00:06:32] Yusuf: So at the beginning Russia did think it was gonna have a quick victory, but it actually turned quite bad for Russia. What actually happened then?

[00:06:40] Adnan: So Russia Yusuf, its invasion was based on a number of assumptions that very quickly proved to be completely wrong and not just completely wrong they completely missed the mark. So the Russian military believed that in a matter of days, it could overthrow for the regime. And I’ve been hearing the number three days quite consistently. They thought they could wrap this all up in three days. Now, keep in mind. Ukraine is the largest country in Europe from a territorial perspective. They believed that the capital Kyiv would fall pretty quickly. They even had their parade uniforms ready for the official parade that they would do. They assumed that people would put up no resistance when they see the red army invade and they never envisaged that there would be a protracted war. They thought it will be really a quick show. But what you find the invasion from the north from Belarus quickly got stuck. It got bogged down. So it would seem that Russia was very confident due to its recent military interventions in places like Syria that they could invade Ukraine and it will be a ealk in the park. As a result what it seems happened was they did not make the relevant preparations for a war. What they thought is it’s gonna be a quick war, so we don’t need to resource it. And as a result in the first few weeks, All of that really caught up with them. They realized they didn’t have enough troops. They realized they didn’t have enough logistics. They realized they need more heavy weapons because Ukrainians are putting up more resistance. But I would say Yusuf, Russia generally has a history of starting walls badly. World war II they refused to believe Hitler was even invading, even when he had gone into Ukraine, the war in Chechnya for a decade, the Chechen’s held him to stalemate. So Russia generally does have a history of starting wars badly and that’s when they make adjustments. And it seems that’s what they have done on this occasion as well.

[00:08:25] Yusuf: Now at the start, there was a, what seemed like a united Western front against Russia, but I feel like that’s now cracking. How would you describe the Western response? And do you actually see a Western block forming? Is it in the making like, like during the cold war?

[00:08:43] Adnan: So this is the image America’s tried to create that there’s a united Western front and the whole world, the international community, the Western world is coming together to deal with an invasion, which is just something you don’t do in the 21st century. So the Western response has probably seen the deepest and widest ranging sanctions we’ve really seen in history. Russia now officially is the most sanctioned country in history. Considering countries like North Korea and Iran have been under sanctions for a longer period, even they haven’t received such sanctions. So you find Yusuf, Russia have been cut from much of the international financial system. I think half of its $640 billion reserves are frozen and these are assets or cash thats held abroad. Technologies like semiconductors vital for both military equipment and commercial products like cell phones and cars. They’ve all been embargoed. So Russia can’t get hold of them. Over 600 Russian oligarchs and Russian elites, including Putin and his family have been individually sanctioned. Russia’s also been banned from a host of sports events and cultural events. So the FIFA world cup they’re banned now the, international ice hockey tournament, formula one, and even the Eurovision song contest, Russia was banned. Russian players were banned from tennis as well from Wimbledon as well. And also what we’ve seen is there’s been serious restrictions placed on Russian energy purchases. And this last sanction Yusuf is what’s caused a lot of divisions and really shown the cracks in the Western response. So naturally Yusuf some countries are heavily reliant upon Russian energy and for them to sanction Russia, completely isolate Russia, it has strategic issues for them because they’re relying energy. So countries like Germany, countries like Italy, Eastern European countries. You’re gonna put sanctions on Russia and they can’t get Russian energy, they have no alternative. And it’s this last area really that’s getting in the way of a Western response. In fact, Russia in the first six months has made more money from exports of gas than it has for the previous few years. Because price of oil has gone up they’ve actually made even more money. So the Western is trying to show that they’re united, but the reality here is, cracks are emerging on that front and with Russia potentially cutting gas exports over winter, that will probably deepen the divide on the Western front as well. I’ve been keeping in mind Yusuf that even before the war started, France and Germany were reluctant to put sanctions or even face off against Russia. In fact, Germany said sanctions should be a last resort. And obviously once Russia invaded they sided with America, but the German foreign minister has said that if we keep supporting Ukraine and keep upsetting Russia and Russia keeps reducing the amount of energy its exporting, you got a winter coming up and they’re expecting social unrest actually in the country. So all of this, it really affects the united front against Russia.

[00:11:34] Yusuf: You’ve briefly touched on Russia’s response. Can you go into a bit more detail about how, what Russia’s strategy has been to push back against Western sanctions?

[00:11:43] Adnan: Okay. So russia’s, it appears to follow three strategies to push back against a sanctions. So finding alternative trade partners, sanction busting, and using domestic offsets. So in terms of finding alternative partners, although many countries joined the sanctions, some key countries didn’t. So China, it didn’t join the sanctions regime, and it’s actually increased its oil imports and provided military goods to Russia. India increased Russian oil imports from 1% to 20%. And Saudi Arabia and the UAE, they refused to increase oil production to offset the reduction in oil and gas from Russia. And as a result that led to a huge increase in global oil prices and its actually ensured that the earnings from energy have actually gone up for Russia rather than actually gone down. Alongside that hundreds and thousands of metric tons of Ukrainian green have been stolen by Russia and shipped to Russian allies. Other sanction busting includes oligarchs and Putin cronies finding offshore tax and banking havens and safe harbours for their super yachts. There’s also been hikes in the central bank interest rate and capital controls have helped bring the ruble back from its an issue decline. What Russia also did domestically is it carried out a lot of arrests and political repression against initial wave of protests within Russia against the actual war itself. So Russian counter sanctions, more significantly cutting natural gas supplies to European union. They’re really having a bite off their own. So what America and the West are finding is this isn’t a country that you can sanction. It’s not gonna fight back. Russia has the energy card and its already using that energy card. And it’s probably gonna use that card even more now during the winter, which is really gonna hurt Europe.

[00:13:27] Yusuf: Let’s talk about the other side. , Ukraine, it does seem like Ukraine has performed a lot better than anyone would ever expected. Can you go into some of the details, some of the strategy that Ukraine employed to do this?

[00:13:42] Adnan: Ukraine effectively It’s used assymmetric, unconventional warfare tactics against Russia. And these are the same tactics that proved to be so successful for the Taliban against American forces. It’s the same strategy just the geography is different. Ukraine is flat land and Afghanistan was mountainous but the tactics are the same. And what that really is, is rather than taking on the army directly. What you do is you break down into smaller units and you just attack the supply line. So you make it hell for your enemy to expand, to increase their hold on the country and Russia was already suffering even before this started, Russia was already struggling with logistics. So what the Ukrainian forces have done is rather than fighting at the advantage of the Russians, they fought at their own strength. The other thing Ukraine also did, it had a small air force and it contested Russia’s air force over the area of battle. So they didn’t fight Russian air forces across the whole country, what they would do, where Russia was providing a cover for its troops in those areas, Ukraine would challenge Russia’s air force. So it meant instead of covering the whole of Ukraine, which would’ve overstretched Ukraine’s air force. They only challenged Russia in areas where physical fighting was going on. So that was a very good use of Ukraine’s air force. What they also did was each time Russia took over a city, they worked to effectively deny Russia complete control over these cities. So what it meant when Russia would take over city would complicate their presence there, it would attack their supply lines. It would carry out, hit and run attacks. And there was no way for Russia to attack the ukranian army because they weren’t fighting as a conventional army with backup troops, with supply lines and things like that. Also because Russia vehicles got stuck. In and around cities, they were forced to actually go along roads around these cities. And what Ukraine did was they would attack these columns and that caused them significant problems, as well. Eventually Russia became less, less confident in carrying out attacks. And Russia actually became even less confident in carrying out air warfare as well. So really by operating in small units, the Ukrainians maintained mobility for their forces and they turned their cities into fortresses for them but it complicated Russia’s logistics and communications. So by holding some cities and contesting others the Ukrainian army forced Russia troops to contemplate street by street fighting, but it also made it impossible for Russia to move troops by rail, into Ukraine’s Heartland. So whilst Russia cast still move troops by road, they have to avoid Ukrainian counter attacks. So this is why, Ukraine was able to cause Russia, lots of casualties, because they kept harassing Russian forces and Russia in effect fell into the same problem it fell into when it invaded Afghanistan all those years ago. But what Ukraine has done, just like the Taliban is they’ve actually operated as a light mobile maneuver force who has made it very difficult for a very heavily armed army to move very, very quickly. And that’s really why six months after the war began, we’re still talking about it.

[00:16:52] Yusuf: Now, there might be an obvious answer to this question, but why doesn’t Russia just use its nuclear weapons.

[00:17:00] Adnan: So it is the same reason why America spent 20 years in Afghanistan, didnt use nuclear weapons. It’s why it spent so many years in Vietnam. It didn’t use nuclear weapons. Interesting you’d find all the nuclear powers have gone to war lost wars and still not used their nuclear weapons. So what you tend to find is all nuclear powers they’re quite confident their conventional army can win a war. So there’s no use no need to use nuclear weapons. The army would go in. It would win the enemy would capitulate, no need to use nuclear weapons. Now, if America did use nuclear weapons last year in Afghanistan when it left, it wouldn’t have made a difference on the number of troops it lost. It wouldn’t have made any difference to the situation of the war because it’s lost all those troops. It’s lost all that money. It’s lost all that equipment. It’s too late in the day. So in the case of Russia, obviously Russia’s aim is it wants to use Ukraine as a buffer. Against the west. So a radioactive buffer doesn’t help anybody. A radioactive fallout from a nuclear strike would affect the whole of Europe. It would affect Russia. Nuclear weapons don’t respect borders and especially the fallout from nuclear weapons. So what you find is from time to time when the war was going bad, Russia would mention something about nuclear weapons. It would say we’ve put our nuclear weapons on alert. It will take over a nuclear reactor and it will say, well, if you attack us and there’s a nuclear explosion, it’s not our fault. And I think a lot of this really is just to build alarm it’s just to show, do you really want to mess with us. Because on the battlefield Russia’s conventional war wasn’t going well. So it doesn’t serve Russia’s interests to drop a nuke, they want to win Ukraine. They want Ukraine to capitulate and they believe they can still do that. Using a nuclear weapon you’re just gonna have a massive redactive crator. Your oil won’t be able to go through the pipelines anymore. It’s gonna affect global trade. I mean, Europe basically will be living under a nuclear sky. So that doesn’t serve anybody’s interest at the end day, Russia wants to win in Ukraine and it wants to benefit from that victory. It doesn’t want an ugly victory where you win, but you carry it out a genocide. But now that land is barran land for a thousand years it’s a radioactive site.

[00:19:02] Yusuf: Now how far do you think Russia is to a victory and what challenges does it have in achieving it.

[00:19:07] Adnan: So Russia’s strategy now Yusuf seems to be, to secure the Donbas region in the east of Ukraine and the Crimean region, in the south. So you find in both these regions, Russia’s been able to push slightly more forward, probably 20 to 30 miles, obviously their hope at the beginning was they will push all the way to the whole of Ukraine. I think that they’ve given up now. They physically don’t have the forces for that. So for them to achieve this, they need to occupy around 120 miles more of territary they already have. And the reason why I say this number is if you occupy Donbas the Ukranians can still fire missiles at you. So what you need to do to expand that territory so that then it takes out their range of missiles that they actually have. Now, the problem is if they’re going to do this, that’s a very large area russia will have to invade and occupy. And Russia tried that at the beginning and it was a complete failure. So Russia has to effectively get to the outskirts of the capital to maintain its occupation. And as I mentioned, this is something it struggled to do at the beginning of the war. Russia has struggld in maintaining territorial control. Every time it wins an area, it struggles to actually keep it as well. And probably the biggest challenge Russia faces in a victory is troop numbers. I think Russia just today announced is going to increase the number of troops that it had to over 2 million. But what we found for the moment is Russia is heavily relying upon retired officers, on militia groups, even groups from Syria. It’s running outta troops very, very quickly because it’s, it didn’t envisage the war actually last this long. There’s also economic cost to the war. The longer it goes on sanctions will eventually start to bite Russia, for the moment it’s managed to withstand them. But at the moment, the life of most Russians hasn’t been impacted to the point where they’re turning against the war. So in a summary Yusuf russia’s current solution is to go marginally deeper into Ukraian territory, to secure strategic depth against missiles in strategically occupied territory, without making a play for the whole of Ukraine. And this will take up significant resources. And that’s why it’s only a matter of time I feel before Russia steps up overtures for negotiated settlement in the conflict. But for it to do that, it needs to take over more territory. If it doesn’t, then Ukraine would be pretty confident that it can actually reverse what Russia’s done.

[00:21:23] Yusuf: Let’s say ukraine wins the war. What would a victory look like for them?

[00:21:29] Adnan: So that’s a complicated question for Ukraine. What does victory actually look like? And for the moment, victory for them is just not losing. I think it’s quite unlikely Donbas and Crimea will ever go back to Ukraine. Now, is that something they are happy to live with? Now the areas Russia occupies today are about 10%- 20% of total Ukrainian in territory. However, the problem is this is where 90% of Ukraine’s energy resources are and it’s also where Ukraine’s ports are. So really for Ukraine, they can’t really afford to lose any territory. If they lose territory, Ukraine really will be completely dependent upon the west. It won’t really be an independent nation. Now Ukraine will be completing its training on Western donated weapons in the next few weeks and months. And this equipment is very sophisticated missiles and heavy armory, and this will help it’ll make a big difference for it in the actual war. So for the moment, Ukraine is saying, there is absolutely no chance of negotiations. Their view is we’re going to reverse Russia’s gains and we’re gonna reoccupy and retake all the erritory that we’ve actually lost. Now the initial support from Europe for Ukraine is not the same anymore. There was a whole spirited support for Ukraine at the beginning. We’ll take your children. We’ll take your women. We’ll house them with a cost of living crisis now growing in Europe, this is actually changing quite significantly. In fact, refugees now in some countries in Eastern Europe are being sent back to Ukraine whilst a few months ago, they were all being taking in. So in the long run, Ukraine is completely dependent upon Western help upon Western weapons upon Western money. So their strategy seems to be the Ukrainian strategy is to just increase the cost for Russia. And their hope is by increasing the cost of a Russian occupation, Russia will basically give up or pursue talks.

[00:23:19] Yusuf:  With all that’s happened between Russia and Ukraine, do you ever see there being any prospects of talks between them?

[00:23:27] Adnan: So there will be talks at some point. The question is when, at the moment, both countries are categorically saying no negotiation and that’s because in many ways they want to improve their position for when they go and negotiate. Russia would ideally want to take a chunk of the country and then negotiate it. Because it’s in a stronger position. Ukraine would want to push Russia back or hold Russian advances. So then Russia’s forced to negotiate and that’s really what’s going on here. It’s six months and the Ukrainian leadership wants to show its people we’re winning and by going into negotiations, It could be considered you’re in the weaker position. So I think there will be talks eventually. I think the talks are probably more dependent upon the Western sentiment for the war. I think once public opinion shifts in the west, then I think the Western rulers will push the Ukraine leader to actually come to the negotiating table. He will probably say he doesn’t want to, but they will say we’re gonna start halting weapons transfer to you. Then you will actually have no choice. I think from a Russian side, they can keep going probably for another six months to a year. Until the economic aspect starts to hurt. But they’ve got plans to expand the territory they hold and then come to negotiations. So they, these are the factors that really impact to a large degree when talks will take place.

 

 

 

One comment

  • Hassan

    9th September 2022 at 12:06 pm

    According to pro-russ ‘analysts’, the initial march towards Kiev was a ruse, a deception to make ukraine army depart from donbas towards central ukraine. Dont know what to believe.

    Reply

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