Analysis: the battle for Donbas is the key stage in the battle for Ukraine

“All quiet on the Eastern Front,” – Erich Maria Remarque would probably write about the current situation in the Russian-Ukrainian war.

And he would be right, because, unfortunately, 100 days of war are bringing us all closer to the end of the third stage of the war, which seems to be the most important. In fact, the battle for Donbas can be confidently called the battle for Ukraine. As in the first four or five days of the war, as in anticipation of artillery aid in late April and early May. And today history repeats itself, when the decision to provide Ukraine with powerful guided missile systems (MLRS) already exists, but the systems themselves do not yet exist – they are approaching, and training of the Ukrainian Armed Forces personnel has already begun.

In fact, we have never doubted the ability of Ukraine’s defense forces to withstand the onslaught of the Russian barbarian horde. It is clear that Putin strategically lost the war in the last days of February, when emotions and personal instinct for preservation led him to think about nuclear weapons. However, this war with a huge enemy in terms of size and resources (not to mention the “nuclear club”) can be truly victorious only with consolidated support for the efforts of Ukrainians from the Western, anti-Putin world – powerful weapons and exceptional sanctions. Sanctions and weapons, weapons and sanctions are air for the lungs of Ukrainian soldiers and poison for criminal Kremlin clans. But when Ukraine finds itself on the verge of victory, the Western coalition finds itself in a strange stupor.

Geopolitical exhaustion VS minus Putin’s regime

We would like to draw your attention to the statement made on the last day of May by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the United States Armed Forces, General Mark Milley. The chief US military official said that in the coming weeks there will be either a transition to positional warfare or one of the parties will win with confidence. But Millie also suddenly added that it would be better to end the negotiations.

Why did he say that? As a military man, he understands better than anyone else that at the end of May and the beginning of June, the Ukrainian army did not have the advantage to dominate the negotiations and impose its conditions. So, we are talking about Ukraine’s concessions, and compromises at the expense of Ukrainian interests? Or maybe he indirectly expressed doubts about Ukraine’s ability to defeat Russia on the battlefield? Let’s try to find answers to these questions.

General Milley is primarily military and expresses concern precisely because of the military context of the war. He understands that in the event of at least a partial advantage of Russia and fixation of this advantage, China will inevitably strengthen – keeping Putin as a “legitimate criminal” for the whole world and the aggressor means automatic maintaining a sporadic Russian-Chinese alliance (against the US, of course). For a general, as for a surgeon, it is better to lose a leg than the life of the whole organism. This is what he says about the possibility of compromises.

But no one has canceled the unprecedented morale and heroism of Ukrainian defenders. More than two thousand years ago, Caesar’s indomitable legionaries without food and resources withstood the formidable invasion of Pompey, where invaders had a huge numerical advantage, and for the last two thousand years there have been no critical changes in the human psyche…

There is no complete unity among politicians on some issues. In particular, the leaders of several countries participating in the Rammstein meetings are not convinced that the Putin regime must be destroyed and the political system in Russia must be changed. The Germans, the French, the Italians, the Israelis, and probably the Turks, have many reasons, from the expectation of big business to fears of the consequences of Russia’s collapse. But all members of the anti-Putin coalition are convinced that Ukraine cannot be allowed to lose in this unjust war. This is how the world lives in such a symbiosis of uncertainty: to “press” the Putin Kremlin, but not to violate the vital principles of human existence. If we add to this symbiosis the expectation of a recurrence of Putin’s physical illness or his assassination in Russia itself, the panorama of the world loses its full awareness of reality.

Meeting of representatives of more than 40 countries in Ramstein

But Washington and London seem to understand the strategic mistake of such a strange balancing. At the same time, almost simultaneously with General Milley’s statement, US President Joe Biden announced his decision to provide Ukraine with MLRS. It evoked positive emotions, despite some sad nuances. First of all, there will be few MLRSs, and there will be some restrictions on the range of these sniper artillery (President Zelensky said in advance that the Armed Forces is not interested in destroying military facilities in Russia, but in destroying Russian troops in the occupied territories). Diplomats point out that in this way Washington is preventing a direct US confrontation with Russia. At the same time, comparing this fact with Milley’s speech, as well as with the strengthening of Congress’ control over the Pentagon’s spending, in particular in support of Ukraine, shows something else. In fact, it shows the presence of supporters of the same negotiations and territorial compromises mentioned above within the American ruling elite.

Nevertheless, Biden has taken a powerful step by providing advanced HIMARS launchers capable of using both six missiles for simultaneous volley, as well as an operational-tactical missile MGM140. The latter allows a high-precision shot to hit the enemy at a distance of 300 km. So it means that Biden reserved the opportunity to quickly transfer operational-tactical missiles MGM140 to Ukraine in the event of deterioration. This was actually confirmed by the new US Ambassador to Ukraine Bridget Brink at a briefing in Kyiv on June 2, noting that the next aid packages will be formed in accordance with the analysis of the situation at the front.

HIMARS rocket launchers

The British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is consistent. For example, the United Kingdom has asked the United States to sign a plan to send M270 multiple rocket launcher to Ukraine within a few weeks, which could hit targets at a distance of about 80 kilometers.

Therefore, the rearmament of Ukraine continues. To the US and British efforts can be added recent supplies from Sweden (anti-ship, anti-tank and small arms, and ammunition), Germany (modern IRIS-T air defense systems), Lithuania and Turkey (free transfer of Bayraktar drones to Ukraine), the Czech Republic (helicopters, tanks, and missile systems), Denmark (Harpoon anti-ship missiles) and other partners.

Also the administration of President Joe Biden intends to inform Congress about the possible sale to Ukraine of MQ-1C drones manufactured by General Atomics – the discussion is about supplying four strike drones MQ-1C Gray Eagle (an improved version of the well-known Predator drone that can carry up to eight anti-tank Hellfire missiles). This drone is three times bigger than Bayraktar, which is used very effectively by the Ukrainian defense forces.

MQ-1C Gray Eagle unmanned aircraft system

One cannot but agree that against the background of such events, Scholz’s “fake game” (as Bild wrote) with the slowdown in the supply of Marder’s IFVs looks like Putin’s mockery, as Macron’s calls to the bloody dictator. Of course, they are not the only ones playing. Play on many levels. In particular, American experts, who visited Ukraine at the invitation of the Security Service of Ukraine and studied the military equipment seized from the Russians, came to the disappointing conclusion that Russia’s advanced weapons are built on Western components and technologies.

Towards a new system of international security

Russia must pay a high price for its actions in Ukraine, otherwise, it will be a signal to other aggressor states. These are the words of President Biden in his column in The New York Times. This is a direct reference to the fact that Putin’s possible impunity will be seen as a signal for China to try to seize Taiwan. Therefore, the course of the Russian war against Ukraine and its results will directly affect the construction of new world order. Elements of a new system of international security have already begun to take shape. The very multidimensional support for Ukraine is a completely new phenomenon in the history of wars. And Ukraine deserves to be the cornerstone of this new system.

Admittedly, the Western world is trying to reinsure itself at NATO’s borders. For example, Poland has decided to purchase about 500 HIMARS MLRS launchers, which can be seen as the Alliance’s intention to build a powerful missile wall in the most dangerous areas of Russia’s likely advance.

Meanwhile, the world is waiting for the turning point of the current war.

Estimates of the first 100 days of the “great” war are in Ukraine’s favor when it comes to strategic milestones and results. Thus, British intelligence experts are convinced that during the period of large-scale invasion, Russia has not achieved any strategic goal.

Maybe so. If we ignore the genocide against the Ukrainian people, the destruction of infrastructure, cities, and businesses, the theft of people and resources, and the artificial formation of a humanitarian crisis. Frankly, Putin and his associates have earned a dozen tribunals for crimes. In the world, this case is moving forward, but too slowly. For example, as of June 3, only seven countries had officially recognized the genocide of Putin’s Russia against the Ukrainian people. The EU has approved the sixth package of sanctions, including a partial oil embargo, the disconnection of several banks (including Sberbank) from the SWIFT payment system, as well as personal sanctions against Alina Kabayeva.

If we talk about the purely military dimension of war, the long-awaited signs of fatigue in Russia are still appearing. This is primarily a transition to defense in several areas. Russia has lost more than 30,000 troops within 100 days of the invasion, but the offensive in several areas has not stopped.

The war is advancing on all fronts, albeit slowly. Sometimes with artificial braking. But it is still moving forward. It seems that the main result on a mental, subconscious level is that more and more Ukrainians believe in the victory of Ukraine, and fewer and fewer Russians – in the victory of Russia. Russia is beginning to realize that this war is a senseless, bloody adventure of Putin, a sick man from the Middle Ages.


Volodymyr Horbulin, professor, former secretary of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine, Director of the Institute of National Security Problems

Valentyn Badrak, director of the Center for Army Research, Conversion and Disarmament



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