The gulf between what Ukraine thinks it is achieving vis-a-vis its defeat of the Russian invasion and the reality on the ground is growing astronomically. There are some stark facts that must be acknowledged:
- Ukraine’s air force is inactive. Whatever still exists is not providing close air support to besieged Ukrainian troops or carrying out aerial attacks against Russian positions.
- Ukraine’s rotary wing aircraft–i.e., helicopters–also is inactive. Only a few helicopters remain and they rarely venture to the front. They are not hitting Russian truck and tank columns with air launched rockets.
- Ukraine’s tank battalions are non-existent in the Donbas and Kherson. Ukraine keeps its tanks dispersed and camouflaged to protect what remains from air and artillery strikes.
- Ukraine has shown no ability to reinforce besieged troops and launch a counter attack that pushes the Russians back permanently.
- Ukraine has used HIMARS, artillery and saboteurs to hit some key Russian ammo depots, but these, so far, are isolated incidents and have not changed the strategic picture.
I have been a target of criticism for taking on the media and opinion reports that portray Russia as desperate and losing. I do this because it is important that someone try to objectively weigh the facts. Propaganda and misinformation can be very dangerous if left unchallenged. Ukraine is a case in point. If you think the facts I outlined above are understood and appreciated by the leaders of Ukraine, think again. They apparently genuinely believe that they will mount an offensive in southern Ukraine that will eventually expel Russia from Crimea. Why? They believe the intelligence and media reports coming from U.S. and European sources that claim Russia is on the ropes and its ground troops are demoralized.
Ukraine reminds me of a character from the second season of the HBO series, The Wire. Ziggy Sobotka, son of the leader of the Baltimore dock workers, is a dysfunctional mess. He also is Polish. The only thing in his favor is his abnormally large genitalia (he identifies as a man). One day at the port, he is goaded into fighting a much larger, more dangerous man. I think this is an apt metaphor for Ukraine and Russia. Ukraine is Ziggy. The other dock workers telling him that he can whip Maui (the big guy) are the United States and NATO. And Maui is Russia.
So what is the west encouraging Ukraine to do? How about staging a nuclear incident at the largest nuclear power plant in Europe? Ukraine is insisting that Russia is shelling its own troops and the Zaporozhye Nuclear Power Plant the Russians hold. Russia insists that it is Ukraine that is shelling the facility:
Kiev is preparing a provocation at the Zaporozhye NPP.
It is scheduled for August 19 and is connected with the visit of the UN Secretary General to Ukraine, the Russian Defense Ministry reported. The purpose of the provocation is to accuse Russia of creating a man-made disaster.
To prepare it, the Ukrainian command will deploy radiation observation posts in the Zaporozhye region by August 19 and conduct anti-radiation exercises.
I think both sides are guilty of a bit of hype. Robert Kelley, the former head of the IAEA, offered up some sound analysis the other day about the reality of Zaporozhye:
This is pure brinkmanship and, like any good poker player, Russia knows it holds the strongest hand and is not going to be bluffed into folding.
There are two critical factors that are sustaining this conflict. First, the willingness of the west to continue to fund and arm Ukraine. Second, Ukraine’s gullibility in believing the encouragement from Washington and Europe that it can really beat Russia. Like good old Ziggy Subotka, Ukraine, if it continues to press the conflict, will find itself beaten up and stranded on top of empty shipping containers.