Although experts almost universally agree that the Russian military is at a unique point of vulnerability-lacking enough troops to conquer new ground and facing Ukrainian assaults bolstered by advanced U.S. and Western-provided multiple rocket launch systems, such as the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System-a protracted conflict remains the most likely outcome.
“We’re likely to see an inflection point in this war, and there’s likely to be a Ukrainian counteroffensive. It’s just unclear what its chances of success are,” said Michael Kofman, an expert on the Russian military with CNA, a think tank. “Either way, it increasingly appears this is going to be a protracted conflict.”
For weeks, Ukrainian officials have promised to storm through Kherson, the southern Ukrainian province known for its watermelons occupied by Russia in the first days of the war, launching wide-ranging preparatory strikes to hit Russian military bases and supply points on the Crimean Peninsula. But the bottom isn’t falling out of the Russian military just yet.
“A counteroffensive that the Ukrainians might do is not going to look like something out of Hollywood,” said Jim Townsend, a former U.S. deputy assistant secretary of defense for Europe and NATO during the Obama administration. “It’s not going to be a massive El Alamein push against [German Field Marshal Erwin] Rommel,” he added, referring to the decisive World War II battle in North Africa. “It will be a bit slower and more structured and selective. We’re in this for a long time.”
It has been suggested that Putin’s decree to draft 137,000 soldiers indicates that he gives in to critics of the Duginist extreme right who call for national mobilization.
Russia is trapped in a classic geopolitical dilemma, where mounting constraints prevent it from effectively pursuing its ultimate goal of gaining strategic depth along its western border. Moscow’s current solution is to go marginally deeper into Ukrainian territory to secure depth against missiles in strategically occupied territory without making a play for all of Ukraine. Such an approach will leave the question of its buffer zone open-ended. But it may also allow Russia to consolidate its progress during this round, free up resources to focus on mounting economic problems, and live to fight another day. It’s only a matter of time before Russia steps up overtures for a negotiated settlement in the conflict.