What will Russia do when Ukraine gets more weapons?

Earlier in the week I published an edition of the paid newsletter where I discussed how important it is that we reflect carefully on the fact that American assistance to Ukraine was blocked in Congress for half a year. Many Europeans will undoubtedly be quick to assume that we are back to business as usual, but that would be a big mistake.

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In this video I look ahead and discuss what Russia will do if things get difficult for them on the frontlines as a result of the American supplies. The short answer is they will probably double down on destroying infrastructure in the rest of Ukraine because that can help them achieve their strategic goals in the long run.

A transcript of the video is included below.

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The American assistance package to Ukraine has finally been approved by Congress, and the military equipment has started to roll into Ukraine. So what will all this mean for the war, and how should we expect the Russians to react? Those are some of the big and important questions right now. So let's talk about it.

A couple of months ago, I made a video about what to expect in the third year of the war, and I explained that in terms of an optimistic and a pessimistic scenario for Ukraine. The pessimistic scenario was that Ukraine would not be able to stabilize the supplies of weapons and ammunition, and as the Ukrainian shell hunger would get worse, the Russian momentum would accelerate. So Ukraine would have to move backwards, and Russia would take significant ground during 2024.

The optimistic scenario for Ukraine was that they would be able to secure a steady flow of supplies, and that would allow them to stabilize the front line and to start planning ahead for how to win a long war of attrition against Russia. Because if Ukraine can manage to ramp up their own domestic defense production, and they can also have a consistent high level of support from their Western partners, then they have a good chance of getting the upper hand in the long run. There are some factors in the Russian war economy that mean that it will get gradually harder for Russia to keep the war going. Russia's military capability is at a peak right now, but if we look two, three years into the future, then it will start to decline because Russia won't have more equipment left in the stocks that they inherited from the Soviet Union, and also because they will just start to run out of money to fund the war.

So the long term trends actually favor Ukraine, but it requires that they can hold the line this year and that they can stabilize the flow of supplies so that they can start planning ahead for how to exploit the possibilities that will come down the line. With the announcement of the American assistance package, the flow that we are now seeing of weapons into Ukraine, I will say that we are probably trending closer to the optimistic scenario. But it is important to keep in mind that even in the optimistic scenario, that does not include Ukraine going back on the offensive and retaking large areas of land. So it's not something that we should expect to see in 2024. And to the extent that we are going to see Ukraine taking back territory this year, it will be because there are certain opportunities that they take advantage of. So if the Russians show a weakness in some area, then of course the Ukrainians are going to try to exploit that.

But we should not expect to see something like the counteroffensive of 2023, because Ukraine is not in a position where they have the resources to do that. And frankly, the counteroffensive, it was not a great success last year. Ukraine exhausted their resources and they didn't manage to take back much territory. So it's actually one of the important reasons for why we have seen this shell hunger that has given the Russians some momentum. So I don't think there is going to be much appetite in Ukraine for doing that again.

Of course, at some point, Ukraine will have to go back on the offensive if they want to win the war. But it does not make sense to do that at this point, where the Russian capability is at its peak and where Ukraine and their partners are still working to ramp up the production. So the point is that even though all these weapons are now coming into Ukraine, we should not expect Ukraine to launch a big counteroffensive. Instead, the effect we're going to see is that the front line will be stabilized. Ukraine will probably, with these weapons, be able to stop the Russian advances. And then to the extent that there are surplus weapons after they have stabilized the front line, then they can use that to equip new military formations that can then start training and can be used at a later point.

And that leads me to the question of what we should expect the Russians will do now. As I said in my video about what to expect from a Russian summer offensive, I think we should expect to see the Russians will try to increase the pressure when we get to the other side of the mud season. So that is in the end of May or maybe into June. They have some units in reserve that they seem to be preparing for a summer offensive. So even though the Russians have had some momentum over the last couple of months and they're still fighting, then we should mostly see the fighting that is taking place right now as a kind of prelude to a bigger offensive that will come maybe next month, maybe a little later.

I think we're still going to see that. From a Russian point of view, then this summer is really the best chance they have at achieving their military goals. And even though the American weapons are now flowing into Ukraine, then it will take time to get all that equipment distributed into the right units on the front line. And even then, it's not guaranteed that it will be enough, it is a lot of weapons, but the lack of equipment on the Ukrainian side was also really big. So it will take a lot of weapons just to bring that level up to a decent level. And also, weapons and ammunition are not the only things that Ukraine needs to fight the war.

There is also a significant manpower shortage right now. It is something that the Ukrainian politicians have been discussing for a long time and they have taken some measures now to solve the problem. But there is a long delivery time on personnel to the front lines. They have to be mobilized, they have to be trained, it all takes time. And basically, Ukraine will have to fight throughout the whole summer with a manpower deficit. And there will be more weapons, but they will still have a shortage of personnel. So there is still some chance that Russia can have success with their summer offensive and that they will be able to take more ground by making a serious push. So we should expect them to try to do that. And therefore, they will most likely stick with the plan and we will see a Russian summer offensive. Their chances of success have gotten smaller now, but from their point of view, it is still worth trying.

But what if it doesn't work? What is Russia going to do if they don't have any success with the summer offensive? And here, I think I need to say a few words about what it is that the Russian war aims are and what they are fighting for.

When the big invasion started in 2022, the goal was to get control of all of Ukraine. It was not the plan to annex the country, to make it part of Russia, but it was a goal to have a regime change so that there would be a new government in Kyiv that the Russians could control. And when that plan didn't work, which was clear within the first month of the invasion, then the Russians changed their approach. And that's when they started to focus on taking territory in the eastern part of Ukraine. And they also went ahead and they annexed some of that territory and they started claiming that it was a part of Russia.

But stealing this territory from Ukraine, that was not the point of the invasion from the start. And it's ultimately not an end state that the Putin government will be satisfied with because it doesn't really solve any of the underlying reasons for the war. That is things like stopping NATO expansion into Eastern Europe, improving Russia's position as a great power, or reuniting the Russian and the Ukrainian nations and correcting the historical misunderstanding that there is such a thing as a Ukrainian nation because in Putin's mind, there really isn't. And it also doesn't solve the fundamental problem that a free and prosperous and democratic Ukraine is, it's a regime security risk for Putin himself.

Because if at some point there is an uprising in Russia, then such a Ukrainian state can play a role in that where maybe they can push the needle and they can cause the Putin regime to lose power. And all this is something that we need to keep in mind when we talk about what it is that Russia might do in the war and how they might react if it suddenly starts being clear that whatever strategy they have, it isn't working.

And here we actually get into another interesting discussion, which is that many people say that Russia is playing for the long game. And many people say this, I think many people also get it wrong or they get it upside down because they talk about it as if Russia is eventually going to win on the battlefield because Russia has more stamina to just keep going than Ukraine does or the Western countries do. And that is, so the way they say it is that it's a kind of tactical approach to the war where Russia is playing the long game.

But as I just said before, I don't actually see that happening. It doesn't seem to me that they have a particularly patient approach. And it rather looks like they are pushing really hard because they want a decisive victory this year or maybe next year because deep down they know that a long war of attrition does not actually favor them. But where they are playing the long game is in the more strategic approach to how they're going to achieve the original war aims, how they're going to get total control over Ukraine in the long run.

I think the way we should understand the Russian strategy is that at this point, their goal is to take as much territory as they can during this current active phase of fighting. And then they want to turn the rest of Ukraine into a failed state because they cannot allow the rest of Ukraine to become a free and prosperous and successful nation.

So I think what we're going to see is that as it gets harder for Russia to make progress on the front line, then they're going to double down on the strategic bombings of Ukrainian infrastructure because it is a way to undermine the Ukrainian state in the long run. It can really damage the Ukrainian economy for a long time into the future. And it undermines the attempts at rebuilding Ukraine after the war. So it is essentially a part of a strategy of turning Ukraine into a failed state because that can set the conditions for Russia to achieve their long-term goals at a later point, either because it can prevent the Ukrainians from being successful in having a strong military in the long run, or because it will put the Ukrainians in a position where they will be dependent on Russia if they ever want their country to be prosperous again.

I'm not saying that this Russian strategy will work. In fact, I think it won't. But I think that's what they're going for and that this is the point of the bombings of critical infrastructure, especially the power plants that we're seeing right now. So what I'm trying to say with all this is that as it gets harder for Russia to create results on the front line, then we're going to see them start focusing on bombing the rest of Ukraine. So it's a good thing that the American assistance package also seems to include a lot of air defense missiles because Ukraine is going to need them.

Okay, I will end it here. If you found the video helpful or informative, then please give it a like. And also remember, you can subscribe to the channel and click the bell icon to get notifications when I upload new videos. Thank you very much for watching. And I will see you again next time.