2023 marks one of the most grueling years of conventional warfare seen since the Iran-Iraq War. Russia and Ukraine, both currently at a military statement, are now facing a war of attrition.
Ukraine and Russia are currently facing shortfalls in logistics, and critical supply chains are needed for either country to progress toward victory. Going into 2024, both countries look to score crucial victories as wartime economies, geopolitical shifts, and economic woes take effect.
The War in Ukraine in 2023
In early 2023, the Russian military was on the offensive on several critical fronts along the Donbas region. Offensives near Kupiansk and Lyman weren’t successful, with Vuhledar being the most disastrous.
Other Russian offensives conducted by the Wagner Group, such as Soledar and Bakhmut, were successful. Still, both victories came at a pyrrhic price due to extreme manpower losses, infighting, and mercenary mutiny that came with it.
Ukraine would spend the first half of 2023 waiting to go on the offensive as Kyiv waited for more Western logistics. The slow pace of supplies by partner nations lost valuable time for the Ukrainian forces as their summer counteroffensive went later than the scheduled time, and Russian forces used the extra time to dig in.
The summer counteroffensive did not go as planned for Ukraine, as no strategic objective was met, such as the liberation of Tokmak, Mariupol, Melitopol, or Berdyansk. Attacking the heavily fortified Suvorikin lines cost Kyiv valuable time. Without proper air support, due to a lack of logistics by Western states, Ukraine mustered what it could towards the second line of defense, where its forces remain bogged down today.
Ukraine did achieve an objective through attrition, crippling the Black Sea Fleet to where the Russian fleet may move to occupied Abkhazia, and Moscow suffered heavy losses, with the US confirming 315,000 casualties since February 2022. As of now, neither side can score a crippling victory, and until the next sprint, many offensives will be localized instead of centralized.
What’s Hampering Ukraine?
Ukraine faces several vital problems that Kyiv’s leadership is currently addressing. The first is incoherent and greedy military officers, which President Zelensky recently replaced, though some issues remain.
Another problem is the lack of Western logistics to win the war and expel Russian forces. Ukraine received the bare minimum of critical supplies needed to eject Russian troops from the South, and even then, Kyiv would need further weaponry to win the overall war.
Ukraine will need not only air support such as F-16s, F-18 hornets, and possible Apache helicopters but also Armored Personnel Carriers (APCs), more tanks, long-range rockets such as hundreds of thousands more 155mm shells, mortars, and long-range rockets such as ATACMS and Taurus missiles to strike key logistical bases in Crimea, Rostov, and Voronezh.
Due to Russia’s continuous human wave tactics and lack of regard for their troops, 155mm shells, cluster munitions, and mortars will become even more valuable in 2024, primarily as Russia prepares further offensives across the East.
What’s Hampering Russia?
Russia also faces shortfalls in logistics, professional troops, and leadership. Half of Russia’s elite forces, such as the VDV (paratroopers), naval infantry, and Spetsnaz, have been liquidated in Ukraine, and the loss of specialized points could take two decades to replenish and train thoroughly.
The majority of the 300,000 plus casualties Russia has taken came from the professionally contracted troops, and now Moscow has to rely on undisciplined and minimally trained conscripts to conduct offenses or hold defensive positions.
Russia has tried to supplement logistical shortcomings by purchasing North Korean artillery, which currently gives Moscow a ground advantage, albeit with a sizeable dud rate of ammunition from Pyongyang.
The frontal assault human wave tactics are currently achieving minimal success on the Avdiivka front. Though Russia can conscript more men than Ukraine, ultimately, the suicidal tactics could haunt the Kremlin. Counting on a perceived “endless” pool of manpower and switching to a wartime economy could further degrade Russia’s labor force and demographics for the next generations to come.
Putin’s New Military Goal is Outlasting Western Aid Through Various Means
Vladimir Putin is currently feeling pressure from the prolonged invasion. Initially hoping for a more iconic capitulation, the Russian autocrat now hopes to freeze the war on the Kremlin’s terms.
Despite moving towards a wartime economy, Russia’s labor force is depleted, and untrained conscripts with little training are becoming casualties at a higher rate than the Kremlin can replace them. With logistics shortfalls, Putin now hopes to outlast Western aid to keep territorial possessions that the Russian army captured.
Through various means, such as hybrid warfare and disinformation, Moscow looks to prop up pro-Russian parties across the West to deter any military aid to Ukraine further. With growing turbulence in US politics and a shift with rising pro-Russian parties in Europe, the Kremlin is slowly gaining ground in its hybrid warfare strategy.
Ukraine will focus on a defense-in-depth strategy in 2024 as the attrition warfare on Russian logistics is unsustainable for the Kremlin in the long term. With Russia taking hefty casualties in frontline 2014 cities such as Avdiivka and Mar’inka, Putin may be forced into a problematic settlement that can further degrade his long-standing regime.