Who has the initiative now on the battlefield in Ukraine?

Who has the initiative now on the battlefield in Ukraine?

It has been weeks since the message that Russia takes the initiative in the war in Ukraine, while the army of Volodymyr Zelensky has been stalled after the failure in the attempt to recover much of the territory occupied in the much-announced counter-offensive of last summer. The dismissal of the head of the Ukrainian army, Valeri Zalujni , this Thursday adds arguments to this thesis. But the reality is that while it's true that Ukrainian troops haven't made much progress in the past year, neither have Vladimir Putin's forces. With the second anniversary of the Russian invasion approaching, the temptation to want an answer to the question of who is winning the war for now is growing. But the short answer is no one.

"The Ukrainian counteroffensive of the summer has failed, it's a fact, but the Russian offensives in the Donbass aren't producing great results either," military analyst Pol Molas tells ARA. "There is a quagmire at ground level," he summarizes, although he points to small victories as the discreet advance of Ukrainian troops in the south last December, when they managed to cross the Dnipro River in Kherson , and the attacks on the Russian fleet in black seaZelenskiy himself admitted this on Thursday: "In the second year of the war, we won the Black Sea. We won the winter. We showed that we can regain control over the Ukrainian skies. But, unfortunately, we could not achieve the objectives on the ground".

Lack of ammunition and recruits

Among the factors that have contributed to the failure of Kyiv's counteroffensive, Molas points to the fact that the material sent by the Western allies "arrived late and in small quantities." "The Ukrainians could not be expected to break through the Russian defense lines with the material they had," he asserts: "Furthermore, the Ukrainians cannot afford to treat their forces as the Russians do, who send them to the butchery ". The analyst points out that although the Ukrainian army has suffered fewer casualties than the Russian one, most of its soldiers have been fighting for two years, which means a lot of attrition, and they urgently need to be replaced.

Zelenski has admitted problems in recruiting new soldiers. This aspect is one of those that had been pointed out as a reason for the differences with Zalujni. At his year-end press conference, Zelenskiy confirmed that the armed forces were preparing a new mobilization. He detailed that the army had asked for between 450,000 and 500,000 new soldiers, but that no final decision had yet been made on a matter he admitted was "very sensitive". One of the most widespread complaints in Ukrainian society regarding mobilization is forced recruitment in public places and on public transport.

On Wednesday, the Ukrainian Parliament approved, in first reading, the new mobilization law, despite the great controversy it has caused. The law lowers the conscription age from 27 to 25 and gives military authorities the power to block accounts and revoke the driver's licenses of men who try to avoid military service, among other measures. In two weeks it will be debated in second reading and it is expected to enter into force in April.

According to Molas, Ukraine not only has problems recruiting ordinary soldiers, but also a significant lack of high-ranking officers, who are the ones who can lead large-scale offensives.

Help, blocked

To these recruiting problems, one must add an element that generates great uncertainty in Kyiv: the new US aid package, which remains blocked by electoral bickering between Democrats and Republicans. In addition, Ukraine suffers from ammunition shortages and production problems in Western countries.

"Ukraine must focus this year on the defensive, trying to recruit more troops and, at the same time, not suffer too many casualties. It needs to generate enough trained reserves for a more favorable situation in 2025," Molas opines. However, he adds that Kyiv's forces must also try to "apply as much attrition as possible to Russian troops, so that the replacements sent from Moscow are consumed on the battlefield and cannot build up a strategic reserve to launch a large-scale offensive." This, he indicates, can be achieved, as they are already doing, with small drones of their own manufacture, useful and cheap.

According to the analyst, the Ukrainian military needs to improve "electronic warfare", for example to be able to interfere with drone communications, an aspect in which Russia has an advantage. Zelenski referred to it rightly on Thursday: "The actions of the army must be much more technologically advanced." And this Friday, the new head of the army, Oleksandr Sirski, also pointed in this direction. "Only changes and constant improvement of the means and methods of war will make it possible to achieve success," he wrote in a post on Telegram, highlighting drones and electronic warfare as examples of new technology that would help Ukraine achieve victory"Save the distances, the situation is similar to 1916 during the First World War, when a stalemate occurred because neither side knew how to break the blockade of the front. It was not until 1917, with technological and tactical advances , which broke," summarizes Molas.

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