Ukraine’s top general says what he needs to beat Russia: ‘We have to find the gunpowder’

FILE PHOTO: Valery Zaluzhny, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, attends the ceremony celebrating the 32nd anniversary of Ukraine’s independence at Sofia Square on August 24, 2023 in Kiev, Ukraine (Getty Images) (Global Images Ukraine/)

After five months of counteroffensive, Ukraine has only managed to advance 17 kilometers. Russia fought for ten months around Bakhmutin the East, “to take a city six by six kilometers”. In an interview this week with The Economistthe Ukrainian commander-in-chief, General Valery Zaluzhny, makes his first exhaustive assessment of the campaign and affirms that the battlefield reminds him of the great conflict of a century ago. “As in the First World War, we have reached a technological level that leads us to a stalemate“, it states. The general concludes that it would take a massive technological leap to break the deadlock. “Most likely, there will not be a deep and beautiful breakthrough”.

The course of the counteroffensive has undermined Western hopes that Ukraine could use it to prove that the war is unwinnable, thus changing the calculations of Vladimir Putin, forcing the Russian president to negotiate. He has also undermined the general’s assumption Zaluzhny that could stop Russia bleeding his troops. “That was my mistake. Russia has lost at least 150,000 dead. In any other country those casualties would have stopped the war”. But not in Russiawhere life is cheap and where the landmarks of Mr. Putin They are in the first and second world wars in which Russia lost tens of millions.

An army of the Ukrainian level should have been able to move at a speed of 30 km a day while breaking through the Russian defensive lines. “If we look at the NATO textbooks and the calculations we made [al planificar la contraofensiva]four months should have been enough for us to reach Crimea, fight in Crimea, return from Crimea and enter and leave again“, the general states sardonically. Zaluzhny. Instead, he watched as his troops and his equipment became trapped in minefields at the approaches to Bakhmut, in the east, and how their equipment, supplied by the West, was bombed by Russian artillery and drones. The same story unfolded in the main axis of the offensive, in the south, where newly formed and inexperienced brigades, despite being equipped with modern Western equipment, immediately ran into problems.

At first I thought something was wrong with our commanders, so I changed some of them. Then I thought that maybe our soldiers were not fit for the purpose, so I changed the soldiers of some brigades“says the general Zaluzhny. When those changes had no effect, the commander told his staff to take out a book he once saw as a student at a military academy in Ukraine. His title was “Break through fortified defense lines”. It was published in 1941 by a Soviet major general, PS Smirnov, which analyzed the battles of the First World War. “And before we were even halfway through, I realized that this is exactly where we are because, just as then, the level of our current technological development has stunned both us and our enemies.”.

That thesis, he says, was confirmed when he went to the front line in Avdiivkaalso in the east, where Russia has recently advanced a few hundred meters in several weeks launching two of its armies. “On our monitor screens the day I was there we saw 140 Russian machines burned-destroyed in the four hours after coming within range of our artillery.”. “Those who fled were chased by drones.”in first person”, remotely controlled and carrying explosive charges that their operators simply crashed against the enemy. The same scenario presents itself when Ukrainian troops try to advance. The general Zaluzhny describes a battlefield where modern sensors can identify any concentration of forces, and modern precision weapons can destroy it. “The simple fact is that we see everything the enemy does and they see everything we do. To break this impasse we need something new, like the gunpowder that the Chinese invented and that we continue to use to kill each other.“, it states.

This time, however, the decisive factor will not be a single new invention, but a combination of all the technical solutions that already exist, he says. In an article written for The Economist by the General Zaluzhny, as well as in a full essay shared with the newspaper, calls for innovation in drones, electronic warfare, anti-artillery capabilities and demining equipment, including new robotic solutions. “We have to harness the power of new technologies”says the general.

Western allies have been overly cautious about supplying Ukraine its most advanced technology and its most powerful weapons. Joe BidenPresident of USAset objectives at the beginning of the Russian invasion: to ensure that Ukraine was not defeated and USA not be drawn into a confrontation with Russia. This means that the weapons supplied by the West have been sufficient to sustain Ukraine in war, but not to allow him to win. The general Zaluzhny He doesn’t complain:They are not obligated to give us anything, and we are grateful for what we have, but I am simply stating the facts”.

But by delaying the supply of long-range missile systems and tanks, The West allowed Russia to regroup and reinforce its defenses after a sudden advance in the Kharkiv region in the north and Kherson in the southat the end of 2022. “These systems were more relevant to us last year, but they have not arrived until this year“, it states. Likewise, jets F-16scheduled for next year, are now less useful, the general suggests, in part because Russia has improved its air defenses: an experimental version of the missile system S-400 can reach beyond the city of Dniprohe warns.

However, the delay in the delivery of weapons, although frustrating, is not the main cause of the difficult situation of Ukraineaccording to the general Zaluzhny. “It is important to understand that this war cannot be won with the weapons of the past generation and with outdated methods”he insists. “They will inevitably lead to delay and, as a consequence, defeat”. It is, instead, technology that will be decisive, he argues. The general is enthusiastic about recent conversations with Eric Schmidtformer CEO of Google, and highlights the decisive role of drones, and the electronic warfare that can prevent them from flying.

The general’s assessment Zaluzhny is sobering: there is no indication that a revolutionary technological advance, whether in drones or electronic warfare, is around the corner. And technology has its limits. Even in the First World Warthe arrival of tanks, in 1917, was not enough to break the stalemate on the battlefield: it took a set of technologies, and more than a decade of tactical innovation, to produce the blitzkrieg German in May 1940. The implication is that Ukraine is caught in a long war, in which she recognizes that Russia has advantage. However, he insists that Ukraine He has no choice but to maintain the initiative by remaining on the offensive, even if he only advances a few meters a day.

In your opinion, Crimea remains the greatest vulnerability of Putin. It is the axis of his imperial restoration project, and its legitimacy is based on having returned it to Russia. In recent months, Ukraine has brought the war to the peninsula that Putin It was annexed in 2014 and remains essential for the logistics of its war. “You should know that you are part of Ukraine and that this war is happening there”. October 30 Ukraine attacked Crimea with long-range atacms missiles supplied by USA for the first time.

The general Zaluzhny desperately tries to prevent war from taking hold in the trenches. “The biggest risk of a trench war of attrition is that it can drag on for years and wear down the Ukrainian state.“, it states. In World War I, mutinies interfered before technology could make a difference. Four empires collapsed and a revolution broke out in Russia.

A collapse of Ukrainian morale and Western support is precisely what he is counting on Putin. The general Zaluzhny has no doubt that a long war favors Russiaa country with a population three times larger and an economy ten times larger than that of Ukraine. “Let’s face it, it is a feudal state where the cheapest resource is human life. And for us… the most expensive thing we have is our people“, it states. For now, says the general Zaluzhny, has enough soldiers. But the longer the war lasts, the more difficult it will be to maintain it. “We have to look for this solution, we have to find this gunpowder, master it quickly and use it for a quick victory. Because sooner or later we are going to find that we simply do not have enough people to fight”.

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