As I discussed recently for The Duran, Ukraine’s President Poroshenko has now effectively admitted that Ukraine has been militarily defeated in the war it waged to reconquer the Donbass.
It is probably not a complete coincidence that this admission has come at the same time as the latest edition of the Military Balance published by the International Institute for Strategic Studies has enabled Colonel Cassad – one of the most consistently intelligent and reliable commentators of the Ukrainian war – finally to provide firm details of the extent of Ukraine’s equipment losses during the war (translated into English and published here by the Vineyard of the Saker).
Comparing the 2013 and 2016 editions of the Military Balance shows that between 2013 and 2016 Ukraine has lost 44% of its artillery (including 56% of its self-propelled artillery and a whopping 80% of its light artillery), 29% of its tanks, 56% of its armoured personnel vehicles and 66% of its infantry fighting vehicles.
Colonel Cassad makes the reasonable point that a great part of this equipment loss was probably due to mechanical breakdowns which the Ukrainian military and industry are unable to repair.
The point has also been made that the 2013 Military Balance probably overstates the Ukrainian equipment inventory. Colonel Cassad has downplayed the possibility of significant reductions in Ukraine’s equipment as a result of arms sales since 2013. However endemic corruption probably means that some of the equipment Ukraine claimed to possess in 2013 simply didn’t exist either because it had been left to deteriorate beyond use or because it had been sold illegally abroad.
Even allowing for these factors, the loss of equipment still points to enormous losses on the battlefield.
The fact Ukraine lost 80% of its light 122 mm towed artillery points to the bulk of these losses actually happening in battle. Light artillery is relatively easy to maintain and it is likely Ukraine’s loss of almost its entire light artillery of this calibre is explained by its destruction on the battlefield.
Colonel Cassad speculates this was due to counter-battery fire by the Russian military. There are in fact reports of Russian artillery engaging Ukrainian units from across the border during the fighting in the summer of 2014.
As Colonel Cassad points out, the scale of Ukrainian equipment losses reported by the Military Balance are indirectly confirmed by a statement Poroshenko let slip in the autumn of 2014 around the time of the first Minsk agreement when he said that Ukraine had lost 65% of its equipment during the fighting in the summer.
Colonel Cassad is on much shakier ground when he tries to deduce from these equipment losses figures for total Ukrainian casualties numbering 30,000 men. He does this by adding up the total number of personnel used to operate the destroyed equipment – which comes to almost exactly 30,000 men – and then assuming they were killed when their equipment was destroyed.
This is a false methodology. The figures drawn from the Military Balance show the numbers of equipment Ukraine has lost. It does not follow that all this equipment was destroyed. Some may have been damaged beyond repair. A large proportion is known to have been captured by the militia.
It anyway does not automatically follow that the crew of a destroyed vehicle were killed or wounded when the vehicle was destroyed. They might have escaped the vehicle before it was destroyed as commonly happens in war.
Though this figure of 30,000 casualties has been aired before, it is certainly an exaggeration.
The truth is however bad enough. Judging from the scale of the equipment losses the personnel losses were certainly much worse than the Ukrainians are saying: probably in the region of 8-12,000 in the fighting in July and August 2014 as discussed by me here in October 2014, and perhaps a further 2-3,000 in the fighting in January and February 2015, which was equally intense but which took place over a shorter period.
As I discussed here this is a rate of casualties without parallel in Europe since the German surrender on 9th May 1945.
The Ukrainian war was a big war not a small war even if in the West and in Ukraine itself it has not been reported as such.
Colonel Cassad rightly says that with its industry in crisis and cut off from Russian spare parts for its Soviet era equipment Ukraine can neither repair nor replace its lost equipment. Nor will the small dribbles of sometimes inferior equipment supplied by the West have filled the gaps.
As I also pointed out back in February 2015, the scale of losses the Ukrainian army has suffered must along with its defeats have caused a devastating blow to morale even if they have never been admitted. It is not surprising therefore that repeated attempts by the Ukrainian government to mobilise the male population have encountered stiff resistance and that Ukraine’s National Guard – supposedly the praetorian guard of Ukraine’s government – numbers no more than 5,000 men.
Even if Ukraine were somehow able to replace all the equipment it has lost, possibly through covert supplies of Soviet era equipment from the NATO states of Eastern Europe, there is no reason to think any offensive launched now or later would have any greater success than the ones which were launched on 30th June 2014 and in January 2015. On the contrary, with the militaries of the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics now functioning at a vastly superior level to what they had achieved in the summer of 2014 and the winter of 2015, and with Ukrainian morale sapped by the heavy losses and defeats it suffered during the earlier, it is overwhelmingly likely the debacle would be even greater.
Even Hillary Clinton, were she to be elected US President in November, could not change this situation. Even if decided – against European opposition – to supply US weapons to Ukraine, the Russians would simply respond by balancing US arms supplies to the Ukrainian government by arms supplies to the militia, denying the government the decisive margin of superiority it needs to achieve victory.
On the facts Poroshenko’s elliptical admission of Ukraine’s defeat is simply a statement of the obvious. For once what Poroshenko is saying is true.