The war in Ukraine has destroyed the myth of Russian military might, strengthened the Western alliance, split global finance and trade and devastated Ukraine’s economy.
The conflict, sparked by Russia’s large-scale invasion of its neighboring country 100 days ago, has also learned military lessons learned decades, if not centuries ago, experts say.
“We realize that firepower is the fundamental factor determining battlefield developments,” said Konstantinos Grivas, professor of geopolitics and modern weapons systems at the Hellenic Military Academy in Athens, Greece.
“We’ve seen how important artillery is on both sides — nothing very advanced — multiple launch missile systems from the 1960s and missiles … with great range and high accuracy and high destructive power,” he told Al Jazeera.
Russia fell back on its superior firepower because it lacked proper strategic planning. A month after the war, it gave up trying to knock out Ukraine.
“Russia set a broad political goal that could not be achieved by military means…it was impossible with the deployment of the troops,” said Panayotis Gartzonikas, a former commander of the armored division in the Greek army and a lecturer at the Greek National Defense College. .
The second strategy appeared to be an encirclement of all Ukrainian forces in the east of the country, as it established beachheads at Popanska and Izyum from which a pincer movement could be carried out. That too appears to have been abandoned in favor of a direct clubbing of Severdonetsk, the easternmost Ukrainian city, and smaller encirclement elsewhere.
At times, Russia lacked tactical competence. Ukrainian forces decimated Russia’s 74th Motorized Rifle Brigade last month as it attempted to cross the Siverskyi Donets River in eastern Ukraine. Russian troops were caught in transit and reportedly suffered badly losses† There have been reports of Russian mutinies amid the incompetence.
“Russia’s conventional military threat to Europe has been overestimated,” Grivas said.
Russian troops unleash ‘massive firepower’
Where Russia has made the most progress, it has done so by focusing on overwhelming concentrations of firepower. Russian forces appear to have gained the advantage in the battle for Severdonetsk by simultaneously raining mortar, artillery and rocket fire on defenders. The results of similar tactics can be seen in Mariupol, where most of the city has been reduced to rubble.
Ukraine’s more judicious management of resources defeated the Russian war machine in Kiev, Chernihiv, Sumy and Kharkov. It slowly leaves Severdonetsk in the east to push back to Kherson in the south. The Institute for the Study of War wrote in a review that this was “strategically justified.”
“Kherson is critical territory because it is the only area of Ukraine where Russian forces hold their ground on the western bank of the Dnipro River. If Russia is able to maintain a strong abode in Kherson when the fighting stops, it will be in a very strong position from which to launch a future invasion,” it wrote.
“Ukraine must deal with its more limited resources and focus on regaining critical territory rather than defending territory whose control will not determine the outcome of the war.”
But even judicious fighting against Russia’s firepower is crushing Ukraine, experts say.
“The Ukrainian resistance has begun to bend under the pressure of the tremendous firepower that the Russians are unleashing against it… We are seeing a war of super-high intensity. To win in this environment you have to be willing to unleash a lot of destruction and suffer big losses. The question is who will last the longest’, says Grivas.
A compromise seems difficult at the moment, but inevitable in the long run, Gartzonikas says.
“Time is not on Russia’s side. On the other hand, the strengthening of Ukraine is step-by-step. It is not a basis for a breakthrough,” he told Al Jazeera.
“Russia can still make some ground gains, Ukraine may have some successes, but the costs of war are very high, and … we could see a compromise for this reason, of costs rather than developments on the battlefield.”
Thousands dead, financial costs rise
The human price of this war of attrition is beginning to become apparent.
The Ukrainian army estimates that it has killed more than 30,000 Russian soldiers. Russia hasn’t updated its military death toll since late March, when it said 1,351 soldiers had been killed. Al Jazeera cannot verify the military claims of either side.
The UN has said that more than 4,000 civilians have been killed in Ukraine, and that the real number of civilian casualties is much higher.
Ukraine accuses Russia of forcibly deporting nearly half a million Ukrainians to Russia. More than 6.6 million Ukrainians have fled the country, according to the UN.
Then there are material costs on both sides.
Ukraine’s Finance Minister Serhiy Marchenko said the war has cost $8.3 billion in military and humanitarian spending so far, one-eighth of Ukraine’s annual budget. The Kyiv School of Economics reports damage to Ukraine’s infrastructure is about $100 billion, with some analysts estimating it higher.
But Ukraine has received donations of equipment and aid – $53.6 billion from the US and 4.5 billion euros ($4.8 billion) from the European Union. More will likely be spent on reconstruction.
Russia has suffered less economic pain in the short term. Forbes magazine estimated Russia’s cost of equipment loss at $13 billion, but this was paid for by energy exports, economists say.
†[Natural] gas has an inelastic supply, so prices have gone up and you’ve had revenues to Russia double since the start of the war — about $60 billion,” said George Papakonstantinou, an economics professor at the European University Institute. “So if you think the war costs about $1 billion a day and they bring in $1 billion a day, then it’s going to be right,” he told Al Jazeera.
The ruble has recovered after sanctions against the Russian economy. Bans on exports of Western goods and services to Russia have given the country a healthy current account surplus and very low demand for foreign exchange, according to market analysts.
In the longer term, it’s a different story, because Russia has no outside help. Western sanctions have cut Russian banks off the global financial system, frozen half of Russia’s foreign exchange reserves and halted exports of sensitive technologies and essential services to Russia. The US, Canada, Australia and the UK have banned Russian coal and oil. The EU has announced a partial ban on Russian oil imports and has a five-year plan to halt Russian gas imports.
This is evident in the way trade routes are changing. Europe imports energy and food from further afield.
“The potential growth rate of the Russian economy will be much lower than before. It will have fewer trading partners, fewer foreign investors, it will not be able to source materials and inputs, therefore it will not be able to produce what it did before. Compared with [Europe] the hit is much, much bigger,” says Papakonstantinou.
“Obviously Russia is losing. Yes, it absorbs some areas at a huge cost, but it has suffered huge losses on many levels and it has created a gulf between itself and Europe,” said Grivas.
After another four months of war, Papakonstantinou believes the divestment of Western companies from the Russian market will be irreversible. But he also foresees a long-term danger.
“We are arming the global financial system – we have to, there is no other way – so we are urging Russia, China and India to develop an alternative messaging system to Swift, alternative financial safety nets, greater trade links, more mutual investment,” he said. .
“The more we freeze Russia, the more it will turn to China. And China will use that as far as it can.”