From an unbiased look at the ground reality, things do not seem to look overly bright for Russia as they failed to achieve most of their strategic goals. However, the campaign isn't a total failure. Russia now controls the port city of Mariupol, a strategic location of great importance as it links the regions of Donbas and Crimea.
Various sources state that the last defenders of Mariupol belonged to the neo-Nazi Azov Regiment, strengthening Russia's claims of Nazi and ultranationalist beliefs gaining a strong foothold in Ukraine. Perhaps a moral victory for Russia.
However, at the same time, Russia had to endure bitter resistance and their constant bombing destroyed massive swathes of the city and killed thousands of civilians in the process.
The 'Battle for Donbas' now seems to be the key skirmish of this war. As things stand, the battle for Ukraine's old industrial heartland is likely to decide the fate of this conflict.
Red flags and miscalculations
On 21 February this year, during a televised pre-invasion meeting of the Russian National Security Council, Russia's President Vladimir Putin publicly humiliated the director of the Russian foreign espionage service, Sergey Naryshkin, into agreeing that it was a good idea for Russia to recognise the two breakaway Donbas republics.
Bellingcat, a Netherlands-based investigative journalism group reported that in early April, Putin sacked more than 150 Russian intelligence officers, including the Federal Security Service's Fifth Service chief, General Sergei Beseda, "for reporting unreliable, overly optimistic information concerning Ukraine."
Another estimate that the Kremlin likely made is that the West would not come to the aid of Ukraine, since the West did not react much to the 2008 invasion of Georgia or the 2014 annexation of Crimea. But the reality is, over the course of the last three months, weapons continue to flow into Ukraine from western allies.
Kremlin draws first blood and Ukrainian resistance
On 24 February, Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed he is launching a special military operation to 'demilitarise' and 'de-Nazify' Ukraine. Moscow troops entered believing that opposition to Kyiv from the Russian-speaking eastern part of Ukraine would result in a quick win. But it proved to be false.
Russian forces failed to destroy Ukraine's air force or air defence system, and so failed in their air assaults to capture Hostomel airport.
Throughout their Ukrainian campaign, the Russian military has been continually forced to reassess its strategic objectives.
Plan A was to seize Kyiv, Kharkiv and other key points, capture government leaders and force Ukraine into submission. However a spirited defence by Ukraine foiled this plan. So they shifted the plan to capture Donbas and the creation of a "land bridge" from Russia to Crimea.
Ukraine however didn't suffer from similar issues. Defending the sovereignty of their nation has proven to be enough for Ukraine.
The Ukrainian military, steadfast in their goal, has demonstrated consistency throughout the war, through the adoption of a simple military strategy: corrosion. This strategy sees Ukraine attacking the Russians where it hurts the most and where Russia is exposed, while also using some of their combat power to delay Russian combat forces.
Ukraine attacked the weakest physical support systems of an army in the field – communications networks, logistic supply routes, rear areas, artillery and senior commanders in their command posts, resulting in the successful defence of Kyiv.
The Russians also somewhat handicapped themselves by launching the invasion during the muddy season, confining themselves to small concrete roads and severely restricting their mobility.
The battle has now shifted elsewhere. Russian forces are positioning themselves for a large "cauldron battle" in eastern Ukraine designed to shatter the Ukrainian army and gain terrain to use as a bargaining chip at the negotiating table.
In military theory, a cauldron battle is an operational manoeuvre to surround the enemy on at least three sides. The manoeuvre has long been used by Russian forces. In Russian military history, the classic example of a cauldron battle is Stalingrad, where the Soviets encircled the German Sixth Army in November 1942. More recently, the Russians executed a cauldron in the Battle of Debaltseve in 2015.
Supply chain disruptions and other effects changing the world
- Food security: Middle East, North Africa, Western and Central Asia have been heavily hit. Russia and Ukraine are the breadbasket for much of the world, supplying about 30% of global exports of wheat and barley, 65% of sunflower seed oil, and 15% of corn. The UN's World Food Programme will also be affected, as Russia and Ukraine contributed close to 20% of the total food commodities it procured in 2020.
- Energy policy diversification: Over several decades, Europe has come to depend heavily on Russian energy sources: coal, crude oil, fuel oil, and, especially, natural gas. In 2021, the continent imported about 36% of the gas it used from Russia, along with 30% of its coal and 10% of its crude oil. The EU is striving towards secure access and source diversification.
- Corporate stand: Most European and US Fortune 500 companies have left Russia. Close to 70% have either scaled back or exited their Russian operations since the start of the war.
- Race for critical materials: The war hastened price rises of dozens of commodities that Russia and Ukraine export (for example, coal, steel, nickel); the two countries' combined shares of these markets range roughly from 10 to 50%. For example, the two countries are responsible for 48% of global trade in palladium. These materials are critical in many industries.
- Increased economic volatility: Geopolitics is now seen as the biggest risk to growth, according to McKinsey and Company. The US volatility index (VIX) and the economic policy uncertainty (EPU) index have both risen.
- Rising poverty: The United Nations' Food and Agriculture Office's index of food prices might rise by as much as 45% in 2022. Price increases of this magnitude have historically pushed millions of people in low- and middle-income countries into poverty.
- New era of cyber conflict: The number of cyberattacks has risen considerably disrupting societies globally by targeting critical infrastructure. On February 24, 2022—the day of the invasion—ViaSat's internet service was disrupted across Europe for several hours, affecting 30,000 customers—including Ukrainian military communications. Some attacks may have spillover effects far beyond their original targets, as the malware spreads.
- Separate tech standard: Global technology standards are more likely to separate resulting in a splintered set of tech standards and policies, meaning more expensive services for consumers and lower productivity growth globally. The invasion of Ukraine may have pried these divisions wider. The West's new limits on finance and some technologies, and a broad-based departure from Russia by many leading Western companies, mean that Russia has essentially been excluded from a significant portion of the global high-tech value chain.
How Nato was revived
In an interview in 2019, French President Emmanuel Macron claimed that Nato was experiencing a "brain death." He attributed this at the time to Donald Trump's refusal to work with Europe on security, and amongst several other reasons. But today, almost three years later, Nato has turned things around and is currently undergoing a revitalisation.
Russia's willingness to go to war has forced the hand of several countries like Finland and Sweden into joining Nato. Even Switzerland, a famously neutral country, has reconsidered their neutrality.
Sweden was neutral throughout the Cold War when Soviet power was at its height. Finland however fought two wars with the Soviet Union during World War II. Although since then they have maintained good relations. Though famously neutral still, they have been stepping away from Russia's influence for some time. Finland and Sweden have been a part of Nato's Partnership for Peace. They were essentially associate members but now they have submitted formal applications to join Nato.
Moreover, with the war ongoing, the rest of the member states Europe is on heightened alert and bolstered their security. In a draft seen by Bloomberg, Nato member states are planning to increase their defence budgets of approximately $208 billion.
Despite this increase, most of Nato's military might come from the United States and though Trump could come into power again in 2025, at the moment Biden is fully committed to Nato, even terming Sweden and Finland's applications as a "revived Nato."
Nato assistance to Ukraine
Nato has condemned the war and while they are not sending any troops to Ukraine, they are assisting the Ukraine military. Nato is bolstering the eastern flank by supplying battlegroups, an increased number of jets and carrier strike groups, submarines and combat ships deployed on a permanent basis.
According to Air Force Gen. Tod Wolters, the supreme allied commander of Nato, there are 40,000 Nato ground troops based in Eastern Europe. Alongside this, they have more than 120 jets on high alert and 20 ships as military aid.
Earlier this month, the EU promised Ukraine 500 million euros ($520 million), bringing the bloc's total military aid to two billion euros.
On 19 May, US President Joe Biden announced a $40 billion military and humanitarian assistance plan. The military aid is expected to be worth a combined $20 billion. It will finance the transfer of advanced weapons systems, such as Patriot antiaircraft missiles and long-range artillery.
The US is also providing:
- More than $8 billion in general economic support.
- Almost $5 billion in global food aid to address food shortages caused by the collapse of Ukraine's agricultural economy.
- More than $1 billion support for refugees.
- $100 million package of weapons and equipment - including 18 more howitzer artillery pieces, vehicles to tow them, and 3 counter artillery radar systems.
- Ukraine already has 90 other howitzers from the US. Other Allies like France and Canada have also provided artillery.
Russia has also been placed under heavy sanctions. Most Russian exports have been cut off; they have been banned from making sales. Which means even with the money they are still earning from selling oil and gas, they can't use it to purchase components needed to make military hardware. Heavy sanctions on Russian financial institutions have been crippling in particular.
The central bank's reserves have been frozen and they have been excluded from the international payment systems which have affected Russian imports.
The sanctions have in turn helped Ukraine turn the tides of war. Russia has been struggling to resupply their military due to these logistical constraints and as a result they are reported to have been forced to rely upon outdated equipment.
Sabyasachi Karmaker and Dabir Khan contributed to this article.