Geopolitical Insights

SITREP – Tactical and Strategic Shifts in Ukraine

September 13, 2022
What has Happened:
  • Executing a rapid counter-offensive in the northeast, Ukraine has regained approximately 3,400 square miles in the last week, which is more territory than Russia has controlled since the start of the conflict.
  • ~150,000 people have been freed from Russian control following the counter-offensive, however ~1.2 million people are still living in areas controlled by Russia, including over 500,000 in Kherson alone.
  • As Russia retreats from these areas, it has conducted long-range cruise missile/air strikes into populated Ukrainian areas, destroying power and water lines.
  • The strategy behind Ukraine’s recent offensive was formulated months ago during talks between Ukrainian and U.S./NATO officials.
  • As the West continues to support Ukraine (~$14 billion from the U.S. alone), the influx of longer-range weaponry will be critical for Ukraine to sustain the recent counter-offensive.
  • Further complicating Russia’s situation is the recent fighting between Armenia (supported by Russia) and Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh region, which raises the probability that Russia could get involved in this conflict as well.
  • A planned summit this week between President Putin and President Xi in Uzbekistan is a demonstration of “unity and strength” between the two leaders, but China will likely be cautious regarding the “no limits friendship.”
  Why it Matters: “The ebbs and flows of this war continue to make it difficult to predict longer-term outcomes. Tactical successes in the north are positive and very good for the information war. It reinforces the narrative of President Zelensky and shows actions are following his words and strategy. The successes in the south are less impressive because the Russians expected the counter-offensive to be conducted in these areas. U.S. and NATO planner's assistance clearly has helped the Ukrainian's ability to plan the offensive and to target effectively. I expect that Putin and Russian military leaders will accelerate their civilian infrastructure attacks, so while Ukrainians gain back territory, the population's ability to return will be limited. Without question this could be a turning point but there are challenges to sustain the momentum of the attacks (long supply lines from Poland, shortage of manpower with high losses, questions regarding the impact of limited Russian gas to Europe, etc.). Zelensky must continue to win the political battle and maintain U.S. and NATO support. However, we will soon encounter shortages in our own stocks of key munitions so at some point hard decisions by the U.S. on munitions supply will need to be made.    With respect to Chinese and Russian cooperation, this meeting between Xi and Putin should come as no surprise. Their alliance against the U.S. continues to strengthen. It is disturbing that the alliance in the East is drawing in India, Pakistan, and Iran - as well as many of the Stans. It is clear that nations act in their own best interests and that China's efforts to counter U.S., E.U., and NATO global influence continues to be successful.” – General Frank Kearney       “This is a slog of a war that has resulted in attrition warfare instead of the sweeping maneuver warfare Putin planned for in his initial invasion. Even though the recent Ukrainian advances are a change compared to the grinding attritional conflict we’ve seen, Putin will not relent in his objectives. He still believes that he is winning and has gained more ground than he has lost. We can expect that the battlefield will have its back-and-forth adjustments as each side moves forces to attack where they think they can gain an advantage. Russia has still gained a lot of territory even with the current Ukrainian counteroffensive.”   – General Robert Walsh