Russia ‘running out of ideas’ in 3-month-old war. Can Ukraine win?

Click to play video: '100 days in Ukraine: How Putin miscalculated Kyiv’s resolve'
100 days in Ukraine: How Putin miscalculated Kyiv’s resolve
As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine eclipses the 100-day mark, reports say Moscow is throwing “all its reserves” at Severodonetsk, a key city in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region. Ukrainian officials say they’ve managed to fight back and recapture about 20 per cent of the strategic hub but the back and forth in the country’s east could be a sign of things to come. As Eric Sorensen reports, this is not where Russia wanted to be when it first began its invasion months ago – Jun 4, 2022

Russia marked the three-month point in its war in Ukraine on Tuesday with an all-out assault in the nation’s east to gain more ground in the country.

Moscow’s “special military operation” that began on Feb. 24 has resulted in thousands of deaths and the displacement of millions of people in the largest conflict Europe has seen since the Second World War.

Russia, which was thought to have a mighty military, has run into defiant Ukrainian defenders who have the backing of several western powers.

After holding out for three months, can Ukraine go on the offensive and defeat Russia in the war? Experts say the path to victory is not an easy one.

Conflict is a ‘grinding war of attrition’

“Where we are today is a grinding war of attrition in the east,” said Andrew Rasiulis, a defence expert with the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.

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“In the south, they (Russia) are making incremental, very slow grinding movements west, but the Ukrainians are also counterattacking them so consequently, it’s a war of attrition and basically a stalemate is occurring there.”

Click to play video: 'Ukraine sentences Russian soldier in first war crimes trial'
Ukraine sentences Russian soldier in first war crimes trial


On Tuesday, Russia launched an assault to trap Ukrainian troops in twin cities near a river in Donbas – Ukraine’s eastern region where fighting shifted on April 18 after Russia failed to topple Kyiv in the first phase of the war from February to early April.

Russian positions held in Ukraine as of May 24 are shown on a map put together by the British defence ministry. UK Ministry of Defence/Twitter

Moscow is attempting to seize the Donbas region of two eastern provinces, Donetsk and Luhansk, which is home to two Russian-separatists movements and has seen ongoing fighting since 2014.

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Russia wants the “liberation” of the region as part of what it calls a “special military operation” that has led it to claim one major Ukrainian city so far – Mariupol – which was pummeled to near destruction after weeks and weeks of Ukrainian resistance.

Russia’s military has failed to synchronize its units to effectively fight off Ukrainian defences, said Ret. Canadian Maj. Gen. Denis Thompson.

For example, the air support their troops should be getting hasn’t played out well, and now Moscow is resorting to artillery strikes to wear the Ukrainians down, he said.

“They’re running out of ideas,” added Thompson, a former commander of NATO’s Task Force Kandahar.

“We’re definitely entering a phase where it appears that no one’s going to make any quick dashes to victory.”

Click to play video: 'Russian soldier sentenced to life in prison in 1st war crimes trial of Russia-Ukraine war'
Russian soldier sentenced to life in prison in 1st war crimes trial of Russia-Ukraine war

Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the Ukraine invasion back in February to destroy its southern neighbour’s military capabilities and capture what it regards as dangerous nationalists.

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Kyiv and its western allies have called that a baseless pretext to invade a country of 44 million people to topple its government, which Putin failed to do and instead stoked unity in Ukraine and abroad.

Can Ukraine win the war against Russia?

According to Thompson, Ukraine can win the war against Russia.

Ukraine’s defiance to date has no doubt impacted morale on both sides, Thompson said.

Before the Donbas offensive began, Ukrainian forces put up stiff resistance in and around the capital of Kyiv, and eventually took back areas around the city when Russian forces pulled out.

Heavily-damaged private houses are seen on the shore of the Sea of Azov in Mariupol in territory under the government of the Donetsk People’s Republic in eastern Ukraine on May 21. Alexei Alexandrov/AP

Earlier this month, Russian forces began pulling back from Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, after weeks of heavy bombardment. Authorities opened its underground metro on Tuesday, where thousands of civilians had sheltered for months.

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That reopening is a symbol of Ukraine’s biggest military success over the last few weeks: pushing Putin’s troops out of Kharkiv’s artillery range as they did from Kyiv in March.

These victories, in what has been a largely defensive war for Ukraine, will likely drive its troops to push for further successes, Thompson said.

“Yes, there’s a (Russian) push on in the east, but it’s not going to be a lightning-fast push,” he said.

“The Russian morale compared to the Ukrainian morale is poor, and as a result, they can’t commit soldiers to the same sort of vigorous assaults they could have if they had high morale, and they are sending artillery rounds rather than human beings in order to grind the Ukrainians down.”

Rasiulis, on the other head, thinks it’s unlikely Ukrainian forces would be able to push every Russian solider out of the country, including in occupied Crimea that Moscow has held since 2014 and just established a land bridge to, with the capture of Mariupol.

The war could halt with Russia’s troops being held to where they were in Ukraine prior to the invasion, but that’s not a given either with the fighting ongoing, Rasiulis added.

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Kiyv has repeatedly stated it does not intend to make any territorial concessions to Russia and has said it is not currently seeking a ceasefire despite calls from European leaders, including German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi.

At the end of the day, Ukraine will need more Western support to keep its war effort going while leaders figure out how to define victory to their publics, Thompson and Rasiulis said.

How can Canada and the West help Ukraine achieve victory against Russia?

Western nations have banded together to support Ukraine with military and financial aid, while moving to economically punish Russia for starting the conflict.

Canada has sent hundreds of millions worth of financial aid to help Ukraine’s economy and has sent both lethal and non-lethal support to the country.

Click to play video: 'Canada to provide artillery rounds to Ukraine in latest military aid'
Canada to provide artillery rounds to Ukraine in latest military aid

On Tuesday, Canadian Defence Minister Anita Anand announced Canada will donate more than 20,000 artillery rounds of 155 mm NATO standard ammunition, including fuses and charge bags, to help Ukraine’s military.

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Canada also trained Ukrainian armed forces for years before the war began as part of Operation Unifier, which Thompson said, “changed the mentality” of Kyiv’s forces into a modern military the world is seeing in action today.

Perhaps Canada could resume that training outside of Ukraine, but for the nation to achieve victory, western allies need to start supplying weapons, like surface-to-air missile systems, which would help the country go on the offensive, he added.

“They’re going to need more sophisticated weapons that will require training and that training is going to take time. It is possible that they will receive weapons that they are familiar with from other eastern European countries, which would speed that process up,” Thompson said.

“The true switch from defence to offence … which we are perhaps witnessing at this point in time, is really going to be dependent on the Ukrainians developing more of an offensive capability rather than the very robust defensive capability that they have at the moment.”

Dried flower bouquets inside a flower shop in a temporarily closed market in Kharkiv, eastern Ukraine, on May 24. Bernat Armangue/AP

Not only is the war resulting in thousands of deaths on both sides, but their economies and those of other nations are hurting as well.

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In Canada, gas prices are at record highs due to higher oil prices related to the war. Ukraine, a major supplier of the world’s grain, has had trouble maintaining its shipments around the world, leading to fears of global food shortages.

Allies have said they’ll be there to support Ukraine and punish Russia, but how long the two warring sides will be able to support their fights will be key to determining how the conflict unfolds, Rasiulis said.

“This is the kind of stuff that changes over time, and so the question is: where is it going?” he said. “How long can this be sustained by both sides?”

— with files from Reuters and the Associated Press

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