The war in Ukraine is now one of attrition, fought on terms that increasingly favour Moscow. Kyiv has dealt admirably with shortages of Western equipment so far, but a shortage of manpower – which it is already having to confront – may prove fatal, writes London’ ‘The Telegraph’.
Ukraine’s forces are not just fighting massed defences and artillery fire. They are also fighting against time. Having first penetrated the formidable Russian minefields four weeks ago, Kyiv is desperate to exploit its early successes before mounting casualties and autumn rains destroy its fighting capability.
The summer has been wet, and the autumn months traditionally bring heavy rains which turn the soft ground of eastern Europe into a thick mud as tanks, armour and artillery churn the battlefield. This can all but halt meaningful advances, locking armies into place and buying the Russians time to add to the deeply dug trench networks and multi-layered minefields that have made retaking lost territory such hard going.
Perhaps more important, however, is the heavy toll the fighting is taking on the people of Ukraine. The Russian armed forces began the war with an official strength of one million, and a true strength estimated by some analysts at between 700,000 and 800,000.
A further two million men – former conscripts and contract servicemen – were available in the reserves, and some seven million men of conscription age (18-26) left to draw on, even before the Kremlin raised the age limit to 31.
Ukraine, meanwhile, had a pre-war population of 44 million. By the end of the first year of the war, some six million had fled abroad. The armed forces number around 200,000 active personnel, roughly the same again in reserve, and can draw on another 1.5 million fighting-age males.
It’s a brutal but simple calculation: Kyiv is running out of men. US sources have calculated that its armed forces have lost as many as 70,000 killed in action, with another 100,000 injured.
Volunteers are no longer coming forward in numbers sufficient to keep the army at fighting strength: those most willing to fight signed up years ago. The latest recruitment slogan is “it’s OK to be afraid”, but there are still many attempting to dodge being drafted to fight on the front lines.
For all the difficulties the Kremlin has faced in its forced conscriptions, it still has hundreds of thousands of men to draw upon. This is a resource Ukraine simply cannot match, and one that the West cannot supply.
For Vladimir Putin, victory may at last be in sight as Western support begins to waver. If Kyiv cannot break through the Russian lines now, it may never be able to. If it runs out of willing men to recruit, the West cannot help, ‘The Telegraph’ concludes.