The Ukrainian army has the upper hand, but its offensives will continue to take modest bites out of the Russian positions, Gwynne Dyer writes.
The decisive factor in shaping this war has been the relatively small numbers of troops engaged on either side. When the Nazi and Soviet armies were waging their titanic battles back and forth across Ukraine in 1941-43, there were several million soldiers fighting on each side, with tanks, planes and artillery to match.
The Ukrainians quickly advanced about 75 kilometres on a broad front — and then they stopped, although the Russian troops in front of them were still fleeing.
The great offensives of 1941-43 advanced hundreds of kilometres before they stopped, but those were different days. The Ukrainian army now has the upper hand, but its offensives will continue to take modest bites out of the Russian positions.
So where will they attack next? Certainly not from newly liberated Kherson across the Dnipro river: it would cost too many lives to cross under fire. The Russians have been adding fortifications on the eastern front in Donetsk and Luhansk for almost a decade, and an offensive there would also be a slow and painful business.
The next real strategic target for Ukraine will almost certainly be a drive from the region of Zaporizhzhiye south to the Black Sea coast. That would leave all the Russian forces in what’s left of Kherson province and Crimea totally dependent on supplies coming across the badly damaged Kerch Strait Bridge from Russia.
If the Russian army actually collapses — unlikely but imaginable — the borders all go back to the pre-2014 map. If it’s still standing, then maybe Ukraine gives up the Donbas in return for recovering Crimea, or the other way around, or perhaps it has to accept merely to a return to the pre-February 2022 status quo.
The course of the fighting will decide which option actually materializes.