Assistant Comment Editor Francis Dearnley summarises his thoughts on Zaluzhnyi’s essay.
The Economist has published an abridged version, but if I were to summarise its top lines and the interview that accompanies it, I’d start with its stark warning: that there will be no quick “breakthrough” in the counteroffensive against Russia.
“Just like in the First World War we have reached the level of technology that puts us into a stalemate,” he tells the Economist. He said it would require a massive technological leap to break the deadlock. “There will most likely be no deep and beautiful breakthrough.”
“If you look at Nato’s text books and at the maths which we did [in planning the counter-offensive], four months should have been enough time for us to have reached Crimea, to have fought in Crimea, to return from Crimea and to have gone back in and out again,” Gen Zaluzhny told the magazine. When his troops got nowhere, he wondered if it was his commanders, so he changed them. They still had no luck. He said he only got an insight when he reread a book published in 1941 by a Soviet major-general, who analysed the battles of the First World War called “Breaching Fortified Defence Lines”.
He said: “And before I got even halfway through it, I realised that is exactly where we are because just like then, the level of our technological development today has put both us and our enemies in a stupor.”
As a consequence, in the essay he lays out in more detail how the war is bogged down in what he calls this “positional form” and what is required to get out of it: namely gain air superiority; breach mine barriers in depth; increase the effectiveness of counter-battery and electronic warfare; and create and prepare the necessary reserves.
He also says that “It should be taken into account that the widespread use of information technology in military affairs and the rational organisation of logistics support play a significant role in finding a way out of the positional form of warfare. The need to avoid transitioning from a positional form to a manoeuvrable one necessitates searching for new and non-trivial approaches to break military parity with the enemy.”
Dom Nicholls expresses his surprise at the level of detail revealed in the essay:
It lists the kind of equipment that they were seeking. Conversations that I would expect to be happening in the Ramstein process, where partner nations gift military equipment and pledge military equipment… behind closed doors. But that’s the point, behind closed doors. I was surprised to see it in the open.
I’m partly minded that it might be a sort of secret double bluff. He talks about the four or five areas that he really wanted to concentrate on but I’ve gone through the essay and I can’t find the word tank anywhere. That was obviously really high on the on the wish-list a few months ago, so I just wonder if if there’s a double bluff happening here.
But to quickly highlight those five areas that he said that it was necessary to build up; air superiority, reaching the minefields, increasing the effectiveness of counter battery fire, that’s artillery fire, also electronic warfare, and number five, the reserves.
Contributor Hamish de Bretton-Gordon is particularly interested in that focus on technology:
Zaluzhny says towards the end and in various parts that we need some new technology, that is what is going to break the stalemate.
And that made me think back to the First World War and the Second World War. If we think about what the key technological advances were in the First World War that made a difference, well, the first one is gas. It was the use of gas chemical weapons in Ypres in 1915 that made a demonstrative difference, but it was very quickly countered, and gas has not been used a great deal since.
Then in 1917, it was the tank that made the significant difference. The tank action in Combray in November 1917 is very similar to the tank action that that we’re seeing in Ukraine at the moment.
Dare I say it, but the other technological advance that made a huge difference was, of course, the atomic bomb, at the end of the Second World War, and I don’t think anybody is talking about that.
So I agree with Dom, I think there is a lot more to this. I think it is a very honest lay down of where the higher command in Ukraine think they are, but I am sure there is some maskirovka in here as well.
And I suppose on the political level, the key thing is this is an absolute wake up call to the West. If you completely focus on the Middle East, if we lose in Ukraine, then things are going to be much worse.
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