Aletho News


NATO’s Unsustainable Bluff

By Scott Ritter – Sputnik – 16.02.2023

On November 16, 2022, the chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff, General Mark Milley, at the conclusion of the seventh session of the Ukraine Contact Group (UCG) tasked with identifying and fulfilling military support requirements for Ukraine in its ongoing conflict with Russia, issued a very pessimistic assessment of the situation on the ground.

Noting that, for the moment, “Russia right now is on its back,” Milley warned that the Russian decision to incorporate nearly 20% of Ukrainian territory into its own borders, combined with the then-ongoing mobilization of 300,000 reserves, meant the conflict would not end any time soon. “[T]he probability of a Ukrainian military victory, defined as kicking the Russians out of all of Ukraine, to include what they claim is Crimea… is not high, militarily,” Milley noted.

What a difference three months make.

On February 14, 2023, on the eve of a 10th meeting of the UCG, Mark Milley seemed to have a change of heart, telling reporters that Russia has “lost” in the Ukraine conflict. As it approaches the one-year mark, Joint Chiefs chairman gen. singling out Russian President Vladimir Putin, Milley declared that Putin “thought he could defeat Ukraine quickly, fracture the NATO alliance, and act with impunity. He was wrong,” Milley said, adding that Russia has paid an “enormous price on the battlefield” as a result.

The American military chief continued. “Russia is now a global pariah and the world remains inspired by Ukrainian bravery and resilience. In short, Russia has lost—they’ve lost strategically, operationally, and tactically.”

Milley might want to consult with specialists the next time he opts to opine on matters pertaining to the conflict in Ukraine. Far from a “global pariah,” Russian diplomats are being welcomed with open arms in geopolitically vital regions of the world, such as Africa. This strong diplomatic showing, when combined with a strong Russian economy, which the International Monetary Fund expects to expand 0.3% in 2023 and 2.1% in 2024, despite stringent US and European-backed economic sanctions, points to a strategic victory by Russia.

As for Milley’s assessments regarding the state of play operationally and tactically, he would do well to heed recent comments by US Army General Christopher Cavoli, NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe, to a Swedish defense conference this past January. Cavoli noted that both the scale and intensity of the combat ongoing in Ukraine made it clear that the NATO alliance was not prepared to fight a large-scale ground war in Europe.

“The magnitude of this war is incredible,” Cavoli said. “If we average out since the beginning of the war, the slow days and fast days, the Russians have expended on average well over 20,000 artillery rounds per day. The scale of this war is out of proportion with all of our recent thinking,” Cavoli noted, adding, “it is real, and we must contend with it.”

Cavoli’s emphasis on artillery is critical in parsing out Milley’s assertions that Ukraine had the upper hand operationally and tactically, given the major role played by artillery in the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. While the intent of the 10th gathering of the UCG, convened on February 14, Saint Valentine’s Day, was to focus on the provision of high-value items to Ukraine, such as tanks and aircraft, the conference quickly diverted into the realm of reality, where the critical shortage of artillery ammunition arose as the primary problem facing Ukraine. While the United States had already delivered more than one million 155mm artillery shells to the Ukrainian Army, the scale of the fighting alluded to by General Cavoli means that Ukraine is firing off in a single day the total number of shells the US can produce in a month. At this rate, Ukraine is expected to run out of ammunition by the end of the summer.

Pro-hint to General Milley—if your opponent is firing many times the amount of artillery as you are, and you run out of ammunition, the operational and tactical advantage belongs to them, not you.

And while NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg’s recognition that Ukraine and NATO were facing an existential crisis when it came to artillery ammunition, there was no ready solution on the horizon the rectify the problem, especially in a time frame that would alter the dire logistical reality that come this summer, the Ukrainian Army will lose the ability to resist the Russian Army.

Two decades of singular focus on low-intensity combat in Iraq and Afghanistan has atrophied both US and European production lines for artillery ammunition. It would take years to start up new production lines, and even then, the private defense industries involved would be loath to do so without long-term contracts which, given the moment-by-moment aspect of NATO aid to Ukraine, is not forthcoming.

Meanwhile, Russia’s defense industry is chugging along on all cylinders, not only producing ammunition in sufficient quantities to meet its prodigious expenditure rates in Ukraine, but also build stocks sufficient to supply an expanding Russian military, expected to grow to over 1.5 million in the next several years.

Russia, unlike Ukraine, isn’t running out of ammunition any time soon, a fact which, in a war defined by artillery firepower, means it holds the operational and tactical edge over their Ukrainian opponents.

The issue is larger than simply the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. As General Cavoli alluded, not only has NATO stripped away its existing stockpile of artillery ammunition, it lacks the industrial capacity to replenish these stocks in the foreseeable future. According to former NATO Deputy Assistant Secretary General Jamie Shea, the trans-Atlantic alliance has “largely used up the available stocks” in supplying Ukraine, and now must focus on replenishing its own depleted stocks before the issue of meeting Ukraine’s urgent demands can be addressed.

Ukraine rolled into the Saint Valentine’s Day meeting with high expectations, dreaming of tanks and fighter aircraft. Instead, it left a jilted lover, told by its NATO allies that the well has literally run dry.

And if this situation holds for the next several months, General Milley might have to eat his words, since Russia is apparently on the course to achieve a decisive strategic, operational, and tactical military victory over Ukraine and its NATO sponsors.

February 16, 2023 - Posted by | Militarism | , , ,

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