by General Ben Hodges

Episode 2: “Where is The Russian Navy?”

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   The Renew Democracy Initiative brings you the next episode of our video series on the war in Ukraine in collaboration with New Debate and General Ben Hodges. A lot has happened in the war since our last episode; join General Hodges as he expertly walks through the latest battlefield updates and what the Free World can expect to come next. We offer an inside look at how Ukraine succeeded in its most recent counteroffensive, the roots of Russian soldiers’ unwillingness to fight, Ukraine’s ability to wage an asymmetric war successfully, and what continued international support for Ukraine should look like.

Play Video

   The Renew Democracy Initiative, in collaboration with New Debate and retired U.S. Army Lieutenant General Ben Hodges, will offer strategic analysis in a short-video of Russia’s war against Ukraine. His insights include the role that morale and logistics play during wartime, the strong strategic position Ukraine currently finds itself in, and the urgency of supplying additional western weapons to help Ukraine maintain its momentum.

   Hodges highlights four important strategic considerations Russia made in advance of their invasion that now appear to be miscalculations. As a result, he believes that by the end of 2022, Ukrainian forces will push the Russian military back to the 23 February line.  

Where is The Russian Navy?

   The Renew Democracy Initiative brings you the next episode of our video series on the war in Ukraine in collaboration with New Debate and General Ben Hodges. A lot has happened in the war since our last episode; join General Hodges as he expertly walks through the latest battlefield updates and what the Free World can expect to come next. We offer an inside look at how Ukraine succeeded in its most recent counteroffensive, the roots of Russian soldiers’ unwillingness to fight, Ukraine’s ability to wage an asymmetric war successfully, and what continued international support for Ukraine should look like.

   The Ukrainian military has made its most significant breakthrough since successfully defending Kyiv during the start of the war by announcing a southern counteroffensive in August in the city of Kherson and surprising the Russians by launching a northern attack. While Ukrainians openly discussed a southern offensive, they carefully mustered troops in the North, catching the Russians by surprise. This was done through calculated and disciplined communications within the ranks of Ukrainians to ensure operational security, allowing Ukraine to recapture strategically important northern cities Balakliya, Kupyansk, and Izyum.

   Ukraine’s stunning success has not only illuminated its resolve and strategic cunning, but it has also exposed the Russian military’s lack of will. General Ben comments on the disorganization of the retreating Russian troops, exhibited by the prevalence of Russian equipment, weapons, and garbage left behind in previously captured territories. He states that this display demonstrates a severe lack of discipline, reflecting that Russian soldiers are unprepared to fight. However, the Russian army doesn’t just lack discipline, they lack numbers as well. Hodges says they are struggling with recruitment and mass mobilization to gather the necessary troops to continue fighting and replenish their ranks. On the other hand, Ukrainians are in no short supply of motivated soldiers, eager to push out the occupiers.

   Ukraine is winning an asymmetric war. Not only are Russian forces failing on land in the northeast, but they are also failing at sea, as Hodges comments on the state of the Russian navy. The Black Sea fleet of the Russian navy is hiding behind Crimea. The fleet will not even attempt to go near the coastline, as they fear Ukraine’s ability to strike them down using precision missiles and drones. The Russian navy is not in this fight, and if they continue to hide, they will soon be destroyed.

   General Hodges argues that western sanctions are working. Russia is struggling to access crucial precision weaponry and components to operate them. They have even turned to authoritarian partners such as North Korea for artillery ammunition. Hodges believes the combined impact of sanctions on the Russian population and substantial battlefield losses over the next two to three months will increase the pressure on the Kremlin. Ukrainian victory is inevitable if Western nations can stick together, deliver on their promises, and maintain sanctions.

   Hodges knows that this will not be an easy task. Winter is coming, and many Western citizens will feel the harmful effects of sanctions and rising energy costs. But he reminds us that this war is about more than economics. It is about stopping Russia from harming its neighbors. It is about the worldwide battle between democracy and autocracy. The Free World must be willing to show dictators worldwide that we will stand our ground in the face of personal costs. Only then can we help Ukraine achieve victory against the Russian threat.

Russian Soldiers
Don’t Want to Fight

   The Renew Democracy Initiative, in collaboration with New Debate and retired U.S. Army Lieutenant General Ben Hodges, will offer strategic analysis in a short-video of Russia’s war against Ukraine. His insights include the role that morale and logistics play during wartime, the strong strategic position Ukraine currently finds itself in, and the urgency of supplying additional western weapons to help Ukraine maintain its momentum.

   Hodges highlights four important strategic considerations Russia made in advance of their invasion that now appear to be miscalculations. As a result, he believes that by the end of 2022, Ukrainian forces will push the Russian military back to the 23 February line.  

   These miscalculations include, first, Russia’s overconfidence in their force advantage. Russia believed the difference between its military capability and Ukraine’s was large enough to enable a swift victory like similar military operations in Eastern Europe during the Cold War. Second, Putin was confident that he could isolate Ukraine from the support of third parties like Europe and the US, a calculation which appears to have been misguided as more money, weapons, and supplies pour into Ukraine from its Western allies. Third, Russian experts believed that the territory gained in Ukraine would be worth the costs of war and the pain of economic sanctions. High casualties and a crippled economy tell a different story. Lastly, Russia thought that war would destroy Ukraine as a democracy and break apart NATO unity in the face of the Russian threat. In fact, it has strengthened Ukraine’s democratic national identity and encouraged international support for NATO.

   In wartime, momentum matters as it influences everything from soldier morale to army logistics. And the single most important conclusion that Hodges has drawn is that Ukraine has seized the momentum, and with continued Western support, he believes that Russian defeat is inevitable. With its logistics in disarray, countless military units in tatters, and swiftly running low on advanced weaponry, Russia cannot launch a new offensive, and even more concerningly for the Kremlin, they appear to be increasingly unable to protect their rear. Ukrainians have had incredible success striking strategic locations like airfields and ammunition storage sites well behind Russian lines. Meanwhile, international sanctions have limited Russia’s access to precision weaponry and the raw materials necessary to maintain a modern army. And while Ukraine does have some logistical struggles of its own, new supplies of weapons and spare parts from Western Allies have increased the capacity of the Ukrainian Armed Forces at the same time as the capacity of the Russian army has begun to degrade. 

    With respect to soldier morale, the difference could not be more stark. There is no dearth of Ukrainians looking to defend their nation or support their armed forces. On the other hand, the Kremlin must balance military recruitment with an effort to downplay the reality of its failure on the frontlines of a conflict it still refuses to call a “war.” Putin could not call a mass mobilization without risking his popularity among the Russian people and so has resorted to recruiting minorities living on the fringes of Russian society and or even prisoners. As a result, Russian soldiers are not particularly motivated to fight, with some going so far as to shoot themselves in the leg in order to leave the battlefield and collect a payout. Hodges’s assessment is that the Russian army is bankrupt, both logistically and in spirit.

    Hodges believes that the future of Ukraine will not only be determined by a test of will within Ukraine and its people, but also by a test of will amongst Western democracies. Ukraine’s freedom will in large part depend on the democratic world’s continued support. The war in Ukraine will have far-reaching effects ranging from Taiwan to the rise of autocracy, meaning it is a frontline that democracies cannot afford to lose. As long as domestic disputes don’t distract us from Ukraine’s fight for democracy and self-determination, any chance of Russian victory will be eliminated. 

Aaro Berhane

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