Standing Committee on National Defence (NDDN)
feat. Andrew Rasiulis
April 25, 2023
Mr. Chair and Members of the Committee
Thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today to provide an update on the current situation in the Russo-Ukraine War.
As of today the war may be described as being in a strategic stalemate. The last Ukraine offensive action was last fall when Ukrainian forces pushed back Russian forces in the areas of Kharkiv in the northern sector of the front, and in Kherson, specifically Kherson City in the southern sector of the front. Thereafter the Russians stabilized their defensive lines and the Ukrainian forces went over to the defensive. In January the Russians began a slow grinding offensive drive across various sectors of the entire front line. The main focus of the Russian offensive has been to capture the city of Bakhmut.
The Battle for Bakhmut in the central sector of the front, within the Oblast of Donetsk, has been the centrepiece of the Russian offensive drive. While there have been debates within the Ukrainian leadership, as well as with US military advisers, as to whether it would have been more effective militarily for the Ukrainian forces to retreat from Bakhmut and establish stronger defensive positions in two towns further west, the final decision taken by the Ukrainian Government was to hold on to a tenacious defence of the town.
To date the Russians have managed to push into Bakhmut with pincer movements surrounding the town from three sides, with the Ukrainians holding onto one road to the west which they use for resupply and evacuation of casualties and refugees. That road remains under Russian artillery fire. The Russians have also managed to push into the centre of the town and appear to occupy much of the town, with the Ukrainians doggedly defending the western sections. The battle continues to rage with latest reports of Russian forces continuing to advance westward in small incremental steps by seizing building by building and street block by street block. Casualties on both sides have been very high. Very much a battle of attrition.
Beyond the front lines the Russians have waged a war of aerial bombardment largely targeting Ukraine's energy grid throughout the country. The Russians have used a variety of weapons from cruise missiles to drones of various types. Ukrainian air defence systems have been quite successful in shooting down large proportions of the incoming Russian ordnance.
The Ukrainian political military objectives and aims in the war have been clearly stated as the expulsion of all Russian forces from occupied Ukraine, including Crimea. Essentially the Ukrainian borders of 1991. On the matter of Crimea, commentary appears from time to time about the potential of a diplomatic settlement on Crimea rather than though the force of arms. However, in the main, the Ukrainian position is to use military force to expel the Russian forces from Crimea.
The Russian political military objectives may be broken down into maximalist and minimalist. Russian maximalist objective has been to force a regime change in Ukraine through military action. The intent has been to install a pro Russian government in Kyiv that would align itself as a close partner of Russia and reject the objectives of moving closer to the West through accession to the EU and NATO. The minimalist Russian objective is to fully occupy by military force the four oblasts in eastern Ukraine that were annexed by the Russian Federation Duma, while continue to hold on to Crimea which Russia annexed in 2014. The four oblasts are Kharkiv, Luhansk, Donetsk and Kherson. The current front runs through these four oblasts and are controlled by Ukraine and Russia to varying degrees.
So where may the war go from here? The expectation is for an imminent Ukrainian spring/summer counter offensive. The centrepiece for this offensive is the latest reinforcement of Western arms such as main battle tanks, infantry armoured vehicles, air defence and artillery systems and large stocks of ammunition. hMost assessments are that this Ukrainian offensive has the potential to punch a hole somewhere in the Russian defence line and secure an operational level success. It is expected that the Russian defence will be strong enough to prevent a strategic level victory meaning the expulsion of Russian forces from all of occupied Ukraine. It should also be expected that the Russians will in turn conduct their own counteroffensive to offset the Ukrainian effort.
The resulting effect of the upcoming spring/summer fighting may continue to be a strategic stalemate into the fall. Whether there will be a change in Ukrainian and Russian political positions to move toward a ceasefire and eventual peace talks is impossible to assess at present. It remains very probable that the war will continue throughout 2023 without a ceasefire or political settlement.
Thank you for your attention. I look forward to your questions.