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  • Writer's pictureSamvat Bhardwaj

Two Years of the Russia-Ukraine Conflict

Updated: Apr 17

A multidimensional analysis of the effects



The Russian Federation saw it fit to wage war upon a less-than-peer adversary in the early months of 2022. Like any belligerent military going to war, the view of the Russian General Staff and that of the Kremlin was of a swift military action leading to a quick victory. Two years on, both sides find themselves in an entrenched war that resembles the fronts of the First World War more, rather than the swift, armour-led, multi front ‘special military operation’ the Kremlin hoped to conduct.


Just like the reasons for the status quo for both the engaged parties are multi-faceted, equally diverse are the effects that the conflict has levied upon all stakeholders and observers. We shall conduct a sector-wise commentary on the degree of effects observed.


Energy

Russia was the largest exporter of natural gas. Eighty per cent of the produced natural gas would be consumed by Western Europe and was the primary source of energy for major chunks of the urban population and heavy industry.  Within the first few hours of the war starting, the principal concern on the minds of Europe was energy as there was simply no way of going cold turkey. There was hence a continued reliance on pipeline infrastructure like the Nord Stream until some state or non-state actor decided to make the choice for Europe and sabotage it, making it non-operational to date.


Over the past two years, Europe ended up paying exponential prices to meet its energy requirements and to replenish its strategic reserves. Some easement on this front was observed due to the increased activity of players like Qatar and India.


Agriculture

Russia and Ukraine contributed immensely to the global supply of wheat. By 2019 Russia had become the largest net exporter of wheat while Ukraine was at a respectable fifth. These exports suffered and for a while, the fear of global hunger due to a shortage of wheat appeared imminent. In the financial year 2021-2022, wheat exports fell by twenty-one.

 

Global prices of wheat are yet to stabilize before we may even consider a return to pre-February 2022 type of prices.

 

The conflict also threatened global hunger from another angle: Fertilizers. Specifically ammonia-based fertilizers. The only considerable global competitors in this commodity to both Russia and Ukraine were the USA, China and Canada. All three countries restricted exports as early as April of 2022 to prevent crises at home.

 

The World Economic Forum’s 2023 Global Risks Report ranked a looming food supply crisis as one of the top four threats facing the world, predicting that “the lagged effect of a price spike in fertilizer” would hit food production across the world in 2023.





Military

The principal assumption at the onset of the Russia-Ukraine war was a quick capture of the Ukrainian capital Kiev, total control of the eastern areas of Donbas, Luhansk allowing for subsequent capture of the port city of Odessa, cutting off all port access to Ukraine. This would by extension bring the ethnic Russian population in Eastern Ukraine directly under Moscow’s control. Such objectives realistically should have been achieved by the Russians in no more than three months. Three years on neither of these objectives have been achieved.


There were certain reasons why Ukraine has managed to sustain itself and display ingenuity and tactical awareness in the face of absolute annihilation.


Foreign Advisors

The Russian claim of ‘foreign military advisers’ in Ukraine as a pretext for war did have some truth to it. Certain Operational Detachment Alpha(s) (ODAs) of the US Army Special Forces (Combat Applications Group/Delta Force/Green Berets) had been training and advising key elements of the Ukrainian Armed Forces as far back as 2018. Verticals like urban combat, fighting in build-up areas, foreign internal defence, and behind-enemy-lines operations seemed to be some key areas of instruction.


Once the conflict did begin there was a confirmed on-ground presence of entities like the Global Response Staff (CIA’s paramilitary wing), Grom (Polish Special Forces), certain ‘retired’ members of the French Foreign Legion and the British Special Air Service along with a multitude of private military contractors. These entities might not be considered large enough in number to cause a dent, but the effect in terms of combat experience, lessons, means & methods that they impart on the Ukrainians along with the general uplifting of morale that these foreign entities brought about was astronomical.


These foreign entities were of even greater help when large numbers of Western weapon systems started being inducted into the Ukrainian ranks. This allowed for a quick familiarization and a feedback cycle.


Foreign Weapons Aid

Thanks to the global war on terror, America and her allies were mostly done with projecting boots on the ground military power around the world. There is an increasing absence of finances, demographics, and national will(s) for such an endeavor. This absence was, however, not felt when it came to arming Ukraine.

 

Weapon systems that the US and Europe gave to the Ukraine were mostly surplus equipment on the verge of decommissioning (destroying because no longer safe to store/operate). Recently we’ve also seen experimental technologies making their way on the battlefield and thanks to the presence of foreign advisers the feedback is making its way back to the manufacturer at an unprecedented pace.


The conflict removed a very strongly held view in the Defence community globally: “Modern wars will be quick and decisive”. Instead, the ‘Aid to Ukraine’ programs showed the West (and India) the gaping holes in their industrial capacities to support or engage in a war for months on end if they were to continue supporting it or hypothetically get involved in one.


The decisive weapon systems in this conflict have been shoulder-fired missiles, unguided artillery, and drones all of which are required to be used in godly numbers and amassed against the enemy. This requires a very strong industrial support which is lacking, heavily by the Russians and slightly less so by the West.


Highlighted Domains

  1. Drones: For quick surveillance and real-time actionable intelligence the cheap drones in this conflict have been a novel addition. The unprecedented intelligence-gathering capability that this tool provides to the on-ground commander allows him/her to take quick tactical decisions independent of his/her superiors. Apart from this, drones have also been used in offensive measures to carry munitions and simply drop them on unsuspecting and exposed buildings of enemy combatants.

  2. Air Superiority: Air dominance and air superiority over the battlefield is another concept that is undergoing revision. The focus has now shifted to beyond-visual-range air combat, radar capabilities, surface-to-air missiles and electronic warfare capabilities. In terms of ground attack air combat and helicopters, Russia seems to have forgotten all the lessons it had picked up during its time in Afghanistan.

  3. Logistics: Russian failure of logistics especially in the earlier days of the conflict was their most critical flaw. There have been multiple offensives that were abandoned simply because tanks, troop carrying truck did not have enough fuel, infantry did have enough riffle ammunition, artillery did not have enough shells. The Ukrainians had this sorted within the first 6 months.

  4. Intelligence: The conflict would have had a diametrically different status quo if only three rudimentary thresholds of intelligence would have been achieved by the Russians:

    1. Ground commanders and intelligence gathering assets giving truthful and realistic intelligence inputs and assessments;

    2. The General Staff having the ability to listen to their ground commanders, accept tactical failures and convey that information upto their political bosses;

    3. The General Staff having the common sense to plan with the intelligence that they were provided and not the intelligence they wanted to be provided to them;


End State

By the time the war ends we could have achieved a significant decoupling of the Russian market and workforces from globalized trade. Russians’ commodities may still be found on the market through trade proxies and processing partners like Belarus, China, India and partners in Africa.

 

The most likely manner that the conflict ends is when both parties have assessed that they can longer continue to fight considering the loss of life, land, sovereignty and national prestige they suffer. The Ukrainians and the West have made it very clear that they  are willing to fight till the last, to push the Russians back to the pre-Feb 2022 borders, if not take more territory in the process.

 

It has always been the Russian assessment that the open steppes of Ukraine, being so close to their major population centers is a strategic risk, one that they weren’t able to tolerate. The Russians believed that the white Russian orthodox Christian majority had the demographic strength i.e. enough people in the war fighting age bracket (16-45) to sustain combat. The ethnically white orthodox Christian Russian majority would have naturally lost their demographic ability to wage wars by 2035. The Russian planners were further sure that the period around 2022 would have been the last time when their demography would allow participation in any conflict.

 

Accurate data is the first casualty of a war but, with even the most conservative estimations we are looking at a demographic collapse of the White Russian ethnicity that populated western Russia and eastern Ukraine.


About the Author

Samvat is a first-year Economics major at the Jindal School of Government and Public Policy. He serves as the Research Associate for Security at Policy Corner. His areas of interest include national security, defence, military doctrine and public policy.

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