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Scott Ritter
Scott Ritter
Scott Ritter is a former US Marine Corps intelligence officer and author of 'SCORPION KING: America's Suicidal Embrace of Nuclear Weapons from FDR to Trump.' He served in the Soviet Union as an inspector implementing the INF Treaty, served in General Schwarzkopf's staff during the Gulf War, and from 1991 to 1998 served as a chief weapons inspector with the UN in Iraq. Mr Ritter currently writes on issues pertaining to international security, military affairs, Russia, and the Middle East, as well as arms control and nonproliferation.

Scott Ritter: Who is responsible for Ukraine’s failed counteroffensive?

On a normal summer’s day, the road to Rabotino would be empty, save for the odd combine tractor and the vehicles driven by farmers and their families as they tend to the fields of crops they had planted in spring.

The summer’s heat would reflect off the horizon, creating glimmering mirages, while the still air would echo with the chirping of birds and the buzzing of insects. On a normal summer’s day, the road to Rabotino would resemble paradise.

Today, the road to Rabotino can best be described as a highway to hell: the serene landscape scarred with craters made by artillery shells, bombs, and mines. Fields that once grew crops intended to feed the world now seem to produce another crop—the torn, burned-out hulks of Ukrainian tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, and other military vehicles of all shapes and sizes.

The air buzzes not with bees, but bullets, and the sky above is torn by the sound of shells passing overhead, on their way to their intended target, often consisting of a new crop of military metal waiting to be consumed by fire. The smell of fresh soil, young crops, and flowers of the field has been replaced by the fetid stench of rotting corpses, abandoned by their comrades who fled for their lives.

The Russian Ministry of Defense has assessed that, since the Ukrainian counteroffensive began in early June, the Ukrainian Army has suffered some 43,000 casualties, with more than 4,900 pieces of equipment, including 1,831 tanks and infantry fighting vehicles (among which are included 25 German-made Leopard tanks and 21 US-made M-2 Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicles) having been destroyed.

Russian casualties, while unspecified, have been alluded to by President Putin, who stated that the kill ratio was 10:1 in Russia’s favor. That equates to 4,300 casualties: the brutal blade of war cuts both ways.

The casualties suffered by Ukraine roughly align with the casualties suffered by German forces during their offensive operations against the Soviet Army in the battle of Kursk, fought in the month of July and August 1943. The Kursk battle was one of the largest during the Second World War.

This should give one an idea of the scope and scale of the violence which has transpired in and around the village of Rabotino, and elsewhere in the Zaporozhye and Donetsk regions where Ukraine and Russian forces are confronting one another.

When an army suffers a defeat of the scope and scale of that suffered by Ukraine near Rabotino, and in other fields and villages across the line of contact with Russia, it is normally incumbent upon the leadership of the defeated forces to ascertain the reasons why the defeat occurred, and then to undertake remedial action to correct the problems identified.

It came weeks after being on the receiving end of criticism from their erstwhile allies and partners in NATO, who provided Ukraine with both the material used to equip the Ukrainian Army, and training on how this equipment was to be used in battle against the Russians.

According to NATO, the Ukrainians were not using the tactics taught to them in Germany, France, and the United Kingdom, and as such failed to make best use of the equipment that had been provided to them for this offensive.

From the Ukrainian perspective, however, the blame is cast back on NATO for providing Ukraine with a plan of action, but not providing the tools necessary to successfully implement the plan. While the Ukrainian military did receive most, if not all (or in some cases, more) of the 300 tanks, 500 infantry fighting vehicles, and 500 artillery pieces it had said were required for a successful counterattack designed to throw Russian forces from the former Ukrainian territories of Kherson, Zaporozhye, Donetsk, and Lugansk that were annexed by Russia in September 2022 following a referendum on joining Russia—as well as Crimea, which Russia annexed back in 2014—the Ukrainians did not receive the artillery ammunition or modern F-16 fighter aircraft it had requested.
The failure of the Ukrainian counteroffensive, according to the Ukrainian leadership, was directly attributable to the inability of Ukraine to suppress Russian artillery and airpower, both of which, when combined with the extensive use by Russia of mines in preparing their defenses, prevented the Ukrainians from achieving their goals and objectives outlined for the operation, namely to break through the Russian defenses and capture the city of Melitopol, thereby severing the land bridge connecting Crimea to Russia.

But the reality is that the Ukrainian counteroffensive was never going to work, under any circumstance. First and foremost, the Ukrainian Army is not the same military force that existed when the Special Military Operation began in February 2022. That army was largely destroyed in the fighting that raged from February through June 2022.

Thanks to tens of billions of NATO-provided equipment, and billions more in financial and training support, Ukraine was able to rebuild its army, which it used to good effect in the fall of 2022, driving Russian forces out of the Kharkov region and from the right back of the Dnieper River.

But this victory came with a heavy price tag, and NATO and Ukraine were compelled to build a third army, consisting of the equipment requested by Ukraine, and some 60-90,000 Ukrainian troops who were trained by NATO. It is this army that is being sacrificed on the road to Rabotino today.

Most of the troops that comprised this new army had little or no prior military experience. They received approximately three weeks of training on military fundamentals, before being trained on the operation (and maintenance) of the new NATO weapons they would be using.

Then they spent a few weeks carrying out field exercises designed to simulate an attack on the Russian defenses using complex “combined arms” tactics taught by NATO and American instructors. After this, they were shipped back to Ukraine and sent on the road to Rabotino.

The reduction of a prepared defensive line is one of the most complicated tasks one can assign a military unit in combat. To successfully execute this mission, the assault forces need to be masters of their craft, operating as part of a combined arms team capable of suppressing enemy forces, and breaching minefields while maneuvering under fire.

This is a task that experienced units with years of training under their belts would have difficulty pulling off. For an army like Ukraine’s third-generation force, this was a mission impossible, something every NATO trainer involved in preparing the Ukrainian forces would have known.

The massacre that occurred along the road to Rabotino was unavoidable so long as Ukraine and their NATO masters believe that the conflict with Russia can be resolved through force of arms. The problem is that the disparity between the quality and quantity of forces deployed by Ukraine and their western supporters on the one side, and Russia on the other, is too wide to be bridged by any combination of training and equipment NATO might be able to provide.

There is no magic weapon available to the West that can change the reality on the battlefield in and around Rabotino. Neither F-16’s and/or ATACMS can alter this reality. Nor is there a magic wand that can be waved over the battlefield to change the qualitative issues regarding the Ukrainian soldiers, who arrive on one of the most technologically advanced—and lethal—battlefields in modern history with little or no training.

The Ukrainian generals responsible for giving the orders to the Ukrainian Army, and the NATO trainers who prepared them for battle, knew that the outcome that is transpiring along the road to Rabotino was inevitable.

The harsh fact is that tens of thousands of Ukrainian soldiers and billions of dollars of western military equipment have been sacrificed not for viable military purposes, of which there are none, but rather to assuage the political needs of Ukraine’s leaders, who needed to be seen as being willing to make use of the training and material support provided, and their US and NATO masters, who needed to be able to point to battlefield successes in Ukraine to justify the diversion of their respective national treasury and military arsenal to the Ukrainian cause.

The road to Rabotino is paved with the detritus of western hubris, manifested in the flesh and blood of the Ukrainian Army scattered amongst the destroyed material produced by the defense industries of the collective West. This battle had only one possible ending, which has come to pass.

But the real tragedy is that neither Ukraine nor the collective West have absorbed the lessons that they were taught by the Russian Army—that the conflict in Ukraine can only end in a Russian victory. Sadly, many thousands of more Ukrainian soldiers, and tens of billions of dollars more of western military equipment, will need to be sacrificed before this lesson is finally driven home.

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6 COMMENTS

  1. I, a woman, with no military experience, knew from the very beginning of this war that it was ” mission impossible” for Ukraine to win a war against Russia. Or for that matter anybody to win a war against Russia.

    Hubris indeed of western most stupid ” leaders”. Too stupid to study history

    • Yes something Putin, his family, and the others of the ruling classes certainly have studied for millennia, they know who their enemy is.

      Something for the Ukrainian public to chew on and digest. Shame on their overlords the dirty money hungry despots.

  2. Yes US/NATO trained forces applying western military doctrine = a high kill rate of Ukrainians on the front lines. About 42-43,000 since the start of the July offensive as Scott says.

    However to be clear this excludes western mercenaries killed…. many of them NZ and Australians. That number also excludes those killed in rearguard missile attacks by Russian on reserves, ammo dumps and infrastructure, etc. Estimated at about an additional 40,000 people. And its these rearguard attacks that have the greatest impact. Its like cutting off the legs of a chair. Russia in a word is crushing NATO and the dozens of other western elites that are puppeteering the Ukraine. The US and its its allies have been exposed as frauds but not for the first time.

    Now NZ backs the Ukraine but is now preparing to increase its military spend along with other five eyes nations to counter the “threat” of the Chinese. A threat the US is fueling stupidly. I say stupidly because when the entire west cannot defeat a Russian military only using about 10-15% of its actual military strength, then how can they even imagine taking on China?

    Well folks I’ve got some bad news but also good news for you. The bad news is that the west is in full moral, economic and military collapse. The good news is, we have time to learn Mandarin and Russian.

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