The war in Ukraine continues to this day. And now, the Ukrainians and the Russians are fighting a new kind of war. It’s not about conquering territory or checkpoints – it’s about who controls information. A few days ago, Russian media reported the destruction of a Ukrainian armored convoy near Vesyegonsk in the Donetsk region. Social networks exploded with messages that Kyiv had attempted to break through from Debaltseve and was destroyed by the defenders of that city and its surroundings. Each side has its own version of events, but these things have become routine for both parties engaged in this war. In this article, we will explain why Ukraine is not attacking the convoy (and probably won’t).
Why Ukraine Is Not Attacking The Convoy?
1. The Escalation Risk is Too High
Russia is no longer the Soviet Union. Today, it is a rising global power with an assertive military. In fact, Russia’s military spending is set to exceed that of the U.S. next year. Given this reality, Ukraine cannot afford to go toe-to-toe with Moscow. First, direct military confrontation would escalate the conflict, triggering a larger crisis. Indeed, this is what happened when the Ukrainians downed a Russian SU-25 fighter jet last week. Second, it would undermine Kyiv’s ability to reach a negotiated settlement. In fact, Russia is offering to host peace talks over the weekend, hoping to undermine Ukraine’s claims to sovereignty. Third, it would provide a pretext for Russia to expand its engagement in Ukraine, further complicating Kyiv’s ability to negotiate a peaceful settlement.
2. Ukrainian Forces are Overstretched
The Ukrainian military is desperately overstretched. The country has been engaged in a low-level conflict since 2014, following its decision to break away from the Russian Federation. Indeed, since the annexation of Crimea, Ukraine has been struggling to defend its territory and maintain its autonomy. In addition to dealing with a stubborn insurgency in the Donbas region, Ukraine has also had to contend with Russian naval operations in the Black Sea and frequent violations of its airspace by Russian planes. Worse still, Ukraine is also contending with a massive refugee crisis, with around 2 million Ukrainians having to flee the country. Given this reality, it is not surprising that Kyiv has struggled to mount an effective response to the Russian convoy.
3. Ukraine is Waiting for International Support
Nowhere is the underperformance of the West more apparent than in the response to Russian aggression towards Ukraine. While the EU has imposed a series of sanctions against Russia, it has proved unwilling to provide meaningful military support to Kyiv. Indeed, NATO has done little more than issue a series of statements criticizing the Russian convoy. Given this lack of support, Kyiv has struggled to develop an effective response. In particular, it has highlighted a shortage of military equipment, including anti-tank missiles, reconnaissance drones, and modern night-vision goggles. Given this, Kyiv is likely to wait for Western support before mounting an attack against the convoy.
4. Ukrainian Equipment is Inadequate
Ukraine has lost a significant amount of military equipment since the start of the conflict. In fact, it is estimated that Kyiv has lost around a quarter of its armed forces due to deaths, desertions, and defections. As a result, Ukraine has struggled to maintain a functional military force. In particular, it has been unable to replace lost equipment, resulting in a de facto military blockade. Indeed, even the country’s military aircraft have been grounded due to a lack of spare parts. Given this reality, it is not surprising that Ukraine has failed to mount an effective response to the Russian convoy.
5. By Defending Its Borders, Ukraine Covers its Bases
Perhaps the most obvious reason why Ukraine is not attacking the Russian humanitarian convoy is that it is defending its borders. Granted, Kyiv’s response has been slow and ineffective, but it is nonetheless true. In particular, according to Kyiv, the convoy is an attempt by Moscow to escalate the conflict in advance of peace talks. As such, it has been deployed along the border with Russia, ostensibly to prevent Moscow from bringing in weapons and military personnel. In addition, the convoy has been deployed to the town of Luhansk, which has been without power and water since March, due to fighting. As such, Kyiv’s decision to defend its borders rather than attack the convoy makes sense.
What Are The Conditions For The Voluntary Retreat Of The Convoy?
- The Russian convoy was expected in the area of the town of Volnovakha. There are two routes it can take from the border, both of which pass through areas controlled by pro-Kyiv forces. If the convoy takes the left route, it will pass through the city of Kharkiv, which is controlled by the Kyiv authorities, then through Volnovakha, and finally, to the city of Donetsk, controlled by the militants.
- If the convoy takes the right route, it will pass through the border city of Uspenka, controlled by pro-Russian militants. After that, it will travel to the city of Lugansk, controlled by the militants. The convoy will most probably choose the left route. This is the shortest route to its destination in the city of Donetsk. The right route would be longer and more difficult. There are several reasons why the convoy should take the left route.
- The militants are under pressure from pro-Kyiv forces. Taking the right route would lead the convoy into a combat area where it might be attacked by the Ukrainian military.
- The left route is the most direct route to Donetsk. Going through the city of Volnovakha, the convoy can be inspected by the OSCE and journalists, including Russian journalists.
- The militants in Donetsk will be happy to see the convoy arrive. They can open a humanitarian corridor for the Russian trucks, use them for their own purposes, and tell the world that it is the Kyiv government that is preventing the safe passage of humanitarian aid, not them.
- Taking the left route would allow the convoy to avoid the city of Kharkiv, which is experiencing protests against President Poroshenko.
Who Is Controlling The Vesyegonsk Direction?
- The Vesyegonsk direction is not controlled by Kyiv, but by the Donbas militia, who are defending their territory. The militias have said many times that they will not let the Ukrainians through Debaltseve.
- Even if Kyiv has enough resources to conduct a full-fledged offensive, it’s unlikely that the Donbas militia will allow them to maneuver freely.
- The above is confirmed by the fact that the Debaltseve direction is not among the strategic objectives of the Armed Forces of Ukraine for the coming year. According to the plans of the General Staff, the Armed Forces will focus their offensive on the Vostok, Zapad-19, and Zaitsev directions. Debaltseve is not even mentioned among the priorities of the Armed Forces.
Why Does Russia Have An Interest In A Fake Offensive?
- First, it’s a propaganda trick to show that Ukraine is continuing its war against the militia and conducting an offensive. Hopefully, it will lead to an increase in aggression against the Ukrainians from both sides – from the militia and from the Ukrainian side. As a result, the situation in Donbas will worsen, the fighting will spread to other directions, and Kyiv will become even more dependent on external support.
- Second, Russia wants to create the image of Ukraine as an aggressor and to direct the blame for any new escalation onto Kyiv. As you see, everything is very simple and straightforward. There’s no need to look for meteoric schemes – most likely, it’s just that way.
- A fake offensive is beneficial to the Russian side in several ways., it can be used to justify Russia’s support for the “Novorossiya” project, which has been losing popularity in the Kremlin over recent months. This would also allow Russia to avoid a direct confrontation with Kyiv and Washington.
- A fake offensive can also be used as a pretext to strengthen the Novorossiya Armed Forces by bringing in more troops and equipment on the pretext of fighting Ukraine’s forces. Finally, a fake offensive will serve as an excuse for Russia if it decides to invade Ukraine even if it doesn’t want to do so right now (for example, if Washington decides to arm Ukraine).
The decision by Ukraine to defend its borders rather than attack the Russian humanitarian convoy has raised serious doubts about the country’s intentions. Indeed, many have questioned whether Ukraine is truly committed to defending its sovereignty. However, in light of the obvious limitations of its military, as well as the lack of support from the West, it is not surprising that Kyiv has opted to defend its borders. In addition, given the Russian military’s growing assertiveness, it is not a decision that can be condemned.