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Harsh Light of Day for Ukraine after Vilnius

Harsh Light of Day for Ukraine after Vilnius

By Todd Davis

Most of us have never heard of a NATO summit meeting, or if we had, it was something distant, nebulous, a collection of bureaucrats making organizational decisions that had nothing to do with our lives. Not this year though, not in 2023. The NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania was publicized and hyped, a save-that-date moment for the Western media. On a July weekend history was going to be made. So important was this summit and the resulting alliances expected to come out of it that NATO planned and developed the entire Ukrainian counteroffensive around it. Ukraine would be six weeks into its attack and would have thrown Russia back, certainly taking Melitopl, probably Mariupol, and would be on the gates of Crimea. All the sacrifice and cost of the war on Russia would have paid off and NATO would be ready to embrace Ukraine as a full-fledged member, the announcement would come and the war, for all intents and purposes, would be over. Russia would have to sue for peace. NATO had won. Except, it didn’t happen. None of it. 

Arming Ukraine Part 3

NATO spent the first quarter of 2023 raiding warehouses and depots from its members arm twisting and cajoling to scrape together as much armor and ammunition it could find to outfit Ukraine for one last push into Russia. Even if the more level-headed analysts felt reaching Crimea was a stretch goal, Ukraine would certainly be able to recapture Mariupol and break the land bridge Russia had with the region. The resulting logistical log jam would place such stress on the Russian Federation that Vladimir Putin would be compelled to come to terms. 

Ukraine’s military, the AFU, was now armed for the third time by NATO. The first time was in 2014 after the NATO-backed coup brought regime change to the country and installed a pro-Western government that would be able to bring NATO right to the doorstep of Russia. True, the unfortunate side effect was empowering a regime awfully comfortable with Nazis that conducted modern-day pogroms against Russian-speaking people in Odessa and the Donbass. And yes, these atrocities led to a civil war with the DPR and LPR attempting to break away from Ukraine. But this wasn’t the first time NATO had installed a suspect regime in a country and the important thing was to weaken Russia.

This NATO-supplied army was defeated in the Spring of 2022 by the Russians, DPR, and LPR militias when Vladimir Putin intervened in the Donbass civil war. Losing virtually all its tanks, artillery, and AFVs the AFU had to be rebuilt if it was going to stay in the war, which NATO wanted it to do sensing a chance to destroy Russia once and for all. NATO was under the impression that Vladimir Putin was Saddam Hussein and this was still 1991, but whatever, all hands on deck, it blew up the peace deal that Ukraine and Russia had tentatively agreed to in March 2022, promised Zelensky it would back him, and set about rearming Ukraine. 

The second NATO arming of Ukraine resulted in more guns, artillery, tanks, AFVs, MLRS, and an ever-increasing array of “game-changing” weapons that would defeat the Russians. The AFU did in fact, achieve a victory, of sorts, around Kharkov. Ukraine threw back the 2000 militia the Russian Federation had there and captured several cities including Izyum and Lyman as the outnumbered Russians wisely chose to retreat rather than hold till the last Russian. Overconfident after pushing back militia and wanting to prove to NATO that it was winning, Ukraine launched the disastrous Kherson offensive. Tactically, Ukraine did occupy, for about a week Kherson, before pulling back because the city is strategically indefensible. Russia again chose not to fight and extricated its entire corps defending Kherson without disorder. For Ukraine, the attacks on the outer ring of the city, as documented by the Washington Post, were a disaster as Russia was inflicting 6:1 losses on the AFU and Ukraine lost almost all the armor and ordinance given to them by NATO. 

While Russia finished off the decisive battle of Bakhmut in 2023, Ukraine waited to incorporate a dozen NATO-trained brigades into its forces. These would be the tip of the spear that drove into the heart of the Russian defenses. Defenses Russia had spent months building laying extensive minefields, interconnected trench lines with coordinated fire traps all zoned in by its overwhelming artillery advantage. No matter, thought NATO, the Maginot Line didn’t hold and neither would this. Ukraine now had Leopard 2 tanks and even a dozen British Challengers. The Spring counteroffensive of 2023 was more hyped than a Taylor Swift tour. Spring turned into Summer since Ukraine, seeing up close the defenses it would be facing, was internally rather uneasy about attacking. No time for logic now. President Joe Biden told Zelensky he had to go in and so, like John Bell Hood going up Little Round Top, the AFU, under protest from Ukrainian General Valerii Zaluzhnyi who more or less disappeared when this attack became inevitable, the NATO-trained Ukrainians went in. 

The Attack That Never Was

Propaganda has achieved maximum effectiveness when the people producing it end up believing the propaganda themselves. Ukraine, and NATO, must have convinced themselves that Russia really had suffered 200,000 casualties and that its army consisted of 18-year-old conscripts that would run away at the first push from an attacking army. There can be no other rationale behind the counteroffensive strategy. 

Ukraine started attacking heavily mined prepared defensive lines where Russia had a large superiority in artillery, the major weapon with which this war was being fought, and air superiority. Battlefield conditions like this heavily favor the defender, it seems rather astonishing that NATO generals ignored decades of data and past examples of previous wars in designing this attack. The belief that the AFU was simply going to punch through this line simply because they wanted to was so grounded in fantasy that it borders on malpractice. 

The results were predictable;  war is usually a series of deadly mathematical equations. Russia had more men and more guns positioned mostly on the high ground. Ukraine’s attacks in late May and early June failed miserably. Within days the first images were out on social media showing burning Leopards and abandoned Bradley fighting vehicles. A series of disasters befell the NATO-trained brigades as the AFU took abandoned villages and then were bombarded with artillery specifically sighted in on these locations. Russia would then attack the shattered AFU companies and retake the ghost towns in the grey zone between Ukrainian and Russian lines. Ukraine would counterattack, Russia would pull back and the whole sequence would be repeated. Other AFU attempts to advance stumbled into minefields that they had no way of clearing. How does an army draw up a plan of attack to cross minefields and have no way to clear them?

Suddenly uneasy about its complete inability to push forward, Ukraine began to waffle, claiming that the “real” counterattack had not yet begun. And then days went by. And then weeks. And still, Ukraine could not get through the grey zone. The much-publicized offensive has been such a failure that it never even reached the Russian defensive line.


The New York Times recently published an article that said Ukraine lost 20% of its attacking force in the first two weeks of June. Armies in action take attrition. Attrition has been the primary focus of the Russian strategy, wearing down the AFU by constant contact, and chewing up its equipment and manpower. Ukraine started the summer offensive with around 80,000 men in 12 brigades. This was the core of its army, the mechanized units capable of offensive action. Definitive reports on armored strength are impossible to nail down because we don’t know how much of the equipment NATO promised to send was actually delivered. We can safely say that Ukraine had 1000 tanks and AFVs. Attrition looks something like this:

Manpower AFVs
80,0000 1000


60,800 720
57,760 648
54,872 583
52,129 525


This table represents 20% attrition in the first two weeks then a 5% manpower rate of attrition each following week. Armor losses are 10% each following week as it coincides with reports that Ukraine is losing 11 AFVs a day and it’s more likely the attrition among AFVs due to damage and breakdowns is higher than that among soldiers. After seven weeks of continuous combat, this is approximately the level by which the AFU mechanized combat forces have been reduced.

Astonishingly, after it had become apparent to even the most ardent supporters of Ukraine that the offensive wasn’t going well, Ukraine’s Department of Defense claimed this was never going to be a quick breakthrough and was always going to be a slow war of attrition. In other words, Ukraine was acknowledging that it was now locked into the exact type of battle that Russia wants to fight because every advantage in this type of struggle favors the Russian Federation. 

NATO Response at Vilnius

President Joe Biden and his NATO cohorts desperately wanted something they could spin as a Ukrainian victory at the Vilnius summit. However, so complete was Ukraine’s failure in the southern Donbass, nothing could be spun. Since Ukraine hasn’t been able to take a single town, there was nothing to propagandize. Ukrainian losses, especially in modern front-line tanks like Leopards must have horrified the NATO leadership. After all, they are the ones on the hook for replacing it. It’s the tax dollars of Germans, Americans, French, and British citizens burning on the summer fields on the Russian steppes. 

Zelensky showed up at Vilnius expecting to strongarm Ukraine into NATO. Instead, he received a cold shoulder from the attendees. Dressed in his usual Fidel Castro costume, for the first time he looked out of place, alien, a gardener who had stumbled into a Great Gatsby party where the elite of Europe were dressed in Chanel and Prada. Handshakes with him were forced, conversations brief. Zelensky, and Ukraine, were being ghosted.  

The leaders of NATO expected a victory in June. They expected something that could be brought to the peace table. Instead, they were confronted by the realization that Russia wasn’t beaten and that it wasn’t going anywhere. They were confronted by the fear they now felt toward Russia. They were confronted by impending defeat.

The more industrial savvy likely understood that Russia was producing far more tanks and ammunition than what NATO was capable of sending to Ukraine. Like the economic sanctions of 2022, this war wasn’t weakening Russia, it was weakening the West. Ammunition stocks are gone in Germany. Conventional ammunition is so depleted in America that Joe Biden decided to send cluster rounds to Ukraine, a type of ammunition banned in 100 countries across the world, including all of his NATO allies. Ukraine had become the loud, demanding party guest that you no longer wanted within your elite social club. 

Zelensky left Vilnius without an invitation to NATO or even a path to get into the alliance. He left without F-16s which now seem to be delayed until 2024, or more likely, indefinitely. He left without getting more tanks because there are no more to send. Most of all, Zelensky left knowing that NATO was growing tired of this expensive war. 

In America, political realists like Jake Sullivan have a presidential campaign to prepare for. Republican voters are now 72% against the war in Ukraine, and while Democratic support remains high, Joe Biden’s great fear is being linked to a war that is viewed by the American electorate as partisan. There are rumors that Biden told Zelensky to take what he could by November and after that, he would have to start talking terms with Russia. 

Harsh Light of Day

Before its offensive Ukraine produced what can best be described as a music video promoting the attack. The choreographed slow-motion images of immaculately dressed soldiers were a perfect metaphor for how the architects within Zelensky’s inner circle viewed the war. The man is a comedian, an actor, and when viewed in that light, you begin to understand the decisions taken by his government. There is no question that Ukraine is adept at social media and propaganda. Last year I wrote that Ukraine was waging a media war and Russia was waging a military war and both sides likely felt they were winning. 

The realities of the battlefield eventually force people to come to terms with perception versus fact. In many ways that is what armed conflict is, at its core, two sides have opposing views on something, each believes their view, and they fight to see whose view is correct. I don’t know if Ukraine believed Russia was falling apart. Maybe they convinced themselves of that and maybe that’s what they had to believe to keep fighting considering the losses it has sustained over the last 500 days. American leadership certainly should have known better, and likely it did but has kept up this facade in the hope that something would happen in Russia internally that would cause a regime change and would lead to a favorable peace. After the Prigozhin incident that lasted only 24 hours and the fact that every politician and military figure in Russia supported Putin, it must have become clear that there will be regime change in Russia, that Russians are committed to winning this war, and that, therefore, there is no way for Ukraine to achieve victory. 

Never has that fact been more clear. Ukraine has no path to victory. They are not going to attrite Russia to the peace table. That prospect is ludicrous. Russia literally has more of everything that you need to wage war with over Ukraine. Based on the last seven weeks we see that Ukraine has no path on the battlefield to victory, it cannot even reach the Russian defensive lines. Does this mean that Ukraine is going to quit? No, the propaganda has gone too deep, the population has been told too many times that they are retaking Crimea, it doesn’t seem like Zelensky can toss aside this goal and remain in power. The war will go on, the long road to total defeat will continue, and Ukraine is facing a new harsh reality; Zelensky’s star is fading within the NATO power circles and an angry, ever-strengthening Russian bear is at its doorstep. 

Todd Davis

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