Book Review: RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR: The Conflict And Its Global Impact
Name of Book: Russia-Ukraine War – The Conflict and its Global Impact
Publisher: Pentagon Press
Author: Ajay Singh
Number of Pages: 214
Cost: Rs 895
Major General Jagatbir Singh,VSM (Retd.)
Pune, 1st January 2023: With the ongoing Russia-Ukraine War still filling the front pages and impacting the world in different ways, there has been a need for a detailed examination of the war and how it could pan out. Russia-Ukraine War – The Conflict and its Global Impact, written by international award-winning writer Ajay Singh and published by Pentagon Press, adequately fulfils the requirement. Meticulously researched and impeccably presented, it provides a detailed analysis of the war and its implication on India and the world.
There is no doubt that the analysis of the subject by Ajay and some of the leading luminaries in their respective fields promises excellent reading and offers valuable insights. The book takes you through the background of the war and devotes considerable attention to how the war unfolded – right from the initial offensives towards Kyiv and Kharkiv, the Russian occupation of the South and Donbas, and the Ukrainian counter-offensives both in the Northeast and Kherson. The book takes the reader right up to the recapture of Kherson (in Mid-November) and then explores different scenarios in which the war could end, including an ‘Armageddon scenario’ in which the likelihood of a Third World War is realistically depicted. Different aspects of the war, such as the conduct of mechanised operations, the use of firepower, the air and naval aspects, the economic costs and consequences, and the nuclear shadow have been covered in detail; and of course, the geo-political impact, including Russia’s relationship with China, NATO and the US stance, the impact on India and the likely change in global power equations, with the likely emergence of a new world order have been covered in detail. The definitive volume seamlessly weaves together all facets of the war but could have included issues such as the changing face of warfare, hybrid warfare, strategic communication and the impact of modern technology with emphasis on private players.
The author often compares the Russia-Ukraine war with the German invasion of the Soviet Union in World War II and draws interesting parallels. From a military perspective, it brings out the initial operational mistakes of the Russians – having widely dispersed thrust lines which were not complementary and lacked cohesion, the lack of training and ‘overconfidence’ of the troops who were not clear of their objectives and expected to be received as ‘ liberators’; some even carried ceremonial uniforms in preparation for a victory parade. The intelligence seems to have got the ‘pro-Russian sentiment’ wrong.
The airborne assault at Hostomel on the first day of the war has been well written. Contrary to what is commonly believed, the attack was quite audacious and brilliant and would have decided the war in the first week, had it succeeded. But the Ukrainians responded swiftly and repelled the assault with heavy casualties. When the airborne assault failed the onus of capturing Kyiv now rested with the mechanised forces but just when it seemed the two columns would converge; “ inexplicably the 64 km long column stopped”. The book also brings out the more plausible reasons as to why the column halted – not because it ran out of fuel as it was brought out, but because it waited for the complementary thrust from the Northeast to fetch up. Such insights add to the readers’ understanding of the overall battle.
Small vignettes also offer the human sides of the war. It relates the story of how an old woman offered sunflower seeds to a bewildered Russian soldier to put in his pocket; “so it would sprout sunflowers when he was killed and buried in their soil.”
The book offers separate chapters for the battle of Kharkiv, the campaign in the South (with emphasis on the capture of Mariupol) and the ‘cauldron of the Donbas.’ The battles are factually covered, and the author uses his military mind to provide a detailed analysis of these battles, including how they could be further developed. Maps and photographs add to the overall effect.
The Ukrainian counter-offensive has been analysed in-depth and covers both the offensives in the Northeast and the South. The clever use of ‘A Matador’s Cape’ by the Ukrainians to draw the Russians towards the South while they launched their main offensive in the Northeast is well depicted. The book follows the progress of the offensive right till the recapture of Kherson and the present situation where the two armies are now in defensive positions along the lines of the Dnieper and Oskil rivers. The author brings out that though the Ukrainians have re-taken 6000 square kilometres, the Russians still hold over 200000 square kilometres of prime Ukrainian territory. Recovering that will be more difficult, especially with winter having set in.
While Ajay states that the most desirable end state for Ukraine lies in pushing back Russian troops and retaking all areas this could result in Russia resorting to the ‘use of nuclear weapons.’ The most likely scenario, therefore, seems to be ‘an interminable frozen conflict with neither side being able to change the status quo.’
The book has together a range of luminaries with expertise on different facets of the war. Lieutenant General PR Shankar, a former Director General of Artillery has written one of the finest pieces on ‘The Impact of Firepower’ and brings out how it remains ‘The God of War.’ Air Marshal Anil Chopra, who heads the Centre for Air Power Studies brings out how ‘the Russian inability to control the skies and not completely utilise the air power at their disposal, is one of the most baffling aspects of the war’. Commodore Anil Jai Singh of the Indian Maritime Foundation brings out the hitherto neglected naval aspects of the war, including the sinking of the MOSKVA” and the strategic importance of the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov. While discussing sea control and sea denial he states that ‘control of the Black Sea and consequent economic ruin of Ukraine was one of the principal reasons to annex Crimea in 2014 and this conflict, eight years later.’
Maj Gen Jagatbir Singh, a Distinguished Fellow with USI, brings out how Ukraine’s ambition to join NATO led to the disastrous war. In a very balanced perspective, he also highlights the security implications it would have on Russia. He also brings out the expansion of NATO after explicit promises that the alliance would not ‘move one inch eastwards’ and how Henry Kissinger himself had warned that it would be a red line for Russia. Paradoxically, the alliance has strengthened after Russia attacked Ukraine, but he cautions that “at the end of the day, the long-term threat to world peace is not Russia but China.”
A very valuable Western Perspective on the War has been brought out by Jason Hall, who writes tellingly of how the war – and the bitter hardships that the energy shortages have brought upon Europe – has impacted the lives of ordinary individuals. Equally telling is the chapter “Gas, Grain and Sanctions” which highlights how food, energy and economics have been used as weapons of war.
The culminating chapters cover the impact on India and the World. “The Global Impact: New World Order” has been authored by Captain Alok Bansal, Director of India Foundation. He brings out how the ‘USA can use this crisis to regain its pole position’ in the world order. He also brings out how a rough Russia-China-Iran-North Korea axis can emerge and how it could reshape the new world order. Lieutenant General Raj Shukla, a former ARTRAC Army Commander and reputed strategic thinker, talks about the Impact and Lessons for India. With the debunking of many theories of war, the instrument of force has returned to the centre of the power calculus and “crafting a war-winning instrument in the highest state of readiness, should be a strategic priority.” The parallels between the Russia-Ukraine War and the equation between India and China are very well brought out.
In all, the book covers one of the most epochal events of this century, realistically and accurately. Its easy style and narrative bring out the war in the form of a story, which makes it appealing to all interested in warfare, history and contemporary events. Yet, as Ajay warns in the concluding chapter, the war is not over but could continue till the next year and beyond. Even when the war ends, its effects will ripple across much of this century – very much like the effects of the First World War – and “even when the war ends, it would still not be the concluding chapter, but the start of the next.”