The Little Guys Stand up for Ukraine

While the big ones watch

Shankar Narayan
7 min readMar 1, 2024
Where are the grown up?

When Avdiivka fell into the hands of the invaders, I assessed that “until the balance of power is restored on the battlefield, with the R and U curves reaching parity, Ukraine will continue to suffer losses”.

And then I had explained how long the losses will continue: “There is a limit to which Ukraine can hold on, when the R curve remains above the U curve. Once a threshold is breached, they will inevitably begin to lose territory. This critical juncture is where Ukraine currently finds itself”.

Since that time, Russia has advanced in Ivanivske (Bakhmut sector), taken control of multiple villages in Donetsk including Lastochkyne, Tonenke, and Krashnohorvika, and advanced northwest of Verbove in the Robotyne sector. They are still attacking near Kupiansk in the northeast, as they have always been since the start of the war.

I’m sure you’ve noticed that most of the Russian activity still revolves around Avdiivka. The reason for this is their four-month-long counter-offensive in the sector, during which a lot of their troops, equipment, and supply chain became entrenched in the region.

Russian troops have not moved out of Avdiivka sector

Russians have not moved their troops out of the area.

They are taking advantage of their positional strength in and around Avdiivka. In contrast, if they want to concentrate their efforts elsewhere, they’ll have to relocate resources. Therefore, the area around Avdiivka will likely remain the focus of much of their activity in the near term.

That is fine.

But why did I say Ukraine will lose a bit, when they have proven time and again that their mobile defense strategy has stopped the Russians for nearly two years? They didn’t even need heavy fortifications like the Russians to defend, yet they still managed to hold them back.

How was it possible then?

And why is it hard now?

What changed?

I am going to let Senior fellow at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (CEPA), Dara Massicot answer that question for us:

“Delays in ammunition are causing some units to bend. This is not abstract, it’s happening. Russian military leaders’ training and mindset will tell them that now is the time to press forward on objectives: UAF units have ammunition and manpower deficits, American assistance is delayed, western ammo production targets are not reached.

Russian forces have a 5:1 fires advantage and are regenerating combat units from training pipelines in Russia, and are pulling equipment from storage and can do this through 2024".

Almost a week before Avdiivka fell, Dara Massicot warned that things are way past the critical juncture: “Grim read on Ukrainian manpower in some combat units, on top of ammunition shortages. If Russian planners are also assessing these units at 30–40% strength, the Russian system is configured to classify them as non-mission capable or approaching NMC”.

That is the crux of the problem.

Ukraine cannot mount mobile defense when their combat units are operating below 50% capacity. It’s not difficult for the Russians on the other side to perceive this. Just the response rate from the artillery systems will indicate the strength of the defense. A strong response will make them stay, while a weak response will invite a probing attack.

How do we fix this?

It’s not difficult at all; it’s very simple. Take the unit strength well above the 50% mark. Ukraine needs artillery shells and other ammunition to keep going. If they don’t receive aid, the situation will degrade. If they receive enough, they can defend. If they receive more, they can launch a charge.

For heaven’s sake, try giving them more shells than the Russians and see what happens in two months. Since the start of the war, Ukraine held that advantage only for a brief moment. The rest of the time, it has remained firmly in Putin’s pocket.

We are still a long way from the day when Ukraine’s artillery strength surpasses Russia’s, but we are gradually getting closer to providing Ukraine with a reasonable amount of shells to hold the line.

At the Munich Security Conference, Petr Pavel, the Czech President, announced that Czechia had discovered up to 800,000 shells of NATO-standard caliber which could be sent to Ukraine within a few weeks if funding for delivery is secured. He reiterated this at the extraordinary summit of European leaders in Paris on Monday.

France, after initially blocking the proposal to purchase artillery shells from outside the EU, relented on Monday.

“The Czech proposal is totally consistent with what we’ve done in terms of artillery,” French President Emmanuel Macron told a news conference after the talks. “We have asked non-EU countries to reach solutions. We will participate in this initiative. We are totally open to it. Our only target is efficiency.”

The Czechs stated that they have already identified 500,000 rounds of 155mm shells and another 300,000 rounds of 122mm caliber. The estimated cost of the shells is around $1.5 billion.

After French President Emmanuel Macron approved the project, nearly 15 Western nations have signaled interest. The Netherlands has agreed to contribute €100 million, Belgium has promised €200 million, and Canada has pledged €22 million.

Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa, who was in Paris, assured that EU defense ministers would present “a concrete plan within the next ten days to strengthen the ability to order ammunition to support the military efforts of the Ukrainian people”.

These are procedural issues that the European Union always goes through. We are a group of democratic nations and we will never have enough of the bureaucracy.

Money has never been a problem for Europe; they will find a way to reach the $1.5 billion target. The real obstacle was the hold the French administration had on the project. Now that it’s gone, and considering the Czech President’s statement that the shells can be delivered to Ukraine within weeks, I believe we can expect the containers to head towards Ukraine very soon.

May be end of March. Early April. Not beyond the reach.

Now, let us pivot to the Kremlin.

You have seen all that is happening in Europe; this information is publicly available. If you were to advise Mr. Putin, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, and Commander Valery Gerasimov, what would you tell them?

  1. Will you advise them to slow down the pace of the offensive? Considering the significant losses in manpower during the battle of Avdiivka, the high number of aircraft lost due to dropping glide bombs to support advancing Russian infantry, and the difficulty in replacing equipment losses, especially in the second half of the year. OR
  2. Will you tell them that this is the chance to take some risks? Advancing is extremely difficult in this battlefield, so it might be worth the losses if you can advance and then start digging the ground immediately.

I know what I will tell them.

You are probably there as well.

What can Ukraine do under these circumstances?

Protecting Ukrainian lives must be the top priority, without any questions whatsoever. The manner in which the Russians took Avdiivka has underscored the necessity of controlling the sky in this battlefield. Ukraine’s air power will increase significantly after they acquire the F16s. If they add a few more Patriot systems, they will become a formidable force. The rate of aircraft losses has brought the Russian air force closer to a crippled state. They are not going to stop; they will continue dropping glide bombs. They will keep losing figther jets.

Shoot down another 15 jets before the Russian Presidential election, which is scheduled for March 17th.

Ukraine can fall back. They should not worry about ceding territory. Defend using the depth.

Between now and early April, anticipate Russia to capture some Ukrainian settlements. The Russians will most probably ramp up their recruitment efforts and try to launch another round of counter-attacks after the weather clears up.

Ukraine should get prepared to break their lines in the summer.

The ammo situation is finally coming under control. It’s still not a done deal, but I don’t see it as a critical problem anymore. As I’ve said, whenever the small players band together and make a promise, they always deliver. It’s the big players that we need to be worried about. Thankfully, they are not the ones leading the way to secure artillery shells for Ukraine.

There is still one missing piece left in the puzzle.

Ukraine needs more Patriot air-defense systems. If the air-defense density increases, it will provide significant flexibility for the F16 pilots. The West should start working now to establish control over the Ukrainian sky. They should not wait for the summer; they should act now. It is within their capabilities, and they do not need the support of larger nations to accomplish this.

Spain has three Patriot air-defense systems. They have also ordered four.

If the big ones help it is a bonus.

If not, then so be it.

The way Western media covers the war against Ukraine has gone off-track. As a result, I have decided to make my Ukraine stories public, without placing them behind the paywall.



Shankar Narayan

He didn't care what he had or what he had left, he cared only about what he must do.