March 3, 2023:
Russian forces not only failed to quickly conquer Ukraine in early 2022 but suffered such heavy losses that its army is unable to carry out effective offensive operations until the forces are rebuilt and re-equipped. That will take years so during that time Russian troops will continue to suffer heavy losses in Ukraine defending territory they already have and carrying out small scale attacks. Russia has been forced to adopt a new strategy against Ukraine and has come up with a plan to continue attacks against the Ukrainian economy. This deprives more Ukrainians of jobs and homes and forces more to leave the country. Ukraine has already seen about 20 percent of its population flee the country because of dangers civilians face from the Russian attacks on the economy.
This strategy is meant to prolong the war and demoralize Ukraine’s NATO allies as well as the Ukrainian population. This Russian strategy of attacks on the economy began a few months after the war began and the Russian forces suffered heavy losses. For most of 2022 Russia was deliberately attacking the Ukrainian economy and the result was that Ukrainian GDP declined 30 percent in 2022. The initial Russian attacks concentrated on Ukrainian defense industries, followed by major non-defense industries and agriculture. Russia deliberately attacked power plants, oil refineries and distribution networks for natural gas. It was these attacks on economic targets that prompted NATO nations to send in anti-aircraft systems. Meanwhile Russia was attacking agricultural production by attacking grain storage silos and agricultural infrastructure. Some crop land was rendered unusable by planting landmines. Russia attacked grain ships operating from Black Sea ports and many of these ships were forced to take shelter in Ukrainian ports. Grain and other foodstuffs are major Ukrainian exports and Russia deliberately sought to shut down these exports. The cost of flour and bread went up worldwide but particularly in countries more dependent on grain imports.
While NATO shipments of weapons to Ukrainian forces receive lots of media attention, there has been an equally large effort to assist the Ukrainian economy. The Ukrainian GDP was $200 billion in 2021 and $122 billion in foreign military and economic assistance in 2022. Repairing the Ukrainian economy cannot begin on a large scale until the war ends. It was hoped this might happen by the end of 2023, but the Russian strategy is to keep the war going for as long as it takes to weaken NATO resolve and enable Russia to declare some kind of victory. This is a victory of the “create a desert and call it peace” variety. So far the destruction is mainly in Ukraine, with Russia threatening to use its nuclear weapons if any large scale destruction takes place in Russia.
In late 2022 Ukraine estimated that the Russian attacks on the economy would require a reconstruction budget of over $350 billion. As the destruction continues in 2023, reconstruction costs increase as well. That has led to serious proposals to seize $350 billion in Russian assets in the West that have been frozen (kept from Russian control) for the duration of the war. Russia is also accused of more conventional war crimes committed in Ukraine against civilians. Russia is unmoved by the Western threats and accusations and determined to make Ukraine and the West suffer for its role in defeating Russian efforts to conquer Ukraine. The Russian government describes their attack on Ukraine as an effort to defend Russia from NATO aggression. According to Russia their tactics are justified as part of its defensive measures.
Destruction on this scale was last seen during World War II when the economies of Russia, Germany and Japan were largely destroyed by ground combat and aerial bombing. Russia is inflicting this degree of damage on Ukraine in an effort to overcome their inability to conquer Ukraine militarily. The NATO nations are having a hard time accepting the degree of devastation Russia is inflicting on Ukraine. NATO members bordering Ukraine or Russia see this as typical Russian behavior and for over decade warned that Russia was making threats that more distant NATO members considered exaggerated. Never underestimate Russia, especially when they don’t get what they want and respond with a destructive tantrum.