On October 12, Seton Hall University’s Slavic Club hosted Professor Nathaniel Knight, Director of Seton Hall’s Russian and East European Studies program, as well as Lieutenant Colonel Adam Scher, Professor of Military Science and Director of the Seton Hall Army ROTC Battalion, to discuss the current state of the war in Ukraine.
The discussion began with Professor Knight providing an overview of the invasion of Ukraine, drawing attention to the strategic failures the war has included, seen through the slow grind of the twenty months of the war. He touched upon the ways that corruption ate away at the Russian army, the strength of the unity of the West, the determination of the defending Ukrainians, and the lack of a perceived chokehold on the European energy market that the Russians previously thought they had held. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s actions further isolated Russia after their reception of the toughest sanctions in history as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) expanded.
Lieutenant Colonel Scher then explained the war through a military lens, noting first that he hopes this future generation of students from Seton Hall University’s School of Diplomacy and International Relations see military sciences and the armed forces’ actions as a tool to understand the implications of force and the armed forces’ strategic considerations.
The discussion then moved on to explain United States’ expectations regarding the invasion of Ukraine. It was noted during the discussion that the Pentagon had overestimated Russia militarily, believing that the Russians were as powerful or more powerful than analysis suggested. What was not accounted for, however, was the corruption of the Russian army. The speakers explained that when Putin seized Donetsk, Luhansk, and the Crimean Peninsula in 2014 Russia was met with low resistance, as the international community did very little. This trend was reinforced internationally in 2019 and 2020 as the People’s Republic of China crushed the pro-democracy movement of Hong Kong with, again, no resistance from the Western democracies.
The speakers noted that the Pentagon also failed to properly assess Ukraine’s ability to resist Russian forces, the discussion included. At the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the U.S. believed that the Ukrainians would not be able to hold back the Russian military for a prolonged period of time. Lieutenant Colonel Scher commented on this conversation, dividing the war into three phases. He explains that first phase was the initial Russian invasion of Ukraine, when Russian forces attempted to decapitate the Ukrainian military in an initial effort to take Kyiv. Lieutenant Colonel Scher stressed the importance of American support within that first phase, most importantly in the form of the weapons sent, including the Javelin anti-tank guided missile and the Stinger anti-air missile.
The second phase was the attritional and artillery duel which took place in the battles in the Eastern provinces, in cities like Bakhmut and Severodonetsk, in which the battlefields resembled those of the World War I. In this phase, the debate over escalation and in increase in aid began as the U.S. and its allies attempted to convert Ukraine to a combined arms offensive. This would be manifest in phase three, which is the current phase of the war. In this phase, the Ukrainians began a counterattack using infantry, armor, artillery, and air support in combination to create a highly effective and mechanized system of warfare. However, this has not been as effective as originally hoped.
Lieutenant Colonel Scher and Professor Knight stressed the Ukrainian accomplishments against strong Russian defenses, as well as the Ukrainians’ advances made in the Black Sea as it destroyed several Russian craft. The Lieutenant Colonel stressed that the Russians have been learning, which means that as time goes on, Russian units have the potential to become stronger, better trained, and more knowledgeable about this type of warfare.