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Book Discussion: The Russia-Ukraine War - Lessons Learnt, by Maj. Gen. (Dr.) G.D. Bakshi, SM, VSM (Retd)

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  • January 11, 2023

    The Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (MP-IDSA), New Delhi organised a discussion on the book “The Russia-Ukraine War: Lessons Learnt” authored by Major General G.D. Bakshi (Retd.) on 11 January 2023. The book discussion was chaired by Ambassador Sujan R. Chinoy, Director General, MP-IDSA. Commodore Abhay Singh (Retd.) and Dr. Swasti Rao participated from the institute as discussants. The discussion was attended by Maj. Gen. (Dr.) Bipan Bakshi, Deputy Director General, MP-IDSA. MP-IDSA scholars were present.

    Executive Summary

    As the war in Ukraine lingers on unexpectedly towards the one-year mark, there are many lessons to be garnered from the disruptions in the post-Soviet sphere. In this context, Major General G.D. Bakshi’s book raises a pressing question: What short-term and long-term lessons can be learned from the conflict and what implications does the conflict have for India?

    Detailed Report

    In his opening remarks, Ambassador Sujan R. Chinoy stated that the conflict in Ukraine has lingered on unexpectedly and the Russian special military operation has been met with great resistance and pushback. The reverses on the war front have not pushed back Russia from legislating new geography and a consequent redrawing of the map. The west has backed Ukraine in the form of weapons and intelligence but a question arises as to how long would this endure. There is also the creation of a false narrative that India must take up a side between the two opposing forces. The conflict has broader strategic implications for India. The Chair raised some important points. Firstly, that the treaty alliances are not a pre-requisite for allies to come to one’s aid. Secondly, a military conflict could easily erupt if any redlines are crossed. Thirdly, he questioned the potential for escalation between nuclear states, particularly in the Indian context with two adversarial nuclear states on the border. Fourthly, he brought up the similarity between the two conflicts (Russia-Ukraine, China-Taiwan) particularly in the irredentist aspects. Fifthly, he questioned whether we have entered an era of protracted conflicts where no country can prevail over another. Lastly, he asked with India’s modernisation of its forces and its aim for self-reliance in the defence sector, what lessons can India draw for its own security needs.

    The author, at the outset, stated that seventy per cent of India’s military equipment is of Russian origin therefore, the outcome of the conflict is of major interest to India. He feels that Ukraine is acting as a proxy of NATO against Russia. Due to the nuclear standoff, most felt that wars would be short and intense and based on this the ammunition scaling has been limited. As a military analyst, he feels that the war would be extended for a longer period and there are serious implications for international security. He stressed that the world has come full circle, and Russia has altered its strategy by returning to World War II strategies and changing from brigades to divisions. The speaker predicts that there would be some major changes in the war shortly. He stated that the United States pushed Russia to a conflict by violating the redlines through NATO’s endless eastward expansion. He stated that the world is facing a biological war, and brought out information about the presence of thirty-two biological labs being set up in Ukraine.

    According to the speaker, the nature of warfare has changed from low-intensity, short-duration to high-intensity, long-duration warfare. He stated that ‘Clausewitz is back in fashion’. The offence-over-defence dynamic has changed to a new equilibrium of defence-over offence. He stated that the Russians' weakest link was the conscripts, which is a prime lesson to be learned for India. Levels of battlefield transparency are simply unprecedented which makes surprise impossible to achieve. The speaker stressed that war is a test of national will and stamina, and it is the most for downsizing of the armed forces. Armies across the world are increasing their sizes and this is not an era of just high-tech but also mass mobilisations. Downsizing a force in the current international scenario could be dangerous.

    Concluding his talk, Maj. Gen. G.D. Bakshi (Retd.) brought out some of the lessons to be learned from the conflict. According to him, the lack of armed forces is an issue and increased manpower is a solution. Artillery is a winning factor and introducing it at the fastest possible speed is a necessity. Underutilisation of Airpower should not happen. Nuclear backdrops can happen between two nuclear states. Met factors could cause serious problems if not followed. No blind spots should be present.

    Following the presentation, the discussants were invited for comments. Cmde. Abhay K. Singh (Retd.), Research Fellow, Military Affairs Centre, remarked that Clausewitz was never out of fashion. Since the conflict began, various sweeping predictions were made on the future of the war based on the lack of or sketchy information. Russia did plan for a short war, however, after almost a year there is no certainty about where it would sway. He stressed the need for considering necessary deductive inferences both preliminary and tentative. He stated that contrary to the popular image of the tenacious Ukrainians stopping Russian hordes, a more complex picture has emerged.  The propaganda value of the west’s equipment has reduced as the war continued. He praised the author for his efforts but stressed the need for a sharper editorial effort, particularly in the footnoting of important resources. 

    Dr. Swasti Rao, Associate Fellow, Europe and Eurasia Centre, in her remarks focused on several points. She stated that the need for a narrative on the experiences of the Eastern Europeans. Though Ukraine is corrupt, they have attempted reforms in every sector. There are loopholes in Russia’s policies towards Eastern Europe. Sanctions have weakened the Russian war machinery. China is having the last laugh and they have not done anything to assist Russia. It is a time for Russia to diversify its fossil fuels export. The war has led to NATO expansion to the Nordics. Germany’s rise as a military power from diversification to missile systems after realising its vulnerabilities is important to watch out for. European diversification efforts are commendable, which would mean less dependence on Russia and more on Europe. India has been more involved in Eurasia and increases its presence. In her conclusion, she stated that a diminished Russia is not the best option for India.

    The Chair, Ambassador Sujan. R. Chinoy, in his comments, discussed the economic angle of bearing down and dismantling of the economy during the Soviet Union era and the attempt to replicate it in the current scenario. Amb. Chinoy stated that it is important to also examine the attrition that the United States economy has suffered in the previous decades and the long-term wars against insurgencies that the United States had to fight and the impact. Every war brings about new technology, with technology evolution, the demand for manpower may also reduce therefore, the question is does technology today help in determining what is mass (manpower) in the current context?

    During the Q and A session, Col G.S. Gill, Research Fellow, asked the author about the Agniveer scheme. Dr. Rajorshi Roy, Associate Fellow, enquired about Russia’s ability to meet its defence commitments to India given that its priority would be on the replenishment of its reserves. Dr. Uttam Kumar Sinha, Senior Fellow, queried about the limited use of sorties against Ukraine. Col. Rajneesh Singh, Research Fellow, asked about the war objectives of the United States in the current conflict.

    Responding to comments and remarks, Maj. Gen. G.D. Bakshi (Retd.) stated that he had personal meetings concerning the Agniveer scheme with the upper echelons of the government and requested to make changes to it. With reference to Dr. Rajorshi Roy’s question, whether Russia can meet India’s demand, the author stressed that there would be a reduction and is all the more reason to become Aatmanirbhar. Regarding Dr Sinha’s question, he stated that the overreliance on S-400 has failed and that it has not been able to live up to the hype.

    Maj. Gen. (Dr.) Bipin Bakshi (Retd.), Deputy Director General, delivered the Vote of Thanks and commented that Russia is a reliable friend, a P-5 member and the only reliable veto partner. With regard to the current situation in Ukraine he stressed that there is no negotiation space and the term ‘win’ is still not defined.

    Report was prepared by Dr. Jason Wahlang, Research Analyst, Europe and Eurasia Centre, MP-IDSA.