Kyiv’s counteroffensive to liberate Russian-occupied areas in Ukraine’s east and south was a surprise following a months-long stalemate marked by artillery battles.
In a video address on Monday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said that Ukrainian soldiers had retaken more than 6,000km2 of land this month.
While the figure was unverified, a British Ministry of Defence intelligence update published on Monday said that Ukraine has recaptured an area “at least twice the size of Greater London.”
Russia has said that its forces have withdrawn from the strategically important cities of Balakliya, Izyum and Kupiansk in the eastern Kharkiv region, while in the southern Kherson region, Ukrainian forces are reported to have been making slower, but equally significant advances.
Multiple eyewitness accounts, photographs and videos show Russian units in a disorderly retreat, leaving behind vast quantities of equipment, including armored vehicles and ammunition.
In a sign that a combination of panic and frustration is beginning to set in at the Kremlin, Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday sacked the Russian commander in charge of the war, Lieutenant General Roman Berdnikov, who was in the post for a mere 16 days.
While it is still too early to draw a definite conclusion, all the evidence points to a significant turning point in the war. With the momentum now on its side, Ukraine stands a chance to defeat Russia. What would the implications of a Ukrainian victory be for Taiwan and China?
Having aligned his country with Russia, Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) might have picked the losing side, which would be a major foreign policy embarrassment just as he is preparing to force through a third term as president.
However, the implications for the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) are by far the most significant.
Closely modeled on the Russian military in terms of force structure, equipment, operational strategy and tactics, the sense of doubt that a high-profile Russian defeat would implant within the minds of PLA commanders would be corrosive, not just in terms of strategy and tactics, but also regarding equipment, as the PLA has many fighter jets that were either manufactured under license from Russia or are reverse-engineered copies. The inability of Russia to secure air dominance over Ukraine has severely hampered its ability to wage war.
In the event of a Ukrainian victory, PLA commanders would surely begin to ask themselves questions. If Russia’s military, which is more experienced and battled-hardened than the PLA, cannot defeat a vastly outnumbered and inferior Ukrainian military in a simple hop across a land border, what chance does the PLA stand in an invasion of Taiwan, which would require an amphibious invasion orders of magnitude more complex and prone to failure?
The flip side is that a Ukrainian victory would be an inspiration to Taiwan’s armed forces. Ukraine’s military has demonstrated that superior leadership, tactics, planning and intelligence — if properly coordinated — can deliver a significant advantage against a numerically superior enemy with more advanced weaponry.
The war also demonstrates the defender’s advantage in terms of morale. Ukrainian morale is reportedly sky-high, whereas the morale of Russian soldiers, far from home, cold, hungry and disillusioned with their commanding officers, is at rock bottom.
Taiwan’s military cannot afford to rest on its laurels. It must continue to modernize and update its operational strategy. However, if Ukraine is triumphant, despite the enormous odds against it at the beginning of the war, it would deliver a huge fillip to Taiwan and a thumping headache for China.
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