Japan Institute for National Fundamentals

Speaking out

Kiyofumi Iwata

【#966】Check Russia with Japan-U.S. Joint Drills

Kiyofumi Iwata / 2022.09.22 (Thu)

September 20, 2022

On September 11, Ukrainian forces won back Izyum, a strategic hub in the northeastern Ukraine state of Kharkiv, after advancing as much as 80 to 100 kilometers in four days. At that time, Ukrainian forces concentrated troops in the south according to their war plan, indicating that Kharkiv was not a major counteroffensive front. Identifying weak points of Russian forces, however, Ukrainian forces mobilized mechanized units composed of tanks and armored vehicles and attacked the Russians in Kharkiv, winning back most of the state.

A turning point of the course of the Ukraine war

As Ukrainian forces on August 29 declared to launch a counteroffensive to restore territories in the south, the fighting in Kharkiv in the northeast may indicate that the big picture of the war might have been reversed.

Russian forces have focused on expanding their occupation in the east and south since April. As Ukrainian forces have fought with Western intelligence and weapons support, however, Russian troops have lost morale as their personnel, weapons, ammunition and missiles worn out. They have become unable to continue normal fighting. On September 16, Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed that the goal of taking full control of two states in eastern Ukraine had not been revised and that he would not seek any early results. He thus managed to demonstrate that he remained unshaken. But it is the fact that the course of the war has gone against Russia that wants to defend at least the two eastern states and Crimea.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on September 4 vowed to liberate all Ukrainian territories, signaling that he was willing to win back not only the two eastern states but also Crimea annexed to Russia in 2014.

U.S. leadership being tested

The Unites States, playing a central role in supporting Ukraine, has actively provided intelligence support but refrained from providing Ukraine with weapons capable of striking inside Russia in order not to provoke Putin too much since the outbreak of the war.

The United States may now be worrying about how far it would allow Ukrainian forces to advance when they become ready to win back the two eastern states or even Crimea. As fighting continues in the two eastern and two southern states, U.S. leadership will be tested where to draw a ceasefire line while calming Zelenskyy and preventing Putin from being cornered and resorting to a barbaric act of using nuclear weapons.

The U.S. Department of Defense has reportedly started to study how to support Ukraine over a longer term even after the end of the war. What Japan could do is limited, but it may be meaningful if Japan conducts joint military exercises with U.S. forces in Hokkaido, northern Japan, to keep Russian troops in the Far East and make the course of the war favorable to Ukraine if only a little.

Kiyofumi Iwata is a councilor at the Japan Institute for National Fundamentals. Formerly, he served as Chief of Staff of the Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force.