Today marks the end of the first year of Putin’s War in Ukraine. I will not call it an anniversary, because I don’t think anyone is celebrating. Nevertheless I think this makes a useful moment to look back and take stock of the state of the conflict at present but also on the things I have written and the degree to which they have turned out to be accurate.
Also let’s get an essential caveat out of the way early: the title of this post is in a way a bit of a misnomer. The current War in Ukraine is, after all, a continuation of what I’ve seen termed the War in the Donbas, which began in April of 2014. That said, I think it is reasonably clear that the current conflict is, at minimum a marked change in scale from that ongoing conflict, featuring the open rather than convert involvement of the main of the Russian armed forces as well as a massive expansion of war aims to include the capture of Kyiv. Consequently, I’m going to distinguish between the War in the Donbas (2014-present) and the War in Ukraine (February 24, 2022 to present; aka, “Putin’s War”) as connected but distinct conflicts; two parts of a larger whole.
That out of the way, we’ll start with the self-assessment, looking back at some of the assumptions I had and the predictions I made to see where they went right and where they went wrong. Then I want to take stock of where the conflict seems to be right now – keeping in mind that I am largely reliant here on the expertise of others and so am operating from my ‘professional thing explainer’ role, rather than as the expert. And of course once again, I said right around this time last year, “I am not going to pretend to be neutral here. I am on the side of the nascent democracy which was ruthlessly and lawlessly attacked without provocation by a larger and more powerful foreign power.”
And once again before we get started, a reminder that the conflict in Ukraine is causing very real suffering. Russian attacks on Ukrainian infrastructure have caused shortages within the country, while Russian attacks on civilian housing have caused substantial casualties, above and beyond the now well-documented Russian war crimes in occupied territories. And beyond all of this, the war has displaced very large numbers of Ukrainians as refugees, both within Ukraine and beyond its borders. If you want to help, consider donating to Ukrainian aid organizations like Razom for Ukraine or to the Ukrainian Red Cross. Unfortunately this war probably isn’t going to be over any time soon.
Predictions Are Hard
I want to start with some intellectual honesty: we ought to benchmark the predictions I made when the war began. As is typical in war, a lot of people were wrong about a lot of things and I was certainly no exception. So let’s start by looking at what I said back in last February, and let’s start what the most obvious miss:
Second, the balance of equipment and numbers suggests that Russian forces are very likely to win in the field. There is a range of possibilities within that statement, from a relatively quick victory with the Ukrainian Armed Forces simply collapsing, to a slogging campaign that morphs almost seamlessly into insurgency as it proceeds, to, of course, the small but non-zero chance that the balance of morale and ability surprises everyone and the Russian offensive fails. This last possibility has been judged by the experts as being very unlikely, and I tend to agree.
Now I want to thank past me for trying very hard to signal the wide range of uncertainty involved in outcomes in wars and that (as I say elsewhere in the post, “Moreover, war is not the realm of certainties, but, as Clausewitz says (drink!) subject to “the play of probabilities and chance”…No one knows what is going to happen, but we can venture some very general suggestions of the most likely course of events.” And in theory I did include the actual outcome in the range of possible outcomes, but I also expressly noted it was unlikely. So I am going to call this a miss.
This was by far the most common ‘miss’ in the US policy community and since I was following voices in that community, I made it too. My own expectation was that Ukraine would likely be pushed into a series of sieges of the major cities on the Dnipro – Kyiv, Dnipro, Zaporizhzhia, Kherson – and that those sieges, where the Russian firepower advantage would be weakest, would be where the initial Russian offensive would culminate (a position that ironically made me relatively bullish on Ukraine’s chances; remember that Western leaders were thinking about trying to evacuate the Ukrainian government from Kyiv). That…did not happen. Russian forces barely reached some of those centers, flatly didn’t reach others and only overran one (Kherson). So why did so many folks – including me – miss this one so badly?
I think a lot of the answer has to do with how we think about potential ‘opposing forces.’ The great trap in warfare, of course, is to catastrophically underestimate an opposing force, to assume that their tactics, weapons and personnel will mostly fail when put to the test. It’s a terribly tempting mistake to make too, because it is so comforting right up until it becomes catastrophic. Aware of this danger, it seems like many western observers, myself included, instead tried to benchmark expectations on the assumption that the Russian military package would mostly work: the systems would work, the tactics would work, and the people who execute competently. And that’s not a crazy way to think about a potential adversary; better to be surprised by enemy failure than by enemy success.
And on the surface, there were reasons to believe that might happen. Michael Kofman actually discussed this in some depth in the – alas, paywalled – Russia Contingency podcast on Russian military reforms. On paper, the Russian military had a large stockpile of relatively modern weapons (certainly more modern than what Ukraine had) and a body of trained personnel that outnumbered their Ukrainian opponents, organized into firepower-heavy Battalion tactical groups as maneuver units. And the Russian army inherited the Soviet maneuver warfare doctrine,1 which was generally assessed to be a capable doctrine. Russia also began the war with a massive superiority in air assets and long-ranged munitions (both precision and otherwise), creating the possibility that a lot of Ukrainian capabilities would be disabled in the opening hours of a conflict.
And while will and morale matter in warfare and it was increasingly clear that Ukraine had both in abundance, positional warfare all of the morale in the world will not necessarily allow you to hold territory if the enemy has you massively outgunned. Le feu tue – firepower kills.2 And the Russians looked to have the Ukrainians pretty badly outgunned. That led to a lot of planning for asymmetric warfare and insurgency, at least in some large part of Ukraine.
Thus the thinking was, given the substantial superiority in numbers, preparation and equipment, if Russia simply attacked according to its doctrine, it was likely to initially win the battles (but then, as discussed below, get bogged down). But of course Russian forces didn’t follow their doctrine, which calls for attacks in multiple echelons with leading elements punching through and isolating pockets of resistance to be mopped up by the second echelon moving behind. Instead they attacked in a single echelon at far too many points at once, with far too little infantry to support their armor and with not nearly enough planning on the logistical side.
Likewise, Russian air operations seem to have been very poorly coordinated at the beginning, allowing time for Ukrainian air assets and air defenses to be dispersed. Russian forces have fixed some of these defects, but war is not kind to armies that fix problems only after opportunities have slipped from them. One of the questions I expect will be much debated in the years to come is if Russia could have achieved some form of victory in this war if they had started by attacking on a narrower front in multiple echelons according to doctrine (which would have meant a campaign focused on the Donbas and S. Ukraine, with no Kyiv or even Kharkiv operations), instead of squandering many of the best Russian formations in poorly supported ‘thunder runs’ towards Kyiv. Likewise, one wonders how the war would have looked differently if the Russian air- and precision-bombardment campaign had been competent from the beginning.
In any case, it is a really tough thing to ask analysts to correctly predict that one army is going to comprehensively fail to execute its own doctrine even after years of reform. That said, I also expressed substantial doubts, both in blog posts and on Twitter, that the Russian forces assembled were capable of actually achieving their objectives:
Russia is thus embarking, with fewer friends and fewer resources, on a war that may prove to be far more difficult than the wars the United States struggled with in Afghanistan and Iraq…the costs of controlling Ukraine are likely to be high, the rewards likely to be low, and this aggression is likely to solidify, rather than weaken NATO. Long-term success seems very difficult to achieve.
Here a lot of my thinking was from Alex Vershinin’s now prophetic “Feeding the Bear” over at War on the Rocks; he pointed out that Russian BTGs would hit their logistical tether within 200 miles of their railheads. Thus my assumption that Russian forces would get to those major cities, but fail to take them, as they’d be at the end of their logistics. And if you squint, that sort of did happen, especially around Kyiv. But the Russians also failed to take Kharkiv, which was easily inside their logistics range. As I noted then, “Urban warfare is brutally difficult and has in the past not been a particular strength of the Russian Federation.” Fundamentally my thinking here was that while the Russian firepower advantage ought to allow them to advance (and it did), my own sense was that the size of the Russian attack force, then assessed around 200,000, was going to be insufficient to overrun the whole country; my thinking here was mostly by analogy to US efforts in Iraq, a smaller and less populous country.
And that, I think, turned out to be more accurate. Shortages of Russian infantry to protect armor and supply lines became obvious very rapidly in the opening days of the fighting and even now that Putin has mobilized a much larger body of troops for the war, he hasn’t been able to develop sufficient combat power to make major offensive gains.
We can also run quickly through a selection of other assessments:
- “this aggression is likely to solidify, rather than weaken NATO.” That happened. Europe pushed through an economically difficult winter, the scale of Western military aid has been shocking and of course Sweden and Finland are joining NATO.
- “Putin is likely to carry this war to its conclusion.” I think there was some wishful thinking in some quarters on this point but it is pretty clear that this was largely correct, unfortunately. Russian military performance has been awful, Russian losses are substantially higher than anyone expected and yet Putin has not even advanced a real opening negotiating position, instead burning the boats behind him by annexing territory he does not hold.
- “Putin is making a mistake.” Yes, I think it is now clear that Putin has miscalculated terribly and made a major mistake with disastrous consequences for Russian power even if he somehow manages to scrape out a favorable end to the conflict.
- “we can be pretty sure that the human toll here is going to be terrible.” A point on which I did not want to be right, but alas, this has happened too. In that first post, I worried that we would see repeats of Russian atrocities in Syria and Chechnya play out in Ukraine, especially as Russian forces failed to achieve objectives. And we did.
- Escalation risks would keep NATO intervention to the supply of arms, but not the creation of no fly zones, humanitarian corridors or other forms of direct involvement. Given the structure of deterrence theory, this was a pretty easy bet. Deterrence is all about predictability and the supply of arms in this fashion was a staple of competition during the Cold War.
- “In conclusion then, the Russian escalation of air attacks on civilian targets seems unlikely to significantly alter the trajectory of the war.” Also a fairly easy bet once one moves beyond the hype of the potential of strategic airpower (assumed to work against a compliant, non-adaptive opponent) to realize how weak of a lever strategic airpower has traditionally been, combined with the relatively small scale airpower Russia could actually deploy in this manner without resorting to nuclear use.
In any case, I hope that the military theory primers have been useful for you all over the past year in better understanding events as they happen. I really do think more of the public communication that happens in the media needs to be focused on education as much as ‘breaking news,’ since one often needs to know some things in order to understand what news is important and why. I have at least one more military primer topic planned, looking at maneuver warfare and the modern system.
Where Are We Now?
In understanding the progress of the war since that initial post, I have found protracted war to be a valuable model for thinking about the phases of activity the war has gone through at the strategic level and thus in understanding the current moment in the ‘big picture.’ And now I hear some of you already rushing to the comments or to Twitter to complain, “Why is this guy still talking about Protracted War when Ukraine isn’t fighting as an insurgency?” Ans the answer, you may recall, is that protracted war isn’t necessarily about insurgency; as understood by its theorists it includes not only guerilla but also position and mobile (that is, conventional) warfare. Indeed as you may note from the post on the topic and the charts below, the actual theory envisages the control of territory with a regular conventional army in all phases.
As a refresher, protracted war theory is focused on the ways to draw out a war into a long war that might be won, rather than a ‘war of quick decision’ which will be lost; as such it is the strategy of a weaker power that expects to grow in strength, which does seem to be how Ukraine understands its position. Mao Zedong’s model of protracted war identified three phases this effort would go through; later thinkers like Võ Nguyên Giáp would work with a more flexible version of this framework, allowing for fluid transitions between the phases rather than a single direct march. It is that latter vision of fluid movement between phases that I think is relevant here.
On that basis we can easily identify an initial phase from February 24th (2022) to the first week of April; this was the period when Russian forces were attacking in multiple locations at once and attempting to rapidly take a lot of territory. This is our protracted war Phase 1: Enemy Strategic Offensive; the enemy being more powerful at the start of the conflict attacks and tries both to seize territory but also to trap and destroy the defender’s military force. Following the theory, the defender here should trade space for time, allowing friction (in the Clausewitzian sense, drink!) to do its work of weakening the enemy. As the enemy advances, they’re going to advance over territory and population that is loyal to the defender, which exposes their supply lines, while the demand of securing that territory is going to drain troops away from the front. In short, for each mile the enemy marches, they get weaker, so you let them march, making sure to withdraw the best troops away from them so that you deny the enemy the chance for a decisive battle. A key element here in Mao’s thinking is the existence of secure mountain bases, points of strength where the regular army can shelter out the enemy offensive out of the reach of their superior combat power.
And this is more or less exactly what Ukraine did, especially in the north-east. Instead of meeting Russian troops on the border, Ukrainian troops in this region largely fell back to more defensible major cities, allowing Russian forces to drive out to their logistics tether. Protracted war theory calls here for guerilla operations in the enemy’s rear as they advance and expose themselves and we saw that too; smaller towns were held by Ukrainian territorial defense units and regular troops to create logistics problems for the advancing main force. Notably, Ukrainian forces clearly made decisions about where to stand and where to trade space for time. In Kharkiv where the urban strongpoint (because urban warfare is very difficult) was right on the border, it was held; likewise the old defensive lines in the Donbas. But in Kherson and Zaporizhzhia oblasts, much like outside of Kyiv, Ukraine traded space for time and avoided decisive engagements.
Beginning in late march and then into early April we see a shift from this first phase to the second phase of ‘strategic stalemate.’ The Russian offensive against Kyiv culminated before it reached into the city, while the southern line of advance stalled out in front of Mykolaiv. Now the strategic stalemate phase should be a period where the defender aims to grow stronger while also weakening the enemy attacker. Mao envisaged this process as being about equipment capture and Ukraine did capture a lot of Russian equipment, but as in almost all success protracted wars of this sort outside materiel support was also crucial. The stalemate period thus buys Ukraine time to train new formations, incorporate new captured or donated weapons and wear down the Russian forces. I think we can see this stage lasting until August.
During this period, Russia was not idle. While I suspect Putin and his generals hoped that more focused operations in the Donbas would eventually result in breakthrough and a return to maneuver, in practice what the Russians settled in for was an attritional strategy, aiming to use limited offensives in the Donbas to both slowly push Ukrainian forces back but also to exhaust them. In practice, continued Russian military underperformance against prepared Ukrainian defenses – these were areas where Ukraine had been digging in since 2014 and as such were heavily defended – meant that Russian goals were not achieved. It’s hard to know exactly how heavy Ukrainian losses in the first phase and this second phase were; I suspect we’ll find out that they were quite a bit heavier than media coverage would lead us to believe. Nevertheless, western intelligence agencies continued to assess that the balance of casualties remained unfavorable to Russia throughout, despite Russian advantages in artillery.
So over the course of this period Ukraine grew stronger as their mass mobilization at the war’s beginning began to produce trained and equipped units capable of offensive action, while Russia ground down its remaining offensive formations. I should note that Ukrainian command seems to have husbanded its offensive units very carefully in this phase; very little western military equipment or elements of Ukraine’s best units showed up in the attrition of the Donbas. It couldn’t have been an easy choice to let less well equipped units shoulder the brunt of Russian attrition, but it was almost certainly the right choice strategically and fits within protracted war theory: in the second phase the regular army – the main offensive striking force – is to remain safe in its bases, building strength. Protracted war, as a strategy, forces hard choices on the commanders because it demands a willingness to tolerate losses among the ‘popular troops’ and the civilian population itself.
The period from August to November then corresponds to phase 3: counter-offensive. Ukraine launched two of these. First, a main effort Kherson which ground on for roughly two months and with considerable losses, made incremental gains that made the Russian position in Kherson city progressively less tenable until Russian forces were compelled to withdraw. Second was an opportunistic offensive out of Kharkiv which identified an under-manned part of the Russian line and struck it, pushing for the key logistical position at Kupiansk which cut the rail line south.
The capture of Kherson on November 11th marks the end of this phase. While Ukraine succeeded in their objectives, it’s clear they took substantial losses doing it. Meanwhile, Putin ordered a major mobilization in Russia beginning in late September which reversed the balance of manpower by the end of the year; Russia is now generally assessed to have a deployed manpower advantage. Here is where the flexible approach to the protracted war phases matters; rather than staying on the offensive after the capture of Kherson, Ukraine transitioned back to the second phase, holding off on further offensive operations and instead focusing on regenerating combat power.
Russia however, was not idle and beginning in November, Russian forces (particularly Wagner) renewed a series of assaults around Bakhmut. It’s not clear to me how much these efforts were part of a unified Russian strategy and how much they had to do with internal Russian court politics. In any case, they had the effect of returning Russia to the strategic stalemate of the early summer months. Finally, beginning in February, Russia has stepped up its offensives with a series of wide ranging attacks that Michael Kofman has termed Russia’s ‘Winter Offensive.’ I don’t think this is actually a phase shift in the protracted war model; Russia wants to be on the strategic offensive again, but the gains these attacks are making are relatively small. Instead this seems a return to the situation from April to July, 2022 where Russia makes a series of largely attritional attacks; it is probably not an accident that this shift back in strategy seems to have corresponded to Gerasimov once again taking a more direct role and sidelining Surovikin who seemed to recognize a greater Russian need to avoid costly offensives and generate more combat power for the future.
Most of these attacks so far have achieved minimal gains and western intelligence continues to assess that the ratio of losses remains heavier on the Russian side. If anything, the strategy here seems similar to Joseph Joffre’s strategy of ‘rupture’ in 1915– applying attritional pressure at multiple points on the assumption that the enemy will eventually break somewhere returning maneuver and real offensive potential to the battlefield. The danger after the Russian experience in September of last year should be obvious: an army can force an attritional contest but it cannot guarantee that it will be the other side that is attritted down. In particular, evidence for Russian shell rationing has become increasingly apparent over the last few months.
What Comes Next?
Well, we should start with the obvious disclaimer from my first post on the topic:
Moreover, war is not the realm of certainties, but, as Clausewitz says (drink!) subject to “the play of probabilities and chance” (which is to say, ‘friction’). War is unpredictable by its very nature.
Nevertheless I think that, backed up by a bit of military theory, there is a bit we can say here. Russia’s offensive effort is happening right now; there isn’t a lot of evidence of huge reserves for some second offensive or new axis of advance. So for now this appears to be it. That doesn’t mean that Russia loses when this offensive culminates, merely that initiative will once again likely pass to Ukraine. At present it looks like Russian gains are likely to be modest in these offensives; it seems likely they may at last lever Ukrainian forces out of Bakhmut and perhaps in positions in the Kremina-Lyman area. Maybe elsewhere. But it looks like these gains will be very modest, with Ukrainian forces simply falling back to new prepared positions a little further to the rear. And for reasons we’ve already discussed, Russian attacks on Ukrainian infrastructure have not yielded results beyond merely increasing the sum of human misery generated by the conflict.
Ukraine, meanwhile, is almost certainly attempting to generate combat power in the form of new maneuver units for fresh offensives. In 2022, the Ukrainian Armed Forces waited for Russia to largely attack itself out before launching their offensives and I suspect we’ll see the same thing here: wait for Russian attacks to culminate (and thus leave Russian forces at their weakest) before attempting a large-scale counter-attack to reclaim significant territory.
There are several wrinkles in that plan worth discussing. First and most obviously, Russian forces have now been augmented by large numbers of mobilized personnel who may turn out to be more effective on the defense than on the offense (as is often the case with less well-trained and less motivated troops). Moreover, the Russians look to be a lot better dug in this time around, with multiple layers of prepared positions across the front lines, meaning that Ukraine faces potentially heavy losses pushing through successive lines of defenses.
I think the public assumption in many NATO countries is that this will be offset by the arrival of NATO armored vehicles (tanks and IFVs), but expectations here may need to be restrained. First off, while the vehicles being supplied are of substantially greater effectiveness than what Ukraine has, numbers matter and this is a conflict that has consumed AFVs in the hundreds or thousands, compared to the provision of western AFVs in the dozens or low hundreds. Many of those deliveries won’t happen until later in the year and so formations with those new systems may not be ready for a summer offensive. Instead, Ukraine may be counting on western equipment to replace their current equipment lost in upcoming offensives (which may enable Ukraine to push harder knowing there is a backstop to their vehicle stock).
More significantly one of the things being discussed is equipping Ukraine to fight like a NATO military. What that means is complicated and something I intend to touch on in a few weeks when I do my maneuver warfare primer, but in practice NATO forces rely less on artillery and more on speed and maneuver and so the idea is to give Ukraine the tools to use speed and maneuver to counter Russian mobilized numbers. The unknown here is if the NATO style of fighting will even work against the firepower density and capabilities of the Russian army. Since 1990, NATO has had the advantage of picking pretty favorable fights against fairly weak opponents and enjoying absolute air superiority doing so; all of that has enabled the NATO combat ‘package’ of rapid maneuvers supported by air strikes as much as by artillery. The chances of Ukraine achieving that level of air superiority, with or without western fighters, is basically nil. Moreover, Russia presents a potentially much harder target to do maneuver to than, say, Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi Army. So it is both unclear if Ukraine will be able to transition to a US or NATO style of warfare but also unclear if that style of warfare will confer the benefits many in the West seem to think it will. That’s not to say it isn’t worth trying, just that it isn’t sure of success.3
Nevertheless, military aid to Ukraine is absolutely essential for Ukraine to be able to continue to resist in the long term. While a lot of focus is on big flashy systems like tanks, the most important sorts of aid may be in the form of ammunition, especially artillery shells, which can keep Ukrainian guns firing. Modern system warfare is extremely ammunition hungry at every level and while Russia has massive (though now dwindling) Soviet stockpiles to draw on, Ukraine relies on NATO to supply those munitions.
Finally, Ukraine may be running out of soft targets and to explain that it’s worth taking a gander at Ukraine’s strategy here. Clausewitz notes (drink!) there are essentially three centers of gravity that force can be directed on to compel an opponent to yield: one can target enemy military forces, enemy political calculations or enemy public will.4 Ukraine has clearly chosen the former and that makes a lot of sense. Popular Will is a weak lever for a regime like Putin’s that has depoliticized much of its population and rules without public consent in any event, especially since Putin is clearly willing to shift much of the burden of the dying to disenfranchised people in his country. Striking at the Political Object is also effectively out of Ukraine’s hands because the potential for nuclear escalation constrains their ability to attack into Russian territory. That leaves destroying Russian military capacity.5
So how has Ukraine opted to do this? From the very beginning of the war, Ukraine has focused on targeting Russian logistics to force Russian units to retreat, rather than trying to attrit the Russian army out of existence. Ukrainian Armed Forces have consistently sought means to strike across Russian operational depth (that is, engage the front lines and rear echelon at the same time; again, we’ll talk about this more when we get to maneuver warfare) to render pressured front line positions logistically untenable so they have to be abandoned. Ukraine did that outside of Kyiv, they did it by taking Kupiansk during the Kharkiv offensive, they did it by putting pressure on Kherson while striking the Dnieper crossings and the Kerch Bridge. It’s an approach Ukraine has deployed repeatedly and is consistent with the old Soviet doctrine; it is a remarkable irony that the Russians are being beaten because the Ukrainians are better at Deep Operations.
But now that the war is largely positional in nature, the number of positions inside Ukraine which are both reachable by Ukrainian offensives and offer the ability to lever Russian forces out of territory by logistical important dwindles. As noted, logistics hubs in Russia are difficult for Ukraine to do more than harass without raising escalation concerns. Meanwhile, Ukraine has plucked the lowest hanging fruit in Kherson and Kupiansk. There are still key positions of vulnerability for Russia, but some of them are probably too far out of reach (the Kerch Bridge and the Isthmus of Perekop connecting Crimea to the Ukrainian mainland). The most obvious thing to do would be to try and cut the rail and road links through Melitopol, but that is a hard 50 mile advance over terrain that is by now heavily fortified by Russian forces and with substantial risk of counter-attacks on the edges of the salient a push like that would create. A similar push to Mariupol is similarly daunting. In Luhansk, taking Starobilsk would cut a rail line, but it’s not clear to me that doing so would jeopardize the actual key positions in Sievierdonetsk to the south; Donetsk Oblast is denser in roads and rail lines, making that logistical approach harder.
Consequently, Ukraine’s success may make the road ahead harder if Russia’s combat power doesn’t deteriorate significantly (which it may do, but it may also be backstopped by fresh mobilizations). There are troubling signs that the People’s Republic of China may be preparing to send munitions or equipment to backstop that combat power as well, though so much about that right now is unclear that it is hard to know what, if any, significance to assign it.
All of which is to say that unfortunately I do not see the war as being likely to end any time soon. Putin’s remains determined to carry the war through to a conclusion and indeed politically he probably cannot do otherwise, having backed himself into a corner with his annexation of Ukrainian territory he doesn’t control. Meanwhile Ukraine isn’t going to bargain away at the peace table territory that they could still win on the battlefield. There’s a psychological aspect to this as well, I suspect: it would be a hard ask for most Ukrainians at this point, after experiencing the cruelty and brutality of Russian attacks against civilians, to let the Russians ‘win.’ Human beings are willing to absorb a lot of hardship and suffering if it allows them to punish the people causing that hardship and suffering.
Consequently, so long as Putin remains in power – and there is little prospect of him being removed – Russia is unlikely to negotiate in good faith to end the war on terms that would be acceptable to Ukraine (as Ukraine is not going to give up towns and cities they’ve held or recaptured just to end the fighting). Meanwhile, as long as Ukrainians believe they can make gains on the battlefield both to secure territory (and protect the people in that territory from Russian atrocities) and to avenge the damage they’ve already sustained, they are unlikely to be willing to negotiate for anything short of a full Russian withdrawal, which would be politically fatal to Putin and thus unacceptable to him. So while I hope everyone is thinking about potential war termination scenarios, in practice the preconditions for an end to the conflict are likely far off.
And unfortunately that is where we stand a year in to the fighting. Russian forces have largely failed on the battlefield, losing territory consistently since April (but still a net gain compared to the January 2022 lines). Given the severity of Russian losses and the geopolitical consequences for Russia, I think it is fair to say that in a sense Russia has already lost. The question that remains, one year on, is if Ukraine can win and how bad the damage will be once the war ends.
One year into Putin’s war in Ukraine and the eyes of the world are still on the Ukrainians and the hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere still march with them. Ideally on as many Bradleys and Leopards as can be made available.
- Built on their WWII-era maneuver warfare doctrine ‘Deep Operations,’ also sometimes called ‘Deep Battle’ or ‘Soviet Deep Battle.’
- Philippe Pétain, wrong about other important things, but right about that thing.
- That’s also not saying the NATO system is overrated or ineffective. Russian propagandists like to claim they are fighting NATO, but there’s little doubt that if Russia was actually fighting NATO they would have already lost. Ukraine is fighting mostly with Soviet equipment, along with some NATO equipment that is generally outdated compared to what NATO militaries actually field and with troops that, while battle hardened and motivated, are not as well trained as NATO’s best militaries.
- Clausewitz tends to focus on the first one, but discusses all three.
- Though sanctions can also erode the other two elements (albeit slowly), so Ukraine is presumably hoping they do so.