Collections: One Year Into the War in Ukraine

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.

From my Protracted War primer, a diagram of Phase I of Mao’s theory of Protracted People’s War.

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.

Via Wikimedia Commons a map produced by the UK Ministry of Defense of their assessment of the situation in Ukraine on April 1, 2022, showing the maximum extent of Russian advances.

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.

Via Wikimedia Commons a map produced by the UK Ministry of Defense of their assessment of the situation in Ukraine on April 8, 2022. By this point Russian positions in the north of the country had collapsed, with Russia reallocating those forces to the Donbas. This marks the shift into strategic stalemate (though also of course Ukraine is on the offensive in the North during the Russian withdrawal as well).

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.

From my Protracted War primer, a diagram of Phase II of Mao’s theory of Protracted People’s War.

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.

Via Wikimedia Commons a map produced by the UK Ministry of Defense of their assessment of the situation in Ukraine on August 1, 2022. Note how the lines of Russian control have changed very little from the map of the situation in April, with the fall of Mariupol being the major exception. Instead, Russian forces hit the limits of their combat power (that is, their offensive in this region culminated). This was also the period where Ukraine began using HIMARS to attack Russian logistics.

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.

From my Protracted War primer, a diagram of Phase III of Mao’s theory of Protracted People’s War.

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.

Via WIkimedia Commons, a map of Ukraine’s counter-offensives to date (in blue lines). I’m using this map rather than the UK MOD because it shows via the arrows the areas of Ukrainian recapture since April, 2022. As you can see Ukrainian counteroffensives around Kharkiv and Kherson have made significant gains.

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.

Via Wikimedia Commons a map produced by the UK Ministry of Defense of their assessment of the situation in Ukraine on February 17, 2023. Russian offensives are marked but have produced only very limited gains. Russian offensives over the last month are likely intended to regain the initiative and force the campaign back into a ‘stage 1’ where Russian forces move forward, but in practice the stalemate has held.

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.

  1. Built on their WWII-era maneuver warfare doctrine ‘Deep Operations,’ also sometimes called ‘Deep Battle’ or ‘Soviet Deep Battle.’
  2. Philippe Pétain, wrong about other important things, but right about that thing.
  3. 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.
  4. Clausewitz tends to focus on the first one, but discusses all three.
  5. Though sanctions can also erode the other two elements (albeit slowly), so Ukraine is presumably hoping they do so.

352 thoughts on “Collections: One Year Into the War in Ukraine

  1. I worry that this state of affair will eventually lead to a withdrawl of Support by the west. I am allready sourrounded by the opinion (in germany) that we must cut Support to Ukraine to force the ukrainian government to be “reasonable” and ceed east Ukraine to russia dor the benefit of the ukrainian people. I think this Position will grow as the war goes on until the political will to sustain aid atleast in europe is gone.

    1. My biggest concern is Taiwan. IMO, the US, UK, and Eastern Europe will back UA to the hilt and are sufficient. War in Taiwan, however, seriously jeopardizes US support, both by redirecting efforts and severe material drain even if the conflict concludes promptly.

      1. I think the failure of Russia to advance in the face of widespread man portable defense systems will likely have given the Chinese extreme pause about the ease of conquering Taiwan.

        The CCP has a more defuse decision making structure so it’s much less likely that Xi will wake up one day with a wild heir up his back side and launch the largest amphibous assault in human history.

        1. I think there’s a huge span of uncertainty.

          True, if Russia succeeded and the West wouldn’t react as it did, we’d have seen them attacking much more likely. On the other hand, there are still some strong factors which may make China decide to try taking Taiwan by force — and some of those are growing in importance as we speak.

          1. Legitimacy and by extension the very survival of Chinese Communist Party has depended for a long time on delivering economic growth. However it’s unclear whether (or to what extent) they’re able to continue delivering that today or in a foreseeable future. Consider their household and construction crises, financial crises (including bank runs), demographic crises (consequence of one-child policy and that much smaller portion of the population is productive), post-Covid issues like supply chains problems etc. I.e. they may need to switch to some other source of legitimacy. One such source always at hand, especially for authoritarian regimes, is nationalism. And I think we’ve already seen quite a lot of that under Xi.

          2. The previous point also changes the calculus of the game dramatically. As long as China is growing both economically and militarily, the calculus goes as follows: “Let’s wait, we’re getting stronger every day. This makes more likely they might join us voluntarily or, if we decide to use force, winning war is going to be easier tomorrow.” However if their economy is getting to problems, the calculus can become rather: “When, if not today?” Seeing window of opportunity being slowly closed before your eyes can be strong impetus to do a bad decision without deeper analysis.

          3. Xi Jinping’s age and ambition to be written into history as the unifier can play a role. As in Russia, the war would be decided by very few people or perhaps Xi alone, not in some wider decision body. And yes, it makes wrong or reckless conclusions more likely, especially if there’s bad or insufficient feedback and yes-men around you.

        2. My fear is that Xi interprets Ukraine (and other events) through the lens of Han racial superiority, and discounts the Russian failure as the product of Slavic incompetence.

          1. But Taiwan’s population is largely han and Ukraine’s slavic. I guess there’s seldom logic to bigotry…

        3. Why is everyone ignoring that Taiwan is most probably an undeclared nuclear power?

            I wonder how people can be so sure… Like e.g. Japan or Germany, Taiwan is no further than about 10 days from nuclear weapons… (Germany not much longer, as they shut down their power plants, so stopped breeding Pu)
            It would also be easy to have everything ready and assemble some devices in 2-3 days…
            And nuking the Taiwan Strait is one of the best use cases for nukes there is (and really helps with blocking landing attempts without hitting any civilian targets).
            So: How can people be so sure?

          2. Very unlikely. The incumbent DPP and Tsai Ing-Wen ran on a anti-nuclear platform. (their slogan is 2025 無核家園 — a nuclear-free home in 2025). They have worked to prevent the Lungmen nuclear powerplant (Plant 4) from being fitted out and commissioned and in 2018 they even *shipped unused fuel rods back to the US*. So there is strong evidence against Taiwan secretly accumulating weapons-grade resources.

            Can we please stop this thread? Drawing parallels between the War in Ukraine and Taiwan hoping for a defeat of China is a fuels Chinese antipathy towards Ukrainians. And Ukraine needs all the support from every human being, Chinese included.

          3. I cannot lock individual discussions, but I agree that comparisons between the current war in Ukraine and a potential war over Taiwan aren’t helpful. They would most likely not be similar conflicts.

            And in any case, the best outcome for *everyone* is to not have a war over Taiwan.

          4. the best outcome would be if your job was ancient history, mister !!1!elf!!

    2. You should seriously reconsider your social circle. Everyone I personally know here in southwestern Germany fully supports and admires the heroic efforts of the Ukrainians and is complainig about our foot-dragging, hesitant chancellor.

      1. While I share the frustration with tepid support for Ukraine in some quarters, let us remember that we pick our friends for more reasons than their opinions on geopolitics.

        1. You don’t begin your friendships with a geopolitics questionnaire to make sure you’re compatible? I’ve walked out of parties when people wouldn’t support my two-and-a-half-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict.

          1. I’m a little unclear on what the two-and-a-half-state solution would entail. Obviously it would mean Israel and Palestine becoming separate countries, but which one of them gets half of Kentucky?

          2. >two-and-a-half-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict.

            That’s a funny way to spell “three-state solution to the Israeli-Arab conflict.”

          3. I favor the zero-state solution: send in the US Army Corps of Engineers to turn the whole area into an extension of the Mediterranean.

          4. @Bullseye
            My thought would be some flavor of “make Jerusalem a neutral city-state”, as a compromise that leaves everyone equally unhappy.

        2. We certainly should! More and more I begin to fear friendship selection based on politics being a serious divider of people.

      2. The people who believe this are mostly those who i specifically dont pick for their similar outlook. Family, Coworkers(and in my case that means healthcare workers), patients. Yes most of my actual friends share similar politics to mine which is precisely why i dont usually use the to gauge overall political shifts. Among all the people who i dont actively choose to be around for personal similarity the shift has been quite strong. Whats more this shift is represented in the actual surveys on the topic.

      1. Let’s make sure we’re being civil here. Someone has offered a view on what people around them are thinking. That’s a fair thing to do. We may find that thinking frustrating, but we ought to be able to explain and defend that.

      2. Thats about my response (atleast when its not my boss monologuing at us about it, in that case i prefere to keep quiet). But There is significant wavering of the support for ukraine in surveys in germany and i can definitly see it represented around me. There are large strains of antimilitarism and reflexive antiamericanism , bound up with reporting that sanctions hurt europe more than russia, bound up with US economic protectionist maneuvers that all coalesc into a kind of narrative where Ukraine is really just a US puppet state, blinded by nationalism to the reality of its situation (namely that for war to stop it will have to sceed territory to russia, and anyway its all russians living there and they probably want to join russia and all the surveys saying they dont are just faked) trying to protect the US sphere of influence with the blood of its people and only the europeans are stupid enough to believe that its about human rights (then they usually launch into eternal whataboutism about iraq). There are two parties in parliament actively demanding a total stop to all weapons delivers (one of them far left and one of them far right). So yeah…expect germanies support for the war to become more trepid and half assed (especially if the growing anti weapon delivery sentiment actualy translates into election results). What worries me the most in all of this is that “i hope ukraine is smart enought to realise they will HAVE to ceed territory ” is a sentiment increasingly common even among people who support the war so far. So yeah. I had brief hope that my country my actually stop beeing a useless sack of lukewarm garbage in forgein policy last year but that has mostly dissipated. Its reflelxive, cynical “war never solved anything” antimilitarism again.

          1. The AFD is atleast 15% of germans at this point. The Linke also has a clear “no weapons delivery” position on a party level.

          2. the AfD does not speak for germany and The Linke does not spport Wagenknechts Position of no weapons for Ukraine

        1. That “wavering” is not new; it dates back to the sixties, and Willi Brandt’s Ostpolitik. Nordstream was just an extension of the idea that binding Russia into the Western economic system was the best way to de-fang them.

          I think it’s clear that hasn’t worked; but it doesn’t seem to be clear to everyone in Germany.

          1. I don’t think this policy is continuous with “ostpolitik”. Communism (by the late 1960s and 1970s at any rate) is/was different than Putin’s neo-Tsarism, Russia today is different from the Soviet Union and its allies (to start with, it has almost no real allies), Putn is not Brezhnev and the Soviet governing system then was very different than Putin’s one-many governing system now. (The former Finnish ambassador to Moscow just the other day was missing the communist days, since the Poltburo was an institution that could be reasoned with and that could restrain the leader, whereas there is no such institution now).

            I think ostpolitik was absolutely the right decision then, whereas trading with Putin post-2014 may well have been the wrong decision.

          2. Umm… maybe, maybe not. Back in the 1970s there was an engagement effort known as “detente” whereby the USA and USSR sought to improve relations. Among other things it resulted in the Apollo-Soyuz joint space mission. It also led to the approval of sales of American wheat to the USSR, leading to bitter criticism from some parties that the USA was subsidizing a communist system that couldn’t feed its own population. The detente era ended with the election of Ronald Reagan and his hard line on the “evil empire”.

          3. To be fair to the Germans, “Binding [country] into the Western economic system is the best way to defang them” seems to be a common error among Western policymakers. It was this assumption that led the US to normalise relations with China, for example.

        2. I share some of these opinions and attitudes though I am/was basically a green liberal (gave up on the Green Party).

          Ukraine won’t fight till the last man/woman for Crimea or Donbass. Maybe some fanatical nationalists but most people will compromise.

          The deal gets worse if the war lasts longer. Minsk II was actually not so bad.

          I think Mearsheimer will be right here as well.

          1. It isn’t that Ukrainian nationalists want to restore the honor and glory of Ukraine by revanchist territorial policies. It’s that Donbas and Crimea amount to staging bases for renewed offensives by Russia. A peace that amounts to “Russia didn’t get to conquer us, at least not this time” is pretty darn weak in light of Russia self-evidently being willing to engage in imperial conquest, which makes a peace treaty with Russia worth about the paper it’s printed on. If it’s at all achievable, what Ukraine wants is for Russia to _lose_: to come out of the war worse off for having resorted to aggression. Not winning isn’t as punitive as losing.

          2. Replying to MAH below (I don’t see a Reply link for his comment):

            Donbas and Crimea amount to staging bases for renewed offensives by Russia hellip;

            So does Russia.

      3. Perhaps their opinion is affected by the fact that Germany ceded land at the end of both World Wars. “Give up land after losing a war” perhaps isn’t quite as shocking a proposal when your own country is half as big as it was in 1900.

    3. You may be
      I am not, honestly i read more critic on Scholz for not doing more than anything else from the most surprising sources

    4. It also comes down to how much Germans, especially but not only Scholz, care about their European allies’ views.

      Scholz’s shameful dance around the Leopard issue seemed calculated to convey to Poland and Sweden and Spain and Greece and Britain that he doesn’t care what they support; all he cares about is being seen to follow an American lead. If the German public is similarly uncaring about its fellow EU citizens’ views – especially, and problematically, Easterners – this could get bad.

        1. His whole “I don’t want to give them alone”, then when lots of European nations wanted to also give their Leopards him saying “well really I want non-Leopard tanks”, then when the Brits offered theirs him waffling and then only finally agreeing to allow Leopards to be sent after the US agreed to send a symbolic indefinitely-delayed shipment of Abrams.

          For the EU partners, the resentment is focused in states like Greece and Poland that are already allergic to German power. A German chancellor going “hmm, you don’t really count, I need a Real Country to weigh in before I’ll let you send your own tanks to Ukraine” for months on end has clearly infuriated them and eroded trust, canceling out any trust built by Germany’s other military-industrial contributions.

          1. He said from the beginning he would act in coordination with our allies from NATO and EU.
            Looking at our history, i do not think that was a shameful act, but a responsible careful one.

            Poland needed an in their face reprimand from Baerbock , to formaly request the agreement of the german cabinet so that the cabinet can give their okay.
            And honestly i think the Abrams and Bradley would be for logistical reasons the obvious intelligent choice, but alas the US did not want for reasons of secrecy,

            Btw Greece send for obvious reasons it´s BMPs to Ukraine when they got Marders instead!
            Same goes for other Eastern EU/NATO states who agreed to the ring swap.
            the Cats now send to Ukraine had been promised to them AFAIK and that had to be cleared first with them.

          2. That dance really seems to have been an attempt to make sure the US is directly involved (more than it already was) and wasn’t just trying to fob off support for Ukraine as a european thing.

          3. Replying up here because we’ve gone overboard on the comments depth:


            Abrams especially is not a good logistics choice. It uses jet fuel instead of diesel, and is generally considered harder to maintain and supply than Leopard 2. I have heard zero talk about US reluctance because of secrecy, and lots about its logistics challenges. And not just from American sources, but also from Israeli and German ones.

            Regarding the “act in coordination” – Scholz said that, and then when non-US allies tried to do that coordination he fell back to de facto “no but only the US counts”. Absolutely dismissive of EU allies’ existence and agency as independent states.

            (I agree that the Ring Swap was a good idea, and clearing out all the old Eastern Bloc stock was the best way to get weapons Ukraine could operate within weeks instead of months.)

            @Arilou: The US has contributed many times more in military aid than the entire EU put together. Its commitment is not in question. Its MBTs are simply logistically unsuitable for Ukrainian use, the US has proven perfectly willing to send the latest and greatest (eg HIMARS, Patriot, Javelin) in stupendous quantities. “We want to make sure the US pulls its weight” is not a plausible motivation for Germany.

    5. “I think this Position will grow as the war goes on until the political will to sustain aid atleast in europe is gone.”

      I don’t believe that this will happen.

      First, political will to repel invaders tends to last at least until the invaders are gone. Russia started a land war in Europe; while there’s always going to be a few who say we should make peace, most people are not going to take that lying down. If the war drags on, I imagine we’ll start seeing more and more about the buildup to WWII. In a lot of ways, I believe a lot of people are interpreting Russia’s invasion based on lessons learned in the 1930s.

      Secondly, Ukraine has proven very effective at using propaganda. I don’t mean that as an insult–propaganda is a tool of war, and effectively using it is just as important as effectively using tanks, guns, and drones. The quote “I don’t need a ride, I need ammunition” deserves to live on forever as one of the most bad-ass statements made (even more so because it was made to someone trying to be friendly). There’s not much they can say while they regroup for the next push, but they’re doing what they can. And note how few pictures of mutilated bodies we’re seeing. This has been a problem with maintaining morale since combat photography started, and Ukraine is keeping a good lid on it. They’ll show grandmothers taking out drones with jam jars, or soldiers with kittens, or with anime stickers on their helmets–stuff that shows these are normal people enduring the unendurable–but NOT the obvious and inevitable consequences of combat. So we won’t see declines in will to support the way we did in Korea or Vietnam.

      Third, I don’t think OUR governments are going to sit idle while support wanes. As Bret points out, this is the first time many of these doctrines and weapons systems have been put to a full-scale test in a combat environment against an ostensibly equal foe. A general would have to be a special kind of stupid to not recognize this opportunity. Again, Ukraine is a buffer state–NOT part of an alliance with the USA. This means that if the tests fail, it doesn’t weaken our combat power. We get to feel good about helping someone, we get to feel good about fighting Russia, we get to figure out what weapons and tactics work and which don’t, and we get to do so without our children coming home in body bags; there’s very little downside here. (On the flip side China is almost certainly taking notes as well. Can’t have everything.) If that sounds cynical, well, it’s war; such brutal calculus is part of combat.

      There will always be folks who object to anything in international politics, but I think that for the foreseeable future they’ll remain a minority. There’s too much advantage to supporting Ukraine, and no real advantage to not doing so.

  2. One thing, RE effectiveness of the NATO system, is that I think we underestimate the Iraqi army. On paper at the outset of Desert Storm Saddam’s forces were ostensibly well-equipped, blooded, and numerous, demotion to third-world pushover status is a consequence of their defeat. So I think there are reasons to be bullish on the NATO system in the absence of NATO’s overwhelming equipment advantage.

    That said, in addition to the nonetheless very real possibility that Russia is too hard a target, I have doubts about the ability of western powers to get sufficient quantities of the necessary equipment delivered and of the Ukrainians to implement an unfamiliar and human capital intensive form of warfare in so short a span.

    1. Expensive in terms of human capital? That’s an interesting way to put it. My understanding is that the modern NATO system is expensive in terms of ammunition and the cost of gear, but all of that is to avoid taking troop casualties.

      1. I believe he meant expensive in human capital in the sense of troops and support personnel trained and familiar with advanced weapons systems, which are harder and slower to produce than simply drafting grunts into the meat grinder.

      2. I think he means it in the sense that implementing NATO style doctrine requires enormous investments of n training and coordinating your people above and beyond the direct equipment needs to have a chance of working.

        It will probably take some doing to get Ukraine to the point that it can seriously contemplate implementing that kind of doctrine, even if once they do their casualties drop a lot.

      3. To be blunt, all armies before the Modern System, and even most armies using the Modern System, had a use for “any warm body”. Even if someone could only become a burger-flipper in the civilian economy, in the army they could be put under the supervision of a corporal and be useful.

        In the NATO version of the modern system, for both the obvious reasons (combat doctrine) and also because they have to take care of all the gear, even common infantrymen have to have a level of skill, initiative, should I say leadership, that a sizeable fraction of the population doesn’t have.

        1. Then why do so many American ground forces NCO, preach a doctrine of near absolutly blind obedience and some do consider the prussian leadersgip doctrine leftist.
          Von Seeckt leftist

          1. The US military operates within an extremely individualist culture, and needs to push back against that. If new enlisted men were peasants accustomed to plow all day as directed by their lord, military training would have to focus on teaching them to think for themselves. Given current realities, the training has to go the other way.

          2. European recruits especially german ones are not serfs used to plow at their lords command, quite contrary.
            But calling somebody blindly obedient in our armed forces would be an insult and if complained sanctioned

          3. @ThoDan

            It’s important to note that regardless of what anyone in any other country does, Americans overwhelmingly believe they live in a super-individualist country. It’s quite possible that we’ve set up a military training system anchored around the belief that we need to break super-individualists with super-blind-obedience military training… and overcompensated.

      4. Sorry, I went back and forth on wording there but yeah, as others have said, I mean that it requires a lot of technical skills and thorough training for a lot of troops. That can be hard to materialize.

      5. “Human Capitol” in economics and a number of other fields is education, skills, knowledge, etc. Roughly, anything that makes people better at doing things. In civilian work, low human capitol is unskilled laborers, high human capitol is skilled machine operators, college educated workers, that sort of thing.

        For a military, this means skilled, practiced soldiers with lots of technical ability to handle machinery.

        So “skills and knowledge” rather than “lots of bodies”.

    2. I suspect that the “rebuilding Ukraine as a NATO-style military” is something that is going to be a more long-term and piecemal project: Ultimately something they will have to do if only because well, they can’t rely on their stocks of old soviet equipment.

    3. I find that Iraqi army is generally *overestimated*. I mean, you are talking about guys who had tanks and air force, yet got beaten by what was, in the end, essentially a light infantry army (Iraq-Iran war – yes, Iran had some good equipment, but due to sanctions and other stuff, much of it was quickly rendered inoperable).

    1. I notice that the linked article produced the following comment, which I hope I will be forgiven for quoting:

      “Peter B 1 hour ago

      What a load of nonsense.

      Before Russia invaded Ukraine, Urals crude was around $2 a barrel cheaper than Brent crude. It’s now over $30 a barrel cheaper. To argue that “both went down equally” is just wrong.
      If the author cannot get the basic and critical statistics correct here, everything that follows is nonsense.

      The simple facts are that Russian crude has declined massively in price – so while Russia may be shipping around the same volume of oil, it’s getting paid much less.

      And Russian crude is far more expensive to produce due to a) more difficult extration in Siberia and b) (no surprise here) inefficient Russian production (which incidentally relied massively on Western oilfield technology and services which are now gone). Meanwhile, stuff like Saudi oil is still very profitable.

      Fact: Russia is now selling at around delivered cost to customers in Asia (which is higher than delivered cost to Europe). So it’s not making any profit.

      So the sanctions had no effect on Russia ? Get real.

      Germany has built huge LPG capacity to import LNG for Europe. Europe no longer needs Russian gas.

      And where is this evidence that “Europe is being starved of energy”. It’s not being rationed here.

      UnHerd does publish some rubbish.”

    2. Given Unherd’s editorial commitments, I don’t think this is likely to be an evenhanded or accurate assessment. The comments on the article itself raise some more granular critiques.

          1. The author of that piece is a lone swimmer against the “UnHerd” current–and it’s the current of a sewer. Check out the comments, and particularly which ones are getting upvoted or downvoted.

          2. The author of that piece is a lone swimmer against the “UnHerd” current

            That claim is simply untrue, as can easily be verified by a few minutes’ clicking around the website.

            Check out the comments, and particularly which ones are getting upvoted or downvoted.

            We’re talking about UnHerd’s “editorial commitments”. The important consideration is what the editors approve, not what random commenters say below the line.

  3. ” positional warfare all of the morale in the world” perhaps was supposed to be “in positional warfare all of the morale in the world”

  4. Bret, a possibly overlooked (or deliberately kept low-key) explanation for the failure of Russia’s shock-and-awe attempt to overrun Kiev or even possibly decapitate the Ukrainian government might be western intelligence: 24-48 hours advance notice to Ukraine of Russian plans may have been invaluable.

    1. Possibly, although by all accounts I’ve seen the Ukrainian government legitimately did not think there would be an invasion right up to the wire.

      1. A lot of people seems to have made that assessment largely for the same reasons the initial invasion failed: IE: Russian troops weren’t ready or deployed correctly. They expected this to mean “They’re not going to invade at this point, they’re not set up for it.” rather than “They’re going to invade anyway, despite it being a terrible idea.”

        1. > Russian troops weren’t ready or deployed correctly.

          Many Russian troops have complained that they didn’t even know they were about to be deployed in a war – they thought they were on exercises in Belarus, and would be going home soon.

          It’s amazing that Russia still insists there is no war. But, of course, Putin’s position is that Ukraine doesn’t exist as a country, that it’s really Little Russia, and always has been. You don’t go to war against yourself; therefore it’s a “special military operation”.

    2. For the past year, Ukrainian artillery has been suspiciously effective. It will be many years before we find out, but I bet NATO’s intelligence services will have a great story to tell.

      1. >It will be many years before we find out
        You won’t find it in many years. You’ll find it a few months ago.
        It’s been nearly one year since the first report of “western intelligence is fed to Ukraine to enable drone/artillery strikes” have come in.

  5. Tangent:

    Drinking after a Clausewitz quote is a long-established running joke tradition on this blog. But how should this tradition be fulfilled when a quoted passage from a prior blog post includes a Clausewitz quote?
    Were our drinking obligations fulfilled with the original post, or does the re-quoting mandate that we drink again? And if the same passage is quoted multiple times in a post, do we need to drink for each or just once for the passage as a whole?

    1. Let us call forth fifty, who will drink at every repetition; and call forth another fifty, who will drink just the once; and again another fifty, who drink not at all, except upon the original recitation. These we will observe for a year and a day, and we will see upon which the spirit of Clausewitz descends more perfectly.

    2. I think that to be safe, we’d better drink once for the quote and then twice for the re-quote. And then also drink for each time the passage is quoted and then once for the passage as a whole.

      1. It’s a joke about how often any serious discussion of warfare finds itself referring to Clausewitz, since he virtually founded modern military doctrine. Basically all drinking games are about honoring/mocking frequently recurring themes by toasting them.

  6. “I have at least one more military primer topic planned, looking at maneuver warfare and the modern system.”

    I’ll just put in a plug that I am also looking forward to your Master and Commander/Greyhound post looking at doctrine.

      1. It’s 90 minutes of (very grey) naval tension with beautiful camerawork. It does trade realism for drama at a few points, being an adaptation of a C. S. Forrester novel rather than a real story, but it is definitely worth a watch.

      2. I’ve seen it, it’s ok. Fairly short, lots of action, not much in the way of characters, a little disappointing. The trailers made it seem like it would be almost a survival horror movie (there was a shot of the sonar plot that I’m sure was consciously based on the Aliens motion tracker sequences), but it was pretty much a straight up action piece.

      3. Seen it, and it is an excellent movie. Sometimes overdramatized (that battle on the surface…), but overall seems to be very well done in terms of both technical and psychological realism.

  7. “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.”

    As I understand matters, the latest announced packages include longer range rocket artillery, with the range to reach the coastline (excluding Crimea) from existing positions. That might well put the Russians in South Ukraine in a similar position to the one they had in Kherson: with their backs to a water obstacle that is itself within artillery range of the enemy. That is an awkward position to fight in, and suggests that the Ukrainians might well be able to recapture their coastline at least.

    1. But the Ukrainians already have to ration their GMLRS missiles pretty tightly. Allegedly they don’t fire them *at all* without US intelligence second opinion. ATACAMS are even more scarce and expensive, and while they can pack more punch from further away, it would seem that they would have trouble with a sustained bombardment on a similar scale

    2. The closer the Ukrainians push to the coast, the shorter Russian supply lines get and the more shells and forces they can move to reinforce those positions holding trucks constant. They also will be able to get by with fewer supply dumps and more “just-in-time” resupply, reducing the number of logistical targets that the Ukrainians can destroy. At the same time, the Ukrainians will be lengthening their supply lines and assuming positions that are less familiar and less well-fortified for their purposes, which will make it easier for the Russians to leverage deep fires to interdict them.

      And all that is on top of sea lines of communication still being the most efficient way of moving war material in the world. The Russians will be able to support the coast with alot of firepower while conserving railstock and trucks for use in Donbass.

      1. That presumes that a spate of “mysterious accidents” behind the Russian border don’t continue to cause ammo and fuel depots to explode. If staging areas have to be at least 150 km behind the front to be safe, then the effective supply lines will be as long as ever.

      2. The Ukrainians will certainly have a limited supply of GLSDB. The Russians will certainly have a limited supply of rail bridges, docks and landing ships. Missiles can be replaced faster and more cheaply than ships.

        1. And even better, probably all the stuff that was on the ship when it got hit. Which can easily cost ten times as much as the ship itself.

          1. and i expect the wesrt to be capable to produce mor and cheaper ammunition than russia ships

    1. We are germans not turks or russians we do not send tanks in without mechanised infantry if it can be avoided

  8. Thank, Bret. I don’t do well with keeping up, so I appreciate your efforts to clarify the state of this war.
    Here’s my proofreading observations from this post:
    open rather than convert involvement > covert
    and the people who execute competently > [not sure what was intended here, maybe “who executed them would do so competently”?]
    in abundance, positional warfare all of the morale > in positional warfare
    would have looked differently > different
    Ans the answer, you may recall > And
    late march > March
    all success protracted wars > successful
    First, a main effort Kherson > in Kherson
    by logistical important dwindles > importance
    Putin’s remains determined > Putin

  9. Your comments on the NATO system and it’s reliance on air superiority remind me of the Israeli position in the Yom Kippur War of ’73. The Soviets backed the Arabs with a modern air-defense network that denied the Israelis their traditional superiority in airpower.

    The Israelis’ reliance on airpower makes a great deal of sense: It’s a small enough country that a fighter-bomber can be hitting the Golan Heights on one sortie and then turn around and hit the Negev on the next. That afforded them a great deal of flexibility that they applied to great effect in ’67, for instance.

    But when the Arab states went to an air-denial strategy in ’73 the Israelis were in trouble. Especially since they had a disadvantage in tube artillery, due to their doctrinal reliance on airpower for fires. They pulled it out in the end, but it was a near-run thing.

    I wonder if an attempt by the Ukrainians to move to NATO doctrine will put them in the same spot. They’ll be reliant on airpower for fires that they can’t summon up.

          1. I think drones are much more low damage firepower but much more dispersed, for a total package taht is entirely different from traditional air power. Big drones like the Us predator drones would probably be able to substitute but a lot of the actual drones are much smaller (and cheaper) and dropping smaller charges or (often more importantly) spotting for artillery while the artillery does the actual firing.
            Source: Perun video on drones in Ukraine

    1. Although the Yom Kippur war did seem to make Egypt think that fighting against Israel was a bad thing and to please leave them out of any further attempt, thank you. It does seem that confederated Arab attempts against Israel have stopped (except for their support of Palestinians radicalized in the camps to send rockets etc.).

      1. That and the open secret that Israel now has nuclear weapons and would invoke the Sampson Option if faced with existential annihilation.

      2. Most histories I’ve seen somewhat state the reverse: Egypt being able to score what they could concievably spin as a “win” (or at least a fight on somewhat equal terms) meant they could somewhat honourably withdraw from a conflict they felt they were enmeshed in for ages for largely political/prestige reasons.

  10. Thanks for the high-level overview. I’ve been trying to follow the progress of the war, but I find it very confusing. So much of the analysis is either very technical minutiae, or fog-of-war rumors, that I’m left lost.

    One thing that jumps out at me is how critical, and limited, the stock of artillery shells is to both sides. And not just high-tech things like HIMARS but even the old dumb artillery shells from the 80s. I would have thought those had been produced in such massive numbers that they’d never run out, but both sides are firing off their shells much faster than they can be replaced. Interesting to see how modern economies can’t produce shells at the rate they did in WW1.

    I’m wondering if that will be the end condition of the war. Both sides just use up all of their available artillery shells, and then it becomes impossible to mount an offensive. And presumably neither the US nor Russia want to use up literally all their shells, they have to keep some in reserve for other potential wars.

        1. In both the current war and 1915 the warring nations were a year in. So if the war drags on the increased production kicks in and they can continue shelling.
          As for the US, they arent at war, the shells have little use for peacekeeping action, or asymmetric warfare. Explosives are fairly unstable compounds, and degrade. In a few decades from now, the US doesnt want to sit on a stockpile of shells they have no use for, with the expiry date fast approaching. If they get stuck in a conventional war with a peer nation, then they will scale up to french levels.

          1. The US has no issue with building a large stockpile. We ate running low on shells and propellant at present. Enough do that it is hard to get them for testing purposes as everything is being sent to Ukraine.

            We have always kept large stockpiles. If kept properly the shells are not as unstable as people here seems to think.

    1. Even the most massive shell stockpiles (and they can be jaw-droppingly massive) are limited by the storage life of chemical explosives, and are outmatched by the pace at which shells are expended in an extended war. At best they’re intended to last until new shell production can be ramped up. Also, since WW1 conventional shells have to compete for production capacity with every other type of munition devised since then: bombs, missile warheads, torpedoes, mines, and even smaller ordinance like mortars and grenades.

      Right now Europe is faced with something few strategic planners had counted on: a near-peer _extended_ conventional war. At the height of the Cold War, western planners gave a NATO/Warsaw Pact war a month at most before either a cease fire or a nuclear escalation. No one ever expected to have to go back to World War Two-style industrial mobilization.

      1. So I looked it up (and see my other reply above.). Apparently so far the US has donated something like 1 million shells to Ukraine, which has left the US running out ( Russia has fired more, not clear how many, maybe 2-3 million? And they’re also running out and resorting to 1980s ammunition and whatever they can import from Iran and North Korea. 3-4 million shells certainly sounds massive, but it’s a drop in the bucket compared to over 1 *billion* shells fired in WW1 ( Of course you’re right that the war industries have to produce a lot more other stuff now, but the overall economy is also much larger.

        Perhaps the western planners who thought that a conventional war couldn’t last more than a month were simply wrong?

        1. 1915 shell manufacturing =/= 2023 shell manufacturing.
          Some of the difference is a genuine improvement that shows up, in the first place, in the accuracy of artillery fire, and in the second place, in some capabilities that are more or less impossible with WW1-era accuracy. Even if each factory is extremely consistent (which they were not), if the different factories make the ammo slightly different, now you need to fire a registration shot before you can start shooting for effect. Which the enemy will see, and go into cover as much as possible. Whereas today, you can hit them without warning.

          The rest of the difference is pointless, because today people can’t get out of each other’s way. “Quod licet Jovi, non licet bovi, because the latter’s application hasn’t yet been approved.

        2. The difference is that in WW1 and WW2, allied economies were fully mobilized; furniture factories were repurposed for making aeroplane wings, women took jobs in armaments factories. In this war, there is no mobilzation apparent (although arms firms like BAE are no doubt scaling up profitable production). And nowadays we don’t have a reserve workforce of women to press into service; women are nowadays already fully employed.

      2. One important thing that you are overlooking is that we don’t have even close to the amount of production that we had back in Vietnam never mind WWI or WWII.

        For munitions there are 9 production plants (

        For the guns themselves though all of the Army and Marine Corps tubes are still made only at Watervliet Arsenal. Rock Island Arsenal makes the mounts and recoil mechanisms. The Navy has its own large gun production facility but it is much smaller than WVA

    2. Just the other day I read that the Ukrainians are using more shells in a month than the US produces in a year. At those rates we will deplete stockpiles sooner rather than later.

      There is also an issue with artillery tubes themselves. The Ukrainians don’t have the same training as the US and are burning up tubes as they don’t fire cleaning rounds that the US adds in its rotation.

      Everyone is looking for more production capacity. Watervliet is in the middle of an upgrade. That will help in the long run but in the near term it means a shortfall in tube production. We have nowhere near the capacity we did during Vietnam.

    3. YouTube channel Perun had a video on exactly this. (“Ammunition shortages in Ukraine -“) Major points IIRC are:

      While no European country can match the USA for volume, collectively Europe does have a lot of ammo manufacturing capability and thanks to NATO it works with everyone else’s guns.

      The former Warsaw Pact countries also still have manufacturing capability for the older Soviet style artillery used by Ukraine. A lot of the Russian stockpile came from places like the Czech Republic. They’re supplying Ukraine these days, not Russia.

      There’s also a lot of NATO standard ammo being produced outside Europe and the USA, in Japan, South Korea, and Australia. The South Koreans in particular believe in artillery and lots of it, with stockpiles to match. They’re apparently resupplying the western countries who are sending their ammo to Ukraine.

      1. Thanks for the rec, I watched the video and it was fantastic. Answered all my questions about this topic. If anyone doesn’t want to watch a 1-hour video, you can skip to the end “conclusions.”
        I was surprised how many small countries that you don’t think of as military powers like EG Singapore, Australia, and Czech Republic apparently have large amounts of artillery production, almost as much as the US. South Korea especially has a ton, but they’re also technically “at war” with artillery as the center of their defense, so it’s not clear politically how much they’re willing to give away. And how Russia is not only building new shells but also refurbishing old ones, so their exact count is always a mystery, maybe even to their generals.

        1. The lands of the modern Czech Republic have been an industrial centre for a very long time; Škoda artillery competed with Krupp back in the day. Heck, the Germans relied _heavily_ on Czech tanks and artillery when they invaded Poland.

          However, while there was a very fast push to increase production in those munition plants when Russia invaded, a year later… they couldn’t do it. There was barely any increase at all. And the story is much the same in the rest of Europe, and even in the US. And a lot of that has to do with some critical compounds that are nowadays largely produced in China… and China doesn’t want to increase the supply.

          That’s on top of other issues, like securing capital to expand production in wartime when you can fully expect the war to end way sooner than the new equipment is going to pay for itself – and you end up with _way_ too much production for peace-time. A full-scale modern war chews through ammunition at a rather dramatic pace.

    4. While the US doesn’t want to use up literally all their shells, they don’t have to.

      Advantage of being in an alliance such as NATO is that other people will cover your shortfalls. The Baltic states in particular and other eastern European countries can run down stockpiles now, trusting that the other NATO and allied countries have their backs.

      And doesn’t necessarily have to be for high minded motives. Attitude among at least some former members of the Soviet Union/Warsaw Pact is that they bought this stuff to blow up Russian tanks, as Michael Alain Hutson points out the stuff has a shelf life anyway, and every Russian tank blown up in Ukraine is one less tank on their borders in the future.

      It’s much more of a problem for Russia. (Unless they can get China fully committed.)

      1. This is true of all the Warsaw Pact countries except Hungary, where Orban is saying ‘we welcome our new insect overlords’. How long he’ll last in power when the first Russian tank crosses *his* border I leave as an exercise for the reader.

        1. Wait, what’s the scenario here, and who removes him?
          – Unless NATO is in the mood to walk back hard-line promises (i.e. shoot themselves, not in the foot, but in the chest), Russia invading Hungary (but not other members) would still trigger the full WW3. Even if Hungary were to officially withdraw its membership first, what reason would Russia have to attack their client, to remove their own “friend” from power?
          – Is the idea that Russia straightforwardly wins in Ukraine, for unspecified reasons WW3 breaks out, on the Hungarian front Russia manages to advance (into a salient that gets pinched off), and other NATO countries decide to …”reorganize” their lukewarm/incompetent ally?

          Either of the above is “total Russian victory in Ukraine and at the very minimum 5, realistically more like 10-20 years of rebuilding and another unlikely event” away from today. Unless I’m missing something about how Russian tanks are getting to the Hungarian border (in which case, please explain), either of them is vanishingly unlikely compared to Orbán/Fidesz just losing an election (2026, 2030).

  11. “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.”

    It’s going to be interesting to see how modern SAMs do against Russian ballistic missiles.

    1. There’s been this Battle of Britain-like campaign against Ukraine with ballistic and cruise missiles fired by Russia. I had thought that major powers would be able to defend against such a missile attack in the future, but that minor powers would be unlikely to have such an ability. Admittedly, I’m seeing Ukrainian-centered sources, which may be too optimistic, but it looks like minor powers like Ukraine have capability to down more than 50% of salvos of missiles fired at wide swaths of territory – I really didn’t think this would be a feature.

      I wish they could defend against more, since the tragedy of each missile that hits a city is too much to bear.

      1. My understanding is that Ukraine mostly has 1980s era Soviet systems, and they have been ~70% effective against cruise missiles, but 0% against ballistic missiles.

        But a 90% effective defence against both types would imply the possibility of a 99% effective defence (by doubling the density of the defence), which would have interesting implications for deterrence theory.

        1. 99% effectiveness sounds wonderful. How many warheads get through from 5000? Can you survive even half than number of cities being destroyed?

          In practice, I fear all a 99% effective shield would achieve is tearing apart nuclear arms limitations as deterrence effectively relies on saturation attacks anyway. Or it leads to increased research into cobalt bombs, or equivalent, against which there is no practical defence. Neither of these outcomes are entirely desirable.

          1. From the viewpoint of a country the size of the United States, there is quite a big difference between being hit by 50 nukes, randomly selected from the initial strike force, and 5000.

            There is also quite a difference between an ICBM race, and a SAM race.

  12. This whole thing is intensely frustrating. As near as I can tell, the administration greenlit this whole thing when the pres said there would be a different response to a ‘limited’ incursion. Given that, this was the best opportunity Putin was going to see in his lifetime to take control of Ukraine and its gas fields.

    That said, the US has a solid interest in ensuring Russia returns to its borders and stops invading Ukraine. The question is, how much is our real interest? What are the cost we should be willing to pay for that?

    Further, the crew running this are the same crew who OKed it in the first place and the same crew who collapsed Afghanistan, resulting in a lot of loss to the US.

    So, once we know what we are willing to spend to get our objectives, how do we even ensure that our leadership is spending it on that, instead of one of their many other pet projects?

    1. I don’t think your initial supposition, that the administration ‘greenlit’ the invasion is accurate. Even if one assumes that was the one moment Putin was listening, his incursion was hardly limited. But of course national communication is not a matter of single sentences and the United States spent December and January signalling very clearly that we would react badly to a military escalation in Ukraine. Putin’s miscalculation was not the United States, but his assumption that NATO could be split by cutting off gas supplies to Germany.

      That failed and the failure of that perhaps even more than the failure of the invasion probably marks the end – for now – of Russia as a great power.

      1. It’s about as accurate as the assertion that April Glaspie’s verbal miscues “greenlit” Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait. I don’t recall any professors rising to defend the Bush administration then, but maybe I missed it.

      2. The administration talked a lot about “consequences” but did they actually believably indicate they’d do anything more than they did after the invasion of Crimea?

        Honestly I came away with the impression all the admin intended to do was lots of talking head sessions signifying nothing.

        Did they threaten anything credible that would stop an invasion?

        1. The charge was “greenlit” — not “the other side decided they would do nothing.” The charge is much stronger than the support.

        2. The primary reason why the West didn’t more in 2014 was because Putin threatened in private diplomatic meetings that if the West left him with nothing to lose, he could “be in Kiev in 2 weeks.” And  based on the performance of relatively limited numbers of disguised Russian troops, armed overwhelmingly only with equipment that Ukraine had in order to maintain the disguise, mixed in with local separatist militias in 2014-15 battles in Donbas, Putin was almost certainly right about that at the time.

          Obviously you can’t play that card anymore after you’ve already sent 3 armored columns towards Kyiv,  And Biden was already sending Ukraine weapons, so Ithink that Putin probably found the threats to send Ukraine more weapons credible, he just thought that his military could win anyway. And given how well the Russian economy has weathered the sanctions so far, Ithink it’s pretty clear that the Russian government did successfully prepare for Western sanctions during the 8 years.

          Where Ithink Putin miscalculated was in assuming that the US would not greatly exceed the level of military aid that they sent Ukraine from February-May 2022, averaging about $1 billion per month, with ex-Soviet vehicles and Western artillery delivered at a not-terribly fast pace and none of the more advanced Western systems such as HIMARS.

          That was, after all, pretty much how it worked during the first Cold War after Korea: The USSR only spent about 1/18th as much as the US spent on the VIetnam War, and held back its most advanced systems in categories such as air defense (Kubs and S-200s were both first put into service in 1967 but were never given to North Vietnam). During the 1980s Afgahnistan war the US only spent about 1/15th what the Soviets did, with the highest spending in a single year being around $3 billion adjusted for inflation, and most of the weapons sent were from China. Prior to the 1978 Camp David Accords that ended the period of near-peer conventional wars between Israel and the Arab states both sides received relatively small amounts of military aid from their respective backers. Even in the Iran-Iraq War where nukes were not in play, both sides received relatively small amounts of military aid, resulting in a big decrease in their capabilities after the first 2 years when their starting reserves were exhausted.

          The reasons for this as demonstrated in Korea include escalation concerns but also that it turns out that attempting to fight Great Power-level near-peer conventional wars on the cheap is a great way to use up ammunition far faster than a not-mobilized-for-war industry can supply it. In Korea both sides were able to keep the stalemate going for a few years by depleting leftover World War 2 stockpiles. Both NATO and Russia seem to be in a similar situation nowadays, but with considerably smaller reserve stockpiles, with the final outcome remaining to be seen.

          Under that assumption, even if the opening advances in the North failed to accomplish anything beyond a very costly distraction (I don’t want to get into this, but to be clear I think that Putin had other goals in doing that, and those other goals failed), Russia could still grind away at the Ukrainian military over the Summer and probably get Ukraine and/or the West to sue for peace by Fall. And by the end of March Russia had managed to capture the territories most important to sustaining their frozen conflicts: fresh water supply and a land bridge for Crimea, and Mariupol and Northern Luhansk to secure what had at the 2/23 lines been pretty vulnerable flanks of the Donbas “People’s Republics” (had the Ukrainian military managed to breach the Line of Contact fortifications then both Donetsk and Luhansk would have been quite vulnerable to encirclement without crossing the border into Russia).

          Now, why Putin didn’t mobilize, or really update Plan B in any way, when that assumption was broken in late May with the passage of the $40 billion aid package, until September proved beyond a doubt that Plan B was no longer sustainable, is another question that I don’t really have any answer for.

          Taking it back to the original question, Biden couldn’t have credibly threatened anything that could prevent an invasion, and had he threatened the post-May 2022 level of military aid beforehand, if anything that might have just led Putin to adopt a less risky invasion plan (IE one that involved targeting Dnieper bridges early on in order to damage Ukrainian supply lines on the East bank).

          1. *why the West didn’t do more

            Also, on reflection, I think “probably get Ukraine and/or the West to sue for peace by Fall” is too strong. It’s always hard to predict the political reactions to things like this. But if the US had continued the February-May level of military aid instead of escalating as they did starting in June, Russia capturing all of the Donbas by September 2022 seems very probable.

      3. I feel, in large part, Putin made plans under the assumption that the US was too politically paralyzed thanks to his patsy (trump) to form a coherent Foreign Policy response to the invasion.

        If donald trump hadn’t been president, I’m not sure Putin would have felt he could get away with a full scale invasion

        1. Umm, Donald Trump wasn’t president when Putin invaded. Nor did he greenlight the Nordstream 2 pipeline, like a patsy. Still, at least you’ve stopped blaming Reagan (or Hoover, LOL) for everything that’s wrong with the world.

      4. > marks the end – for now – of Russia as a great power.

        Isn’t that what this is all about?

        Russia as a “great power” died with Yeltsin. Putin’s demands for a zone-of-influence are anachronistic. Russia’s failures in the current war aren’t the cause of Russia’s demotion; they are the symptom.

        Gas supplies were Russia’s only trump card; and that was a wasting asset, because for other reasons, most of Europe was turning to greener energy supplies. Russia had to act now, for fear their trump card turned into chicken-feed.

        1. “most of Europe was turning to greener energy supplies”

          Germany wasn’t, and considering influence Germany has within EU, Putin may have figured that gas diplomacy would still work.

    2. > Given that, this was the best opportunity Putin was going to see in his lifetime to take control of Ukraine and its gas fields.

      The best opportunity that Putin saw in his lifetime to take control of Ukraine and its gas fields was in 2014 when the democratically elected leader was thrown out of power by non-parliamentary means and the Ukrainian military was comically incompetent. It is very likely a drive on Kyiv could have succeeded in putting in place a puppet government, if it was against the decrepit 2014 Ukrainian military, in “defense” of a leader who had been democratically elected by the people of Ukraine. (I even suspect the resulting sanctions could have relaxed over time, since it wouldn’t involve recognizing the non-consensual annexation of another country’s territory, the big no-no in international politics today.)

      Instead of doing that, though, he decided to annex Crimea, the most pro-Russian part of the electorate in Ukraine (and therefore pushing its elections away from Ukraine by its absence), while also making sure that Ukraine would spend the next eight years doing its damnedest to improve its military readiness, and giving it the chance to practically test its troops by starting a low-intensity conflict in the Donbas.

      1. > Instead of doing that, though, he decided to annex Crimea, the most pro-Russian part of the electorate in Ukraine (and therefore pushing its elections away from Ukraine by its absence), while also making sure that Ukraine would spend the next eight years doing its damnedest to improve its military readiness, and giving it the chance to practically test its troops by starting a low-intensity conflict in the Donbas.

        Putin also did not seize Mariupol in 2014 despite multiple opportunities to easily and deniably do so. Just one example:

        He quite clearly was not planning a future full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2014-15.

    3. If you think Putin is invading to get Ukraine’s gas fields, your knowledge of the conflict is shallow and unreliable.

      Ukraine is a net gas importer. It was once important as a transit state – Russian gas got to Europe through pipelines in Ukraine – but that role ended with Nordstream 1/2.

      Putin’s invasion wasn’t some coldly calculated economic decision.

      1. Also betrays a lack of understanding of upstream oil&gas, though that’s probably more forgivable in this context.
        Eastern Ukraine’s gas fields are shale fields. Shale gas hasn’t been exploited in any profitable and scalable manner outside of the US, Canada, and possibly Argentina. The reasons are manifold, but suffice to say it won’t work for Russia unless they have extensive help from Western operators and service companies, and even then, it’s a dicey proposition.

  13. Respect for revisiting predictions.

    You did have other predictions. Maybe in different posts? Like, that propaganda would be particularly important– that world opinion mattered. That has certainly proven true.

    Re: Siege warfare, I can hardly consider that an independently false prediction– it’s contingent on your prediction that the Russian military would be more effective than it proved to be. If the Russians could have, they would have.

  14. Footnote 3 question: It seems like Ukraine is getting some practice fighting with NATO style officer organization but combining it with the lots of artillery, little airpower that makes sense with the resources they have. How flexible can NATO trainers be in adapting to this style? I know a few other examples of “mixed” styles (Iraq used a mixed Russian/British type of logistics system, apparently, during the Iran war.) but some descriptions suggest that these come as a unit and adjusting parts is difficult.

    1. Artillery has always been the default of NATO line units. Air makes for glamorous footage, especially with gun camera footage, but fire support starts with mortars and field guns, then air for targets that cannot be dealt with via those means. First examples that come to mind: level *that particular building* with a high-precision aerial munition–target things in the enemy rear beyond tube artillery range–engage moving targets–cover emergencies while the guns are moving.

      IME, laymen vastly overestimate the relative employment of air versus arty for fire support. I know I did before I joined.

      1. This was an interesting read. (and I am not surprised at all that I overestimate the amount of close air support as compared to tube artillery)

        Indirect fire in the space between mortars and air-dropped munitions is definitely unsexy and therefore we don’t think about it as much. I wonder how much air strikes really replace things like would have been siege guns in WWI, much more so than smaller things, given that the world seems to have standardized on artillery barrels of approximately a 5 inch diameter. (I’m thinking about this mostly because 5″ has frequently been “destroyer guns” for the more-glamorous naval vessels.)

        1. Probably because that’s about the size artillery that can be transported by a reasonably fast and agile tracked vehicle; anything heavier has to be laboriously positioned like a siege gun.

  15. I am here for the regular sniping of Philippe Petain, and just want to give a shoutout to my favorite of Bret’s comments on the subject: “It is difficult to imagine any human being whose final reputation could have been more improved by having been fatally struck by a bus in 1939.”

      1. eh, I think by 1939, it was pretty clear to anyone paying attention who Hitler was & what he was about. At any rate, I think “hero to evil” beats “evil to more evil” in terms of like shock value

        1. If Hitler died prior to the March 1939 seizure of the remaining Czech parts of Czechoslovakia, Germanophile could plausibly argue he was a great leader who was unifying the German people and brought about recovery from the unjust Treaty of Versailles.

          1. And would have done even greater things.

            It’s like dying at the high tide of Confederate fortune at Shiloh.

          2. Let’s not equivocate between what Germanophiles could argue and what his reputation would have been. Hitler had already made his goals & methods pretty damn clear through the Beer Hall Putsch (1923), the Night of the Long Knives (June-July 1934), the Night of Broken Glass (1938), among many other examples. While it’s *possible* that Germanophiles could have salvaged his reputation at that point, that’s at best speculative.

            By contrast, there’s nothing speculative about saying that Petain was a hero before 1939, or that he totally squandered that reputation in the years that followed.

          3. The Putsch, the Long Knives — desperate times, desperate measures. As for the Broken Glass, assuming that anti-Semitism acquired the same stigma as it did in our world, you could blame others. In fact, there were a number of people saying that Hitler had to pass the anti-Semitic laws because of political pressure, enough that G. K. Chesterton wrote any essay on the subject (pointing out that it didn’t matter in the least, because either way he would go on doing it).

          4. @Mary again, you’re equivocating between what people *could have said* and Hitler’s *actual* reputation. Broken Glass made it abundantly clear what Hitler was about & what he was willing to resort to. The fact that his defenders *might* have later tried to spin it more positively had he died in 1939 doesn’t mean they were *likely* to have done só successfully. Whereas Petain’s pre-1939 actions required no spin in the first place

          5. The claim was about *relative* reputations, and furthermore your claims about Broken Glass are made with the benefit of hindsight, which, by definition, they would not have.

          6. In fact, the Night of Broken Glass happened in 1938, só it was “hindsight” for people in 1939; and it pretty clearly tanked Hitler’s reputation, which hadn’t been good to begin with.

            Yes, relative reputations– Petain’s reputation was much, much better than Hitler’s in 1939. Their subsequent actions would worsen Hitler’s already-terrible reputation, but absolutely destroy Petain’s once-great reputation. Hence, it is Petain whose reputation would’ve been more improved “by having been fatally struck by a bus in 1939,” & it’s not even close

        2. Success is a cure for many evils. Josip Broz Tito was quite evil, yet there are many who respect him simply because he fought on the winning side in World War 2.

          1. And then refused to simply be a Soviet puppet. Tito won against some really reviled enemies.

          2. Hardly “won”. West had to spend resources on propping up Yugoslavia, which meant that Yugoslavia was a burden on American resources and no Western ones. Plus, fact that a Communist country could be “friendly” meant that Communism was no longer considered the ultimate evil.

            Having Yugoslavia on Western side was not at all a bad thing for USSR. In fact, it was better than having it be allied to USSR itself.

          3. Was the world really bipolar then?
            I thought Yugoslavia was third world, like Austria or Switzerland…

          4. Bipolar, but messy. Austria was nominally in the Soviet sphere of influence but was considered less authoritarian than most other Eastern Europe regimes. Finland was nominally with the West but was acquiescent to Russia’s interests. Yugoslavia was non-aligned in that it was neither a western democracy nor under the Soviet Union’s control. Albania remained hard-line Stalinist after Stalin was posthumously denounced in the USSR and broke away from the Soviets. Switzerland was western but strategically isolationist.

          5. Austria was a parliamentary democracy, so institutionally wester, but neutral through a treaty between East and west.

          6. As someone with Austrian experience (born in Vienna while we were “nominally in the Soviet sphere of influence” – well do I remember the borscht – and still living there) I am fascinated by the opinions about my country (or about the #1 holiday destination of my childhood)…

          7. Yes and no. Yugoslavia was indeed officially neutral, and it headed the “Non-Aligned Movement”. But in reality, situation with Soviet Union was tense – especially in early years following the breakup – and Yugoslavia would have never survived as long as it did without Western financial support. It basically had no real economy of its own.

    1. And I’m here for the regular, if unpopular, defense of good ol’ Philippe. It’s hard to imagine what he could or should have done differently from the point at which he was given power (by the democratically elected parliament, mind you), with a army disintegrated by rapid retreat, Germans occupying a good half of France, and allies having already packed up and gtfo’d. He was responsible for the safety of the French population, and he did what was necessary to protect them.

      And maybe he could have negociated better or collaborated less, but when walking a thin line where one side is “falling under total occupation”, I won’t blame someone for being careful (and he clearly wasn’t careful enough, for it ended with Case Anton 2 years later). Would the situation have been better if he refused to do it, and France fell entirely under a german occupation government right in 1940?

      1. Some things in other parts of the world would be better. Specifically like the Dutch East Indies, French Indochina and in Algeria could decisively side with the allies, making a Japanese takeover of Indochina much less likely & sandwiching Italian colonies between Allied ones for a very different North African campaign from our version of history, and a much more uphill battle for Japanese planners who want to assault the DEI for its resources, causing a very different pacific war much more focused on the seas near China, if Japan even still attempts Pearl Harbour.

      2. “It’s hard to imagine what he could or should have done differently from the point at which he was given power ”

        I can imagine him acting as did the governments of Czechoslovakia, Poland, Norway or Holland. That would have left the allied cause, on which Frances freedom depended, in a rather better position.

      3. Agree with Menolt and ad98832376– the war would likely have been over far more quickly, & w/ far less bloodshed, had France’s colonies and overseas assets remained united in the fight against Hitler (as Belgium’s & Holland’s had), rather than forcing De Gaulle to slowly rally &/or conquer them.

        I’d add that even if the goal was preventing France from falling “entirely under a german occupation,” that *did* happen as soon as it became clear to Hitler that the Vichy regime couldn’t maintain control of France’s colonies. Moreover, this should have been forseeable to Petain– Hitler had made it abundantly clear many times over that he wouldn’t respect any treaty that became remotely inconvenient to him. Só Petain sold out France for a bill of goods he should have known had no value!

        1. I guess we have a disagreement at the root of what’s the purpose of a government here. “Fleeing to a foreign country and leaving your entire population to be occupied” isn’t part of it in my book. You (collectively) argue that it would have shortened the war, but that’s post-hoc reasoning with 20/20 hindshight. At that point, the war was already over for France, and it was lost. Limiting the suffering of the French people was Petain’s duty, and he somewhat performed it. Certainly better than a german occupation government (in the best case handled by the Wechmacht, in the worst case handled by the Nazis).

          Also I’m not convinced the colonies were very relevant to WW2, frankly. Case in point, how little Vichy controlled them and how easily they flipped or were occupied by other powers.

          1. I’m puzzled that Germany didn’t demand as a term of surrender that France and the Netherlands turn their far east holdings over to Germany’s nominal ally Japan. If Japan had gained Dutch east oil “legitimately” (as such things go), war with Britain and the USA might not have broken out.

          2. I think you might be underestimating just how balanced on a knife-edge things were between June 1940 and June 1941. It’s entirely plausible that, had France chosen to fight on from the colonies, the North African campaign would have ended by winter of 1940 or spring of 1941, which would have allowed Allied forces to intervene earlier and in greater strength in Greece, sparing the country the ravages of occupation and maintaining a lodgment in Europe.

            That having been said, I am not convinced that this would have shortened the war by much. Pushing up through the Balkans would have been no easy task, and I don’t think the overall resource diversion from Barbarossa for containing an Allied lodgement in Greece would have been much greater than it was for supplying the North African campaign. Maybe it might have allowed for bombing the Ploesti oil fields earlier.

          3. “It’s entirely plausible that, had France chosen to fight”
            …that every french town would have gotten razed, that the columns of refugees would have gotten massacred, if they didn’t starve before and that the millions out french soldiers isolated, out of supply, out of ammo, would have gotten slaugthered.

            If you think that’s worth it, you’d be unfit for leadership. Which Pétain wasn’t (or at least, not that much), so he made the responsible choice.

            Oh and lol, even lmao at the idea that things were “balancing on a knife edge”. There was 0 organized resistance left in western Europe, the French army was routed, the anglos had already ran back, Benelux had gotten what their neutrality bought them, Danemark was already occupied.
            As for Greece, I’m not sure how delaying a capitulation that occured in June could have helped a country that had fell in April.

          4. I’m not sure why you seem to be under the impression that Greece fell in 1940 rather than 1941, or how you missed that my statement regarding things balancing on a knife-edge was in reference to the events between the Fall of France and Barbarossa (never mind the fact that the Dutch and Belgians did the whole “surrender the metropole and the colonies fight on” thing and the Germans didn’t engage in wholesale slaughter of their people), but if defending Phillippe Petain is the hill you want to die on I wish you the joy of it.

          5. I’d say Petain had a responsibility to *all* of France’s citizens and subjects, including colonial subjects, who would have been largely beyond Hitler & Mussolini’s reach but for Petain’s actions. Selling out 100 million people to fascists to protect the ~40 million in the metropole would have been despicable; doing só to protect *less than half* of those in the metropole was just baffling.

            It’s really not “20/20 hindsight” to expect Petain to understand something that the Czech, Polish, Norwegian, Belgian, and Dutch governments all immediately understood, and that was also abundantly clear from Hitler’s past actions. Nor is it speculative to say that an empire of over 100 million people and 13 million square kilometers could have made a significant difference in efforts to defeat Germany; Hitler himself seemed to think so, given how much support he gave Vichy France to help them keep control of those colonies (and how he immediately withdrew that support once it was clear they couldn’t hold the colonies).

            Your claim that the colonies were “irrelevant” and “easily flipped” is completely ahistorical. Outside of the Soviet Union, much of the fighting between mid-1940 and early 1943 was over French colonies and their immediate neighbors. It was only through hard, costly fighting that the British, Free French, Belgians, and (eventually) Americans were able to wrest control of the French colonies and put De Gaulle in control. That blood and treasure could have been much better spent shoring up Soviet defenses or attacking Germany directly.

          6. @60guilders
            Yes, that is embarassing to have bungled dates that badly, I apologize. Still, I don’t see what French forces could have helped Greece *1 year later*, with most of the army prisoner and the entire metropolitan population under German occupation.

            Again and again, we hit the core disagreement of “well it would have helped the ally win” vs “It would have caused million of additional French deaths, which no responsible government could accept”. Throwing millions of bodies under the tracks of panzers would not have slowed them down in any significant manner.

          7. Again and again, you dismiss the demonstrable strength of the French colonial empire (again, with 13 million square kms & 100 million people) and its massive military (which thanks to Petain spent much of the war fighting one another instead of united against Germany), and the clear advantage that would have provided in countering fascism. Your contention that these forces “would not have slowed [Germany] down in any significant manner” is not just unsourced, but patently absurd.

            You continue to insist that “no responsible government” would do the very thing that the Belgian, Dutch, Czech, Polish, and Norwegian governments did— unless you’re defining all of those as irresponsible governments, which would border on equating responsibility with collaboration.

            You’ve also now invented the figure “millions of additional French deaths” out of whole cloth. Do you have any evidence at all for that figure (for instance, did the Germans treat occupied Belgian and Holland worse than they treated occupied France)? Note that even if greater French resistance would have led the Germans to treat occupied France worse, you have to weigh that against the likelihood that Germany and Italy would have been defeated much more quickly with the full force of the French empire arrayed against them.

            Also not sure where you’re getting the idea that “most of the army [would be] prisoner” if not for Petain’s actions. Much of France’s army was not in metropolitan France but in the colonies; and those who were in the metropole could have fled to Britain (as did, again, the Belgian, Dutch, Czech, Polish, and Norwegian armed forces).

          8. I don’t see what value the French colonies would have been in fighting against Germany. In the far East French holdings were quickly overrun by Japan; and in North Africa if the postwar history of Algeria was anything to go by, the locals wouldn’t have cared to spend a single drop of blood defending France.

          9. No bit if french troops in Algeria had welcomed british troops, instead of fighting them together with the germans, they could have driven the italians out of Libya, and thus securing North Africa much sooner. And the french navy could have helped the british against the german navy, thus giving the allies naval dominance far earlier.

          10. France’s colonies were of immense strategic value— French Somaliland was the centerpiece of defense against Axis expansion in East Africa (once it went to the Vichy, the British were unable to defend British Somaliland); taking Algeria and Tunisia out of the game took western pressure off Libya, giving the Italians and Rommel a free hand to invade Egypt; Syria and Lebanon provided bases for Axis attacks on Egypt, until the British and Free French took them over. And of course, you have the millions of French soldiers and other military personnel stationed in this colonies, who were loyal to whomever they thought was the legitimate government of France (Petain’s collaboration made that an open question; with a unified French government-in-exile, it would not have been).

            French Indochina fell to Japanese forces because the Vichy regime had already let Japan station troops there, and made no real effort to defend it once those troops started trying to take it over. That’s really not relevant evidence of what a *determined* French defense could have done.

      1. Mike Duncan noted in his Revolutions entry on Saratoga that, if he’d died in that battle, he would have gone down in history as the most beloved soldier ever, instead of the worst traitor in America.

        1. I listened to most of the other “Revolutions” miniseries, skipped the one on America because I’m not that interested in US history (and because Duncan himself concedes that it’s not his best work, due to his trying to fit everything into 15 episodes), but this tells me that maybe I should give the AMerica series a shot.

  16. The russian army didn’t do it’s doctrine(or anything militarily effective) because it was intended to be a coup d’état/pacification mission rather than war (see kamil galeev on the subject). Putin’s initial failure is due to misunderstanding that ukraine would resist and turn it into a real war.

    That beeing said, I wonder if russia can win by attrition and just getting the west to tire. I dont know the ukrainian losses, but putin may be able to win a pyrhic victory ww1 style if they are high enough.

    Also, many comentators have pointed out shell shortage on both sides and the lack of productive capacity after beeing so long at peace. If this continue for too long China may be able to take taiwan due to the west beeing disarmed.

    1. Maybe I’m wrong but I expect a war over Taiwan would be fought mainly by submarines and fighter jets, which mostly don’t use the kinds of munitions that the West are sending to Ukraine.

      1. If it weren’t for the United States, the PRC could settle for blockading Taiwan until it became clear that acquiescing was Taiwan’s only option. But as things now stand the PRC would have to count on a two-week fait accompli before American forces could fully mobilize. The PRC would have to invade, overrun, occupy and pacify the island; that means boots on the ground, and that means overcoming resistance.

        1. That might take quite a lot of blockading. How much would it take to persuade you to acquiesce into spending the rest of your life, and your children’s lives, in a concentration camp?

          The Taiwanese might not see it that way. Then again, they might see it exactly that way.

    2. Productive capacity was low because demand was low.
      But with the demands on ammunition on the rise production will follow to at the very least restore the stockpiles.
      I don’t know if Ukraine or Russia are in something of a war time rationing like those from the world wars. Either way Russia’s production ceiling is by itself vastly lower than the West’s. But this is looking increasingly distant now with the prospect of the chinese supplying them with ammunition in the short term.

      1. As I’ve repeatedly mentioned, Russia today simply doesn’t have the command economy that the USSR had during WW2. Almost literally slave labor; as in you worked as long and hard in the war production plants as it took to make your quota, for as little in return in rations as the system cared to give you. And it isn’t as if you could say “I quit”; no work, no ration coupons means you could easily starve or freeze to death, and there was always the labor camps for those counter-revolutionary saboteurs.

        By contrast Russia today has to have a least a semblance of a market economy because its workers aren’t slaves any more. And Russia’s economy was a shambles even before sanctions. Is anyone actually going to buy Russian war bonds? No matter how high the “demand” for munitions, it isn’t like anyone in Russia has the funds to invest in expanding industrial capacity, or could even obtain the resources to run it if they did.

        1. This reminds me of Suvorov in Inside the Soviet Army:

          “Talking to journalists, Khrushchev revealed `in confidence’ that he had been to a factory where he had seen rockets `tumbling off the conveyor belts, just like sausages’. (Incidentally, then, as now, the supply of sausages was presenting the USSR with acute problems.)”

  17. On the topic of Ukraine running out of easy targets behind Russian lines, the provision of more long ranged strike options by the West could give Ukraine some more abilities to threaten Russian strategic depth, there has been recent talk about the UK providing Storm Shadow, and hopefully the US will eventually send ATACMS. These could potentially enable more offensives, as well as increase the friction of Russian supply by forcing them to disperse even more depots even further behind the front lines.

    Western provision of armored vehicles, particularly tanks, at scale could be more of an issue. Most European countries simply don’t have the numbers to be able to provide very many, at most a couple hundred leopard 2s could be provided. The US has massive stocks of Abrams in the desert, but they all have classified armor, so the US govt doesn’t want to send them. NATO does have large numbers of older Leopard 1s and M60s, but those tanks are of very dubious quality.

    Ukraine and the West appear to have found workarounds to the potential shortage of SAMs, given that the West does not stock a ton of those, and artillery shell shortages remain a long term issue, although they are not as much of an immediate issue as many people make it out to be.

    At the end of the day, the West has the resources necessary to support Ukraine as long as is necessary as long as we have the willpower to do so, and if we do so Ukraine will win. Slava Ukraini.

    1. > On the topic of Ukraine running out of easy targets behind Russian lines, the provision of more long ranged strike options by the West could give Ukraine some more abilities to threaten Russian strategic depth

      I think the point was that as the Ukrainian advanced, “strategic depth” is moving into Russia and the US doesn’t want to help with striking into Russia out of escalation concerns.

      1. Hence those “mysterious accidents” I alluded to in another response, which DON’T rely on western-supplied weapons systems.

      2. “I think the point was that as the Ukrainian advanced, “strategic depth” is moving into Russia and the US doesn’t want to help with striking into Russia out of escalation concerns.”

        That will be an issue in the east, but not in the south and Crimea. That makes up the bulk of occupied territory.

  18. > Bret Devereaux, “About the Pedant”, “A Collection of Unmitigated Pedantry”, “PhD”, “ancient and military historian”, “intersections of the Roman economy and the Roman military”

    > “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.”

    I’m not going to quote anything else or what is missing, but overall:

    Deep substance, neutral style or “pedantry” is not found in this article.

    But there is one sided ideology propaganda, vilification and demonization, black and white thinking, omitting of crucial events, facts, and parties involved not just for duration since 2008 but just in 2022.

    Strongly recommend avoiding this article and this author, unless you already wholly agree with him and want to reinforce your information bubble.

      1. Reporting versions I heard:
        – (Unstated part: east of the former Iron Curtain, “nationalism” today means something like “nationalism” used to mean in 1800s Western Europe. The relationship between the “state-constituting” supermajority ethnicity and the minorities is not a friendly primus inter pares one. In particular, this state of affairs gives the worst assholes from the majority an excuse to bully the minority, and receive a thoroughly mixed audience response ranging from “stop it, you’re being evil” through “[nervous laughter] I’d rather not take sides, please don’t hurt me” to “yeah, go show ’em!”. Or better yet, analogize the situation to the “mutual disdain with occasional violence” of the Reformation.) Stated part: some Ukrainian assholes, occasionally organizing themselves into paramilitary forms (“Azov Battalion”), bullied/persecuted among others the Russian minority in Ukraine, and the Ukrainian state (including police) did anything from nothing whatsoever to cheering them on, therefore the whole state (indeed nation) is rotten. State-related organizations also variously: purposelessly discriminated because the bureaucrat is prejudiced, purposefully discriminated by policy, actively tried to assimilate minorities (everyone’s favorite example is schools teaching (in) Ukrainian and trying to prevent even local-majority minorities from having schools where they teach in the minority’s language). The Russian minority cried out to the heavens for relief, and Russia first covertly, then overtly came to their rescue, and this is totally legitimate both because state borders are artificial and they should follow ethnic composition on the ground and because Ukraine/-ians are the baddies therefore Russia must be the hero. (“Borders” is not even quite the right word here. This concept of the nation-polity is more like Old Testament God. It claims jurisdiction over and protects its ethnicitizens even if they live in the diaspora, while varying between ignoring the “foreigners” in what would otherwise be understood to be its area (they have their own state-god, no?) and trying to {assimilate (by seduction); assimilate (by force); kick out; subjugate} them because blood and soil do belong together when it benefits us. Is also jealous about Baal Western Cultural Decadence Influences or another state trying to assimilate its citizens away from it.)

        – In WW2 some Ukrainians fought against the USSR largely out of preexisting national enmity, but who they served/allied with is more important, thus it is fair to today call the whole nation rotten. And they dare think of those soldiers as heroes; clearly they are the baddies. (Oh, my central/eastern-European nation (except Poland)? It’s complicated and we actually sort of liked the West and and and and and and our soldiers are heroes. Germany also excluded, both because it’s not in the region and because they are so ashamed that if they were an individual person, they’d be diagnosed with psychotic depression.)

        – Supposedly someone swore an oath made a promise that states that Russia considers to be in its sphere of influence will not become NATO members and/or otherwise be in a Western sphere of influence. Thus one/more of {the Baltics (and/or ex-Warsaw pact countries) being NATO members; vague talk about Ukraine becoming a NATO member; medium-range US missiles being based in ___; etc.} is/are a breach of that promise, thus Russia is totally justified in invading Ukraine (because this is the only promise that was ever broken in the history of diplomacy, I guess, and because small countries are NPCs).

        – Various Western powers (mostly US, occasionally UK) are obviously enjoying the situation, therefore they must have caused it or are otherwise to be blamed for it. It is occasionally claimed that Ukraine was willing to negotiate/surrender until a visit by Boris Johnson(?). Also, they are the baddies-by-default thus Ukraine is a baddie by association and Russia must be the hero. Also, they engineered the Maidan thing, thus the current government is also a Western puppet.

        – The Ukrainian population doesn’t like/care about the (current?) Ukrainian government/state, certainly not enough to fight, die and endure other deprivations for its continued existence, thus if the state followed the wishes of its population, it would surrender and cease to exist. Because implementing the wishes of the population is what states are for. Or at least democratic states, therefore if the Ukrainian state is unwilling to cease to exist, it’s not a democracy and thus it is a baddie thus the Russian invasion is justified. (“There used to be a state that worked like that. It got invaded, surrendered and ceased to exist.”)

        – People are dying and suffering! This must be ended immediately! The operators should press the first button they can find that turns off the War Machine. Oh, I found one, there’s the “Ukraine surrenders” button. It ought to be pressed immediately.

          1. That doesn’t even need to be true! One of the standard setups of game theory is the “hawk-dove game”. Dove-dove: 0;0, hawk-dove: +1;-1, hawk-hawk: -100;-100. War is literally 100x worse than surrender. Yet if it becomes known that a player is so scared about that -100 that they won’t risk it, they become a perfectly predictable doormat and the other player can keep exploiting them.

            Unfortunately, trying to explain this tends to turn into nonsense. We don’t believe in time-ambiguous do ut des religion. “Finding yourself in the situation where the other player already decided X, by deciding Y you can cause the other player to retroactively decide not X but Z.” We don’t believe in honor. “If we face a losing fight, we’ll do it to protect our honor.” We are skeptical of the Romans telling us si vis pacem, para bellum.

          2. A thermonuclear war has never been fought so we can’t truly say with certainty just how bad a war could be. We DO know from WW2 both how bad a conventional total war can be, AND just how hideous defeat can be.

        1. As Russian by blood and Ukrainian by soul i must say that you hear some bullshit. Yes, we have hard times. Yes, there are many people who dislikes Russian language NOW because they view it as language of agressor.
          But even people who not support Zelensky in 2019-2021 now are trying to do their best to help our army to won.
          Yes, we bury best of us every day when Russia lost some not needed by Putin people. But Russia pays with litres of blood of every meter of Bachmut.
          And as nation we haven’t choice. If we stop fighting – we will be dead. Our will be enslaved.
          So we haven’t choice. We can only win. And we will win.

          P.S. and we are very grateful for USA and Europe – USA for military support / Europe for giving shelter to our women.(my wife went from Ukraine 1 of march, 2022 and living with her mother – who must flee from Russians war criminals from Energodar in April 2022.

          And we never forget those death and tears that Russsia gives to us.

          P.P.S and i know that many my russian friends are helping us.

    1. Thinking all conflicts are shades of grey is itself, ironically, reductive. Sometimes there really are heroes and villains, monsters and angels.

      Putin and his Russia are evil, and must be defeated. Glory to Ukraine.

    2. Perhaps you’re new around here?

      The Pedant is a consistently opinionated writer. Neutral point-of-view isn’t a religion here, as it is on Wikipedia. I imagine most readers would have chuckled at your recommendation to avoid.

  19. I just revisited an email I sent to a newspaper I used to read in the 70s, when I lived in Canberra. In it I referred to a history book I read back then, talking about how the Third Reich had misunderstood and then abused the Ukrainians, which led them to fight back. I followed by saying that it was likely the Russian Armed Forces had misunderstood the Ukrainians’ resolve, and it was thus likely that the Russian Armed Forces would be bloodied. Which would lead to Putin’s downfall, since that’s the way Russian politics works.

    I’m not sorry I disagreed with the general run of the mill Common Tater.

    I was astonished to see that the Russian tank column aiming at Kyiv had put itself in such a perilous position, way ahead of any possible infantry support. The Allies after D-Day made that mistake at least once. It should be drummed into every tank commander’s head that that is a fatal mistake.

    As far as Vuhledar-Soledar-Bakhmut, the Russians have basically trapped themselves into a salient. Their high-status private army, the Wagner Group, has now lost status. The Russian “Spring Offensive” seems to have come and gone, and there’s not a lot to say about that.

    And the longer this war drags on, the less likely it is that the Russian Federation will ever recover from it. They’ve allegedly removed most of the troops guarding their Far Eastern borders. The ever present and constantly repeated threat of nuclear weapons is less credible the more it is repeated, in the light of the badly maintained Russian conventional forces and the undeniable fact that the great shining light of technological advancement, their Space effort, has just sent two Soyuz leaking coolant up to the ISS.

  20. A question I have: is it possible that one lesson from this is that pure quantity (of ammunition, armor, etc.) does in fact matter a great deal, more than NATO might have expected? I have a hard time thinking that Ukraine would suddenly gain an enormous new advantage if it adopted NATO tactics; it seems that there is something genuinely valuable about just having lots of old tanks lying around–something more characteristic of Russia than of NATO countries.

    PS: these nested comment threads are unreadable on iOS.

    1. “Lots of old tanks lying around” are not particularly useful if the expense of keeping them properly maintained hasn’t been done, as Russia discovered. Plus, the great lesson of World War Two continues to be relevant today: it’s not how many ships, tanks and airplanes you start the war with, it’s how fast you can replace losses. In comic book terms, “healing factor”.

  21. My very amateur analysis:

    Russia has a significantly larger population than Ukraine. All else equal, Ukraine will simply run out of people first. But the Russian economy, in particular it’s capacity to manufacture arms, armor, and ammunition, may run out first, if the Ukraine keeps getting foreign aid.

    So it boils down to: Does the Ukraine run out of warm bodies first, or does Russia run out of bullets first? I would say the odds tilt in favor of the former, but only narrowly. Either way, this is going to be a multi-year war of attrition.

    There is also the possibility of something happening inside of Russia that forces an end to the war. This war is largely a result of Putin’s personal whim, and from what I gather, Putin has consolidated a dangerous amount of political power in his own hands. The hoi poloi are pissed over the whole war, the oligarchs are at each others throats, and the military is caught between the meat grinder in Ukraine and a firing squad back home. If Putin dies- he is 70 years old as of this writing, so natural causes are entirely possible- then either a sane replacement ends the war, or else we get to find out what happens when a nuclear superpower collapses into a civil war.

    So, all things considered, I would say that the most likely outcome is that Ukraine runs down the clock and wins by default.

      1. Putin isn’t well, by many accounts. He doesn’t travel much, but when he does, he has a retiinue of medical specialists with him.

        Also, he seems to favour some seriously-woo types of treatment.

    1. Russia having a larger population does not necessarily mean the Russian military can take more casualties before political collapse than the Ukrainian military can. Just as important is the willingness of the population to fight, and its worth remembering that in Ukraine there are wait lists to join the armed forces, while Russia has resorted to conscription. If both sides suffer the same amount of casualties, it is quite possible it would be the Russians who break first.

      1. Russia’s reputation for invincibility has taken a heavy beating in this war, but one thing I still have “faith” in is the near-limitless capacity of Russian conscripts to (however bitterly) endure hardship- especially given enough vodka to drown their sorrows and sufficiently brutal overseers to enforce obedience. Not that even Russian troops can’t finally be driven to mutiny, as we saw at the end of WW1, but it’s a high bar to clear.

      2. >its worth remembering that in Ukraine there are wait lists to join the armed forces
        That’s the first time I hear of it. Meanwhile, I have seen multiple accounts of Ukrainian military-aged men, working on ships or in foreign countries, being very careful of not going back to avoid conscription (or of them getting conscripted after having gone back). It’s hard to square both claims.

        1. I don’t see why it’s hard to square these claims. I would be astonished if we didn’t see something like this.

          People on the front lines, watching their mothers, sons, daughters, and grandparents being blown apart by a tyrant who seeks to destroy their culture have a very strong reason to fight. The war holds no new terrors for them; it’s already here, on their doorstep if not inside their homes, in the most physically immediate way imaginable. If your options are to cower and wait for the end, or to go out shooting, a significant number of people will grab a gun, a knife, or just ball up their fists if need be. And remember horizontal social ties–no one who turns tail right now is EVER going to be welcome back into the communities they abandoned.

          Those who aren’t in Ukraine don’t have that perspective. The war to them is like it is to us–something happening to someone else. Likely someone a lot closer to them, but not THEM. They have the option of safety. It’s hardly surprising that a number of people in that situation are less than enthusiastic about going to the front lines.

          These are two of the most predictable reactions to trauma that you could observe, predicted back when Sun Tzu was writing. The Ukrainians at home are in a position where retreat is impossible; the Ukrainians abroad are not. The former prefer death to flight; the latter do not. It’s also an example of the Fight or Flight Response: Those who can avoid it tend to do so, but when you can’t avoid it, there’s only one option left.

          1. It’s probably a lot simpler than that. People in Ukraine live surrounded by Ukrainians who care greatly about what happens to Ukraine, because it will happen to them and their families. People outside Ukraine live surrounded by non-Ukrainians who don’t care greatly about what happens to Ukraine, because it won’t happen to them and their families.

            Emotions are infectious: You tend to feel what the people around you feel. So you feel much more obligation to fight when you live surrounded by people whose future depends on the outcome of the fight.

          2. I didn’t get my point across correctly. What makes both claim slightly contradictory isn’t “Ukrainians in Ukraine want very much to fight while Ukrainians aboard don’t”. It’s “Ukraine has waiting list to enlist, but also snatch any poor sod who get within the reach of the state”.

            Which the answer by @ad98832376 kinda resolved: there were waiting lists, but that was 1 year ago. Things may very well have changed since (and probably have), and they may very well be struggling to find recruits *now*. Hence the conscription of unwilling men.

          3. Loulou, my own grandfather was only able to volunteer for the military with great difficulty at the height of the last World War, because he was in a reserved occupation. It took him months, if not years. Many of his family had been drafted years before. There is nothing at all contradictory about the same army drafting some people while refusing volunteers from others.

            And you might consider that few people in Ukraine right now are joining the army for the fun of it. They are doing so because they consider it a duty. It would be entirely consistent to consider that people who try to refuse their duty should be denied that option.

            Not everyone who pays their taxes voluntarily feels that other people shouldn’t be forced to.

    2. Few countries lose a war by running out of bodies, at least not those as large as Ukraine. Its far more likely the will to fight or the capacity to fight erodes quicker.

  22. I doubt the Russians ever had any intention of occupying the whole of Ukraine, and the advances on Kviv earlier in the campaign were probably a diversion to draw at least some Ukrainian forces from the main fronts further east.

    US overriding foreign policy is that anyone who threatens dollar supremacy is brought to heel or removed, hence the departure of Gaddafi (African Bank initiative), Saddam Hussein (trading oil in Euros), and for the same reason both Iran and Russia have been long overdue for a spanking! US meddling and scheming in Ukraine over the last ten years by people like Antony Blinken and Victoria Nuland was clearly directed against Russia, ultimately for the same reason.

    But having needled Putin for years, with threats of Ukraine joining NATO and allowing the new Ukrainian government established after the Maiden coup to persecute ethnic Russians in Eastern Ukraine, these US bunglers gave Putin the pretext to invade with strong domestic approval, and in the process have forced him to ally with China, and to acquire a valuable source of grain and iron ore in the regions which the Russians will probably retain. Good going guys, another US foreign policy triumph!

    John R Ramsden

    1. Those who term allowing Ukraine to join NATO a threat are showing that it should, because saying that is a threat. Your neighbor who calls put in a security system a threat is the burglar.

      1. I thought it was obvious I was putting myself in Putin’s shoes, although not I hasten to add supporting him. Anyone incapable of even beginning to see the other guy’s POV, uncongenial though the attempt may seem, will go through life in a perpetual muddle, not understanding the real reasons for anything.

        The prospect of Ukraine joining NATO clearly isn’t a threat to the West, but it almost certainly must seem so to Putin. Even if for some strange reason he doesn’t think it is, he can still plausibly claim it is, to gain public support for his invasion.

        1. It’s absolutely not clear, mostly because you signed your own name to it and are using the exact same talking points as other tankies online.

        2. Yes, it is a “threat” to Putin, since it means that Putin cannot so easily threaten a country with military consequences. Its a “threat” because what kind of … humanbeing… Putin is.

      2. By that logic, the US’ various actions to stop the spread of communism during the Cold War proves that the US is a threat to other nations, and therefore that Putin is right to fear increased US influence in neighbouring countries.

        1. The US was absolutely a threat to countries like Cuba, Nicaragua, and other communist-aligned countries back then. Russia is a threat to countries like Ukraine and potentially the Baltics today. I don’t think those things are incompatible with each other.

    2. I see. The Ukrainians deserved to be invaded because they sought allies against the neighbour that invaded them. Did the Poles deserve to be invaded in 1939 as well? What about the Belgians in 1914?

      1. It’s just Realist International Relations in action. Russia will act to maximize its security, which means dominating the state actors in the immediate area to build its own power. We just have to let them do this, that’s how the international system works, not form a balancing coalitio….Let me get back to you on that.

        1. In trying to be more understanding and nuanced than pure WW1 jingoism, we sometimes lean too far over the over way. Power politics besides, maybe a government’s conduct at some indefinite point reaches the threshold of forfeiting any world consideration of their national needs or desires. The Allies of WW2 basically condemned the Nazi and the Japanese military governments to death, their “interests” be damned.

        2. As I understand matters, Realist International Relations means that when you are trying to consider a war a Great Power is fighting (Russia v Ukraine, America v North Vietnam, etc), you should ignore the country that the Great Power is actually fighting.

          And if you are considering a war that no Great Power is fighting (Arab-Israeli Wars, Yugoslav wars etc) you should ignore all the countries that are actually fighting.

          I fear they may be over-simplifying.

    3. You are wrong in just about every way.

      Russia’s goals at the outbreak of war were to depose the Zelensky government and replace it with a pro-Russian one, and the attack on Kyiv was a decapitation strike aimed at toppling the government. In essence, they were trying to replicate the 2003 Gulf War operationally. The Russians themselves stated that Kyiv was the main front of the war, up until they stalled and were forced to retreat.

      I am not going to talk about your flawed understanding of American Grand Strategy, because this war is not about America. This war is about Ukraine’s dream of a thriving democratic society, joining the EU and NATO, and being free of despotic Russian rule and influence, and Russia’s attempts to stop it. The US did not orchestrate Euromaidan or force Russia into war, the Ukrainian people rose up against Yanukovych, and so Russia invaded, first in 2014, and when that was not enough and Ukraine continued to pursue closer ties with the West, they did again a year ago. And the US supports Ukraine, because that is the morally right thing to do, to support those who stand up against despotism and autocracy, and fight for freedom and democracy.

      A free and independent Ukraine is a victory for all those who support democracy, and a defeat for all those who wished for a return to the old days of despotic empires.

      1. > And the US supports Ukraine, because that is the morally right thing to do,

        It’s the morally right thing to do, but that’s not why we’re doing it.

        1. It’s part of why. No entity as complicated as a major democratic government ever does things for just one reason.

        2. Does it matter? As a European citizen preoccupied with my country’s security, I would rather our allies have material reasons to stay involved, rather than something as fleeting as morals and ethics, which could go out the window at the next elections.

    4. Russia’s failure to take Ukraine has been, unironically, Washington’s biggest foreign triumph in the past twenty years. Moscow’s status as a great power is finished, NATO is more unified than it had been since the end of the Cold War, Western technology is devastating Russian arm, and Washington is once again the indispensable leader of the free world.

      I find it hard to take China’s threat to overtake America’s seriously. It has few allies, an economy with systemic issues, and, most importantly, a population that is about to rapidly decline. And I lived in China. I speak the language. I was never accepted as anything other than a foreigner. China cannot import population like the West can, has, and will.

      If the West does not ruin itself with idiotic alt right populist nativist stupidity, it will dominate the 21st century.

      1. > Russia’s failure to take Ukraine has been, unironically, Washington’s biggest foreign triumph in the past twenty years.

        I have to concede, despite my post above, there seems to be a lot of truth in that. Putin lulled himself into believing that a relatively low-key invasion, a special military operation as the Russians euphemistically called it, would be easier than it was.

        So they have learned the hard way, as the US did in Vietnam, that pussyfooting around with a slow buildup at the start can backfire! As the saying goes, “Grab a nettle lily handed, and ’twill sting you for your pain”. The moral is that if you’re going to start a war, you must go at it hammer and tongs mob-handed from the outset.

        > I find it hard to take China’s threat to overtake America’s seriously

        Yes, people were saying the same about Japan forty years ago. One would hear people at dinner parties saying things like “We’re paying for little Olivia to have Japanese lessons, because Japan will be the world’s leading economy in a few years”.

      2. I find it hard to take China’s threat to overtake America’s seriously.

        China is a much more populous country than the United States. It can be much poorer and still have a larger or comparably sized economy.

        Think of Louis XIV or Napoleon. In their day, France was much poorer than England, but it could still be a serious, indeed existential, threat, simply because there were then so many more Frenchmen.

        China does not have to be rich to be a world power. It just has to be mediocre.

        1. China is desperately trying to have people have children and finding it much harder than forcing them to have one.

        2. While population size does matter, a country’s more detailed demographics do, too.

          And the fact is that China’s population has already started dropping. It will likely not stabalise before we pass away.

          The country is growing old before it has gotten rich, and that is a massive problem.

          1. There are still a lot more Chinese of eating age than there ever were Russians. And the army gets equipment only after everyone has been fed. (Admittedly, North Korea sometimes disregards that rule; on the other hand, there is a distinct possibility that their entire army deserts as soon as they reach a South Korean supermarket.)

          2. Another perspective is that states with lower populations relative to their resources will do better as environmental issues bite more deeply (this was the case in similar past times). China will still have a problem, as it has a few hundred million small farmers exposed to water shortages; India and Pakistan have worse ones. In no case would extra people solve the problem rather than make it worse.

          3. “China will still have a problem, as it has a few hundred million small farmers exposed to water shortages; India and Pakistan have worse ones.”

            India *wishes* they had China’s problems (which are certainly real, don’t get me wrong, but Indians have been expressing envy of China for decades now).

    5. “Maidan coup”

      Maidan was a revolution that rose from the Ukrainian people. Of course US and EU supported it, I would have supported it too if I were a decision maker in US or EU. But simply because it was supported by US and EU does not mean it was organized by them.

      “persecute ethnic Russians”

      Lol… Donbas War was a proxy war caused by Russia.

  23. Ukraine is not and was not a democracy. It was a plutocracy at best, and a kleptocracy at worst.

    As someone who’s family have come from the whole region (both the Ukrainian and Russian sides of the border), it annoys me to no end the way in which the Ukrainian government’s dysfunction has been papered over and the broken post-Soviet banana republic (sunflower republic?) has been elevated to the status of a “normal country”. The people of Ukraine have been deeply dissatisfied with the state of their country for a long time and have been protesting for decades at this point.

    Maybe you should read up some stuff written by critical voices from Ukraine. Volodymyr Ishchenko would be a good first choice.

    1. Who cares about whether Ukraine is a democracy or not? Surely the important issue here is national sovereignty, national self determination and the unacceptability of acquiring territory by conquest (especially the third). Cuba wasn’t a democracy when the US sponsored a (failed) proxy invasion force, but I still think that was entirely illegitimate. The Israeli annexation of the Golan Heights is likewise illegal in spite of the fact that Syria wasn’t a democracy when it happened.

      As for “normal country”, the median country worldwide probably looks not too much different than Ukraine- a moderate degree of corruption and a semi-democratic politicl system is entirely normal.

      As for “plutocracy”, that’s a really weird term considering that Ukraine (and Belarus) have very low income inequality, comparatively speaking. Russia on the other hand has very high inequality- income inequality is as bad as America and wealth inequality much more so. Ukraine may have its problems, but dominance by rich people isn’t really among them.

      1. Who cares about whether Ukraine is a democracy or not?

        Lots of people, including our host: “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.”

        1. OK, that’s fair. My “who cares” was really more rhetorical than anything else, it’s a way of expressing that *I* don’t care about democracy, in principle, but I do care about national sovereignty and more specifically about ruling out the possibility of countries acquiring territory by conquest.

        2. And Ukraine is MORE a democracy than Russia is. So I side with Ukraine, especially considering that Russia is the aggressor, and how Russia is in fact speaking and projecting fascistic values and rhetoric.

    2. People being dissatisfied and demonstrating is a quite normal situation in a democracy. And an oligarchic economy is, even if it is bad in itself, something that might happen in a democracy. The fact that it is possible for the opposition to peacefully kick out the incumbent government (as Zelensky did to Poroshenko in 2019) shows that Ukraine indeed is an democracy.

        1. My point was not that Ukraines economy was oligarchic, but that an oligarchic economy doesn’t mean that a polity is not democratic.

          1. An oligarchic society can never be democratic, because the wealthy elites can put their finger on the scale and influence decisionmaking a million different ways (campaign funding, lobbying, outright bribery, astroturfing, control of the media, think tank funding, “expert” peddling, etc. etc.)

        2. “An oligarchic society can never be democratic, because the wealthy elites can put their finger on the scale and influence decisionmaking a million different ways (campaign funding, lobbying, outright bribery, astroturfing, control of the media, think tank funding, “expert” peddling, etc. etc.)”

          Ukraine is much less oligarchic than America and much-much less oligarchic than Russia.

    3. “Ukraine is not and was not a democracy.”

      It’s current President and Parliament were freely elected, and with a lot less shrieks of complaint from the losers than the last American election. I’m calling it a democracy.

      Indeed, if you think about how politics used to be conducted in certain states, it is a much freer and fairer democracy than America was in the days of Woodrow Wilson and FDR.

      1. Similar to 1990s-2000s Russia, before Putin really cemented autocratic rule, Ukraine was ruled from behind the scenes. Yes, the Rada and the president were elected in more or less free (but by no means “fair”) elections, but those people’s jobs was to rubber stamp whatever was coming down from oligarchs and military apparatus. Presentable puppets to show up in the news, and to be periodically replaced whenever the public grew too restless. Presidents came and went, but policy only ever moved in one direction. Ukrainians’ dissatisfaction with the status quo carousel and the vaguely defined “Establishment” is what eventually led them to elect an actor and a comedian. (If you’re American, or even a European, all that should sound familiar.)
        There’s a reason why Ukraine’s population fell by some 30% even before the war really begun in earnest.

        And even the democratic fig leaf Ukraine used to have has been shred into pieces by the war. Entire parties have been officially banned and draconian restrictions on press freedom and freedom of expression have been put in place. A program of “de-russification” was rolled out, which, in a country where 1 out of every 5 people was ethnically Russian and almost half spoke Russian as their native tongue, amounts to cultural genocide.

        As I said before, I really, REALLY hate how Ukraine’s status has been rehabilitated by this war. I want westerners to understand there are no “good guys” here, this is a war between two undemocratic, oligarchic, hyper-nationalist states.

        1. “As I said before, I really, REALLY hate how Ukraine’s status has been rehabilitated by this war.”

          Indeed. If it less obviously had a freely elected government, it would be much easier to justify its attempted conquest and ethnic cleaning by a murderous illegitimate corrupt tyrant.

          What can I say? Life’s tough sometimes.

          1. It’s a Nazi state utterly opposed to ethnic Russians, you can tell how Nazi and anti-Russian they are by the way they elected a Russian speaker both of whom’s parents are Jewish as president.

            Since this is the internet, this post was sarcasm for those completely unable to recognize it.

          2. Ugh. Well there goes my attempt at convincing anyone in THIS particular internet bubble.
            Yeah, sure. I’m a Russian bot and a Putin stooge. Whatever. You’re right, everyone with a more nuanced view of the situation is wrong. Putin is the new Hitler and Russia’s war aims was the full genocide of Ukrainian, which makes the billions of dollars of untraceable war hardware sent into the region 100% justified.

            Whatever. None of this matters anyway. Have fun being right about everything.

          3. The problem is that you didn’t “introduce nuance.” Instead, you launched into a tirade that was basically “Ukraine is as evil as Russia and therefore unworthy of our support.”

        2. And even the democratic fig leaf Ukraine used to have has been shred into pieces by the war. Entire parties have been officially banned and draconian restrictions on press freedom and freedom of expression have been put in place.

          You acknowledge that war is responsible for a lot of Ukraine’s political excesses, as the extreme situation of having to mobilize the population for the sake of national survival leads to the government taking extreme, anti-democratic measures for the sake of efficiency and expedience… and you’re still angry about it?

          Do you think that the US was more or less democratic in 1938 compared to 1942? Do you think that Roosevelt going for, and winning, a third term in office sets a democratic precedent, or an authoritarian one? Do you think that the press was more free during war time, or during peace? Do you think that Americans were more tolerant, or more bigoted, towards the German and Japanese people during the war? Do you think that hyper-nationalism floundered or bloomed in the US during WW2?
          If the war makes Ukraine as bad as Russia (despite never invading Georgia, Chechnya, Chechnya again, Georgia again, Crimea and the Donbass, and also not threatening nuclear retaliation at any point, having given up its nukes in 1994 in exchange for (now apparently worthless) guarantees of territorial integrity), and therefore “unworthy” of Western support, then maybe the US shouldn’t be celebrated for winning WW2, since they turned out perhaps as bad as the Nazis they fought against? Since we’re throwing away any nuance in this situation, after all?

          As always, the answer is very clear to me – none of what you’re complaining about would have been a problem had Putin not been meddling in Ukraine’s politics, and, later on, territorial integrity, ever since… well, since he came into power.

          A program of “de-russification” was rolled out, which, in a country where 1 out of every 5 people was ethnically Russian and almost half spoke Russian as their native tongue, amounts to cultural genocide.

          [citation needed]

        3. Ukraine is not particularly “oligarchic”, and their nationalism (like the nationalisms elsewhere in Europe) doesn’t take the form of invading other countries. None of what you cite is relevant to the moral status of Ukraine, and some of it isn’t even true. Ukraine is absolutely the “good guy” here.

          If you care about oligarchy, your priority should be opposing RUssia which is as much a caricature of right-wing oligarchic capitalism as you can find in the world.

        4. > Entire parties have been officially banned and draconian restrictions on press freedom and freedom of expression have been put in place.

          This is completely normal, if your country is defending against an invasion by a more-powerful neighbour. Hell, if I were Ukrainian, and my neighbour were running a printing-press that pumped out Russian propaganda, I’d burn his press down myself. You don’t allow your citizens to side with the invader; you intern them. Banning pro-Russian political parties is a no-brainer.

          1. I have Russian as my primary language.

            But i understand my people for not liking it now. Because we are bleeding, because our military and citizens are killed by russian speaking soldiers.

            I can say -it is similar to how German language was perceived in times of WWII

            And we, Ukrainians, still have not nothing similar to famous “Убей немца”

        5. “ Yes, the Rada and the president were elected in more or less free (but by no means “fair”) elections, but those people’s jobs was to rubber stamp whatever was coming down from oligarchs and military apparatus.”
          Replace “Rada” with “Congress” and you have the USA, which many still consider a democracy.

  24. I believe that the fundamental mistake in Wester prediction was one of military culture. Among the Western analysis, there is a tendency to assume the dominance of technologica/logistical, and in general physical, factors over everything else. Consequent to this is the tendency to underestimate the value of assymetrical responses, territorial defense forces and insurrection.

    In the end, as I describe below, it is precisely these “unsexy” aspects which saved Ukraine:

  25. Putting aside the moral arguments, one thing to remember about Russian history is that they keep fighting until they win, or the government is overthrown. The Winter War and Continuation War as the example for the first, WW1 as an example of the second.

    Even if they lose, and Putin falls, the reality of the Russian geography and mindset of its people will lead to trying to secure the Western choke-points that their defensive strategy requires.

    Ultimately peace requires a change of geopolitical borders, as in Russia becoming a member of Europe and falling into line with standards that would be challenging for a kleptocracy/nepotistic state where corruption is rife.

    1. look at the japanese russian war or the crimean war, the seven years war and the napoleonic and revolutionary wars.
      those ended not all with russian victories

    2. Since NATOs establishment, the Russians have invaded many countries. None of them have been in NATO. History would suggest that peace will come when all of Russia’s neighbours are in NATO.

    3. Russia didn’t really win the winter war-continuation war. If they had, Finland would have been a communist country. It was a stalemate, solved by negotiation were Finland made territorial concessions but kept its democracy.

      1. That’s a win. It might not be a complete win, but if you’re the one getting territory ceded to you that is, in the vast majority of cases, a victory. Especially when the other country spends the rest of the Cold War heavily tied to the Soviet system.

        There’s a question if the victory was phyrric or not, but it was absolutely a victory.

      2. The Soviets actually benefited by having Finland as a friendly country that was *not* communist, it served as a conduit for goods and ideas from western Europe.

    4. >Putting aside the moral arguments, one thing to remember about Russian history is that they keep fighting until they win, or the government is overthrown.
      Except when they don’t, like in Afghanistan.

    5. “one thing to remember about Russian history is that they keep fighting until they win, or the government is overthrown.”

      Except for the Crimean War, the 1905 war against Japan, the Afghanistan war…

    6. “Even if they lose, and Putin falls, the reality of the Russian geography and mindset of its people will lead to trying to secure the Western choke-points that their defensive strategy requires.”

      So, NATO is indeed needed to strengthen the security of countries that neighbor Russia.

  26. Russian forces barely reached some of those centers, flatly didn’t reach others and only overran one (Kherson).
    Mariupol? The great siege that took months but the Russians won.

    1. The paragraph should be read as a whole in context. The centers he was discussing were the ones on the Dnipro river. (i.e. Kyiv, Kherson, Dnipro, Zaporizhzhia [arguably Cherkasy and Kremenchuk as well])

  27. I’m grateful to Brett for his relatively nuanced and thoughtful essays on these issues, and for diversifying the range of historical comparisons in use. In general, I’ve been pretty disappointed with the history-based takes that have been thrown around during the past year. Russia insists on depicting everything as a rerun of the Great Patriotic War, parts of the international Left see all global conflicts as Iraq 2.0 with America at fault, and mainstream Western opinion seems to have a monomaniac focus on comparisons with the late 1930s and Appeasement. I suppose the last of these particularly annoys me, perhaps because (here in Britain anyway) it often comes from pro-European liberals who sneer at their domestic opponents for being obsessed with WW2 nostalgia, yet seemingly have zero other historical frames of reference themselves. I suppose the logic is this:

    “This conflict is just like the Sudetenland crisis, because a nationalist dictator is attempting a land grab in Eastern Europe under the guise of protecting his ethnic compatriots, who form a minority within a neighbouring country. This shows that the West should not compromise one jot and must do everything possible to remove him from power, otherwise his tanks will shortly be rolling through Poland.”

    Seems superficially compelling, but trying to extrapolate lessons from the past to the present in this one-to-one fashion airbrushes out all the vitally important things which have changed, such as the rise of NATO, a strong China, and (the ten-megaton elephant in the room) nuclear weapons. So, to illustrate the flaws in this kind of lazy use of the ‘doomed to repeat it’ school of historical reasoning, here’s a list of some other equally plausible analogies for the present war:

    “This conflict is just like the Winter War, because Russia has tried to reconquer a state which broke away a generation earlier, only for its advance to grind to an embarrassing halt in the face of an unexpectedly spirited defence against the odds. This shows that Ukraine should eventually accept the loss of some border territories and adopt a foreign policy of not antagonising Moscow, and within a century it will have the world’s highest standard of living.”

    “This conflict is just like the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, because following an uprising against a pro-Kremlin government which began in the west of a nearby nation, Russia is struggling to suppress an enemy who are being supplied with US ammunition. This shows that the war will culminate in Russia’s withdrawal and the collapse of its regime, but America will regret arming Moscow’s enemies when they turn their weapons against the West.”

    “This conflict is just like the First Gulf War, because shortly after a US election campaign featuring the candidacy of Joe Biden, a despotic petrostate has invaded its smaller southern neighbour, causing George Bush to give a speech about an invasion of Iraq. This shows that a full scale military intervention led by US forces can easily resolve the situation with only minor casualties, and we should ignore any subsequent reports that the dictator has WMDs.”

    “This conflict is just like the Siege of Olbia in 331 BC, because an expansionist military power which achieved great victories under a monarch called Alexander has advanced along the northern coast of the Black Sea to strike at a democratic opponent (albeit one with some oligarchic elements), only to suffer embarrassing naval losses. This shows that the attacking state will soon disintegrate into warring fiefdoms following the demise of its leader, and also we should really try to forge an alliance with some horse nomads.”

    “This conflict is just like the movie ‘Skyfall’, because it’s mainly about a macho veteran spy struggling to adapt to post-Cold War realities, plus an elderly female British leader dies part way through, and there’s a prominent role for the actor who voiced Paddington Bear (who talks a lot about the need for advanced military hardware). This shows that actually we shouldn’t impound the villain’s yacht, we should sneak aboard and seduce his partner so we can infiltrate his secret island lair.”

    “This conflict is just like ‘Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines’, because it has involved heavy use of robotic munitions, serious threats of nuclear disaster, and Arnold Schwarzenegger (who seems like a good guy now) turning up to give a warning about the horrors of war. This shows that there is nothing we can do to avert a catastrophic nuclear exchange, as it’s all predestined, so we might as well just give up now and head to the bunkers.”

    For avoidance of doubt, I am personally more-or-less satisfied with the West’s actual policy approach to the war so far, and don’t give much credence to any of the above comparisons. Feel free to add more of your own!

    1. Kinda surprised you didn’t include this TBH, but:

      “This conflict is just like the First World War, because you have a large, somewhat ramshackle Eastern European country trying to beat up its smaller neighbour, and lots of Westerners want to get involved in order to take down a hated geopolitical rival. This shows that we should stay aloof from the conflict, because otherwise we risk starting a huge, unprecedentedly-devastating world war which will leave both victors and vanquished fatally weakened and ripe for being supplanted by a rival power.”

      Which I think shows one of the main flaws of this kind of argument by historical analogy — depending on which conflict you choose as your analogue (WW1 vs. WW2), you end up with diametrically opposed advice on what to do (stay out of the conflict vs. get involved).

    2. “This conflict is just like the Siege of Olbia in 331 BC, because an expansionist military power which achieved great victories under a monarch called Alexander has advanced along the northern coast of the Black Sea to strike at a democratic opponent (albeit one with some oligarchic elements), only to suffer embarrassing naval losses. This shows that the attacking state will soon disintegrate into warring fiefdoms following the demise of its leader, and also we should really try to forge an alliance with some horse nomads.”

      David Drake specialized in taking a premise like this and setting it in an interstellar future and did quite well at it.

    3. No “this is just like The Lord of the Rings”. The only thing we really need to do is find a brave hobbit to carry the rings to mount doom. Putin, by the way, have already tired to create his Nazgûl by handing out nine rings, although Lukaschenka (the Witch King?) seems to be the only one willing to put it on.

  28. We obviously read very different sources, though admittedly I’ve given only peripheral attention to the war, as the military aspect is frankly inconsequential on a world scale (the spectacular underperformance of Western economic warfare, on the other hand, has been wonderful to watch).
    A few gripes:
    I’ve heard that the manpower increase Russia start in late 2022 is still not at the front, and that it is actually currently in training, to see the frontline in March at the earliest.
    It seems… optimistic to expect Ukrainian soldiers to become proficient enough with the tech and tactics of modern maneuver NATO warfare in the next few months, especially when a lot of them need to stay on the front lines.
    The hopes of supplying Ukraine from the West seem awfully optimistic too, as militaries in the West are making gripes about low stockpiles (Britain, possibly the worst off, has intimated effective inability to fight a full scale war for more than a short while before running out of munitions). There’s a reason barely any modern tanks look to be headed to Ukraine (and I honestly doubt sending them Leopard 1s from the early/mid Cold War is likely to be a game changer).

    Also, we deeply disagree on the moral status of the two governments. The Ukraine is a hysterically corrupt country that is known (according to Victoria Newland (name probably misspelled, I usually hear it instead of seeing it)) to have its elections determined by US interference. It also has a disturbing number of actual Nazis, the type that hate Slavs more than Jews. The Donetsk/ Donbas regions, meanwhile, have the legal precedent established in Yugoslavia to support their right to secede and even join Russia.
    As for Russia’s invasion, I’m not sold on it being a moral choice, but I’m far from saying it couldn’t be on the following grounds: US government officials have stated a wish to use Ukraine as a proxy against Russia (Schiff, the congressman, at least, and others), and Ukraine had (essentially confirmed) active bioweapon facilities in it, right next to Russia. You can definitely argue self-defense.

    I’m just over here wondering if Poland is gonna invade Ukraine next. It’d certainly be funny, in a very sick way, and it’s far from impossible.
    A note: it’s very likely I won’t respond to this, as I’m looking to be quite busy and will probably forget about it, so feel free to argue against me.
    My usual geopolitics source (I have limited interest): (

    1. There are just a ton of embedded assumptions here I would be wary of making. I wouldn’t discount Western economic warfare just yet; sanctions and blockades are slow creatures. Global GDP growth in 2022 was +3% but Russian GDP shrank by around 2-3%. Which is to say that the Russian economy contracted last year about as much as the US economy contracted during the 2008-9 financial crisis. That’s not war ending – many countries have endured far worse while fighting a war – but it is quite bad for the Russian economy.

      As for your gripes:
      1) ‘Russian manpower is not yet at the front.’ This is wrong; we saw mobilized troops at the front in late September, 2022, less than a month after mobilization was announced. There’s a ton of evidence for mobilized troops (‘mobiks’) already on the front lines and the names of more than a thousand killed in action have already been compiled by BBC News Russia ( Pro-Russian sources have been predicting that the ‘real’ Russian army was going to show up at any moment since the war began; that army has never shown up because it does not exist. The real Russian army is in Ukraine, failing to achieve its objectives. If your information sources don’t know that, they aren’t very good and you should find new ones (again, I recommend Michael Kofman over at War on the Rocks an actual expert at an actually well-regarded publication).
      2) ‘The nature of the two governments.’ First, the notion that Ukraine has ‘slav hating Nazis’ is a bit silly, given that Ukrainians are slavs, so whichever source in your information diet is making that claim, I’d consider them pretty worthless. As for corruption, no one is disputing that Ukraine has had problems with corruption (but so has Russia). Nevertheless, international observers generally concluded that the 2019 Ukrainian presidential election – the one that put Zelensky in office – was free and fair (see: and The major remaining obstacle to a free election at that time was Russian forces occupying part of Ukraine (Crimea and the Donbas). Finally, popular support for secession in the Donbas never existed (e.g. polling data That’s why the separatist movements required extensive Russian military support (which began in 2014, not 2022; Russia invaded Ukraine first in 2014) simply to survive – popular support for them was extremely limited. That’s not to say everyone in the Donbas was thrilled by the Kyiv government, but there was no widespread support for secession.
      3) US military support for Ukraine came after Putin invaded the country in 2014. Russian forces first openly clashed with the Ukrainian regular army in the Donbas (that is, inside of Ukraine) in August, 2014. Again, if your information sources do not know and understand this, they are not very good and not to be trusted. Is the United States supporting Ukraine with some geopolitical reasons? Of course. But you can hardly blame Ukraine for seeking whatever help it could get after it was attacked (again, in 2014). As for the bioweapon thing, this has been disproved and debunked so many times it’s honestly just tiresome to hear about it, and fortunately the debunkings are well known enough and sufficiently beyond dispute that Wikipedia has compiled them all ( As for Russia’s motivations and war aims, I discussed them in depth back in the original Ukraine post (

      So in total, your sources for geopolitical information are frankly very bad, trafficking mostly in conspiracy theories and known falsehoods. You need to get better sources, ideally actual experts rather than some rando on Rumble.

      1. “How corrupt does a country have to be to justify invasion?” and “Under what conditions can part of a polity split itself from a larger group?” are both interesting moral questions with no objective answer. But the answer to the first is surely a hell of a lot more than Ukraine has demonstrated (with a side of, Russia’s even worse than Ukraine so what does that tell you?). And the second must require more than a small minority of a region to want it. That’s if they plan on taking the whole region with them, anyway; mass emigration is a whole different question (and not at all what’s happening anyway).

        1. I consider myself a secession-rights extremist and I still wouldn’t remotely consider Donbas secession to be ethically in the right. (I think it’s a right just as important as exit rights, though necessarily more complex in implementation. E.G. I think the result of the Scottish referendum means it is an ongoing serious moral failure that Scotland has been forced to remain part of the UK.) I’m not as sure about Crimea – Pew polls in May 2014 (2 months after the referendum) suggest that despite real concerns about the fairness and independence of the Crimean secession referendum, and clear evidence of Russian persecution, support for it in Crimea was overwhelming. (, “Should the government in Kyiv recognize the results of the referendum in Crimea?”, 89% Yes / 2% No / 8% Don’t Know within Crimea) It should be discounted somewhat due to low trust in the independence of the pollsters, but I think indicates real support by a majority and probably a moderately-super-majority of 60-70%.

          (Mostly unrelatedly, I think the best feasible settlement for the war, if Ukraine succeeds strongly enough to push them to the negotiating table, looks something like “Crimea joins Russia, Ukraine joins NATO”. Russia’s desire for the Donbas is purely ideological; its desire for Crimea is strategic – protecting and supplying their ports. So it’s convenient that this has some moral legitimacy as well.)

      2. No, even some rando on Rumble would be better than what he’s actually getting, which is two Russian propagandists on Rumble.

        Why do I say this, you ask? Well, when your logo is a double-headed eagle logo with a crown hovering over it, that’s kind of a giveaway.

      3. > Finally, popular support for secession in the Donbas never existed

        Framing it only as a questions of “secession” misses an important part of the picture.

        From the beginning the Donbas uprisings were an informal coalition that included people who wanted to secede from Ukraine and people who wanted to remain part of Ukraine but with greater local autonomy. The people who wanted secession became increasingly publicly prominent as the situation got more violent due to their greater motivation, as often happens in situations like this, but the 2014 referendum in Donetsk Oblast was officially for “self-rule” rather than independence as a compromise between the factions, and following the signing of Minsk 2 in early 2015 “local autonomy” became the official public position of the DPR and LPR governments for 7 years until February 21, 2022. Sometimes the “People’s Republics” went so far as to suppress protests against rejoining Ukraine, as described in this 2019 article from a Ukrainian news source:

        Quoting an April 2014 CNN report from Slovyansk describing the sentiment of a crowd that had assembled in the town square in support of the masked pro-Russian militants: “Admiration for the men is unanimous, so is distrust for the national government in Kiev. But there are different views on the town’s future. Some want to stay part of Ukraine, but with more autonomy. […] Others tell us they want the Russian flag to fly here permanently.” Obviously that wasn’t a representative sample of the town as a whole, but it demonstrates a diversity of views among the supporters of the uprising.

        In 2014 polls found that 54% of residents of Donbas supported either secession or local autonomy as part of a federal Ukraine: Polls from 2014 also found that 70-75% of the residents of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts thought that the new post-Maidan government was “illegal.”

        Polls conducted in DNR/LNR-held territory in 2016 and 2019 found that around 45% of respondents wanted to be part of Russia and another 30-35% wanted special autonomy status within Ukraine, which again was the official public position of the separatist governments at the time. See page 12 of this report:

        > That’s why the separatist movements required extensive Russian military support (which began in 2014, not 2022; Russia invaded Ukraine first in 2014) simply to survive – popular support for them was extremely limited.

        Evidence is overwhelming that Moscow was not directly involved in the initial uprisings that took over Donetsk and Luhansk in early April 2014. Both pro-Russian (IE Alexander Zhuchkovsky, author of “85 Days in Slovyansk”) and pro-Western sources (IE the International Crisis Group: ) have argued that Moscow wasn’t even indirectly involved at that time, that the “Russian Spring” phenomenon was a spontaneous bottom-up reaction to the annexation of Crimea that caught the Kremlin by surprise. About a week after the takeovers of Donetsk and Luhansk some 50 special ops types led by Igor “Strelkov” Girkin crossed the border into Eastern Ukraine and went to Slovyansk, where after they took over the police station and seized its armory they were quickly able to recruit enough locals to take over the city.

        Quoting a Time magazine article published on April 14 2014: “According to local media reports, the presence of Ukrainian forces in and around Donetsk has been minimal, and local police and security officials have been defecting en masse to the pro-Russian side.”

        Where the rebellion in Donbas did run into trouble was when the Ukrainian military launched a full-scale war against them in late April 2014, and by Summer they were steadily losing control over territory until Russia first started sending heavy weapons and vehicles across the border in June and then large numbers of unmarked troops in August. Given the Ukrainian military’s enormous advantage in heavy weapons and training on how to use them in early 2014, the only surprising aspect of this is how long the pro-Russian insurgents managed to hold territory on their own, a testament to the dire state of Ukraine’s armed forces at the time.

        1. Given the long, sordid history of the USSR and supposedly “spontaneous”, “popular” support for annexation/ pro-Soviet communist governments, any such movements have to be carefully examined to see if they’re really grass-roots or astroturf.

        2. I lived in Donetsk till July of 2014. I remember a lot of men with russian accent f(pssibly from Rostov oblast of Russia) who was in Donetsk at this time.

          And after crimean annexia – poor foolish people of Donetsk thought that they will get Ukrainian costs with Russian salaries.

          almsot all middle class people evacuated from Donetsk in 2014-2015.

          Because it is not life there.

    2. The Ukraine […] is known (according to Victoria Newland (name probably misspelled, I usually hear it instead of seeing it)) to have its elections determined by US interference.

      This argument in particular intrigues me, as pro-Russian accounts always parrot it, yet never provide any proof. Usually the reference is more specific – they talk about “the leaked calls of Victoria Nuland”, or perhaps the “Nuland-Pyatt phonecalls”, claiming that those prove that the US, via its three letter agencies such as the CIA, orchestrated Euromaidan, ousted Yanukovich and installed a neo-Nazi regime in Ukraine.

      However, they never link the actual phone call. After a bit of searching, the best I can come up with is . And yet, after listening to it (or reading the transcript, your choice), I came away… underwhelmed and disappointed. The phone call seems to be much more innocent than it’s presented at. It appears that Nuland and Pyatt are, at the time of the phone call (which was about a month before Yanukovich ran away), were expecting to have Yanukovich remain in power, and were therefore strategizing how to achieve an opposition coalition victory within the confines of the democratic and electoral process of Ukraine. The most they were conspiring to do was to humble Klitschko and make him fall in line behind Arseniy Yatseniuk. A bit scummy, perhaps, for the US to inject itself into the Ukrainian political sphere like that, but it’s purely in an advisory capacity – Klitschko could have simply turned away, splintered off, and ran as an independent if he wanted to sabotage the opposition’s chances and give Yanukovich a democratic victory – in an alternate reality where Yanukovich wouldn’t have ran away, at away, assumedly blindsiding Nuland and Pyatt.

      So, either there is a second, more sinister phone call or other such reference that they never link to – or they haven’t read their own source, and just parrot wild claims, completely divorced from reality. The latter wouldn’t be out of the ordinary in the internet radical and shill space, so I’m going to assume that that’s the case unless convinced otherwise. :/

    3. And the last paragraph, about Poland invading Ukraine, is easily countered by bringing up the Giedroyć-Miroszewski doctrine (Also known as the ULB doctrine, after Ukraine, Lithuania and Belarus). Basically, well before Poland regained true independence and Soviet Union fell, some intellectuals came up with the idea that from a geostrategic point of view it’s much better to surround Poland with friendly countries. They predicted those nations breaking away from USSR and forming their own national states. Continuing imperial politics like Poland sometimes did in the past was deemed counterproductive – it would lead to extreme ethnic tensions. The doctrine says Poland should accept the loss of these former Polish territories.

      The Giedroyć doctrine is the basis of modern Polish foreign policy and is a common talking point in political debates.

      The reason Russia supporters keep bringing up Poland carving a piece of Ukraine is to drive a wedge between Poland and Ukraine. Fear mongering. Because of its position, Poland is critical in delivering supplies and weapons to Ukraine.

      Even if Poland DID want to capture some territories and participate in Partitions of Ukraine, it’s not really capable of doing so: 1) it would greatly offend western allies on which Poland depends for security. It would be a pariah status speedrun. 2) Wikipedia still lists Ukraine as having 36 million of people versus Poland’s 37, and millions of people want to come back when the hostilities stop. Vast distances. You would be trying to subdue a larger country with a smaller country. 3) The lands closest to Poland are those with most antipathy towards Poles. Galicia region has good memories of Habsburg rule. Habsburgs successfully played Ukrainians against Poles, and Ukrainians remember them as much kinder masters than Polish nobility. And Wołyń region had the Wołyń massacre. 4) If any part of Ukraine was annexed by Poland, it would become the least developed region of Poland. It would need very substantial investments to make those people happy, especially in the light of their anti-Polish anxieties. 5) Why would Poland arm a country it intends to invade? Krab howitzers, Piorun MANPADS, FlyEye drones, ammunition, tanks…? 6) Last but not least, Poland is winning a lot of goodwill among Ukrainians. Why spoil that? If the war ends in Ukraine’s favor, Ukrainians will be very open to various forms of economic cooperation and want to do business with Poland. It might not matter anymore that there’s a border, because people will be flowing both ways.

  29. > I have at least one more military primer topic planned, looking at maneuver warfare and the modern system.

    Oh, nice, I wasn’t sure we were going to get a thorough one after the Chemical Weapons post covered the basics. Looking forward to it!

    Related to both that topic and today’s: I have an optimistic hot take that in a certain sense the war for Ukraine has been a refutation of the common hawkish-traditionalist/right-wing sentiment that liberal democracy is weak in an “enemy at the gates” sense/situation. (Which is of course closely related to the Fremen Mirage, but I think is somewhat more specific and prima facie more plausible.)

    As you’ve often reminded us, military organization mirrors societal organization (or else creates a new, separated society of warriors). And, it seems to me, that the modern system is a military mirror of liberal democracy in the same way that capitalism is an economic mirror of liberal democracy – a system that relies on individual agency, decentralization (to a point), and setting up incentives that make cooperation the best choice, rather than relying on force, punishment, and control to achieve the aims of the commanders.

    And in Ukraine this year, we have seen one side with something resembling the modern system, and the other with modern equipment and the deep pockets of a modern Great Power. And while the modern system has not won, and probably will not for some time, it made an extremely good showing. A liberal democracy transitioned to war readily and ably and held off an opponent with superior equipment, superior population, and the initiative, with the defender’s strength being superior morale and superior tactics.

    And that’s really encouraging to me. Even in the domain of war, where top-down control and direction is more indispensable than any other sphere of life or society, the modern individualist paradigm is an advantage big enough to equal many more obvious ones.

    Of course, I could be talking out my ass. Is all of that actually true? I’m not sure, and I am not sure how I’d check.

    1. Should have waited to finish the article before I wrote that second part. Clearly I have(/had) an overly rosy picture of the situation to date. I’d be interested to see some discussion of this organizational analogy in general; does it hold in *any* respect?

      1. Classic contemporary American left/liberal: sexual freedom is the ultimate and essential freedom, with things like voting, private property etc. wholly secondary.

        1. It’s a leading indicator. If you’re so repressive that you’re interfering with the most intimate aspect of the lives of your citizens, odds are you’re pretty bad in other ways. Take America in the 1950s. It was great–as long as you were a monogamous white Christian man in the suburbs. For the rest of the population, things weren’t great.

          In a way, it’s also a lagging indicator. Generally a country has to get through a lot of improvements before decriminalizing homosexuality becomes a priority.

          Regardless, the question is inherently invalid. It’s a red herring. Whether Ukraine is a liberal democracy or not, Russia has no right to invade, and NATO has ample justification for providing resources with which Ukrainians can defend themselves. The nation being invaded could be a monarchy, a theocracy, it could be anything and those two facts would remain true.

          Debating whether or not Ukraine is a liberal democracy is akin to debating whether or not someone has a rash while they have a sucking chest wound. They face the very real prospect of NOT EXISTING in the near future. Reforms can wait until the existential threat is removed.

          1. Regardless, the question is inherently invalid. It’s a red herring. Whether Ukraine is a liberal democracy or not, Russia has no right to invade, and NATO has ample justification for providing resources with which Ukrainians can defend themselves. The nation being invaded could be a monarchy, a theocracy, it could be anything and those two facts would remain true.

            In a moral sense, sure. In a sense of “Does Ukraine’s better-than-expected performance in the war, and Russia’s worse-than-expected performance, prove the superiority of liberal democracy?” it’s quite important to establish how liberal the Ukraine actually is.

          2. What if an absolute dictatorship was totalitarian in its political oppression, but didn’t care about sexual issues?

          3. Wow, so there were no liberal democracies in the world in 1950? (Maybe not until 1975ish?) What morons our ancestors were, marching off to fight the British, the Confederates, the Germans, etc., not even realizing that they lived in a country that was no better than a dictatorship.

          4. “Wow, so there were no liberal democracies in the world in 1950?”

            “Liberal” is a relative term. The USA in the 1950s was more of a liberal nation (NOT a democracy, we are a republic, and frankly elections don’t make a population free anyway) than many, but it was still pretty harsh for those who weren’t on the top of the social heap and would by today’s standards be considered a horrifically repressive place. Since “liberal” is relative, these are not contradictory views.

            As I said, though, the question is invalid. It doesn’t matter. Ukraine isn’t remotely corrupt enough to warrant eradication by an outside force, and Russia clearly doesn’t care about eradicating corruption. This question quite frankly has no place in this conversation, and its insertion is an indicator that the person is arguing in bad faith.

        1. The benchmark for what counts as liberal are constantly changing. The US and UK were liberal by 1950s standards, but not by 2020s standards.

          1. The question was not whether their policies in the 50s were liberal in an ideological sense, but whether they systematically were liberal democracies. That is a very different question. It is not how “liberal” the economic, cultural or social policies are that matters in this question but whether there is a possibility of free debate, opinion building etc, and also procedures for political accountability and non-violent transfer of power.

          2. Again, classic contemporary American left/liberal: liberal democracy doesn’t count unless you come to the right answers.

          3. Depends on whose 2020 standards.

            The people who have been insisting they were the future have been insisting since the Russian Revolution

          4. It is not how “liberal” the economic, cultural or social policies are that matters in this question but whether there is a possibility of free debate, opinion building etc, and also procedures for political accountability and non-violent transfer of power.

            Those (free debate, accountability, etc.) are preconditions for democracy in general, so if that’s all that the “liberal” in “liberal democracy” means, it’s a superfluous term, and we might as well just say “democracy”.

            Also, I’m not sure that really tracks to how the term is actually used. E.g., ancient Athens and Republican Rome both had free debate, procedures for political accountability, non-violent transfers of power, and so on, but I’ve never heard anyone refer to them as “liberal democracies”.

          5. @GJ: as far as I know, the term “liberal democracy” is used to specify the western political systems. There is, or rather used to be, a lot of systems claiming to be democratic and having a better kind of democracy than the west. East Germany had, and North Korea has, the word “democratic” as part of the country’s name.

          6. A “liberal” democracy is one which sets constraints on government power, even when exercised by the majority, which ancient Athens, e.g., did not. For example, a liberal democracy does not prosecute people for heresy, or confiscate private property absent exigent circumstances, or engage in various other liberty-destroying actions, even when the majority wants to do so.

          7. I wouldn’t call Ukraine a liberal *society*, although they have a liberal-democratic government currently. And not just because of homosexuality either. Public support for both private ownership, and for democracy as a form of government, is quite low. About 36% of Ukrainians favor authoritarian government compared to 42% for democracy, and about 32% favor a full planned economy compared to 16% for “unregulated capitalism”.

            I don’t see why that makes Ukraine any less the victim of Russian aggression here. I’m not a liberal democrat, so the fact that Ukrainians are not a particularly liberal society makes me more sympathetic to them, not less. Socialization of industries, for example, is more likely to happen in Ukraine than in Russia as long as Putin and his allies are running the show. More generally, whether Ukraine is a liberal-democratic capitalist state, a communist state, or an Islamic theocracy, it wouldn’t change the fact that they have a right to national sovereignty and national self determination.


          8. I don’t see why that makes Ukraine any less the victim of Russian aggression here.

            Who said anything about Ukraine not being a victim of Russian aggression? The claim I was responding to was that Ukraine’s military performance proves the superiority of liberal democracy and individualism more generally:

            “I have an optimistic hot take that in a certain sense the war for Ukraine has been a refutation of the common hawkish-traditionalist/right-wing sentiment that liberal democracy is weak in an “enemy at the gates” sense/situation…

            As you’ve often reminded us, military organization mirrors societal organization (or else creates a new, separated society of warriors). And, it seems to me, that the modern system is a military mirror of liberal democracy in the same way that capitalism is an economic mirror of liberal democracy – a system that relies on individual agency, decentralization (to a point), and setting up incentives that make cooperation the best choice, rather than relying on force, punishment, and control to achieve the aims of the commanders…

            And that’s really encouraging to me. Even in the domain of war, where top-down control and direction is more indispensable than any other sphere of life or society, the modern individualist paradigm is an advantage big enough to equal many more obvious ones.”

            The people in this thread saying “But what does that have to do with the justness of Ukraine’s cause?” only show themselves incapable of reading.

      2. ” I’m not sure Ukraine really counts as a liberal democracy in an unqualified sense.”

        Given that this is a response to a comment on the military effectiveness of liberal democracies; what features of liberal democracies distinguish them from Ukraine and significantly impact on their military effectiveness?

    2. >I have an optimistic hot take that in a certain sense the war for Ukraine has been a refutation of the common hawkish-traditionalist/right-wing sentiment that liberal democracy is weak in an “enemy at the gates” sense/situation.

      An “enemy at the gates” is literally the military situation in which democracies shine best because it’s the situation where the democratic ideal of the mobilized citizen-soldier is most effective and relevant, as is currently happening in Ukraine. The American Founding Fathers had hoped that America would eschew “entangling alliances” and pursue the republican ideal of staying at home and living in peace, only going to war when overtly threatened. The more wars are fought “over there” and more for geostrategic position rather than immediate defense is when war become de-democratized into civilian taxpayers supporting a professional military caste, the standard apparatus of empires. Ancient Rome went through this after the Punic Wars and the quasi-imperial American hegemony has started down the same road post-Vietnam.

  30. “Predictions Are Hard”
    I doubt anyone could accurately have predicted just how far the Russian army has fallen from its ambitions or expectations, aside from probably some Colonels who feared too much for their own positions to report the reality of their situation to their superiors. “The World’s Second Army” getting bogged down and then pushed back by one of the poorest nations in Europe , due to abysmal leadership, shoddy soviet-era supplies, fatally flawed unit structure, and far from optimized logistics. (Imagine not using palletized supplies, in the 21st century. Madness!) Russia’s inability to establish commanding air supremacy in the opening days of the war (Indeed, they’ve never even secured anything approaching air superiority, which is just mind boggling) cannot be overstated as a major contributing factor.

    Importantly, I think, Ukraine had been planning this defensive war since 2014. They knew what positions they would fall back to, where they would fight, and where they would counterattack. They knew their enemy well. They knew their terrain well. With enhanced, western-based unit training and organization, they knew themselves pretty well too. That’s a recipe for victory.

    “Urban warfare is brutally difficult and has in the past not been a particular strength of the Russian Federation.”
    Indeed, doctrine seems to be to turn any urban terrain into broken, cratered wasteland before moving up. At which point one starts to question the utility of taking urban centers that are no longer remotely urban, nor worth anything by the time you raise the flag.

    I think it’s clear at this point Russia is running low on critical munitions, digging deep into ancient, low-quality stockpiles just to keep the guns warm. They require expanded support from China, Iran, and other sunny-day allies to see them through another year of conflict, and there’s no guarantees they’ll get it, or (especially from China) what it will cost them later. Meanwhile material aid from the west to Ukraine is just ramping up, and escalating, given that Putin ha already broken his promise to nuke London and Berlin if they sent tanks. More empty threats (And they must be empty, because if Putin should follow through on any of them, it will mean Russia’s prompt and complete destruction) will not help Russia’s position, not with the west, and not with its friendlies either.

    1. The reason is probably exactly the same why medieval armies didn’t just march pass any towns without a siege, it would provide too good base for the opponent and leave your supply lines way too vulnerable. But as Mariupol has shown, you at least need to encircle and siege the city. If you can’t do even that you had no hope of advancing anyway.

    2. Re. “Not a particular strength”:

      Russian doctrine seems to involve treating all economic assets of the enemy as legitimate targets to be destroyed, if the enemy armed forces can’t easily be defeated. By destroying the enemy’s economy, you are effectively attacking him in the rear.

      Unfortunately, these economic assets include everything – civilians, power infrastructure, cities, everything.

      Isn’t this the approach of the Mongols? They’d surround a city, demand its surrender, and if that wasn’t forthcoming they’d sack the city and kill everyone. Most cities surrendered. The Mongols had no need for cities anyway; they were nomads. There was no cost in destroying them.

      Well, that’s what I thought I had read. At any rate, Russia doesn’t want to occupy habitable cities full of sullen, armed Ukrainians. Better to flatten their cities than to capture them.

  31. > 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

    > […]

    > 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 addition to all of the above:

    1. As described in this RUSI report, the Ukrainian military command assumed that if an invasion came the Russian troops deployed on their Northern border would be diversionary deployments for a primary attack focused on the Donbas, so they deployed the bulk of their forces in the East. The Northern parts of the country were left undermanned as a result, and there were apparently supposed to be troops deployed to defend the Isthmus of Perekop but it seems that some officials in the South of the country turned traitor and sabotaged Ukrainian defenses in that region. See pages 22-23:
    2. Early on, and really until October 2022, Russian air and missile forces were clearly operating under RoE that heavily restricted strikes on civilian infrastructure, so they did not systematically target electrical infrastructure, transportation infrastructure, or bridges during the critical first few weeks despite clearly having had enough missiles in February-March to carry out such a campaign. During the opening hours of the invasion Russia didn’t even target soldiers in barracks with missiles when they had them chance, giving the troops time to disperse.

    The result was that the undermanned, undergunned, and largely without effective close-in air support Russian offensive in the East was opposed by what was probably the third strongest artillery army in Europe with fully functioning supply lines that allowed Ukrainian guns to be fed by not only their own large ammunition stockpiles, but also by the combined stockpiles of the former non-USSR Warsaw Pact states. In hindsight, it isn’t that surprising that the opening Russian Eastern offensives culminated approximately at the natural defensive line of Kharkiv + the Seversky Donets river.

  32. @Crash55 ” If kept properly the shells are not as unstable as people here seems to think.”

    Thirty years isn’t an unreasonable storage time. The problem is the tremendous disparity between peacetime usage and wartime usage. Let’s say that during peacetime you use ~20,000 shells per year for various training purposes. And your shell stockpiles reach their expiration date at the thirty year mark. That means that in peacetime it’s not practical to stockpile more than 600,000 shells. Then when war breaks out unexpectedly you’re suddenly using 20,000 shells a week instead of a year. You now have a thirty week reserve instead of a thirty year reserve.

    1. But we have only been at peace since the drawdown in Afghanistan. We ran through a lot of our old stock piles between Iraq and Afghanistan. So I doubt that there are many artillery shells left that date to pre 9/11.

      As for our “old” stockpiles all shells are part of a surveillance program. That means that they sample the stockpiles on a set schedule to ensure that the rounds are still safe to use.

      So between the fact that hostilities have only recently ended and that there is no real concern with old shells, the issue isn’t that our reserves weren’t deep enough ( I think you left off at least one zero). The issue is that Ukraine is going through them far faster than expected, even during war, and, even worse, our ability to manufacture more is far lower than it used to be.

      There is also the fact that the global supply chain is still screwed up. I was at Rheinmetall last week and they weren’t producing ammunition that day because their order for a certain part was delayed. A system I ordered from them is delayed 90 days due to the inability to get a specific alloy of aluminum.

  33. I’m not sure it makes sense to put much stock in Western intelligence agencies’ public statements about the balance of casualties being unfavorable to Russia, given that these sources have largely acceded to the Ukrainian government’s reluctance to release concrete up-to-date information about Ukrainian casualty figures. You yourself allude to the canary in the coal mine here being the Russians’ ongoing advantage in artillery power, which as you’ve also previously described vis-a-vis the WWI trench stalemate, tends to be criminally underemphasized as a primary cause of battle deaths in popular misunderstandings of modern warfare. This seems especially concerning when the accounts we see gesturing in the direction of high Russian casualties often seem uncomfortably premised on lazy tropes about “human wave attacks,” which needless to say is a concept that also features heavily in those same sorts of misconceptions about how WWI infantry offensives actually worked.

    Of course playing loosey-goosey like this with publicly released casualty figures is ultimately a form of information warfare in the name of Ukrainian/Western morale, which one can certainly defend as a way of supporting Ukraine’s overall war effort (although one can also criticize it as potentially boosting support for strategic approaches with an unacceptably high cost in Ukrainian lives), but regardless, such practices aren’t necessarily helpful to the extent that one has any desire to understand what’s taking place on the battlefield from a more cold-bloodedly analytical/scholarly point of view.

  34. My study of history, which has been more focused on revolutions and coups than on warfare, says that Putin is *absolutely guaranteed* to be removed from power. What I can’t quite see is who’s going to do it, or of course, exactly when.

    He’s essentially burned all his powerbases (who all hate him now), destroyed the Russian economy, destroyed the Russian military, and is coasting on inertia. This is fundamentally unsustainable and *someone* will take him out. I’ve been puzzling over when and how; at this point I think people with powerbases in Russia who aren’t in shock are all accumulating forces while waiting for someone else to make the first move. Once someone makes the first move, everyone will move, and Putin has no actual allies, so the one thing which is guaranteed is that he goes down in the civil war. It’s going to look like 1917. Putin’s only option for saving his position is to abandon the Ukrainian war now, which he refuses to do out of insanity.

    The main reason he hasn’t been removed yet is that many people with potential powerbases in Russia are still in shock, since the situation is very different than they thought it was one year ago. They thought Putin was sane and pragmatic; they thought Russia had a functional military; etc. It’s going to require people to get out of the state of shock for them to even start planning how to improve their own positions, which will *obviously* require the removal of Putin. It may take years for them to get out of the state of shock. It is inevitable though: people don’t stay in shock forever.

    As for the war in Ukraine, there is evidence that Putin is literally going to burn through the last of the Soviet stockpile. China will not resupply him for political reasons which I will not go into, but the short version is that China’s already looking into retaking regions which were taken from China by the Russian Empire; they aren’t going to instead “shackle themselves to a corpse”, to use the famous line attributed to Ludendorff about Germany allying with Austria-Hungary. North Korean supply is limited and they want to keep most of it at home for potential wars with South Korea, China, or indeed North Korea — they will only supply token amounts. The Iranian mullahs need most of their supply at home and it’s limited too. Russian tank factories are idled for lack of electronics; they’re already importing shells from North Korea. There are already draft riots throughout the Russian Federation. Units were switching sides from Russia to Ukraine within the first weeks of the war. I’m not sure when morale breaks *completely* on the Russian side but the answer is “pretty soon”. Tsar Nicholas committed to staying in World War I, but the troops had other ideas, and pretty soon Tsar Nicholas was arrested and then shot. I see no reason anything different would happen to Putin.

    The question of what happens next in the Russian Federation is more complicated. The Russian Civil War of 1917 was VERY COMPLICATED and I see nothing which would make the next one any simpler. But one thing is certain: Putin is a dead man walking.

  35. Chinese here (Actually Hong Konger that was excommunicado for not being the most vocal in supporting Free Hong Kong, ironically a popular uprising that took no inspiration from Protracted War).

    I applaud this article’s approach of analyzing the Ukrainian war through the lens of the battle-tested concept of Protracted War from the past, instead of taking untested lessons fresh from the Ukrainian battlefield to give prophesies about a hypothetical war in Taiwan in the future. The former is what we call 以古鑒今 (Applying historic lessons to analyze current events), a virtue expected of old Imperial Exam candidates; The latter is pure speculation and Armchair Generalship.

    Transplanting strategies between countries is unwise — a previous blog post by Bret noted that even Protracted War must be appropriately specialized for each country’s unique conditions: Vo Nguyen Giap of Vietnam did it correctly; Che Guevara with his Foquismo did not.

    I must also warn you all that the vast majority of Chinese people do not side with Russia. Memories of Soviet atrocities in Manchuria in 1945 are still fresh. Most Chinese antipathy against Ukraine comes from provocative statements of two kinds: 1. Likening Taiwan to Ukraine and wishing for China to be defeated in an imaginary war; 2. Depreciating or showing contempt to Chinese moral and racial character for their government’s lack of support to Ukraine. Remember the fable of The Wind and The Sun, and be nice to your fellow man.

    1. For what it is worth, I have no desire to defeat China in a war, real or imaginary. The cost would be unbearably high, even for the victor.

      I want the people of Taiwan to determine their own destiny, without violence or coercion. Of course we don’t always get what we want.

      1. That’s for sure. Also please forgive my tone, Bret, as I was trying to address other commenters. (I honestly didn’t think you would visit the comment section. Appreciate that!) I count at least two comments here that tried to draw parallels between the war in Ukraine to the conflict between China and Taiwan…