Russia-Ukraine War: No End in Sight

The bloody conflict could go on for months, if not years.

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NYT (“As Russia Increases the Size of Its Army, Both Sides Dig In for a Long Conflict“):

President Vladimir V. Putin’s decision this week to expand the size of his military offered further evidence for a conviction taking hold in both Russia and Ukraine: The two sides are settling in for the long haul in a war that could last another year, or longer.

This has been obvious for a while now. In the early days and weeks of the war, I was doing near-daily updates. We saw the invasion stalled and the Western alliance rally behind Ukraine. Many of us wondered what the end state would be but there was a sense that it would come sooner rather than later. Instead, we seem to be in a long war of attrition with no end in sight.

Mr. Putin, secure in his power and having silenced dissent, appears to have little incentive to stop the war, which he has now waged for more than six months without declaring a nationwide draft that could have provoked domestic discontent.

President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine, warning his nation on Friday that the coming winter would be “the most difficult in our history,” is being bolstered by a largely unified West and a defiant populace in his insistence that there will be no compromise with an invading army.

The conflict has settled into a war of attrition, with little movement along the front line in recent weeks, even as both Mr. Zelensky and Mr. Putin face growing political pressure to show results on the battlefield.

This is the dilemma I identified pretty early in the conflict: neither side was going to be able to achieve a quick, decisive victory and there is no compromise solution acceptable to both sides absent much greater pain. Putin has to achieve major gains to justify the heavy losses his army and national prestige have sustained. And Zelensky must fully expel the Russian forces from his country—quite possibly including the portions that they took in 2014—to satisfy the nationalist spirit this latest invasion inspired.

Ukraine has held off from mounting a large-scale counteroffensive despite claiming for months that one was coming, and Russia has avoided sharply escalating its assault despite warning that it would retaliate against Ukrainian attacks in the Russian-controlled peninsula of Crimea.

“Expectations that this will end by Christmas or that this will end by next spring” are misguided, said Ruslan Pukhov, a defense analyst who runs the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, a privately-owned think tank in Moscow.

Ukraine, benefiting from a continuing flow of Western weapons like the $3 billion package that President Biden pledged this week, has the resources and morale to continue to resist the Russian assault. Russia, fighting the war at peacetime strength without mass call-ups of military-age men, appears to have the resources to keep waging a brutal war of attrition — but not to mount a decisive new offensive.

This gets at the related concern I’ve had for quite some time: the notion that the West is willing to fight Russia to the last Ukrainian. We’re funneling massive amounts of money and material support (not to mention intelligence, reconnaissance, and surveillance support) into the fight but, quite rightly, have stopped short of joining the fight by sending in combat forces.* The Ukrainians are happy to have that help and more to save their country but it has become, in effect, a NATO-Russia proxy war.

The largely static period on the battlefield coincides with increasing expectations — fueled by Ukraine itself — that Mr. Zelensky’s military will mount some kind of significant offensive, to show that it can make good use of Western-provided weapons and reassure allies that the economic sacrifices they are making will pay off.

Mr. Putin, as well, faces domestic pressure from far-right nationalists who want stepped-up aggression in Ukraine, particularly after recent strikes on Crimea and the killing of the ultranationalist commentator Daria Dugina in a car bombing last weekend. But the Russian leader, in control of the state media and the political system, is well-situated to ignore such calls, analysts say.

Instead, Mr. Putin insists that his forces are advancing in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region “step by step.”

However, Russia has failed to capture a single major population center since early July. And for Mr. Putin, who justified the invasion by falsely claiming that Ukraine was committing a “genocide” of Russian speakers in the Donbas, anything short of full control of the region would be seen as a major defeat.

Obviously, the Ukrainians well have to go on the offense at some point if they hope to eject Russian forces. In the meantime, though, they’re absorbing massive causalities and destruction of their country.

________________

*I have suspicions that we have some Special Forces types in Ukraine in an advise and assist role but have no direct evidence of that.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Chris says:

    The path is clear, be enslaved under Russian rule or fight. FIGHT!

    2
  2. Michael Reynolds says:

    Of course it is in part a NATO-Russia proxy war. Nothing this good has happened to NATO for a long time: it’s expanding, it’s re-arming and it’s as unified as Europeans and Americans are capable of being. Even Japan and Taiwan are arming up in reaction to the communist, er, sorry, I mean Russo-Chinese threat. Putin made a fantastic blunder so of course we are exploiting that. It would be criminal negligence not to.

    But this ‘fight to the last Ukrainian’ thing is a tired old wheeze. The Ukrainians are choosing to fight, they are choosing to ask us for help, and I really don’t see what’s wrong with us smiling happily as we demonstrate the superiority of American arms and the weakness of our foe.

    Oil prices are dropping. Tsar Vlad’s gonna have trouble when he has to discount below extraction cost. Long term he’s going to need a lot of money and a lot of western expertise to shunt his hydrocarbons to China and India. A lot a lot. And if Europe can squeak through this winter Putin’s gas will have ceased to be weapon going forward. What are Europeans going to buy instead? Good ol’ Amurrican LNG. To top it off, no one but your poorer presidents for life are going to look to Russian arms as a first or even a third choice.

    We’re getting to fuck Vladimir Putin and it’s costing us chump change.

    10
  3. Sleeping Dog says:

    This popped up this morning. While it is about Estonian-Russian social/cultural relations, it draws a line to Ukraine and in particular, the attitude of Ukrainian-Russians in the east. Settling this conflict short of a Russian withdrawal or an independently supervised election where the people of the eastern provinces and the Crimea choose whether they want to be Ukrainians or Russians, that Russia and Ukraine abide by will be one of the few ways to end the conflict.

    Lydia is unsurprised by the second group. It reminds her of some acquaintances living in Nottingham—a Russian-Ukrainian family who switched freely between Russian and Ukrainian at home, knowing both languages equally well. This had been the way at least until Putin’s February invasion. “Now they’re a Ukrainian family. Since February, the husband has renounced his Russian heritage. He’s so appalled by Russia, so abhorrent of it, he won’t even use Russian at home. If anyone asks his ethnicity now he simply says ‘Ukrainian,’ explaining, ‘My parents may have originally been Russians. But I was born in Ukraine. Raised in Ukraine. I’m fluent in Ukrainian and I have a Ukrainian wife and daughter. I do not want to have anything to do with Russia or Russians ever.’”

    This family, Lydia adds, told her that the same thing was happening all through the Donbass and the Black Sea coast. Even Odessa is apparently now full of residents saying they are Ukrainian. “Because if Russians are bombing their homes, what else are they?” Given that one of the aims of the Russian invasion was to stop Ukraine nation-building, Lydia points out, the Russians had “scored a massive own goal on that front too.”

    And this “deliberate and complete discarding of Russian identity” was happening in Estonia as well. People were declaring themselves “‘Russian-speaking Estonians’—born here, raised here, living here, and holding an Estonian passport—just happening to still speak Russian at home.” “Thirty years ago, that would have been unthinkable,” Lydia reflects. “They were all Vlads back then. Pro-Mother-Russia. Russia-centric. Brash and pushy. Arrogant. Now Russian identity seems everywhere to be crashing.”

    If indeed, “Russian identity seems everywhere to be crashing,” Russia will be unsuccessful in assimilating eastern Ukraine into Russia.

    3
  4. Scott says:

    @Sleeping Dog: Just like German Texans after WWI and II. And my German ancestors who settled in Berlin, Ontario which changed to Kitchener in 1915.

    1
  5. Mr. Prosser says:

    As you say, this has become a war of attrition. What is the thinking on how long Russia can throw soldiers, conscript or volunteer or mercenary, into a meat grinder? If what I read is true, estimates are that the Russian military has experienced 80,000 casualties including 15,000 dead since the invasion.

    2
  6. Sleeping Dog says:

    @Mr. Prosser:

    In the Times’ report on Putin’s order to increase the size of the army, which is on paper without a means to fulfill the quota, several experts doubted Russia’s ability to execute the order. They pointed out the difficulty that Russia has had in recruitment up to this point as a predictor or failure.

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  7. Raoul says:

    So war leads to casualties and destruction, ok then. In the last 50 years when a great power engages in an unwinable war, they typically engage in a long slugfest for reasons. The only out I see is the death of Putin, otherwise, Russia will fight for many years. To be sure, as anyone with remotely any knowledge of Ukraine will tell you, Russia will never be able to annex or takeover the country.

    3
  8. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Mr. Prosser:
    No one has hard casualty numbers, but there is no doubt that Putin has lost far more men than we did in Gulf Wars 1 and 2 and 20 years in Afghanistan. Some sources have his death toll close to our Vietnam numbers, out of a much smaller population. But the Russians are great at suffering. They’ve had to be since at no time in Russian history have they ever had a decent, competent government.

    Typically, all things being equal, the attackers should outnumber the defenders by 2 to 1 or 3 to 1. Russia cannot come close to that without national mobilization, while Ukraine may be able to put a million soldiers in the field. Can Russia field two million? The fact that Russian trolls are frantically busy trying to portray the Ukrainians as Nazis is a sign of Russian weakness and fear.

    In a war of attrition the winner is usually the side with the stronger economy. See: WW1. I don’t know how to parse the relative strength of a sanctioned Russia vs. a western-backed Ukraine. The other factor is morale. Russians are fighting for Putin’s ambition; Ukrainians are fighting for survival.

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  9. Kathy says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    In a war of attrition the winner is usually the side with the stronger economy. See: WW1.

    They also tend to favor defenders over attackers. This may be why Ukraine hasn’t mounted a big offensive yet. In WWI offense and defense were about the same on both sides

  10. Just Another Ex-Republican says:

    Short of a violent overthrow of Putin and his inner circle (and as much as I’d like to see him and the siloviki gone, the danger of how that plays out in a nuclear power should never be underestimated) the war will gone on for a long time. How long did it take for Russia or the US to give up in Afghanistan? The US in Vietnam? Great powers (or those who THINK they are great powers) with delusions of grandeur can convince themselves to keep going for some concept of national honor and not wasting the sacrifices already made for a long long time, while most of the populace not fighting sticks their head in the sand because they don’t want to think about it.

    Depressing.

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  11. Gustopher says:

    This gets at the related concern I’ve had for quite some time: the notion that the West is willing to fight Russia to the last Ukrainian.

    The alternatives are far worse — giving up on the Ukrainian people when they still want to fight for their country, or getting directly involved.

    If you have another option, that would be great.

    And there’s a growing sentiment on the Putin-loving part of your former party that we shouldn’t fight to the last Ukrainian, but that we should just let them be conquered. The “lie back and enjoy it” wing of the party.

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  12. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    , while most of the populace not fighting sticks their head in the sand because they don’t want to think about it.

    Don’t leave out doesn’t come to presence in their minds. I had 2 students decide to join the army after graduation at the start of the War on Terrah (and our principle falsified the transcript of one of them to help him keep his early enlistment/Army Reserve stipend) but had no further connections to the war among people I knew until I got to Korea, where my connections were career military personnel. And it’s not like we were fighting the war here. (Though if melanin-enhanced, dreamers (and po white trash, of course), and people for whom the military constitutes the family business hadn’t been doing a lot the dying, more people might have noticed the tide might have turned earlier.)

  13. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Winter will tell the tale.

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  14. dazedandconfused says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    Kinda doubt this winter. They Ukrainians seem willing to make this a war of attrition, per the cancelling of their Kherson offensive, and there is no evidence the Russians are in any shape to conduct a major offensive either.

  15. Andy says:

    It’s definitely a war of attrition. Both sides have low numbers of infantry and can’t concentrate forces for offensives without significantly weakening other areas. Both sides have good ISR, so the opportunities for deception are limited. There’s no chance for the kind of “left hook” that the US employed against Iraq in 1991, for example. Both sides are reliant on artillery as their primary source of firepower.

    The absence of air power as a significant contributor to combined arms is also a major factor.

    Considering these military realities, both sides’ political goals are unrealistic. Neither has the ability to achieve their war aims. Neither side has a decisive military advantage, so the attritional phase is likely to continue.

    Russia has far more manpower reserves, but it hasn’t mobilized, and there are strong political incentives to avoid doing that. And if it did, it would take many months to train personnel and get them into frontline units.

    Both sides are burning through equipment and ammunition, this will put a limit on how long the attrition phase can last. There’s some indication that Russia, for example, has had to reduce the number of artillery fires due to sustainment problems. This kind of warfare eats through manpower, equipment, and ammunition very quickly, and no country, except maybe North Korea, maintains the productive capacity to feed this level of conflict. Once the stockpiles are used up, then the stalemate often gets worse.

    In general, Russia has more inherent staying power due to its larger size and industrial base. Support from the west and NATO evens the playing field for Ukraine and will probably keep Russia from meeting its objectives. But this is no small task because the manpower, equipment and ammunition sustainment problem affect Ukraine too. Once the low-hanging fruit is gone, western countries will have to dip into their own war reserve stockpiles or pay for expanded military production. It’s not even clear that US domestic HIMARS missile production can keep up with how quickly Ukraine is burning through missiles. And if one hopes that Ukraine will go on the offense, then the need for many more supplies is even greater.

    All of which is just a long way of saying that it’s not clear where things go from here, but a key factor will be continued western support for Ukraine in terms of military supplies, and those will get harder and more expensive to come by.

    In the six months of this war, Ukraine has received about $85 billion worth of various commitments so far from other governments, half of that from the US alone.

    War is massively expensive, how long and how much western governments will be willing to keep it up is an open question. Russia could now be playing a long game that seeks to reduce western support. And that kind of strategy would play well with the leverage they have over European energy, particularly with winter coming. That would be my best guess (and it’s just a guess) at Russian strategy right now.

    3
  16. JohnSF says:

    @Kathy:
    WW1 favoured defence; until it didn’t.
    See the Hundred Days of 1918, when the British Army, American Expeditionary Force, and the French Army, broke the back of the Reichswehr.

    It’s arguably a more common pattern of modern warfare than sweeping offensives: the development of dominance in a attritional/communications/logistics battle.

    Like the proverbial bankruptcy:

    “How were they defeated?” “Two ways. Gradually, then suddenly.”

    In this war we have already seen two examples of Russian offensives stalling out, then retreating in some disorder, due to support systemic collapse: around Kyiv, and around Kharkiv.

    1
  17. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @dazedandconfused: I don’t see a military solution any time soon. I was thinking more along the lines of the Russian economy and how are they going to weather a continued European boycott of Russian gas and oil or if the Europeans will fold. If the Russian economy tanks, that might make Putin vulnerable. Might

  18. JohnSF says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:
    As I posted in the Open Forum, the energy crunch is starting to bite in the UK.
    80% increase in domestic energy bills coming; likely an additional 80 to 100% in the New Year.

    Meanwhile:

    Today in Germany: A group of left-wing Social Democrats (SPD) are calling for peace negotiations with Russia. They are worried about escalation and say a “modus vivendi” must be found to deal with the Russian government. They also want China to act as a mediator.

    Well, small problem is that under the Russian modus, the Ukrainians don’t get to vivendi.

    My response is “Turn up the pain”.

    I may be wrong, but I suspect the Russians have made an enormous mistake responding to Ukraine saying, again and again, they were going to attack Kherson.

    They have shifted forces from Donbas, where their supply lines were relatively short and direct, and ran from multiple rail lines in southern Russia, to positions at the end of some 200 miles from DNR, 120 from Crimea, with only three main rail lines into the Dnipr valley from the east and south.
    The trans-Dnipr area of Kherson etc has only two bridges from the east; and is itself cut in two by the Inhulets River!
    The main supply route to the Kherson area has been out of Crimea; that runs across only three causeways.
    And is linked to Russia only by the Kerch Bridge.
    Of course, the Black Sea Fleet can still resupply by sea, guarded by the mighty Moskva.
    Oops.

    The road links across the salient are also rather constrained in autumn by a slight tendency to muddiness.
    To put it mildly.

    Were I a Russian looking at a winter on the west bank of the Dnipr, my nickname would not be “Ivan the Happy”.

    Ukrainians seem to have no inclination to rush their forces into a meatgrinder, when they can systematically degrade Russian supplies and positions. as Lawrence Freedman has pointed out.

    My difference would be, (and perhaps I’m overcompensating for some early guessology that Russia could “steamroller” past Kyiv) I think this understates the potential for a Russian collapse, as at Kyiv in Spring, or Kharkiv in early Summer, if the army in the salient is pushed past the breaking point.

  19. Just Another Ex-Republican says:

    Russia’s best chance is disrupting gas flows to Europe this winter in hopes of breaking off Western support, combined with a Trump Republican wave in the election. Even if Europe pulls back some support because of energy blackmail, the US will step up if enough Senate R’s stay dedicated to it.

    I don’t see the combo Putin needs as being likely though. Europe is working hard to build up enough and to develop alternatives to get through the winter, and the situation only gets better for them and worse for Putin going forward. The Senate looks likely to stay so closely split with enough “traditional foreign policy” R’s in place to continue support so even if the House goes through 40+ symbolic votes to cut aid it won’t matter.

    The longer the war goes on, the worse it gets for Russia as their economy is slowly crushed under sanctions, their energy leverage gets weaker, and it will get harder and harder for even an authoritarian government to hide their losses (no matter how you spin it, actively recruiting people up to 60 years old says their volunteer manpower is scraping the bottom of the barrel). After this election season in the US and this winter, their next chance to change the dynamic is the US 2024 Presidential election, and I just don’t see a candidate actively calling to cut off and screw the Ukrainians and then winning that election. Not even a DeSantis.

    But a lot of people on both sides will die before Russia gives up. And the Ukrainian territory they currently control might be so de-populated by the time they do (in terms of Ukrainians either fleeing or being forcibly deported) that I’m not sure if the remaining people will WANT to be Ukrainian. Certainly refugees and forced transplantees returning to the East will end up displacing those who Russia has favored, probably igniting a Civil war (no matter how badly Russia screwed up their analysis of how many Ukrainians want to be part of Russia and how easy this war would be, at the very least significant minorities in the East actually do want to either join Russia or be an independent Russia-allied state). What an unholy mess.

    1
  20. JohnSF says:

    @Andy:
    Multiple reports I’ve read, that seem reliable, are that Ukraine has an sizable edge in actual infantry numbers.
    But most of these, bar the OOC, are not trained in combine offensive operations.
    That’s one reason for the current UK training programme for Ukrainian infantry.
    But also the Ukrainians are rapidly transforming elements of the territorial forces into offensive-capable light infantry.

    But more than that: Ukraine shows no inclination to waste men on head-on assaults, especially as Russia still has an edge in battlefield artillery.
    But this edge is eroding.
    As the artillery balance shifts, Ukraine is likely to start “nibbling” at the weak points of Russian fonts; especially as Russia has nowhere near the numbers required to set up continuous defensive lines.

    Also, if the West is going to sustain to victory, the relative sizes of the Russian and Ukrainian economies become essentially irrelevant.

    I’d argue the correct response of western Europe to the impending economic crisis is to switch to a full-on “war socialism” model.
    And I’m not the only one.
    The forges at Barrow-in-Furness should be running 24-7-365.

  21. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @JohnSF: I saw that, and appreciated the info. It’s not like I keep up to date on all the latest. I read the headlines and if something piques my interest I’ll read the article. Otherwise I depend on such as yourself to winnow out the BS and give me the straight dope. Not exactly the smartest way to stay informed, but I have other concerns a little more pressing.

    1
  22. Gustopher says:

    @JohnSF:

    And is linked to Russia only by the Kerch Bridge.

    I am really surprised that the Kerch bridge is still standing.

    It would seem to be a large, critical target. It’s behind enemy lines, and there is no real air power in this war, so I guess it is out of range of Ukrainian missiles and artillery?

  23. Andy says:

    @JohnSF:

    Multiple reports I’ve read, that seem reliable, are that Ukraine has an sizable edge in actual infantry numbers.
    But most of these, bar the OOC, are not trained in combine offensive operations.

    Good information is hard to come by. But this would not surprise me, considering Ukraine has mobilized.

    Also, if the West is going to sustain to victory, the relative sizes of the Russian and Ukrainian economies become essentially irrelevant.

    The presumes the “west” is united in what constitutes “victory” and that it is aligned with Ukraine’s goals. In reality, each country will look at it a bit differently and consider different tradeoffs and limitations on the amount of support they are willing to give to any particular end state.

    I’d argue the correct response of western Europe to the impending economic crisis is to switch to a full-on “war socialism” model.

    I don’t really have much opinion on that except to say that nationalizing energy companies often doesn’t end up increasing production. That view also seems outside the mainstream for most of Europe at present, though the effects of shortages in the winter might change that if they get bad enough.

  24. Andy says:

    @Gustopher:

    I am really surprised that the Kerch bridge is still standing.

    It would seem to be a large, critical target. It’s behind enemy lines, and there is no real air power in this war, so I guess it is out of range of Ukrainian missiles and artillery?

    Basically, yes. It’s far enough away that Ukraine doesn’t have many options to strike it that would actually be effective. However, at this point in the war, it’s not Russia’s only link, as they have road and rail lines from Crimea through Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, and Donetsk Oblasts that they captured.

  25. JohnSF says:

    @Andy:

    That view also seems outside the mainstream for most of Europe at present…

    Yes.
    I like to be ahead of the curve 😉

    Certainly present Conservative government won’t go for it.
    But by November, the government will break or be broken.
    If Truss sticks to her guns (alternative link to graph) she’ll be pitched out of office by riots and Privy Council intervention.
    Which is why she won’t.
    Then odds of an emergency election become very high.

    Macron would embrace the dirigiste war model in a heartbeat; also the Poles, and most of E. Europe bar Hungary.
    Germans will have to be dragged to it kicking and screaming, but Der Grune are halfway there already.
    Italians, who the f’ knows. Just bribe the politicians, IYAM.

    Thing is, a lot of politicians on the wings are unhappy, and a vocal subset of the population.
    But central political/official/corporate consensus is strong enough to steamroller the opposition, IMO.
    Look at how the EU leadership are playing it; always a good clue to pan-Europe elite view.

  26. JohnSF says:

    @Andy:
    I have a niggling suspicion that Ukraine may have a home grown long range system.
    It’s often forgotten that they have a quite impressive domestic military aerospace technology and manufacturing base.
    And the potential to outsource components production, and perhaps technical assistance, to the military aerospace ecosystem of Europe; which dwarfs that of Russia.

    They may not be able to produce them in large numbers; but for critical targets?
    I would not care to underwrite insurance on the Kerch Bridge.

    Also, the rail lines via Zaporizhzhia look a bit squeaky.
    And the road lines run into the Russian problem that they aren’t geared for sustained long distance, high-intensity replenishment by lorry (aka truck, in American 🙂 )

    And, come the autumn rains, there’s a lot of problematic choke points twixt Don and Kherson.
    Especially given Ukrainian special forces operating with drones in rear areas.
    If the Russians can’t even secure Crimea, which they cannot, they have real problems in securing Kherson and Zaporizhia.

  27. dazedandconfused says:

    @Gustopher:

    The Ukrainians, if pursuing a course of attrition, may not wish the Kerch bridge to fall. It’s not a great line to begin with, a single track which means all the trains coming through to Kherson have to take to sidings when traffic has to use it to go the other way. Those are fixed positions which can be targeted. Moving trains are much much harder to hit, much of their new “stuff” is GPS guided. It’s possible the last thing they want the Russians to do right now is abandon the Kherson salient and concentrate in the much easier to supply Donetsk/Kharkiv areas.

    A significant problem for the Ukrainians, if the goal is to re-take the breakaway oblasts, is they are densely populated. Barring a Russian collapse, “nibbling away” at that stands to require the shelling of civilians. It’s a look they really don’t want to have.

    1
  28. Michael Cain says:

    @dazedandconfused:
    Anyone know if the Ukrainians have asked for full winter kit for 50,000 soldiers? Takes considerable time to pull from US/NATO storage, transport to the Ukraine border, then distribute to the troops.

  29. JohnSF says:

    @Michael Cain:
    They already have it.
    Ukraine has been operating an army of hundreds of thousands, year round, in combat conditions, since 2014.

    Remember, when Russia attacked this February, that was in Eastern European winter.
    Ukraine had no equipment issues on a combat-incapacitating level that I am aware of.

    More likely to be the Russians, if large quantities of their winter gear have been sold on the black market.
    (No joke: I’ve seen Russian “surplus” military clothing on sale at market stalls in the UK for the last twenty odd years.)

  30. Andy says:

    @JohnSF:

    I would not care to underwrite insurance on the Kerch Bridge.

    I wouldn’t either but I’m not ready to assume Ukraine has a long-range system that could bring down the bridge.

    If the Russians can’t even secure Crimea, which they cannot, they have real problems in securing Kherson and Zaporizhia.

    Being able to conduct a few strikes against poorly prepared targets does not mean Russia can’t secure Crimea. The Russians are learning many lessons the hard way, but they are learning.

    Yes.
    I like to be ahead of the curve

    I guess we’ll see. I don’t follow European politics enough to make a judgment one way or the other.

  31. JohnSF says:

    @Andy:
    The “ahead of the curve” was a joke; sort of.
    I think there is a European decision-level consensus that
    – Russia needs to be neutered, and it’s not going to get any easier going forward if it’s not done now
    – This is also a moral issue: who are we, if we allow this to succeed?
    And the thing is, contra Mearsheimer et al, the moral and the strategic are inextricably interlinked.
    It is because Russia poses a threat to the European order of rights that they must be crushed, and that it is a vital interest of the European states that they should be.

    Russians … are learning.

    You could have fooled me.
    As far as I can see, and people who know a lot more about this than me who I’ve asked, they show approximately zero signs of getting anything right at all.
    Apart from ceasing jamming their arms into a bandsaw up to the elbows; now they are now just shoving them up to the wrists.

    That is, they were sensible enough to back off from an insane “attack on all fronts” posture, and to limit offensive to Donbas; and now to shut down Donbas in order to reinforce the south.
    But not to recognize that trying to hold Kherson/Zaporizhzhia is stupid, unless they can use it for an offensive.
    Which they cannot.
    It’s Kyiv drive v.2 only slower, and bigger.

    Perhaps major bases of the Black Sea Fleet air arm are just “poorly prepared targets”; but that’s a whole tell in itself, if they are STILL.

    Six months in, multiple examples of Ukrainian deep strike capabilities (of various sorts) and Russia is still lazily screwing the pooch?
    As the Ukrainian meme goes : ” Where air defence?”

    As for something that can bring down the Kerch Bridge; maybe not.
    Render it unusable for heavy traffic, quite probably.
    I really think it’s a mistake to assume that only US supplied weapons like ATCMS can do this sort of thing.
    The Grim or Korshun with a GPS warhead could be quite effective.
    And Ukraine could readily pass such designs to EU countries for component production.

    They were very likely using something of this sort to hit targets around Snake Island.
    Kerch Bridge is further; but no further than a WW2 v1 or v2 could hit; and Ukrainians are way beyond v-weapon technology capability.

  32. Andy says:

    @JohnSF:

    And the thing is, contra Mearsheimer et al, the moral and the strategic are inextricably interlinked.
    It is because Russia poses a threat to the European order of rights that they must be crushed, and that it is a vital interest of the European states that they should be.

    Perhaps I’m being uncharitable, but this sounds like the domino theory 2.0 to me or the same arguments stating the necessity to crush Iran, as one example.

    Russia’s only threat to Europe is from nukes and control over energy supplies. The former is enduring and ensures they can’t be crushed, and the latter is temporary. If the war in Ukraine has shown anything, it’s that Russia is not a significant conventional military threat to NATO.

    As far as I can see, and people who know a lot more about this than me who I’ve asked, they show approximately zero signs of getting anything right at all.
    Apart from ceasing jamming their arms into a bandsaw up to the elbows; now they are now just shoving them up to the wrists.

    On the contrary, they’ve learned a lot. The significant changes in tactics and operational strategy over time are proof enough of that. And remember those Turkish drones from early in the war that flew unimpeded over Russian formations stuck on roads? You don’t see much about them anymore because the Russians learned how to counter them.

    That doesn’t mean the Russians have become a quality force in the last six months, far from it. A lot of their problems are structural and won’t change quickly, but they are changing.

    Perhaps major bases of the Black Sea Fleet air arm are just “poorly prepared targets”; but that’s a whole tell in itself, if they are STILL.

    They were dumb to place ammo and fuel storage right next to aircraft. They wrongly assumed that Ukraine didn’t have the reach to attack the base. They won’t make that mistake again.

    Overall, I would be wary of underestimating the ability of the Russian force to adapt and learn from mistakes. Even with their deep structural problems, they are and will continue to adapt. This is what armies have always done because war is an activity that brutally punishes mistakes and therefore provides strong incentives not to repeat those mistakes.

    I’d also be wary of overestimating Ukrainian abilities, especially when it comes to undemonstrated technology. Even if some unknown, speculative weapon or operation is able to destroy or damage the Kerch bridge, that won’t eject Russia from Crimea. And Crimea is of such strategic importance to Russia that it considers keeping Crimea existential and will act accordingly.

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  33. JohnSF says:

    @Andy:
    Russia’s threat goes beyond gas and nuclear weapons.
    Their military may be inept at present, but it would be dangerous to rely on that being always so.
    So long as they have a global market for oil, a large population, and a considerable, if rather backward, industrial base.

    They no real threat to the US (except for ICBM’s of course)
    But they are potentially a massive on to Europe, unless checked by continental re-armament and preferably by military and political defeat in Ukraine.

    They a not much of a threat to NATO at present.
    However, given Trumpish Republicanism, and the situation in east Asia, Europe can no longer safely rely on the permanence of the US commitment.
    And Russia also shows a worrying capacity for irrational action.
    It’s inevitable defeat would be scant comfort to, say, the inhabitants of the Baltic States in an invasion interim.

    There is also the broader ideological issue, which is a massive topic in itself, which I’ll leave aside.

    As to the current military situation, Russins may well be adapting tactically.
    That’s to be expected.
    That’s not what I was concerned with.
    Operationally they continue to be over-ambitious (another example of high command irrationality), refusing to choose between defending Donbas (the obvious choice) and holding the Zaporizhia-Kherson and trans-Dnipr salient.
    And have little chance of correcting a deficient supply system, from factories to stockpiles to railways to depots to trucks.

    It’s impossible to know without non-public data, but I would make a small wager that shifting large forces from Donbas to the salient is playing merry hob with their supplies.

    Crimea is of strategic importance to Russia.
    It is also of strategic importance to Ukraine, and therefore to Europe.
    They may think it’s retention essential.
    We may consider it’s capture essential in inverse proportion.

    Somebody’s going to have to learn to lose.
    I propose it should be Russia.