Ukraine Losing and Growing Demoralized

While the West dithers, Russia is doubling down.

Flag Ukraine Silhouette Ruins Soldier War
CC0 1.0 Universal (CC0 1.0) Public Domain photo via Max Pixel

POLITICO Europe opinion editor Jamie Dettmer declares, “Ukraine is heading for defeat.”

Just ask a Ukrainian soldier if he still believes the West will stand by Kyiv “for as long as it takes.” That pledge rings hollow when it’s been four weeks since your artillery unit last had a shell to fire, as one serviceman complained from the front lines.

It’s not just that Ukraine’s forces are running out of ammunition. Western delays over sending aid mean the country is dangerously short of something even harder to supply than shells: the fighting spirit required to win.

Morale among troops is grim, ground down by relentless bombardment, a lack of advanced weapons, and losses on the battlefield. In cities hundreds of miles away from the front, the crowds of young men who lined up to join the army in the war’s early months have disappeared. Nowadays, eligible would-be recruits dodge the draft and spend their afternoons in nightclubs instead. Many have left the country altogether.

As I discovered while reporting from Ukraine over the past month, the picture that emerged from dozens of interviews with political leaders, military officers, and ordinary citizens was one of a country slipping towards disaster.

Even as President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says Ukraine is trying to find a way not to retreat, military officers privately accept that more losses are inevitable this summer. The only question is how bad they will be. Vladimir Putin has arguably never been closer to his goal.

“We know people are flagging and we hear it from regional governors and from the people themselves,” Andriy Yermak, Zelenskyy’s powerful chief of staff, told POLITICO. Yermak and his boss travel together to “some of the most dangerous places” to rally citizens and soldiers for the fight, he said. “We tell people: ‘Your name will be in the history books.’”

If the tide doesn’t turn soon in this third year of Russia’s invasion, it will be the nation of Ukraine as it currently exists that is consigned to the past. 

For a war of such era-defining importance, the scale of Western leaders’ actions to help Kyiv repel Russia’s invaders has fallen far short of their soaring rhetoric. That disappointment has left Ukrainians of all ranks — from the soldiers digging trenches to ministers running the country — weary and irritable. 

There’s much more, but you get the idea.

Nor is Dettmer alone. There have been a series of articles in recent days sounding the alarm.

International relations professors Stefan Wolff and Tetyana Malyarenko (“Ukraine is losing the war and the west faces a stark choice: help now or face a resurgent and aggressive Russia,” The Conversation):

Ukraine is now experiencing a level of existential threat comparable only to the situation immediately after the full-scale Russian invasion in February 2022. But in contrast to then, improvements are unlikely – at least not soon.

Not only have conditions along the frontline significantly worsened, according to the Ukrainian commander-in-chief, Oleksandr Syrsky, but the very possibility of a Ukrainian defeat is now discussed in public by people like the former commander of the UK’s Joint Forces Command, General Sir Richard Barrons.

Barrons told the BBC on April 13 that Ukraine could lose the war in 2024 “because Ukraine may come to feel it can’t win … And when it gets to that point, why will people want to fight and die any longer, just to defend the indefensible?”

This may be his way of trying to push the west to provide more military aid to Ukraine faster. Yet the fact that the Nato secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, publicly accepts that to end the war Ukraine will have to negotiate with Russia and decide “what kind of compromises they’re willing to do” is a clear indication that things are not going well for Ukraine.

BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner (“Ukraine could face defeat in 2024. Here’s how that might look“):

The former commander of the UK’s Joint Forces Command has warned that Ukraine could face defeat by Russia in 2024.

General Sir Richard Barrons has told the BBC there is “a serious risk” of Ukraine losing the war this year.

The reason, he says, is “because Ukraine may come to feel it can’t win”.

“And when it gets to that point, why will people want to fight and die any longer, just to defend the indefensible?”

Ukraine is not yet at that point.

But its forces are running critically low on ammunition, troops and air defences. Its much-heralded counter-offensive last year failed to dislodge the Russians from ground they had seized and now Moscow is gearing up for a summer offensive.

Defense One’s Patrick Tucker (“Europe is already planning for what happens if Ukraine loses. It’s ugly.“):

A Ukrainian loss, which could happen very soon if U.S. weapons don’t arrive, would ramp up Russian efforts to destabilize the governments of NATO countries and increase defense spending across the alliance, among other disastrous effects, Hanno Pevkur, Estonia’s Defense Minister, told reporters Friday.

When U.S. officials like President Joe Biden talk about why Ukraine matters, they rely on broad notions of democracy and the continuation of the international order—without specifically explaining what a Ukraine loss would mean for ordinary Americans. Perhaps because of this, Americans are evenly split on the question of whether the United States is doing too much for Ukraine.

Pevkur said one of the deliverables from last year’s NATO Summit in Vilnius was new battle plans for Eastern European countries should Ukraine fall.

“These plans address these different scenarios,” he said. “Of course, for obvious reasons I cannot be very specific, but I can assure you that these plans are shaped by looking at the possible Russian posture in our neighborhood.”

One of the likely consequences of a loss, he said, is a much larger and more dangerous Russian military.

“Russia has published on their plan for the reconstitution and build up their army. It says that they will have 1.5 million people in the army,” including a new Army corps in the country’s northwest corner, near Estonia, he said. That will mean two to seven times as many tanks, armored personnel carriers, air defense systems, etc., very close to the border of Europe, hesaid.

That military buildup will continue to put pressure on Western democracies, including the United States, to increase their defense spending, he said. “We see that the Russian war budget today is around 30 or 31% of their state budget. But this is only the military spendings. When we add to that what they are also the spending on…some other state services, which are directly linked to security, then we will see that this budget goes to 35 to 40% of the state budget.”

Russia has basically adapted its entire economy and society for war. That increases the likelihood of a direct confrontation in order to justify the buildup.

“The Russians have actually managed to really ramp up the defense industry capability, put it on a war footing. Then the unfortunate and quite dark logic arises from that: Once you’ve done all these things, once you’ve ramped up your economy or put it on a war footing, then there’s not an easy way of going back. So they will probably have to maximize,” he said.

The Economist’s Charlemagne columnist, Stanley Pignal (“What happens if Ukraine loses?“):

To ask “what if Ukraine loses?” was once a tactic favoured by those looking to berate its Western allies into sending more money and weapons. Increasingly the question feels less like a thought experiment and more like the first stage of contingency planning. After a gruelling few months on the battlefield, gone are last year’s hopes of a Ukrainian counter-offensive that would push Russia back to its borders and humble Vladimir Putin. These days it is fear that dominates: that an existing stalemate might crumble in favour of the invader, or of Donald Trump coming back to power in America and delivering victory to Russia on a silver platter. Although a vanquished Ukraine has become a less far-fetched prospect, it is no less frightening. Sobering as the return of war on the continent has been, a successful invasion reaping geopolitical rewards for Mr Putin would be much worse.

A defeat of Ukraine would be a humbling episode for the West, a modern Suez moment. Having provided moral, military and financial succour to its ally for two years now, America and Europe have—perhaps inadvertently—put their own credibility on the line. That they have sometimes dithered in delivering this support would make things worse, not better: further confirmation, among sceptics of liberal polities, that democracies lack what it takes to stand up for their interests. In Russia but also China, India and across the global south, Ukraine’s backers would be dismissed as good at tabling un resolutions and haggling over wording at eu and nato summits but not much else. The colouring by atlas-makers of Ukrainian land into Russian territory would cement the idea that might makes right, to the benefit of strongmen far and wide. George Robertson, a former boss of nato, has warned that “If Ukraine loses, our enemies will decide the world order.” Unfortunately for the Taiwanese, among others, he is probably right.

Nowhere would feel the brunt of this humiliation more than the eu, the pinnacle of liberal international norm-setting. Ukraine’s neighbours moved less fast than America in providing support. But in the European slow-but-steady way they feel they have done as much as could be asked of them. By sending arms (including using eu money to pay for weapons, a first), propping up Ukraine’s finances, taking in millions of refugees, applying a dozen rounds of sanctions against Russia and weaning themselves off its piped gas, the bloc’s politicians have pushed out the boundaries of what initially seemed possible. If it proves not to have been enough, plenty will ask whether the union at its core is fit for purpose. Populists—and Putin fans—in the mould of Hungary’s Viktor Orban or Marine Le Pen in France will crow that theirs is the best way. Currently there are divisions between the hawkish eastern fringe and others in the bloc. If Ukraine loses, those will metastasise into recriminations and bitterness. Emmanuel Macron in France, a newly minted hawk, has set the tone by warning of “cowards” holding Europe back.

The geopolitical fallout of a Ukrainian defeat would depend on the shape of any peace settlement. This in turn would hinge on military dynamics or the mindset of Mr Trump, should he be elected again. If Ukraine’s ammunition-constrained army crumbles and somehow Russia controls not just its eastern territories but the whole country, perhaps under a Belarus-style puppet regime, its aggressor will in effect share over a thousand more kilometres of borders with the eu. Should defeat be more limited—including annexation of territory, but a still-functioning “rump” Ukraine—nerves would still be set jangling. How long would it be before Mr Putin finished the job? Millions more Ukrainians might seize the opportunity to leave. The future shape of the eu would change: the promise of enlargement to Ukraine presupposed a comprehensive victory. The western Balkans, whose own bid to join was revived by the war, would surely be left in limbo too.

Beyond the feeling of culpability and shame, a sense of fear would pervade Europe. Might there be a further attack? Would it be on a nato country, forcing allies into action? Further attempts at conquest would at least be a possibility. Mr Putin has alluded to Nazism in the Baltics, echoing the pretext he used to invade Ukraine; the trio also have a large Russian-speaking population. A year ago the joke was that Russia’s claim of having the best army in Europe was ludicrous: it didn’t even have the best army in Ukraine. Fewer think that today, given Russia’s ability to keep supplying its men—not to mention supplying more men—faster than its adversary. A victorious Russian army would leave Mr Putin commanding the only fighting force with the battle-hardening and 21st-century warfare skills to take territory; if he controlled the Ukrainian state he would control two such military machines. Against him stand war-shy Europeans, perhaps with flaky American backing and depleted armouries. Might Poland or Germany find they will need their own nuclear deterrent?

On the one hand, depending on unlimited and indefinite external support for one’s war effort is a pretty good indication that you’re destined to fail. On the other, most of the countries that have pledged such support are pretty wealthy and have a strong interest in seeing Russia weakened, if not defeated—to say nothing of the moral and humanitarian interests at stake.

While Barack Obama infamously ridiculed Mitt Romney for saying Russia was our number one geopolitical foe, it was almost certainly correct at the time. (As Romney himself has acknowledged, China has clearly assumed that mantle since.) Both the Trump and Biden national security strategies have placed Russia in that status, with the latter calling them “an acute threat.” Yet various aid bills with bipartisan support have failed to make it through a Congress held hostage to some reactionaries with an unfathomable Putin fetish.

But, of course, the United States isn’t the only power of aiding Ukraine, much less the one that has the most to lose from a Russian victory. Our NATO allies haven’t exactly matched their rhetoric with support, either.

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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. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Bill Jempty says:

    I said it a few days ago in another OTB comment. What you have going on with Ukraine and Russia is a war of attrition. These things almost always turn out bad for the smaller side/country. Which is Ukraine in the case. My opinion- Ukraine is going to lose.

  2. Lounsbury says:

    @Bill Jempty: Indeed as generally wars of attrition where the larger side is quite indifferent to bleeding. I think “Ukraine Losing” is a partial misanalysis – from the benchmark of the Ukrainian rebound after the initial Russian attack & invasion, and the excessively optimistic sensee Russia was going to collapse (rather than do the classic Russian grind), yes it is likely they are going to be a loss as the Putin dictatorship can afford to send Russian Federation lads into the meat grinder and take human losses that quite aside from the material, the Ukrainian side can not as a smaller population and a more humane government.

    Which is quite chilling if one is a Finn or a Baltic national.

    But fighting the Russian empire to standstill more or less – like the Finns of the 40s – given the Russian initial objective of reconquering the Ukraine, it’s not exactly a loss. Not perhaps the roll-back victory but realistically barring a larger power stepping in with manpower, not something to simply call defeat.

  3. Bill Jempty says:

    @Lounsbury: The American Civil War was a war of attrition. At the outset, the Union was very confident of a quick win. It was just a short march to Richmond. We all know what happened at the two battles of Bull Run, Chancellorsville, Frederickburg due to the masterful defensive skill of General Lee. It wasn’t till the ACW was in its 4th year before the Union began making progress in the east (In my opinion the war was won in the west) and in about a year’s time it was all over. The Confederacy was outmatched.

    Finland and Russia ah the winter war. The Finns did a great job holding back the Soviets for about 6 months then it fell apart. Finland didn’t have a chance long term.

  4. JKB says:

    Norway has just announce it is donating 22 F-16 fighter to Ukraine and called for them to be used for strikes deep into Russia. The latter is something that Washington and others have prohibited in the past. No use of donated equipment in Russia.

    But the Ukrainians proved resourceful in using their local equipment to do strikes in Russia. Ukraine has also proven adept at using drones to do precision strikes on Russian refineries. Something Old Joe has called for them not to do lest oil prices affect his march to retain power in the US. But if munitions aren’t forthcoming, defeat is near, no reason to listen to Old Joe or the Atlantic Council.

    Russia is already using modified glide bombs to target civilian populations with a “double tap” tactic designed for a second wave to take out first responders.

    And while the trenches might fall, the drones can still take to the sky with destinations designed to stop the flow of Siberian oil so the wells freeze in taking them off line for a decade or more.

  5. Lounsbury says:

    @Bill Jempty: the Finns in fact relative to size, capacity not only had a chance but achieved it – this relative to real chance sans a Great Power backer
    (1) they fought the Soviets to an effective standstill (two times)
    (2) they managed to minimise national territory losses to virtually symbolic levels
    (3) they managed not to be reintegrated into the empire (in stark contrast to the Baltic countries which show the proper benchmark.

    Realism in benchmarking – sans a larger power willing to put its own large population into defence of the territory (not merely give one the money and material to support your own bleeding) – the realistic goals sans collapse of the aggressor are limitations on losses.

    The Ukraine has been surprisingly successful there – much more so than most observers thought circa Jan 22 although less than the high-water of expectations in late 22 early 23.

    Realistically the Ukraine will likely need to sue for a cease-fire and reconsolidate – I would expect a long ‘cold war’ with the Ukraine and Russia (if the Ukrainians can rebuild a robust economy they may be able to restart).

    Otherwise their own demographics indicate that no matter the war subsidies from the West, they will eventually break as Putin clearly can control Russia enough to keep bleeding her out in a grisly Stalingradesque kind of calculation, very classically Russian way to ‘win’

    (for avoidance of any doubt, none of this is argument that Ukraine should morally cede to the Russians, not at all. But realism as to their ability to exchange lives of young men is needed. And I would be cautiously optimistic Ukraine could recover economically on a 2nd breather).

  6. Michael Reynolds says:

    Our NATO allies haven’t exactly matched their rhetoric with support, either.

    But they are building up their militaries, especially in Poland and France. In ten or fifteen years, Europe won’t need us to manhandle Russia.

    It’s useful to remember that the entire war has been very good for us. For the cost of some used weapons we’ve set back Russia’s economy, accelerated the brain drain, made them more of a Chinese vassal, dramatically lengthened the NATO/Russia border, turned Kaliningrad from asset to vulnerability, discredited the Russian arms industry, made the Russian Navy’s Baltic fleet a joke, weakened the Black Sea fleet, shown the world that the Russian army is shit and done wonders for our own, and our allies’, arms industries.

    All of which makes Trump’s intervention to rescue Putin even more blatantly treasonous. I do not believe Trump just has a tendre for Vlad, I think Vlad has something very serious on Trump. And I suspect we will discover that a lot of the secret documents Trump stole ended up in the Kremlin. Trump is genuinely, not just rhetorically, a traitor.

  7. gVOR10 says:

    @Bill Jempty:

    It was just a short march to Richmond. We all know what happened at the two battles of Bull Run, Chancellorsville, Frederickburg

    Don’t leave out the Peninsula Campaign in the spring of 1862. General McClellan had done a great job of organizing and training the Army of the Potomac. The strategic conception was pretty good. The Union had complete control at sea, had huge shipping capacity, and already had a secure lodgment and wharf at Fort Monroe more or less behind Richmond (ironically Lee had been the engineer in charge of building the fort). But McClellan’s battlefield leadership snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in the Seven Days battle.

  8. CSK says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Indeed. Trump’s idea of ending the war is to give Russia Ukraine–gift-wrapped.

  9. Bill Jempty says:


    Don’t leave out the Peninsula Campaign in the spring of 1862.

    I just plain forgot the Peninsula Campaign.

    Maybe because there was no SPI wargame covering that Civil War battle. Playing wargames against my brother (NATO, American Revolution, Sinai, Brietenfeld) brings back memories. Especially when our cat Felix would choose to lay down in the middle of map.

  10. Gustopher says:

    This is the Republican Peace Plan, working as intended.

  11. Kathy says:


    You’re glib because you fail to grasp the multidementional genius of the Lardass.

    See, sending US troops to fight against Russia risks major escalation and nuclear war. Whereas sending them to fight for Russia, only pisses off our NATO allies and the Democrats, and who cares about them. They owe us money. I have the best money, manypeoplesaythat.

  12. Bob@Youngstown says:

    @Bill Jempty:
    Without help from the “world’s leaders in democracy” losing to a superpower is assured.
    And R’s don’t seem to care.

  13. JohnSF says:

    “Our NATO allies haven’t exactly matched their rhetoric with support, either. “

    Current European total assistance to Ukraine in monetary terms is a little more than double that from the US.
    Military assistance from Europe by value comes to around 60 billion euros, as against around 40 billion from the US.
    Insufficient, perhaps, but hardly free-riding on the US either.

  14. Andy says:

    The fundamentals of this war have not really changed for most of the last two years:

    – Neither side has realistic/achievable war goals considering the current circumstances and the circumstances of the conflict up to this point.
    – The nature of the conflict, including terrain, forces, and other factors strongly favors the defense
    – Attrition, and overcoming it, is the primary challenge of the conflict, and neither side can fully meet the demand for replacements of manpower, weapons, material, and ammunition.
    The key factor long-term is continued western support for Ukraine. Unlike Russia, Ukraine is now entirely dependent on other nations for weapons, war materials, and funds. Without this support, Ukraine will lose an attritional war.

    The most likely outcome, in my view, is some kind of armistice that satisfies neither side and likely sets the stage for a future conflict. A collapse of western support would likely result in Ukraine being forced to negotiate and accept most of Russia’s terms.

    I have never had much confidence in any scenario where Ukraine is likely to win – meaning – defeat Russia militarily and retake its lost territories, including Crimea. That possibility was always aspirational and is, at this point, hopium. The only chance for that is some kind of black swan, like a Russian civil war.

    So overall, it’s not looking good. The vagarities of US politics being what they are, enduring US aid is not something that can be counted on. Europe is really going to need to step up and ensure that Ukraine gets sufficient supplies to defend itself and keep bleeding the Russians. That is going to take a lot more long-term investment by Europe in defense production capacity as well as significantly more spending, which they have been slow-rolling.

  15. Scott says:
  16. DK says:

    Emmanuel Macron in France, a newly minted hawk, has set the tone by warning of “cowards” holding Europe back.

    Macron is right. And American weakness and fecklesness here — due partially, but not totally, to the Putin slaves in and around the right — is an abject disgrace.

  17. Jay L Gischer says:

    @Andy: My best understanding is that the casualty/equipment loss ratio is about 3 to 1 in Ukraine’s favor. Russia can sustain this for maybe another year. Which means they really need to put this thing to bed this year. Gosh, what happens this fall that might be relevant?

    I don’t see the resistance to Ukraine funding as fueled by Trump’s pique over Zelensky’s refusal to participate in dirt digging. I think it’s more about how Trump somehow feels beholden to Putin. Don’t know how, but it’s there… It was there long before the “call” too.

    However, I’m cautiously hopeful on the lines of maybe we will see Ukraine funding. Maybe supplies/ammunition are teed up and ready to go. Maybe this will sustain things into next year, at which point Russia will have to do something different. Don’t know what that is, but it probably is good for Ukraine.

  18. Raoul says:

    MR makes an excellent point, regardless of the outcome of the war, Russia simply comes off worse. Putin interventionism has been absolute strategic blunder. Now as to the war itself, until both sides can see an ending they will continue fighting. I don’t think Russia is able to takeover or colonize Ukraine (imagine Gaza times a thousand) and I don’t think Ukraine can out battle Russia- thus a stalemate. As soon as both sides realize this one then can imagine a ceasefire with the current militarized boundaries.

  19. JohnSF says:

    Macron’s words are aimed at Berlin.
    France is busy forging a new intra-European alignment of itself with Poland, Nordic/Baltic group, Czechia, Romania. And maneuvering to undercut the current ascendancy of the “reluctants” in the German SPD

  20. JohnSF says:

    The problem is, Russia has zero interest in a ceasefire/stalemate that permits an independent Ukraine to exist.
    That does not mean annexation of the whole.
    It implies that if (big if) any truce emerges, Putin’s intent will be to use a “semi-frozen conflict” to exert political/military/economic pressures on Kyiv to capitulate.
    A reversion to the tactics of 20215 to 2022 when Russia was trying to use the “Minsk process” to isolate and subjugate Ukraine, and came close to succeeding.

  21. Barry says:

    James: “On the one hand, depending on unlimited and indefinite external support for one’s war effort is a pretty good indication that you’re destined to fail.”

    This is not the case. The case is the GOP quite deliberately handing over Ukraine to Putin.

  22. JohnSF says:

    @Jay L Gischer:

    “…the casualty/equipment loss ratio is about 3 to 1 in Ukraine’s favor.”

    That seems to be about right.
    And it’s important to remember, Russia is larger in population than Ukraine, but not enormously larger. China it ain’t.
    Population Russia: c. 144 million; Ukraine c. 38 million.
    And Ukraine appears to be far more effective at mobilising its human resources for war.
    The main requirement from the West is to step up the supply of ammunition, and barrels, for artillery as rapidly as possible.

    The problem is: Europe is not a unified state or even a federation.
    The EU has no treaty powers in defence policy or spending. (The mooted European Defence Community was stillborn in 1952)
    It can co-ordinate and assist collaboration; it cannot command or direct.
    The lesson of the world wars is that without state “power of command” and a ministerial authority focused on the task, and with wartime powers, expanding munitions production is not easy.

  23. Andy says:

    @Jay L Gischer:

    My best understanding is that the casualty/equipment loss ratio is about 3 to 1 in Ukraine’s favor. Russia can sustain this for maybe another year. Which means they really need to put this thing to bed this year. Gosh, what happens this fall that might be relevant?

    The ratio varies and is highly uncertain. 3-1 probably isn’t too far off since Russia has been doing most of the offensive actions, and in this war, being on the offense is far more punishing than the defense.

    It’s very unlikely Russia will run out of steam this year, however. They’ve solved the bulk of their manpower problems, moved to almost a war economy and expanded defense production, received significant support from Iran and China, and effectively evaded sanctions. They are going to have significant advantages over Ukraine in almost all of the warfighting areas this year—manpower and artillery especially—even if full US funding comes through.

    In short, Russia can scale its offensives to ensure its attrition rate is sustainable. It will keep pressing Ukraine because it knows Ukraine is vulnerable this year.


    Commitments as a percentage of GDP are misleading for a couple of reasons. One, it’s commitments, not deliveries, and two, using GDP masks the reality that what matters is the amount of aid, not bragging rights over the relative amount based on the size of a country’s economy.

    More fundamentally, the primary problem is that the West cannot make enough of what Ukraine needs fast enough. Attritional warfare isn’t primarily a question of money; it’s about having the defense industrial production to sustain the fight.

    For example, to give Ukraine artillery shells, which it desperately needs a lot of every single month, requires that Western countries be able to produce a lot of shells every month, which we currently cannot do and won’t be able to for some time to come. The details on that are here.

    In March 2023, as part of its ASAP venture, the European Union set a goal to increase production capacity to 1 million shells per year to Ukraine. Even if the EU were to meet its goal in 2024 (though it has delivered only 30 percent as of the beginning of March 2024), that would still not be enough, even factoring in U.S. production. It is below Ukraine’s stated minimum needs of 2,000 shells per day, and a far cry from the 20,000 per day needed for offensive needs and over three times less than what Russia is firing at Ukrainian defenders.

    We’ve been supplying Ukraine to this point out of stockpiles and borrowing from allies like South Korea.

    It’s a similar story across a range of weapons systems.

    It’s one thing to write a check or give Ukraine some old equipment that you plan on replacing soon or stuff from stockpiles that doesn’t present a big strategic risk to give away. It’s quite another to make the enduring, expensive investments to increase defense production capacity to sustain Ukraine’s war effort over the long term. That is only something the major industrial powers can do at a scale enough to matter.

  24. Kathy says:

    I think the big obstacle to an armistice will be NATO. Ukraine will no doubt want to join, however much territory it loses, and Mad Vlad would rather literally drag rusty barbed wire through his urethra than allow it.

    And then there’s membership in the EU. Almost the same objections by Mad Vlad (maybe non-rusty barbed wire).

  25. JohnSF says:

    Related to my previous:
    The lack of an EU-level (European NATO) defence authority is why Macron is trying to forge a “coalition of the willing” both to assist Ukraine now, in the medium term to increase munitions output and rebuild European military capacity, and in the longer to build a European strategic defence industrial capacity free of dependence on a US that appears prone to political paralysis, has one major party suffering from a bout of isolationism (at best) and is increasingly concerned about the Far East.

    This is multilevel project, but it does have real potential for significant steps in the near future: by late summer this year production of artillery shells should be up to the 1.7 million per annum level, and still rising. Russia is currently at around 3 million pa.

    In addition, it appears the Czechs and French have “found” around a million rounds (from reconditioned central European ex-Warsaw Pact stocks, and by covert purchases around the world).
    Those should start becoming available soon.
    There are also indications that North Korea has now shipped the bulk of the shells it considers surplus.
    While the Russian have shot off a lot of shells in support of their Donbas offensive that’s been ongoing over winter and still pressing.

    These factors combined may well mitigate the current extreme shell availability imbalance.

  26. Lounsbury says:

    @Kathy: Calling Putin “mad” is about as useful and insightful as Trump’s name calling. Which is to say childishly self-deceiving.

    @Andy: Quite right. Additionally the defence spending is in tension with the Climate investment agenda for EU – there is no infinate industrial investment capacity – and as I have commented there are serious industrial investment needs and constraints relative to fundamentals as like transmission cabling mfg capacity, etc that are not trivial to scale up.

    The classic Guns vs Butter (except not butter of course) trade off. Rather more dificult than electrons on screens, industrial capacity development.

  27. Kathy says:


    Yes, let’s never lose track of what’s really important.

  28. Andy says:


    I don’t know about how EU membership works, but for NATO, every current member must agree to allow Ukraine to join, and that is not going to happen while Ukraine’s territory is occupied and there is no final resolution to the conflict between the two countries.

    Some NATO members may publicly state that Ukraine will be a NATO member at some undetermined point in the future, but few will sign on to a situation in which Ukraine joins and contributes nothing to the alliance but is instead an enduring strategic liability via its situation with Russia.

  29. Kathy says:


    I can see that. Mad Vlad, though, would demand Ukraine give assurances it will never join NATO. I don’t see Ukraine agreeing to that.

  30. Michael Reynolds says:

    Bilateral agreements should still be possible. I can see Poland agreeing to a mutual defense treaty. Maybe France as well. Romania? The Baltics? NATO isn’t the only game in town.

  31. JohnSF says:

    EU also requires unanimity to admit a new member.
    As with most other major decisions, every state has a veto.

  32. Lounsbury says:

    @JohnSF: and indeed any controversial state, see Turkey, can see itself blocked.
    @Michael Reynolds: In terms of utility, it is not in the least very credible to sign such treaties – and Poland is hardly an unambiguous friend of Ukraine in overall political terms (as the intermittant blocades of Ukrainian produce have made visible).
    @Kathy: Yes one should not lose track of what’s really important, clarity – but if you wish to show the intellectual persipacity of Trump in engaging in childish and self-deceptive name calling that only serve to self-deceive as to one’s opponents, well why should you avoid Trumpian habits?

  33. Andy says:


    Yes, Russia doesn’t want Ukraine in NATO. Despite what some claim, NATO accession is a big part of Russia’s motivation. However, Russia ultimately doesn’t get a veto, but it can – and has- worked very hard to create conditions where Ukraine de facto can’t join.

    @Michael Reynolds:
    That’s been my view. NATO isn’t the only model for security guarantees. We don’t, for example, have any formal defensive alliance with Israel, Taiwan, or other countries. We can and should continue to arm Ukraine until Russia relents and then ensure it is strong enough to deter future invasions. Perhaps at some point conditions will emerge that would allow them to join NATO.

  34. dazedandconfused says:


    I suspect Macron’s stance may be a belief, in the situation of the US bowing completely out, there is a real possibility NATO/EU members will have to step in with troops to stabilize the front. It’s not just hardware the Ukrainians are short of, it’s troops.

    Myself, I’m in full support of whatever the Ukrainians and the Russians can agree to as conditions of truce. This pelting away at each other’s infrastructure with no realistic plans for winning all desired objectives for either side is madness. Sign away membership to NATO? Go right ahead. Tear it up later if it doesn’t work out. As any Sioux will tell you, treaties are nothing more than aspirational statements.

  35. JohnSF says:

    Ukraine has a lot of manpower capacity.
    Conscription for active service has only recently been lowered from 27 to 25.
    18 was the usual lower bound, eg UK 1939/45.
    European states of similar populations to Ukraine have, in the past, been able to sustain field armies of over a million for five to eight years.
    And those were at far higher levels of both mobilization and attrition than Ukraine has had to date.