Why the War Will Likely Last Years and Why This Makes the Outcome More Uncertain

When the invasion started, I was assuming that Russia would most likely defeat Ukraine’s military relatively easily, but that trouble would start after that if Putin intended to annex most of it. As it turned out, the Russians couldn’t even do what I thought would be the easy part and they had to retreat from Kiev after a month, but this was just the beginning of their troubles and since then they have suffered several more setbacks. This isn’t what I thought would happen, even after Russia’s initial failure in front of Kiev, but it’s what happened and it’s just silly to deny it or to pretend that things are not what they seem. Yet that is exactly what many people in the West, among those who support Russia against Ukraine, have been doing for months. They have been coming up with increasingly contorted theories to the effect that Russia wasn’t actually losing, but that everything was going according to plan, when it’s pretty clear that nothing is and frankly it’s not even clear there is a plan. Nevertheless, I think that people on the other side, who are in favor of supporting Ukraine for as long as it’s willing to fight and no matter the cost (as long as it doesn’t require that NATO enter the war directly), are probably overoptimistic.

In this essay, after outlining what I consider the most plausible scenario in which Ukraine could force Russia to end the war quickly, I argue that it’s probably not going to happen because it would have to successfully conduct another large-scale counteroffensive in the South and I don’t think it will be in a position to do so in the next few months. Indeed, not only does it lack offensive weapons despite Western deliveries, but publicly available data suggest it’s going to run out of ammunition for some critical weapon systems next year. Russia will also have this problem, but it’s going to be even more acute for Ukraine. Moreover, even if Ukraine nevertheless managed to successfully conduct such a counteroffensive and take Melitopol, I argue that it’s unlikely that neither side would be willing to make the kind of concessions that would be necessary to end the war. Thus, on the one hand neither side can force a conclusion militarily, but on the other hand the political conditions for a settlement are not going to be met anytime soon. I therefore conclude that the war is likely to last several years and argue that, if the war turns into a protracted conflict, many things can go wrong for Ukraine.


Categories: Geopolitics

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