39

For weeks now the war has appeared to drag on with protracted fighting and a slow-moving front.

Russia's attempt of taking Kyiv and replacing the government has failed, and given the Ukrainian resolve and Western support it seems unlikely that they will be able to do so in the future. Consequently they are concentrating their military efforts in the East and in the South where they try to extend the occupied area.

Conversely, it seems unlikely that Ukraine will be able to restore the borders of 2021 or reconquer Crimea.

The goals of the involved parties are, in a rough outline:

  • Ukraine's immediate goal is to prevent Russian advances in the East and South. That goal appears realistic but is not a given. The long-term goal to re-establish control over its entire territory appears unrealistic. The best military outcome appearing realistic right now is to to re-conquer some places and prevent Russia from advancing elsewhere. The worst outcome is a protracted war with even more territorial losses.

  • The Russian goal to establish permanent control over Ukrainian territories in the East and South seems in principle realistic, although the precise territory is still to be defined, by whatever means. The result may be a larger or a smaller territory than the currently occupied area.

  • The Western goal is to prevent the aggressor from succeeding. A secondary goal is to weaken Russia's military. While the latter is realistic, the former is rather not: Even with massive deliveries of heavy weapons it is unlikely that Ukraine's borders of 2021 will be restored with military means in the near future.

This seems to naturally lead to cease-fire negotiations that would determine a "line of actual control" close to an eventual realistic military outcome but save thousands of lives, let alone property and resources. Of course, the "eventual realistic military outcome" is pretty fuzzy. A cease-fire would define a line of actual control that is neither side's realistic maximum; this potential loss is offset — for both sides — by eliminating the risk of an even worse outcome.

Are there signs that Ukraine and the West would be willing to, however grudgingly, factually (but not politically or legally) accept a Russian occupation and enter cease-fire talks? The benefits of, say, accepting the current line of control would be to eliminate the risk of further Russian incursions. The downside is the loss of the occupied areas and that an illegal invasion is accepted as successful. If Ukraine is not willing to negotiate now: What are their exit strategies, given that re-conquering the occupied areas seems unrealistic?

Note: This war was full of surprises. I'd be happy about answers challenging my assumption that re-establishing territorial control is unlikely.

Addendum: Right at this hour a NYT opinion piece has been published lamenting the ill-defined Western war goals and the lack of diplomatic efforts to end the war which makes arguments close to mine.

2
  • 1
  • 1
    "Conversely, it seems unlikely that Ukraine will be able to restore the borders of 2021 or reconquer Crimea." - why? With our help they can get everything back. It'll take time, of course, but it is entirely possible. Crimea is extremely vulnerable to Ukraine attack: take down the bridge, cut water supply etc. The Eastern part is obviously harder, but if we think outside of the box, so to speak, e.g. advance through Voronezh and cut the supply routes - this will also be possible.
    – Aksakal
    May 17 at 21:51

12 Answers 12

39

This seems to naturally lead to case-fire negotiations that would determine a "line of actual control" close to an eventual realistic military outcome but save thousands of lives, let alone property and resources.

Not really, not at this time, not yet.

Wars don't get started because both countries know the endpoint, they get started because each country thinks it can get what it wants and it takes a loss to convince the loser to concede.

War on Rocks podcast, shortly after the shift of offensive from Kiev area to Donbas put it nicely: at this point, both parties believe they can manipulate the situation to their advantage and it will take military (or economic) losses to convince them otherwise.

Russia's desire to control zones of Donbas beyond where they were on February 23rd goes beyond what Ukraine has said it is willing to negotiate about.

Putin thinks, or at least thought 3 weeks ago, that Russia can take over the Donbas by running a more disciplined military operation in the East. The Russian people have little say. Zelensky believes Ukraine can kick them out, or at least hold the line, and has popular support.

These are not reconcilable positions, at this point. One, or both, will have to make concessions they are not yet willing to make and those concessions won't happen until the current fighting goes one way or the other.

Even then, it is not hard to imagine Russia settling in for a static conflict akin to what they did in Donbas since 2014 - trenches with artillery exchanges. And then that just becomes the new decision point: how much does it cost in lives and economically on either side.

Asking one or the other to "give things up" is rather glib and not all that realistic.

For Ukraine, losing territory is about the worst outcome a nation can get in warfare. Add to it that, for Ukrainians currently in Russian-occupied territories the behavior of Russian troops and authorities seems too abusive to dismiss as a simple exchange of territory. Bucha has made a negotiated settlement much harder for Zelenksy.

For Russia, the situation is no easier: Putin could easily pull out, except that he's staked his entire political house of cards on reinvigorating Russian power and prestige.

Both countries are still in the process of discovering what they, and the other, can or can not, do. For example, Ukraine claimed - either for propaganda or out of genuine belief - that the May 9th parade would see Putin either declare war or mobilization. That did not happen. As per ISW:

Russian President Vladimir Putin used his May 9 speech to praise ongoing Russian efforts in Ukraine and reinforce existing Kremlin framing rather than announcing a change. He did not announce an escalation or declare victory in the Russian war in Ukraine.

Putin likely calculated that he could not ask the Russian population for a greater commitment to the war effort and implicitly reassured the Russian people that he would not ask for a greater societal commitment in his speech.

Putin may be recognizing the growing risks he faces at home and in Ukraine and may be adjusting his objectives, and his desired end state in Ukraine, accordingly.

The Kremlin has already scaled down its objectives in Ukraine (from its initial objective of capturing Kyiv and full regime change) and will likely do so again—or be forced to do so by Ukrainian battlefield successes.

Regardless of any change—or lack thereof—in the Kremlin's objectives, Putin’s speech indicates that the Kremlin has likely decided to maintain its current level of resourcing in the war.

To go back to the question:

For weeks now the war has appeared to drag on with protracted fighting and a slow-moving front.

Yes, that's also part of the "learning process" for both sides.

So, while there are plenty of possible exit strategies for the war, it is unlikely that they will be pursued until considerably more pain is suffered by both sides and one side is convinced they can't achieve their goals.


p.s. It would be remiss not to mention ISW's latest (May 13th) take on Putin's exit strategy, RUSSIAN ANNEXATION OF OCCUPIED UKRAINE IS PUTIN’S UNACCEPTABLE “OFF-RAMP”

It's a doozy:

  • annex already-conquered Ukrainian territories into Russia

  • declare that Ukrainian attacks to recover those areas are violating Russian home territory and liable for nuclear retaliation.

Four months ago, despite a long dislike of Putin, I would have rolled my eyes at this blatantly unjustified trolling of Russia. Now I am hoping that ISW is wrong but by no means putting it beneath them. The interesting spin here is ISW's claim that Russia recognizing it can't win militarily would be precisely what would cause it to do this, to lock in their territorial robbery.

16
  • 5
    @alamar WDYM? They could simply, idk, not invade Ukraine. Except (very roughly speaking) they'll be shot by their commanders, because those commanders would be shot by their commanders if they don't shoot those below them who refuse to invade Ukraine, and so on, all the way up to the top.
    – user253751
    May 12 at 12:31
  • 2
    @user253751 Using the wayback machine to go into the past and change the course of events is not an exit strategy. Right now, "not invading Ukraine" is not an exit strategy either.
    – alamar
    May 12 at 14:57
  • 6
    @alamar Sure it is. Invading is an ongoing action, and they could stop doing it.
    – user253751
    May 12 at 14:58
  • 4
    @AlexanderThe1st I think you'll find that 1945's Germany was not a nuclear state ;-) May 12 at 19:53
  • 8
    @alamar the problem with "concessions to avoid being invaded" is that the occupier says thank you, moves their troops up to the new line, and threatens you again. Then what? Concede again?
    – pjc50
    May 13 at 14:04
22

Are there signs that Ukraine and the West would be willing to, however grudgingly, factually (but not politically or legally) accept a Russian occupation and enter cease-fire talks?

Zelensky has stated that the bare minimum he will accept is a withdrawal of Russian troops to pre-invasion positions. Which is almost surely unacceptable to Russia. So the war is likely to go on until one side wins or is too exhausted to continue.

Get ready for a long war - Russia is allegedly already doing that.

PS: The fact that Zelensky is willing to make the demand above must indicate he thinks there's a realistic chance it can be achieved. In other words, Zelensky believes that Ukraine can realistically win the war. If he's right and Ukraine wins, then that's the exit strategy. If he's wrong, then presumably he will think about an exit strategy once he changes his mind.

PPS: You might be interested: US, Western Europe fret over uncertain Ukraine war endgame which basically reaches the same conclusion as the answer above.

3
  • 32
    "The fact that Zelensky is willing to make the demand above must indicate he thinks there's a realistic chance it can be achieved" does not seem correct to me at all. It's common practice in negotiations (from haggling in a market, to business deals, to brexit, etc) to start out labelling things as red lines that you plan to concede later on
    – Tristan
    May 11 at 16:13
  • 5
    The bare minimum "pre-invasion" meaning before the 20 February 2014 invasion, the 22 August 2014 invasion, the 24 February 2022 invasion, or another one?
    – gerrit
    May 12 at 8:22
  • 2
    @gerrit from Italian Philosophers 4 Monica's source, it's the one before the 24 February 2022 invasion.
    – Allure
    May 12 at 8:34
18

Frame challenge: You assume the participants in this war are looking towards an outcome. You don't see the war itself as a possible goal.

  • Western interests: The longer the war progresses, the more Russia is weakened both economically and militarily. Right now, from the perspective of a geo-strategical planner, the war going on for as long as possible is the best outcome. You are basically fighting Russia without sacrificing your own soldiers, so there's almost no backlash at home. Some politicians are even on record stating that they hope to make Ukraine into Russia's "second Afghanistan".
  • Russian interests: Not sure about this, but war is a common instrument to control internal politics. Several US presidents allegedly started wars to secure their second term. Why would Putin be so much different? His popularity had been slowly falling for years, now it is up again. He could crack down on internal opposition, some of which had become a nuissance. I don't think he planned for a long war, but I'm fairly confident he'd rather have years of war then going home defeated.
  • Ukrainian interests: In general, Ukraine is the only party that suffers severely from a long war. However, it would be silly to assume that there aren't at least elements within Ukraine that are happy about the opportunity to fight a hated enemy and make them bleed as much as possible. Some of Selensky's actions make no sense at all unless you take into account the possibility that he is being advised to do as much damage to Russia as possible, no matter the cost.

That is certainly not a perfect picture. But again: I challenge your assumption that everyone wants peace. In every war, there are people who are perfectly happy just having the war, without even looking for a specific outcome.


Addendum:

There are also people on all sides who directly profit from the war and its continuation. The military industry is the obvious one, but there are also players who can consolidate their business, eliminate opposition, etc.

18
  • 14
    There is no such thing as a "western interests". Both EU and US (who are the best approximation to the "collective West" in the Russian parlance) spent a lot of time and energy in debates about their response to the Russian actions. But if we can average the response over EU and US, a quick defeat of Russia is best for their economies, as well as their security.
    – fraxinus
    May 12 at 8:31
  • 17
    Some of Selensky's actions make no sense at all unless you take into account the possibility that he is being advised to do as much damage to Russia as possible, no matter the cost — do you have an example?
    – gerrit
    May 12 at 8:47
  • 5
    Actually, the military-industrial complex is more than just the industry: As the name says, it includes the military proper who is one of the winners of a conflict, allocating more power and resources. (Not the grunts, mind you, who die and get crippled -- the people who are in command.) There are more players attaching to this "complex", e.g. political hawks seeking to expand a nation's power, political representatives of places that have military industry etc. May 12 at 9:39
  • 2
    Right, then a more appropriate representation of her words would of course be "ruin" instead of "destroy". And even with "ruinieren" as a search term do I fail to find anything that resembles what you're claiming (your Google bubble must be very different from mine). So, how about posting one of these plenty of sources to help me out?
    – Schmuddi
    May 13 at 12:22
  • 2
    2) Putin did not need a war for internal politics. On the contrary, @nternal politicians have been asking and demanding Russian military intervention in Ukraine since 2014, but Russias population reacted cautiously and divided to the start of the war. Wars for internal politics are meant to unite, not divide. 3) Ukraine really isn't acting as a sovereign nation and isn't making decisions that would benefit Ukraine. So Ukraine isn't in this war by their own choice.
    – MishaP
    May 13 at 12:51
13

It seems that "Internet time" and some modern short wars have led people to unrealistic ideas about timeframes. Conversely, WW2 took one and a half years before Germany invaded the USSR, and two years for the US to enter the war at all, from the commonly agreed start date of 1 Sep 1939. The Syrian "civil" war (in which Russia is a belligerent, as well as all sorts of external forces) has been going since 2011.

The war has only just started. The situation is extremely fluid. Towns and villages are changing hands every day. Surprise Ukrainian victories happen, like the sinking of the Moskva.

The West had very little public planning for the war, and appears to have responded with a panicked "defend Ukraine" approach but without more specific objectives. I don't think there is unanimity as to what success looks like - there isn't even all that much discussion as to what it should look like.

I don't think anyone could completely rule out "Russia takes Odessa, cutting off Ukraine from the sea and linking up with Transnistria" as a possibility within the year. That would directly threaten NATO member Romania. Conversely, nobody should rule out "Ukraine pushes back Russia to 2014 control", at which point "Ukraine regains control of all its pre-2014 territory" becomes possible.

It was characteristic of WW2 that few countries surrendered simply because they were losing. Defeat had to be total - occupation of Germany from both directions, use of nuclear weapons against Japan.

I think people should prepare for a long war at the intensity of Syria for the next decade.

3
  • 5
    Valid points, but heaven forbid. May 12 at 13:47
  • 1
    "The West had very little public planning for the war" The West is not a cohesive block and does not act as one. The war is entirely Putin's. No-one really believed he would be evil enough to invade a neighbouring country
    – RedSonja
    May 16 at 8:52
  • Another characteristic of WW2 was that most countries that ended up losing had fascist governments at least to some extent, meaning that failure was not an acceptable option. By contrast in WW1 an armistice was agreed upon way before Germany was totally defeated - in fact, they had just 'won' the peace on the Eastern Front a couple of months prior.
    – Jan
    May 18 at 14:59
11

Total Victory for Ukraine Pt. I

This is my prediction, and I anticipate it will occur before the end of the year (I actually think it could occur as soon as end of summer). While it is easy to dismiss such predictions as fantastical Ukrainian cheerleading, allow me to present my case:

Overview of Battalion Tactical Groups (BTGs)

Russia started the war with about 120 Battalion Tactical Groups (BTGs), the "modern" Russian maneuver formation. Each BTG contains about 600-800 soldiers (about 200 infantry, officers, and equipment operators...tank drivers, MLRS gunners, etc.) and some number of support personnel (supply truck drivers, radio operators, etc.).

Now, when news stories said that Putin had amassed ~180,000 troops around Ukraine, this appears to be much more than 120 BTGs (up to 300!). But note that each fighting soldier is supported by additional non-fighting soldiers (i.e., supply truck drivers). This is called the "tooth to tail ratio" (T3R), and in modern times, the US military has maintained between 5 to 8 "tail soldiers" for each "tooth soldier". As far as I know, Russia's T3R is not publicly available; but if we assume BTGs are staffed with 600 "teeth", and 120 BTGs comprise 180k total troops, then we are looking at ~72k "teeth" vs. a 108k "tail", or a 1:1.5 ratio. As you can see, Russia's Armed Forces are running with very lean logistics.

Furthermore, each BTG fields 10 tanks, 40 infantry fighting vehicles (IFVs), towed artillery, rocket artillery, anti-aircraft (AA), and support units.

BTG Loss Rate

If you have been following the war at all, there is one irrefutable fact that stands out quite clearly: Russia has been taking heavy losses almost continuously for the entire invasion. The loss rate is unprecedented for modern warfare. I will go so far as to say it is unsustainable, and that this fact alone justifies my optimism.

As of May 12, the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense (MoD) claims to have eliminated 1,195 tanks, 2,873 IFVs, and 26,650 Russian soldiers. Many believe these numbers are significantly inflated for propaganda purposes. However, open-source intelligence (OSINT) source Oryx reports at least 664 Russian tanks lost, 356 armored fighting vehicles (AFV), 705 IFV, 108 armored personnel carriers (APC), among numerous other losses. These are all photographically documented and geolocated (evidence is deduplicated to avoid overcounting from multiple reports of the same vehicle). These counts can be considered absolute minimums, given that not all losses will be photographed, documented, and published publicly. Even so, we see that Oryx numbers are about 50% of MoD counts. It is not hard to believe that actual losses are 2x visually documented losses.

As far as troop losses are concerned, earlier in the war, the Pentagon estimated Russian losses to be about half that reported by the UA MoD. However, NATO later reported their estimates to be very close to the MoD numbers. Given the performance of Russian BTGs on the battlefield, it would be hard to explain the complete withdrawal from the northern Kyiv attack axis if troop losses were as low as the lowest estimates. What we see on the ground is far more consistent with the MoD estimates, even if they are somewhat optimistic (say, 10-20%, rather than 100% high).

If we assume 600 troops per BTG, and take the MoD estimate at face value, then we can say that Russia has lost about 45 BTGs of troops in the 78 days since the war started. This is a loss rate of 1.7 days per BTG. 660 tanks is closer to 60 BTGs. We can reconcile the difference in a few ways. First, we can see that tanks are targeted far more than artillery, MLRS and other rear-echelon targets, so they are somewhat over-represented. Second, the MoD troop estimate is a KIA count. Historically, most armies suffer a 2:1 or 3:1 wounded:killed ratio. In that case, we would say that the MoD would imply about 66k troop casualties. Because of the poor logistics support and the nature of many casualties, it is possible and likely that the Russian ratio is very low, as low as 1:1. About 20 days ago, NATO estimated about 40k casualties. This implies a loss of 60 BTGs, in line with the tank numbers. That gives us a loss rate of 1.3 days per BTG. It also implies that Russia has lost at least half of its total committed invasion force.

Replenishment

Of course, losing a BTG's worth of troops does not mean that an entire BTG has been eliminated. It can always be replenished with fresh troops and vehicles. After all, Russia is estimated to have upwards of 3,000 active tanks and up to 10,000 in storage. On the other hand, one of the glaring problems plaguing the Russian military is rampant corruption all up and down the chain of command. There's an unconfirmed report that one Russian commander committed suicide when he learned how many of his reserve tanks were not operational (like 90%). Many observers note that the tanks in storage include older models that are less combat capable, and that many to most of them are likely missing the most critical and valuable components.

Even worse than that, one of the largest Russian tank manufacturers, Uralvagonzavod, shut down its assembly lines for lack of critical components that can no longer be imported due to sanctions. So replenishment from storage suffers from rampant thieving, and replenishment from the factory line suffers from sanctions in place since 2014. As far as armor goes, when Russia loses a BTG, it is, for all intents and purposes, really gone.

As of weeks ago, even the Pentagon assesses that Ukraine now fields more tanks than Russia in country. If RU were able to competently replenish their BTGs, it is hard to explain how they would allow this situation, given that they committed basically every available BTG to the invasion (every BTG not performing a critical defense function).

Morale

The SBU (Ukrainian security service) has posted countless intercepted phone calls of Russian soldiers complaining bitterly about conditions, from lack of winter supplies leading to frostbite, to lack of food, to poorly maintained vehicles, to friendly fire. If there is one universal truth we can say about the RU infantry, it is that their morale is abysmal. There are numerous videos of Russian POWs clearly not under duress (sitting well-clothed, no restraints, well-fed, no obvious wounds, with appropriate medical care) giving a candid account of the war, their unit's morale, and the hopelessness of their cause.

On the flip side, we can find just as many videos of Ukrainian soldiers celebrating their victories large and small, cheering every possible victory from destroying a Russian armor column to rescuing a dog from a collapsed building. There are videos of civilians in Odessa partying to impromptu concerts to volunteers in Kyiv smiling while assembling Molotov cocktails for the Territorial Defense units. Kitchens full of babushkas mass-producing borscht, pickles, and other homemade foodstuffs for their soldiers. Women weaving camouflage nets, troops in bunkers playing violins, and civilians under occupation standing up to Russian troops. The morale of Ukrainians is sky-high, to the point that they shrug off artillery attacks and nearby gunfire like it has no real significance. This is not to say that there is a lack of extreme suffering and pain in UA. Of that there is no doubt. But it's quite clear that UA soldiers are motivated, optimistic, and surprisingly cheerful, given the totality of the circumstances. Their attitude betrays their sense of impending victory, and this attitude can be seen in countless videos, both formally produced by UA gov't media and candid impromptu TikToks made in the field.

Russian combat doctrine is to conserve BTG strength by using local partisans as front-line screening troops (read: cannon fodder) to protect the more valuable BTG infantry. For this reason, the Russian forces have been continuously drafting "volunteers" from the Donbas region to serve this function. Although a certain portion of the Donbas residents were enthusiastically pro-Russian before the invasion, it is clear by now that they are mere cannon fodder for the RU army, resulting in widespread desertion, evasion of forced conscription, and mass surrender.

When we consider troop replenishment for the battered BTGs, we have to ask where they will come from. Recall that Putin already committed 100% of his available fighting force, which includes the conventional 30% conscript infantry which is, by Russian law, not allowed to be deployed to war zones (and one of many reasons why it is a "special military operation"). The only real options are to call up reserves, or to trigger mass mobilization.

Reports indicate that RU is attempting to quietly call up reserves while avoiding a full mobilization, which was speculated to be announced during the May 9 parade, but was not. Although the RAF is currently conducting its regular semi-annual conscription drive, whatever conscripts it brings up since the beginning of April will have mere weeks of training if they are to be sent to the UA front (and indeed, there are some reports that conscripts are being sent with less than a week of training).

Even so, this regular-order conscription event is being met with numerous firebombing of conscription offices across the Russian Federation.

On the Ukrainian side, citizens are gladly volunteering for the Territorial Defense Forces (TDF). Foreign fighters were invited into the country and have swarmed it to the level of some 20,000 fighters. UA received so much interest that it had to get very selective and turn away all but the most qualified applicants. While 20k soldiers don't sound like much compared to the 200k or so RU started with, it is quite significant if you consider that most of these are "tooth" soldiers and not "tails" (which can be more easily recruited from the civilian population). Given the paltry compensation the UA MoD is able to offer (between $300-3000/mo), it is clear that the vast majority of these soldiers are volunteering because they see a fight with moral clarity that is unparalleled in modern history. This is not a bunch of mere mercenaries a la Blackwater/Academi or Wagner Group.

Furthermore, UA is calling up reserves and continues to staff and replenish battalions on an ongoing basis. UA does not publish their casualty rates, but the gov't did give a one-time snapshot of about 3k KIA and 10k wounded. If we take 13k vs 40k at face value, then UA is scoring a 3:1 casualty rate vs. RU, which is pretty phenomenal considering that at many points in the war, UA forces were met with a 5:1 onslaught of enemy forces or worse (because they were spread thin and much of UA had not mobilized yet).

Tactics

When we ask: "How has Ukraine managed to put up a stiff resistance?" the answer is manifold. But at least one major factor is small unit tactics. Russian fighting doctrine depends heavily on a centralized command & control structure where field commanders make all the important decisions and front-line units follow them without question or deviation. This system requires a lot of officers, and requires officers to be perilously close to the front lines. It also requires general staff to be present on the field.

By contrast, UA spent 8 years starting from the 2014 invasion of Crimea training with Western/NATO forces and learning their doctrine. NATO in general, and the US in particular, depend heavily on a deep NCO (non-commissioned officer) corps to lead units at the squad level to adapt to battlefield conditions and achieve objectives creatively.

The RU army has displayed a lack of tactical discipline that is shocking by modern military standards. Early in the war it maneuvered long convoys with vehicles bumper-to-bumper, clustering so closely that a single bomb or artillery shell could take out multiple vehicles. Russian artillery similarly sets up with multiple howitzers "shoulder to shoulder", and quite vulnerable to airburst munitions.

But nothing betrays the incompetence of Russian tactics more than the devastating loss of armor due to infantry-fired anti-armor weapons. Many armchair generals on the internet have declared "The End of Tanks" based on the countless pictures of burnt-out T-72 husks littering the roads of Ukraine. While Ukraine has certainly lost its share of tanks, it has fared far better, but most importantly, with virtually the same tanks. Clearly, the problem is not the hardware. The real problem is that all armor is vulnerable to anti-armor rockets, and it is impossible to design a tank impervious to such. The proper way to deploy armor on the battlefield is alongside dismounted infantry which screen the surrounding area for anti-armor troops.

However, the Russians have ignored this best practice and rolled across Ukraine fully mounted in their BTR-80s and BMP-3s, completely exposed to every NLAW, Panzerfaust, and Stugna hiding behind a tree or a fence or a house. This fact alone has accounted for the lion's share of RU tank losses. The Russian soldiers are too scared to leave their IFVs, believing they are somehow safer in them, when the reality is that they become metal coffins in the absence of proper combined-arms tactics.

But tactical failure manifests at nearly all levels and areas. Virtually no portion of the Russian forces is exempt or immune. Many Russian vehicles apparently got stuck in the mud because of tire failure, with observers noting that there were characteristic failures due to not rotating the tires on a regular basis (resulting in consistent sun damage to the rubber, weakening the sidewalls).

However, the brilliance of the Ukrainian tactics is on display at the Seversky Donets river crossing. UA forces allowed a large contingent of Russian armor to cross two pontoon bridges set up to advance in the Donbas region. After the tanks and armor finished crossing, they blew up the bridges, trapping the Russians on the near side of the river, cutting off escape and relief troops. They then proceeded to shell them into oblivion. Clearly, RU did not perform adequate reconnaissance to determine whether the crossing was actually secure.

In this case, the Russians aren't entirely to blame. Both sides are using drones extensively, not only for attack, but particularly for intelligence gathering and targeting. Unfortunately for Russia, sanctions have prevented them from deploying as many drones as they would like, and a common complaint on intercepted calls from front-line soldiers is that they don't have enough drones to see what is going on, and command will not (cannot) provide them. On the other hand, Ukraine is getting drones donated through formal military channels, through private purchases, and even through random private foreign donors. Ukraine is awash in drones, and even Western observers say the troops have become quite adept at maximizing their value on the battlefield. Quite a bit of the OSINT battle damage assessment comes from simple quadcopters with cameras flying over the smoking remains in a field somewhere.

Strategy

At the highest levels, Russia deployed its forces incompetently by spreading them out all over the country, rather than focusing them for decisive victories in their most valuable goals. Now, in hindsight, it may be that their approach was rational, but depended on a very shaky assumption: that Ukrainian leadership was as corrupt as Russian elites. There are rumors that the FSB allocated billions in bribes to Ukrainian officers, governors, mayors, and the like, but that the vast majority of these Ukrainians simply took the bribes without turning their coats as expected, ripping off the FSB in the biggest heist imaginable.

The one large city that Russia managed to capture is Kherson. The details are still unclear, but there is reason to believe that its mayor was ultimately a Russian collaborator, and that there may have been more collaborators within the local security service (SBU). It may be that Kherson is the only city which fell according to Moscow's real plan. After all, the initial invaders only had about 3 days of supplies and brought parade uniforms, being told that they would be greeted as liberators. All indications are that the Kremlin believed its own hype and assessed Kyiv to be as hopelessly corrupt as the siloviki.

But even if we concede that much of the abject failure of the RAF to achieve their objectives was due to a massive intelligence failure, you still have the infamous Chernobaivka Airport, which has become a meme. Like in Kyiv, Moscow planned to take the airport outside Kherson to ensure an endpoint for airlift logistics and staging of air assets like helicopters and attack jets. Since they took Kherson with barely a fight, they waltzed into the airport and set up like they owned the place. And then Ukrainian artillery tore it up like shooting fish in a barrel, destroying several helicopters on the ground. At that point, you would assume that Russian commanders would dedicate enough BTGs to eliminate the UA threat from the area. But this is not brilliant Russian strategy. Russian strategy is to obey order of commander to letter. Commander comrade say deploy helicopters to Chernobaivka, we deploy helos to Chernobaivka. Helos get destroyed, we order more helos. The first 2-3 times even the armchair generals across the world got in a few good belly laughs. After a dozen attempts going on 2 dozen, it is clear that Russian incompetence runs very, very deep.

Intelligence

Although Putin famously avoids electronic technology, depending instead on daily paper briefings, even he has come to see that the war is not going as planned, despite his public proclamations to the contrary. As expected, he has furiously cleaned house, starting with the FSB. Shoigu, the Minister of Defense, took a suspicious week-long vacation, and Valery Gerasimov, the Chief of Staff, was sent to the front lines in Izium. Multiple oligarchs have met with suspicious and untimely ends, both in Russia and abroad. But none of this has changed one remarkable fact: Russia was compromised by Western intelligence for months before the war started out. In fact, the war started out with the US and UK intelligence community calling out Putin's invasion plan despite the protestation of expert observers that Putin would never do such a thing, because it is so patently irrational.

The VDV (Russian airborne troops) were dispatched to capture Hostomel airport NW of Kyiv so that troops and supplies could be rapidly airlifted in. However, one of the transport aircraft was shot down, presumably with a full load of troops. The troops that did make it captured the airport briefly, but were unable to hold it, as UA recaptured it soon after, although control changed hand several times thereafter. It turns out that the VDV suffered one of their biggest losses because Western intelligence warned UA of that particular attack, and UA deftly prepared to defend against it while the intel was actionable.

One of the most humiliating losses for the Russians was the sinking of the Moskva. Again, US intelligence helped locate it, even though Ukrainian Neptune missiles ultimately sunk it.

But perhaps the biggest intelligence failure of all was when Russian troops destroyed 3G and 4G towers inside Ukraine. Russia developed the ERA cryptophone for secure communications in the field, but it depends on local 3/4G towers for its operation. Since Russian troops enthusiastically leveled everything in sight, they defeated their own secure communications, forcing them to make calls in the clear and enabling the SBU to trivially intercept all kinds of calls, from simple soldiers calling their moms/wives to complain about the war to critical battlefield intelligence reports about troop movements and casualties.

Russians also have an encrypted radio system, called Azart. But good ol' corruption means that they only have a few hundred per thousands of troops, meaning that most troops have to communicate over consumer-grade walkie-talkies in the clear. This opens them up to interference, jamming, and eavesdropping. Russian military operations have practically been an open book for these reasons, and amateur HAM radio operators have been listening in since the start of the war. One OSINT source has been preserving all broadcasted communications for posterity.

Economy

Many observers look at the ruble or RU oil/gas exports at $1 billion/day and say: "See? Russian economy is doing just fine. They can wage this war indefinitely." But they can't. The Russian economy is in free-fall. The ruble is being propped up artificially, and oil exports are, on some level, irrelevant. What most observers don't understand is the degree to which Russia is primarily a raw materials producer. Energy and mining account for the lion's share of Russia's exports, with agriculture coming in a distant third place. In turn, Russia imports virtually all of its manufactured goods, and especially anything that requires substantial technology.

Consider the Orlan drone. This Russian homebrew UAV performs reconnaissance. As you can see in this teardown video, rather than have the RU military design its own optics to milspec, they literally strap a consumer-grade Canon camera into the drone, making sure to glue the power switch into the "on" position so it doesn't get jostled off during flight. The thermal sights in the T-90 and friends is provided by the French Thales. Russians are being mocked for stealing everything from women's underwear to washing machines. Given that many troops are conscripted from poverty-stricken regions, this should not be too surprising. But it turns out that poor conscripts are not the only ones stealing washing machines: the Russian military industrial complex has resorted to using consumer-grade electronics in lieu of import sanctions.

But nothing can be more decisive than the proclamations of Russia's top Central Banker, Elvira Nabuillina:

The period when the economy can live on reserves is finite. And already in the second and third quarter we will enter a period of structural transformation and the search for new business models... The main problems will be associated with restrictions on imports and logistics of foreign trade, and in the future with restrictions on exports.

What Ms. Nabuillina is talking about is the dramatic end to major container shipping traffic. Russian warehouses and factories and stores have a few months of inventory on hand, but once that runs out, there will be nothing to replace it. This is why the Russian economy is in free-fall. We are currently in the middle of the 2nd quarter of her "structural transformation". By the 3rd quarter (i.e., summer), we will finally see the full effects of this widespread separation from the Western economic sphere.

And if you think the central banker is not sufficiently persuasive, then you need look no further than Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov:

Lavrov said at a meeting on Friday that “a real hybrid war, total war was declared on us.” He said the goal was “to destroy, break, annihilate, strangle the Russian economy, and Russia on the whole.”

These are the starkest admissions that the widespread Western sanctions are a veritable threat to the Russian economy. No amount of oil money will suffice if containers full of western goods are unwilling to unload their wares in Russian ports. At best, Russia can hope that India and China will be willing to smuggle in Western wares at ungodly markups, but certainly not at volume. And you can absolutely bet that Chinese and Indian smugglers will take advantage of the situation to substitute cheap knockoffs and fakes while charging full price + smuggling premium. Do not envy the Russian consumer...there is no good future in store for them.

(Continued in Pt. II...)

14
  • 4
    That's an interesting reiteration of Ukrainian narrative but it essentially boils up to nothing but a pleasant feeling. Perhaps there's some "significant damage" to Russian economy. Perhaps there are some "significant losses" on Russian side. How does that end the war?
    – alamar
    May 13 at 14:18
  • 1
    I wish you were correct in all this, but it really is too early to tell. A French saying seems especially pertinent: "il ne faut pas vendre la peau de l’ours avant de l’avoir tué" - don't sell the skin of the bear before killing it/dont count your chicken till they're hatched. Sure, current trend is favoring Ukraine and I agree with the deplorable RU tactics, morale, equipment, etc... and also with skepticism that RU is suddenly gonna pull out of some hitherto-unused "secret sauce" out of their nethers but @pcj50 nails it: it's early days! &... how does this answer the Q? May 13 at 17:23
  • 2
    Quibble: that IL-76 loss has never been confirmed, as far as I know.
    – tgdavies
    May 14 at 2:37
  • 1
    @alamar totally agree on the endless stocks of armor. Disagree that they can be formed into an operational BTG. Rampant corruption means that optics, electronics, even whole engines are gone from a good number of stowed vehicles. Again, I refer you to the Pentagon assessment that UA fields more tanks now than RU. Hard to imagine how that would happen if RU could just pull working tanks out of storage indefinitely. May 14 at 20:38
  • 2
    I'm not telling you about Russian victory since I'm not even sure how it could look like. But, some of your sources are pure Ukrainian psy ops, and you don't seem to care.
    – alamar
    May 14 at 21:56
6

Total Victory for Ukraine Pt. II

My answer exceeded the character count, so this is the last part:

Timeline

If Russia lost half its operational BTGs in 78 days, then at the same operational tempo, it could easily lose it's remaining BTGs in another 78 days. Note that's right in the July/August time frame, which is why I predict that the war will be over by end of summer.

The astute observer will note that Russia has slowed the pace of its losses in recent days, and thus, it may take UA longer than 78 days to destroy the remaining BTGs in country. Balanced against that, I weigh the following facts:

  • At the start of the war, RU forces had the highest morale of the invasion. It may not have been high, but it is certain that whatever morale they had has only gone downhill since. Given that soldiers were reportedly selling fuel and equipment for alcohol and food while doing "exercises" in Belarus, I think it is safe to say that the morale starting point was indeed quite low. The reconstituted BTGs withdrawn from northern UA and redeployed to Donbas are bringing all the horror and depressed morale with them to their new operating theatre. Many are refusing to fight, sabotaging their own vehicles, deserting, and surrendering.

  • Although many people insisted that Russia opened the war with mere cannon fodder and saved its best troops and vehicles for some mythical decisive victory, the documented Russian losses tell a quite different story. In fact, T-90s, Ka-52s, and Su-34s were destroyed from the earliest stages of the war. I believe that Russia opened with their best troops and gear, but still fell flat on their face. UA destroyed so many Russian military trucks that they have been forced to conscript civilian minivans and box trucks to run supply convoys. Early on, TOS-1, electronic warfare, and C3I systems were abandoned and captured on the battlefield. They represented the strong technological advantages that RU should have had, but failed to realize. At this point, reconstituted BTGs are getting backfilled with older and less capable equipment, slowly degrading the fighting abilities of the remaining forces.

  • Meanwhile, UAF is getting armed with increasingly capable equipment, from more MiG-29s to M777 to PzH 2000 to Switchblade and Brimstone systems. Not only has Ukraine captured more Russian tanks than it has lost, it's overall hardware strength has been increasing almost continuously since the start of the war. In the beginning, artillery fights were evenly matched with comparable Soviet-era D-30s and 2S7 SPGs. Now, Russian artillery will be overmatched by M777 with the M795 and M795E1 shells. We're talking 18 vs. 30 km range. This is not a "stalemate" or "trench warfare" or "a war of attrition". This is undisputed battlefield domination. M777s are already deployed in Donbas, as the first crews have finished their training and are putting their equipment to work. Even now, Ukrainian artillery gunners are training on the German PzH 2000 self-propelled guns. These will devastate the towed artillery deployed for 8 years along the Donbas line of contact, and seriously challenge the Russian 2S7 and the like.

  • Ukraine put the Bayraktar TB-2 to impressive use devastating Russian supply convoys. They are currently acquiring the MQ-9 Reaper, which has 10x the payload and significantly higher range and service ceiling. We can only imagine how much mayhem they would wreak with such a system.

As Ukraine brings the latest weapon systems online, they are slowly shifting from defense to offense. Defense is clearly more advantageous, and as long as RAF obliges with suicide charges, UAF will take advantage of the defensive bonuses to wipe out Russian forces. But at some point, Russian offensive power will be exhausted, and Ukraine will have to go on the offensive.

They certainly had the will to do so from day 1, but not the equipment. Although they would prefer air supremacy, they now have the artillery range to dominate their enemy and advance into any dug-in positions they encounter. Already, UA is counter-attacking near Kharkiv, and gaining ground decisively.

As Russian BTGs continue to be degraded, they will lose their combat effectiveness, further accelerating their losses. This is why I am not concerned with the reduced tempo at this time. I believe it will again accelerate once UA forces complete their training on the latest NATO hardware and deploy what they have learned to the front. Only this time, the losses will be driven by UA offensives, rather than RU offensives, and Russia will be in retreat.

There could be much more said about the role of the Russian Air Force, but this answer is already too long for SE.

6
  • 5
    Wow, I didn't know there was a length limit to answers! May 13 at 6:00
  • 1
    Thank you for the details challenging my wholesale assumptions. May 13 at 6:20
  • 1
    I find your analysis pretty compelling. The estimates are based on different sources and plausibility considerations and not just accepting the UA MoD statements at face value. Your predicted outcome would be striking (pun intended). A tragic Russian stupidity on so many levels. May 13 at 6:32
  • 8
    The character count limit exists for a reason. When it's not enough for you, then that's a sign that what you wrote isn't really a good fit for the SE format. Perhaps you might want to publish this as a personal blog and only post a synopsis here on Stack Exchange which you then end with a "for further details" link to your blog article.
    – Philipp
    May 13 at 7:56
  • 2
    I agree with your excellent analysis of the future of the war, but I also agree with @Philipp that you should probably have edited back to a single post rather than spilling over :) May 13 at 11:12
5

You're assuming the "Russian" motivation is more than just the will of one man

Vladimir Putin effectively has full and unlimited control over Russia, both politically (through imprisonment or assassination of opponents) and financially (35% of the country's wealth is privately held either by him or by people directly appointed by him). The war is therefore entirely of his choosing, and it is unclear to what extent it is backed by other members of his government because no political opposition is permitted to exist.

One further exit strategy then is simply that Putin dies. He allegedly may have some health issues, and at age 69 is not a young man anyway. Whoever succeeds him can make a choice as to whether to continue with the occupation of Ukrainian territory.

What form that choice would take is entirely unclear, since Russia is not a functioning democracy and there is no obvious plan for succession. However it is clear that the West will maintain its economic blockade of Russia for as long as the occupation lasts. Russia has significant natural resources, sure, but there are alternative sources and Western countries/companies are already in the process of changing where they buy these resources. The inevitable end result then is a return to the economic isolation of the Cold War.

During the Cold War, Russia was run by Communists who (to a greater or lesser extent) believed in what they were doing, or at least could leverage that belief amongst their citizens. Modern Russia is run by oligarchs though, enabled by Putin. Not only will the oligarchs be losing their financial resources and lifestyles, but there is no belief system which would keep ordinary Russian citizens on their side. Both factors will put strong pressure on Putin's successor to blame it all on Putin, disown any involvement in the war themselves, and return to a status quo which is acceptable to Ukraine.

It seems exceptionally unlikely that anything short of a full Russian withdrawal would be acceptable to Ukraine. If Crimea and Donbas remain occupied for a significant length of time such that the people there get used to the situation, an acceptable face-saving alternative may be some kind of devolved government for these regions, remaining within Ukraine but with greater autonomy. Crimea and Donbas certainly both felt they were being politically and economically mismanaged by the Ukrainian government before the Russian invasions, so there is some case for self-determination here (albeit without the occupying Russian military voting, as happened last time!). This is purely hypothetical though, and presupposes a Russian withdrawal takes place.

12
  • 5
    Apparently there is such a belief system: It is called "nationalism". "In each of the three ISSP waves — 1995, 2003 and 2013 — Russians showed more support than people in any of the other 15 surveyed countries (12 European nations, the United States, the Philippines and Japan) for this statement: “My country should follow its interests even if this leads to conflict with other nations.” (washingtonpost.com/politics/2022/03/15/…) May 12 at 13:12
  • 4
    It is silly to assume that one man dominates a country. Every king, dictator, autocrat or other "strong leader" is held up by a network of allies, advisors, people with shared interests, etc. - that these are often invisible on the world stage doesn't change that.
    – Tom
    May 12 at 15:15
  • 3
    It's not possible to return to a status quo, and especially to the one which is acceptable to Ukraine. Attempts of doing that would be seen as a sign of weakness and cause doubling down pressure on Russia from all parties. A freshly inaugurated leader who cedes sovereign territories while showing nothing concrete in return, risks death.
    – alamar
    May 12 at 15:17
  • 1
    @Tom No it isn't - that's what an autocrat is. And that network relies inseparably on the autocrat. Remove the autocrat and the network crumbles. Hereditary leaders at least have a reason for succession planning. For dictators though, anyone capable of taking over is a direct threat and must be eliminated.
    – Graham
    May 12 at 15:45
  • 2
    @Graham I disagree. Putin is current politics and thus intransparent, but we know from historic dictators that they had a network of supporters. Hitler for example is very well researched and documented. He did eliminate some of those who brought him to the top, but he was always surrounded by people supporting him (often for their own profit, of course).
    – Tom
    May 12 at 16:15
4

This question assumes that Ukraine and Russia are basically tied and so instead of protracting the war and increasing the number of casualties, should rather negotiate around the current lines of control. Now, both sides might still think that this is not true and that substantial changes are still possible, but for the sake of argument, let's fast forward to a time when really for a longer time (say months because that's probably as long as it takes before one side gives up) the front lines didn't change, i.e. if neither a decisive victory has happened for Russia or Ukraine.

How should they negotiate then?

Any peace agreement would need to

  • give permanent security guarantees for whatever remains of Ukraine. Russia cannot give them credibly, so something like effective inclusion of Ukraine in NATO or EU (or maybe a separate defense pact with the US) needs to happen.
  • fix new borders and give all people living on the wrong side of such a border the chance to migrate.
  • Russia would probably like to have the sanctions lifted too.

All this sounds extremely challenging to achieve, especially in a way that is not seen as defeat for one side.

So, even if the military actions remain tied, there is still a lot of obstacles to overcome.

And speculations about the state of the Russian economy or their resources or will to fight or will to use nuclear arms are very difficult, so I won't do them.

2
  • Especially the "effective inclusion of Ukraine in NATO or EU" was something also wondered about. Interestingly, the safety concerns of Ukraine are almost independent of the outcome of the war -- unless Russia is militarily crippled to a degree that makes another aggression impossible. That seems to be the U.S. goal but it's unclear whether that's realistic. It's also unclear whether Russia would let that happen (broad nuclear hint). May 15 at 21:17
  • 1
    @Peter-ReinstateMonica Russia cannot at the same time keep NATO away from its borders and expand them. At some point all space in between will be gone. Maybe there will be a new iron curtain. Who knows.
    – Trilarion
    May 16 at 5:02
3

General consideratons

Any war stops either when one side is completely destroyed (this is what happened at the Second World War), or when both sides want to stop it.

By themselves, victory or defeat rarely leads to the end of the war. As a result of heavy defeats, one side may moderate its demands, but they will also inflame the ambitions of the other side.

From the point of view of Ukraine

Now, let us consider the situation from the point of view of Ukraine:

In March 2014, Russia took over Crimea. Ukraine gave it up without a fight. The Ukrainians believed that at such a price they would buy peace with Russia.

It didn't work. In the same year, puppet aggressive "states" of the DPR and LPR were created. After heavy fighting and at the cost of heavy losses, it was possible to limit their advance. The conflict continued on a small fire. Again, the Ukrainians believed that they had paid a heavy price and received relative peace.

They didn't. In 2022, Russia invaded Ukraine and a full-scale war broke out.

Now Ukrainians do not believe in the possibility of peace with Russia on the basis of territorial concessions.

If Putin makes significant progress (for example, there is a real threat of the capture of Kyiv), Ukraine may agree to peace in exchange for territorial concessions, but then Putin will not agree to this.

From the point of view of Putin

Starting the war in Ukraine, he gained a lot of popularity. His approval rating surged from 65% (December 2021) to 83% (March 2022). The Russians are suffering from rising prices, and many soldiers are dying, but Putin doesn't care about them. He is even less concerned about the suffering of Ukrainians. From his point of view, Ukrainians are Russian people, and if they do not want to be in Russia or a pro-Russian puppet state, then they are traitors.

If he leaves Ukraine, it will be considered a defeat both domestically and abroad. Not only his popularity will drop, but it will be a great humiliation, and Putin hates to be humiliated, the issues of "honor" and "being a real man" are very important to him. Sanctions will not be waived, and his popularity will drop spectacularly. He may even lose his power.

From the point of view of Zelensky

As long as the war continues, he is a great leader. After he signs a peace agreement, whatever its terms will be, many will call him a traitor. If, after the peace agreement, Putin will start another war, Zelensky will be the most hated person in Ukraine after Putin.

From the point of view of western leaders

Russia is agressive, unpredictable, and dangerous, therefore it should be weakened as much as possible. The war with Ukraine weakens it, so the longer it lasts, the better.

Conclusion

The war will continue till either:

  • Putin dies, naturally or otherwise
  • Ukraine has returned to the borders of 2021, or even 2013, and Russia is no longer capable of fighting.
8
  • There is a point of view of Ukraine in this answer but none for Russia (only for Putin). Maybe at some point Russians become feed up with this war and Putin. After all the gain for an ordinary Russian is relatively low.
    – Trilarion
    May 14 at 23:14
  • 1
    Ordinary Russians only suffer of this war, but they have no influence on Putin's decisions.
    – user31264
    May 14 at 23:19
  • 1
    @Trilarion - if Russians become feed up with this war and Putin, he may agree to negotiate peace, but neither Ukraine not Western countries will save him. He will not leave unilaterally, because this wouldn't end the sanctions, so the life conditions of ordinary people will continue to deteroriate, and hatred of Putin will only grow. If Russians succeed to overthrow Putin, it is the first case (Putin dies), as I don't believe anyone will let him to stay alive.
    – user31264
    May 14 at 23:39
  • @Trilarion losing the war is a pretty serious hit for ordinary Russian, with unknown outcomes and no benefits, and there is no obvious way to "end the war" without losing it.
    – alamar
    May 15 at 13:21
  • @alamar Continuing the war will only get more Russian soldiers killed (among others) and sanctions against Russia that last longer. The war doesn't come for free even for Russia. Ordinary Russians could probably claim that they were suppressed by a lunatic and themselves would never have done that.
    – Trilarion
    May 15 at 15:54
2

I'm not the only one who, with the war apparently stalling, is wondering how long it will drag on. Italian Philosophers 4 Monica mentioned an analysis from the renowned Institute for the Study of War. Because it addresses exactly my question, I'll present an outline here.

The paper is titled "Russian Annexation of Occupied Ukraine Is Putin’s Unacceptable “Off-Ramp”", indicating a focus on exit strategies for Russia and possible or desirable Ukrainian and Western responses.

The analysis sees the Russian troops in a "degraded state" which makes it unlikely that they will conquer significantly more Ukrainian territory. "Poor morale and worse leadership have soundly degraded Russian forces." The paper even discusses the possibility of a "collapse" through mass desertions and officer killings, especially if Putin overestimates his troops' state and continues to pursue unrealistic military goals with even more devastating consequences for the Russian army.

The question is then which "off ramps" present themselves to Putin, and how Ukraine and the West should respond, respectively.

Unable to achieve his original war goals, Putin is under pressure to present at least some achievements in this war. While his troops are unable to advance, they may be able to dig in and hold the occupied areas, which Putin would then quickly and fully integrate into Russia. After that an attack on them — as with any other "Russian" territory — would carry the threat to be answered with nuclear weapons. That way the occupied areas could be held without relying on the strained conventional forces. The study hence states:

Annexation of Ukrainian lands is likely the only “off-ramp” that Putin is interested in pursuing at this time.

However, the authors consider this outcome, as they indicate already in the title, unacceptable:

The political and ethical consequences of a longstanding Russian occupation of southeastern Ukraine would be devastating to the long-term viability of the Ukrainian state.

Their proposed way of preventing this is to take advantage of the "degraded" state of the Russian troops:

Ukraine and its Western partners likely have a narrow window of opportunity to support a Ukrainian counteroffensive into occupied Ukrainian territory before the Kremlin annexes that territory (or brings up additional forces).


The main difference to the assumptions that informed my question is the more dire assessment of the Russian troops which lets a Russian defeat appear possible. The authors also state clearly that the occupied areas are vital for Ukraine's "viability" as a nation, which was not one of my presumptions. This assessment precludes the wide spectrum of cease-fire/negotiation scenarios that seemed at least vaguely possible to me. As a consequence of both these tenets, the only exit strategy the authors see is an armed conflict to the end.

2
  • If I read this answer correctly, it answer the question negatively, i.e. there are no exit strategies for both sides that promises an early end to the war?
    – Trilarion
    May 18 at 11:53
  • 1
    @Trilarion Yes, I think this is what the article and hence the answer means. My premises were (in their opinion) incorrect: (1) The Russian army is so weak that a defeat seems possible; (2) Ukraine could not live without the occupied areas. (2) implies that there is no common ground for a cease-fire; (1) suggests a course of action for the Ukrainians. May 18 at 12:00
1

One possible exit scenario for the war that is very desirable for NATO/ the West is that Russia completely withdraws its troops from Ukraine because they realize that the military losses are too high and the economic cost is too big. Whether such a withdrawal should also include Crimea and/or the Donbass region is up for debate.

Note that the current strategy of european and north american countries to impose economic sanctions on Russia and especially its ruling elite as well as supplying arms to the Ukraine is consistent with and helps with this goal.

Interesting discussion points are whether such a scenario is only possible after a change in Russian leadership and how the West should react if Russia continues it current rhetoric but implements large parts of such a retreat in practice.

23
  • 3
    This answer is missing Putin's more personal stake in the war. Withdrawing may look sensible from a military and economic point of view but with Putin still calling the shots in Russia it seems very unlikely. May 11 at 14:11
  • 7
    @Peter-ReinstateMonica Interesting strategy for Russia then. Invade Crimea, sanctions, negotiate ceasefire for the removal of sanctions but keep Crimea. Invade Donbas, sanctions, negotiate ceasefire for the removal of sanctions but keep Crimea and Donbas. Next time: Invade Kyiv, sanctions, negotiate ceasefire for the removal of sanctions but keep Crimea, Donbas and Kyiv.
    – user253751
    May 11 at 14:53
  • 2
    @user253751 Well, they could have kept Crimea forever, probably, without relevant sanctions, had they been content with it. So an "interesting strategy" is to probe what you can get away with, in terms of war and economic losses, and then realign your goals accordingly. That's fairly obvious: Everybody does it. They probed for Kiev, didn't get away with it; now there is a realignment phase. Question is: Where is the new line, and what is its cost, for both sides, or rather: For all three sides. May 11 at 15:19
  • 2
    "So that would be an offer in cease fire talks, or a position to fall back to if maximum demands don't work: Keep Crimea and Donbas, retreat from the other areas, and we revoke sanctions." That would be a ridiculous offer. That's like if someone kills a bunch of people during a bank robbery and the prosecutor offers a deal of "give back the money and we'll drop the charges". May 11 at 20:50
  • 2
    @Acccumulation It's not about dropping charges (which is a moral and juridical category, the latter hampered by the fact that the U.S. is not party to the ICC); it's about minimizing casualties. And that is a very common strategy in hostage situations: Negotiations to let all the children and women go and, yes, provide an exit strategy for the hostage taker that saves the hostages. (You can always try to catch and punish him later.) May 12 at 7:09
0

For now, the exit strategy both sides have taken is "drag it out".

US and EU countries are selling off their military surplus to Ukraine, and until they've sucked them dry, or sold all their surplus, they're not going to stop. The attitude towards economic reprecussions - just gotta grit through it and hope Russia bails first.

Russia sees the Ukrainian government as NATO lapdogs and NATO military shipments as a direct threat to national security. There are two hypothetical approaches - "bomb them to the stone age"/ quick and dirty, or what they've been doing: Careful advances, minimal damage to infrastructure and just meatgrind through everything Ukraine and NATO trows at them, eventually the Ukrainian army will be demoralized and refuse to fight. Sanctionstake a back seat, because 1) they really haven't had any noticable effect on Russian population 2) seems like Russia was prepared and had a plan to cope with the sanctions and 3) with NATO actions being seen as a direct threat to national security, what good is an economy, if NATO military infrastructure isnt stopped?

4
  • 2
    Infrastructural damage is being ramped up with the campaign progress (or the apparent lack of), so the "stone age" scenario will likely materialize, but it won't be important since Ukrainian military may be supplied from the outside, practically indefinitely.
    – alamar
    May 13 at 14:26
  • 1
    I disagree. Infrastructure damage the likes of US vs Afghanistan or Iraq has largely been avoided. Ukraine is demolishing bridges as they retreat (scorched earth), Russia is focusing on military targets and railway electrical systems. Ukraine uses different rails than EU, so "indefinite supplies" will last so long as their trains can move.
    – MishaP
    May 13 at 15:38
  • 2
    Careful advances, minimal damage to infrastructure and just meatgrind through everything Ukraine and NATO trows at them Well, we had the Ukraine fanboi post "Total Ukrainian victory", This seems to be the Russia fanboi one, as none of the 3 statements stand up much to scrutiny. Careful, let alone competent is not how RU troops are going at it. minimal damage to infrastructure seems... not much like Mariupol or Kharkiv. Both cities which saw pro-Russia riots in 2014. meatgrinder does actually describe Russian river crossing attempts ;-) May 18 at 1:46
  • No war has ever been fought without mistakes. US made their fair share in Iraq and Afghanistan. Russia botched the river crossing. Nevertheless, Russia intends on keeping the territories as far as I can tell, and doesnt want to destroy more than it has too - minimizing their repair bill.
    – MishaP
    May 18 at 11:09

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .