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[Remark three months later, Aug 24, 2022: The question seems as pressing as ever. The conflict has indeed turned into a text book war of attrition, with neither side being able to make a decisive move. Instead, both sides try to exhaust each others' resources and to undermine the opponent's military and civil morale, all the while taking unusually heavy military and civil losses. A Ukrainian adviser estimated 150 Ukrainian military fatalities per day, leading to a conservative estimate of 10,000 fatalities since this question was posted.]

[Remark a year later, end of July 2023: The question still seems as pressing as ever. The war has continued to be a war of attrition with the corresponding humanitarian and economical toll. Barring a tremendous surprise (admittedly, there were some in this war already) there is no military victory in sight for either party.]

[Remark one and a half years later, end of January, 2024: The premise of this question — no party will be able to defeat the other one and accomplish their maximum goals — seems correct, which makes the need for exit strategies beyond achieving these goals as pressing as ever.]

For weeks months more than a year 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:

  • Ideally, Ukraine wants to re-assert its authority over all territories occupied by Russia, including Crimea. This goal appears currently unrealistic. Partial recaptures of occupied areas seem more realistic.

  • Ukraine's immediate goal is to prevent Russian advances in the East and South. That goal appears realistic but is not a given.

  • Ideally, Russia would have overthrown the Ukrainian government in the first days of the invasion and asserted factual control over the country, perhaps in the fashion of Belarus. This attempt failed.

  • After this initial failure, the Russian goal appears to establish permanent control over as much Ukrainian territory as possible. For the currently occupied areas in the East and South, this seems realistic, although the precise territory is still to be defined, by whatever means.

  • 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, let alone of 2014 (before the Crimea invasion) 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, and by saving lives and material.

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 [which was in May 2022 -Peter] 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.

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    "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, 2022 at 21:51
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    "The Western goal is to prevent the aggressor from succeeding" <- I disagree here on two points. First, it is at least debatable that there is a unified "western" goal, and we should take at least the US separately (and perhaps consider European states at some finer resolution). Second, if that was the goal, then "the west" would have probably averted this invasion by not trying to draw Ukraine into NATO. My impression is that at least the US' goal seems to involve wanting to "bleed" Russia - diplomatically, economically and militarily. Which is almost orthogonal to the goal you describe.
    – einpoklum
    Aug 29, 2022 at 21:58
  • 3
    @Stančikas: as popular as this brainstorming [former title] question might be, technically such Qs are typically/technically not on-topic even if some don't mind them politics.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/3705/… Oct 8, 2022 at 18:50
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    @einpoklum that's what Russia says... and Hitler said he was protecting the Germans from the evil Jews. Don't take either one at face value. Apr 20, 2023 at 19:07
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    @user253751: 1. You don't need Russia saying anything to realize that a neighboring state joining a hostile military alliance and being armed by it, is a potential reason for military conflict. Russia has already invaded a part of Georgia because of a similar, and even less fraught, situation. (And note that does not mean the invasion is justified.) 2. Treating Russia like Nazi Germany and assuming everything it says is a lie to be ignored is unlikely to yield an "exit strategy".
    – einpoklum
    Apr 20, 2023 at 19:40

21 Answers 21

56

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 (in April 2022), 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.

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    @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. May 12, 2022 at 12:31
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    @alamar Sure it is. Invading is an ongoing action, and they could stop doing it. May 12, 2022 at 14:58
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    @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, 2022 at 14:04
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    The ISW predictions turned out surprisingly accurate, 4 months later. Oct 4, 2022 at 11:14
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    NATO had not expanded into Ukraine, and indeed there is no good theory of international law under which any country has the right to invade others to stop them in participating in any international treaty.
    – pjc50
    Mar 14, 2023 at 10:28
27

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.

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    "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, 2022 at 16:13
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    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, 2022 at 8:22
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    @gerrit from Italian Philosophers 4 Monica's source, it's the one before the 24 February 2022 invasion.
    – Allure
    May 12, 2022 at 8:34
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    @Earth the argument that NATO is a defensive alliance is a contentious one, because although the treaty sure says it's a defensive alliance, the actions do not. history.stackexchange.com/questions/68436/…
    – Allure
    Apr 12, 2023 at 0:47
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    @Earth Although indepdendent countries should be able to get into international treaties without the approval of neighbouring countries, the international treaties do not have to let the country join (NATO refused to let Russia join, FWIW). Finally, if you think Russia should stop invading its neighbours: did NATO expand first or did Russia invade its neighbours first?
    – Allure
    Apr 12, 2023 at 0:49
24

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.

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    Valid points, but heaven forbid. May 12, 2022 at 13:47
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    "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, 2022 at 8:52
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    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, 2022 at 14:59
  • Actually, early in WW2 a lot of the small countries surrendered quickly--Denmark has become a bit famous for this. But Ukraine (unlike say Georgia) is not that small. So yeah, Russia may have bitten more than it can chew for now. Aug 24, 2022 at 3:15
24

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.


Addendum 2:

As reported by media now, peace talks were actually close to a compromise solution at the end of March, and were then shut down. At least one influential party has taken active steps towards prolonging the war.

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    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, 2022 at 8:31
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    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, 2022 at 8:47
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    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, 2022 at 9:39
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    it is correct that the US and EU have different interests in some ways. The US specifically has long wanted to drive a wedge between EU and Russia, especially Germany and Russia. But that discussion goes too much into details for this answer to this question.
    – Tom
    May 12, 2022 at 15:13
  • 3
    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, 2022 at 12:22
14

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...)

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  • 11
    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, 2022 at 14:18
  • 5
    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, 2022 at 17:23
  • 2
    Quibble: that IL-76 loss has never been confirmed, as far as I know.
    – tgdavies
    May 14, 2022 at 2:37
  • 5
    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, 2022 at 21:56
  • 4
    In a good number of ways this has proven a remarkably insightful analysis for the war until Oct, Russia was indeed bled of troops and forced to call up the reserves. And Ukraine retook some land mainly around Kharkiv. So +1, even though I think the Q itself is poor as essentially just an invitation for people to write essays about the war's [future] course and/or random proposals for how to end it, regardless of [their] realism. Oct 3, 2022 at 23:13
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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.
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  • 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. May 14, 2022 at 23:14
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    Ordinary Russians only suffer of this war, but they have no influence on Putin's decisions.
    – user31264
    May 14, 2022 at 23:19
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    @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, 2022 at 23:39
  • 1
    @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, 2022 at 13:21
  • 1
    @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. May 15, 2022 at 15:54
8

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.

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    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, 2022 at 13:12
  • 10
    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, 2022 at 15:15
  • 8
    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, 2022 at 15:17
  • 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, 2022 at 16:15
  • 2
    @Graham How do you end "shortages of food and consumer goods" overnight? Economy has massive inertia. If it's ruined, it's not coming back fast. Meanwhile, losing a war while already having ruined economy certainly does not make you popular. Moreover, you have no power to secure any economical gains.
    – alamar
    May 12, 2022 at 16:22
8

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.


Addendum October 4, 2022: The events of the past months support many of the assessments in this study. The poor state of the Russian army and the annexation strategy are the two obvious key issues.

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? May 18, 2022 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, 2022 at 12:00
7

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.

3
  • 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, 2022 at 21:17
  • 4
    @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. May 16, 2022 at 5:02
  • 2
    Yeah, the best one can hope for in the short run is Korea-type ceasefire. Actual peace will probably take decades or more. Aug 24, 2022 at 3:35
7

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.

They already did this. In 2014.

It did not eliminate the risk of further Russian incursions. In fact, it guaranteed them. It is apparent that Russia will not stop advancing until it reconquers Ukraine, Poland and East Germany.

The definition of insanity is to do the same thing again and expect different results.

So, this is simply not an option.

6
  • 1
    What about Hungary and Romania?
    – alamar
    Mar 23, 2023 at 12:34
  • 1
    @alamar Those too. I felt like writing the most direct path into "main Europe" Mar 23, 2023 at 23:12
  • Well, the difference compared to 2014 -- to show the West is not insane -- would be to make more robust security guarantees, e.g. by a NATO association or membership, common military exercises etc. A convincing assurance that any further aggression would provoke a NATO response. Sep 25, 2023 at 2:19
  • @Peter-ReinstateMonica Why not the aggression that already happened? Why should the red line be west of the Donbass and north of Korea? Sep 25, 2023 at 18:03
  • @user253751 Even after Crimea's annexation, Putin's aggressive agenda was not obvious. (And if you are angrily hitting the keyboard in order to point out why it was obvious to anybody who wanted to listen, let me just remind you that hindsight is 20/20.) A NATO association, let alone a membership for Ukraine was purposefully not initiated or promised because such a move was considered a provocation for Russia. After Putin's continued aggression, the Western assessment of Russia has changed, and with it its policies. Drawing a NATO-backed line now would not be "insane" repetition at all. Sep 25, 2023 at 19:09
5

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.

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  • 8
    Wow, I didn't know there was a length limit to answers! May 13, 2022 at 6:00
  • 1
    Thank you for the details challenging my wholesale assumptions. May 13, 2022 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, 2022 at 6:32
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    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, 2022 at 7:56
  • 3
    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, 2022 at 11:12
4

Are there signs that Ukraine and the West would be willing to accept a Russian occupation and enter cease-fire talks?

As of October 7, 2022:

No.

Ukraine's leaders have unequivocally rejected that possibility, and the West has not pushed hard for it to back down from the position.

Right now, as one military oriented observer has pointed out:

On the 224 of the war, the Ukrainian forces continue to advance in the east and the south while the Russian military seems to be in full retreat.

The New York Times notes that:

After months of static fighting and holding the line under withering Russian artillery barrages, Ukrainian soldiers are exulting over their smashing of Russian lines in the northeast three weeks ago, and their recapturing of swaths of territory seized by Russian troops earlier this year. They have almost retaken the whole of Kharkiv Province, as well as territory in each of the four regions that President Vladimir V. Putin claims to have annexed for Russia.

These gains for Ukraine in the war are a direct result of it Western allies supplying it with sophisticated weapons it didn't have when the war started, particularly medium range guided missiles from the U.S. that can be launched from mobile platforms by ground troops. These missiles can destroy Russian bases and military vehicles from beyond the range of Russian artillery.

Western countries have universally condemned Russia's effort to achieved a permanent concession of territory with annexation votes in four eastern districts of Ukraine as meaningless shams. If they had wanted to push Ukraine towards a territorial settlement they could have been more equivocal about the validity of the annexation claims.

Russia has probably suffered about 20,000 deaths from an initial force size of about 150,000 to 200,000 troops, and two or three times as many of its soldiers have been wounded, captured, or have deserted. The morale of its troops is widely reported to be broken based upon intercepted telecommunications of its troops.

Russia's President Putin this week rhetorically called on the original military leader of the invasion to kill himself. Hundreds of thousands of young men are fleeing the country while they still can as Russia steps up conscription to make up for its immense losses of troops in the war.

China and India have been recently announced that they are not comfortable with Putin's decision to continue the war in Ukraine even as they continue to buy fossil fuels from him.

Russia having already shut of natural gas supplies to Europe, has nothing short of nuclear war with which to bargain with the West. Falling oil prices are also weakening Russia economically.

Neither Ukraine nor its Western allies are eager to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory by halting their military efforts while they are making rapid gains on the battlefield and seeing Russia finally struggle internally as a result of the war.

5
  • 1
    But couldn't it end a bit like WW1, with gains now for Ukraine and in some months maybe it goes the other way and in the end many people died but the outcome is the same? Oct 8, 2022 at 11:13
  • @Trilarion The question is "Are there signs that Ukraine and the West would be willing to accept a Russian occupation and enter cease-fire talks?" And the current perception is that the scenario you suggest will not play out.
    – ohwilleke
    Oct 8, 2022 at 16:34
  • You answer the question with no, but everything that comes after that very short answer seems to be more like a discussion of why no would be kind of reasonable. I just wanted to chime in with a risk analysis. Kind of "what can possibly go wrong with that". Oct 8, 2022 at 17:08
  • 1
    @Trilarion: WW1 pretty much ended when the US joined. One of the key reasons they outperformed the other armies was a much better command structure, especially when you compared it with the British who still were recruiting their officers from nobility. The French leadership was equally unimpressive. That is still relevant today; Russia has similar leadership issues. They can conscript more soldiers; they can't conscript the NCO's or officers.
    – MSalters
    Oct 9, 2022 at 0:11
  • 1
    Analysis at the Washington Post based upon many interviews with key decision makers concurs with this analysis in Ukraine at least: "What became clear after several dozen conversations here is that for Ukraine, there’s no middle ground. The resiliency and resolve I heard reminded me of Londoners during the Blitz in World War II. For Ukraine, there’s no turning back, and I was asked repeatedly why some in the West still talk about compromise with Putin." washingtonpost.com/opinions/2022/10/10/…
    – ohwilleke
    Oct 10, 2022 at 21:54
4

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.

1
  • The sanctions and arms supply are also consistent with stopping the Russian advances (without reverting them).-- With respect to a Russian leadership change: Be careful what you ask for. The next guy may be much worse. Sep 25, 2023 at 2:27
2

Looks like the situation is moving into the "stop at the border" situation, where sides are formally at war but the previous aggressor has been pushed back and does not longer occupy any territory.

Such a situation is not a very stable but still may last for long. Something similar appears lasting for over 60 years between South and North Korea, where fighting ceased in 1953 after approximately the former borders were restored. Unless NATO/Ukraine proceed into the territory of Russian federation, it seems not threatened obviously enough to hit the nuclear button.

Likely during this time Ukraine will start rebuilding the industry. Some seized Russian money may be used (more reluctant proposals call for just forcibly borrowing them). This, and also that Ukraine would remain internationally competitive at least in agriculture may allow faster recovery that only over decades.

Eventually Ukraine may even be accepted into EU while still formally at war. NATO may finally provide all modern weapons to be sure the border is well defended. If these weapons do not cross the Russian border - kind of not a time for the nuclear button yet, again. One another Russian rocket will keep passing through, irritating Ukraine and "the west", killing a dozen of civilians but changing nothing on a global scale.

I expect Russia to get tired out of this situation over time and drop the further ambitions in exchange to the removal of sanctions.

3
  • Stop at the border will only work if Russia is willing to back down and stop as well and there is no evidence that is going to happen. Russia is still claiming that parts of Ukraine do not belong to Ukraine and that does not look like it will change anytime soon.
    – Joe W
    Jan 30, 2023 at 17:14
  • 1
    In every war, under the known circumstances one of the armies backs down even if really not willing.
    – Stančikas
    Jan 30, 2023 at 17:18
  • When you rewrite your whole answer from scratch, then it is usually better to delete the answer and post a new one.
    – Philipp
    Jan 31, 2023 at 8:54
2

好中國

At the end of February, China proposed the 12 item plan how they would suggest to resolve the crisis. The commented and clarified list of items, as from my.china-embassy.gov.cn, is:

  • Respecting the sovereignty of all countries.
  • (... assuming the things as stated below, who cares about the rest ...)

More exactly,

Universally recognized international law, including the purposes and principles of the United Nations Charter, must be strictly observed. The sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of all countries must be effectively upheld. All countries, big or small, strong or weak, rich or poor, are equal members of the international community.

Hence Russia could agree to move they army out of the occupied territories (including the ones they call "annexed"), and then the negotiations could be arranged to discuss the actual reasons of this "special operation" and how the problems that let to it could be resolved in more peaceful ways. Do they just want Ukraine not to join NATO, do they want something else?

China recently confirmed one more time that they respect the sovereignty of ex-Soviet countries, this is after one of they ambassadors saying few words that were initially differently understood as questioning the sovereignty of even Baltic states:

An original version of this post said that China had backed the French ambassador’s comments due to an error. Apologies.

So what, apologies. China also never officially recognized annexation of the parts of Ukraine by Russia.

Same situation recently repeated with Brazil. Brazilian president Lula promoted the "negotiated political solution". Russia (Sergei Lavrov to be precise) initially said they are "grateful". This ended fast enough when Lula clarified that, unfortunately for Russia, his government "condemns the violation of the territorial integrity of Ukraine":

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    "好中國" means "good China", if I can trust the translation services? True, it seems to be an important initiative. Mar 2, 2023 at 8:51
  • 2
    I am actually much better at reading technical manuals on engine controllers in this language, but should be ok.
    – Stančikas
    Mar 2, 2023 at 8:53
  • 3
    I think Chinese statements regarding the UN charter and international law are very vague - they could also imply respecting self-determination of self-proclaimed republics and Crimea.
    – Roger V.
    Mar 2, 2023 at 11:24
  • 5
    While China may have said this for international consumption, internal debates inside China clearly point to the overwhelming opinion that the "Afganistanisation" (i.e. prolonged conflict) of the war in Ukraine is in China's best interest, esentially because it's a lose-lose situation for both the West and Russia orfonline.org/expert-speak/… Mar 4, 2023 at 19:01
  • 1
    "they still think" Sorry, but no amount of writing and study can deduce what the Chinese government may think or not. At the most their writing seems to suggest that that's what they might want to express. But it may also just be a misunderstanding or they might be lying a bit there. Maybe the recognition of the occupied areas is just a formality coming later. I'm not saying that your analysis is totally wrong, only that the certainty should be much lower. In truth we don't know exactly what China wants to say there. Mar 21, 2023 at 14:35
2

Russia joins NATO

Mr Putin likes to depict himself as a strongman defending Mother Russia against the perceived threat from the NATO alliance. It would totally destroy Putin’s credibility and help end the suffering of the Ukrainian people and further the cause of world peace if the west were to openly offer Russia the bait of membership of NATO in return for its total withdrawal from Ukraine.

(source). The rationale behind is likely that NATO countries form the alliance and for sure do not attack each other. Most of the Russian PR seems currently focusing around on that NATO plans to invade Russia somehow.

I am not sure how realistic this idea could be. Anyway, there is the source so maybe could be an answer.

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    Would have been a great outcome of the cold war if NATO had been transformed into a UN peace keeping force that included the former adversaries or under a different name if that is problematic. But as of right now that is very unrealistic because an alliance needs trust and Putin blew that with the invasion of Ukraine, so that's a long term option, but short term both sides would probably see it as a military ruse to get access to information and the ability to place troops on foreign soil without calling it an "invasion". So you'd need peace first.
    – haxor789
    Jul 21, 2023 at 9:04
  • 3
    Good idea. Except...trust issues. Russia trust west even less (check official Russian versions on why excactly this mess was started, who violate Minsk Accords and so on. It doesn't matter if it's truth or not. What it does matter that a lot of people in Russia think it is). And USA thinks same of Russia.
    – Tauri
    Aug 10, 2023 at 7:49
  • 1
    I love thinking outside the box. If you can't beat them, join them ;-). Sep 25, 2023 at 3:20
1

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

US and EU

US and EU countries are selling off their military surplus which consists of:

  1. Old NATO tech which also requires training for Ukrainian solders, or "volunteers" that already know how to use this tech.
  2. Old soviet tech from former soviet republics, which Ukrainian soldiers already know how to use.

US and EU see this as an opportunity to potentially "earn a buck" on obsolete tech, while prolonging the war and making it cost more for Russia. Until they've sucked all the money out of Ukraine, or sold all their surplus, they're likely to keep going. This is, however, an "investment", that will pay off only if some part of Ukraine remains independent, so that Ukraine can then pay back the loans that EU, US and the world bank have issued to Ukraine, which spends the loans on armament. (A corrupt little scheme, but that's a different question.)

Early on, EU and US were convinced that the combination of military, financial, and "volunteer" aid to Ukraine, combined with "unprecedented" sanctions will work together, to force Russia to use excessive spending on the war, mobilize reserves and sow discontent towards the war, and cripple Russia's economy. The principle was "yeah, sanctions will hurt us (EU moreso than US), but we just have to grit through until Russia is forced to bail." That doesn't seem to be working out as planned... honestly, living in Russia - I haven't felt any change in prices or quality of life, there's also no mobilization - soldiers who sign up for military service in the Ukraine war are offered a pretty good wage and reparations if they are wounded or killed.

RUSSIA

Russia sees the Ukrainian government as NATO lapdogs and NATO military shipments as a direct threat to national security. There are two hypothetical approaches:

  1. "Bomb them to the stone age"/ quick and dirty
  2. Careful advances, minimal damage to infrastructure and just meat grind through everything Ukraine and NATO throws at them, eventually the Ukrainian army will be demoralized and refuse to fight.

While artillery, rocket and air strikes ARE being used quite a lot by Russia, and there IS damage being inflicted to civilian infrastructure and civilians, it's important to note:

  1. Russia IS capable of unloading significantly more ordinance, that is much more indiscriminate.
  2. The Ukrainian army IS using civilians and civilian infrastructure for cover - placing artillery near civilian population (and not evacuating civilians), placing snipers and AT on rooftops of civilian-occupied buildings, taking quarter in schools and hospitals. Amnesty International
  3. Russia is rebuilding destroyed infrastructure Moscow Times (sorry, there's very little western coverage of what "evil Russia/Putin" does, that doesn't make us/him look evil)
  4. Putin is personally signing executive orders that cut down on bureaucracy and uncertainty in regards to Ukrainians and refugees on captured territory - including welfare payments that are essentially equal to what a Russian citizen can expect CGTN
  5. Corruption on captured territory and discrimination against Ukrainian refugees (such as intentional dragging out and excessive bureaucracy) and marauding (no war without marauding, NATO soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq included) does occur, and it takes a while for the news to reach Moscow, but ultimately it all gets condemned, and the people responsible get punished.

So it's obvious, that Russia is trying to minimize damage, repair what it can and create a positive image every way it can, so that there will be less discontent in the captured territories, which in turn, should ultimately lead to a painless integration and annexation.

Sanctions take a back seat, because

  1. They really haven't had any noticeable effect on Russian population - honestly I noticed a difference only in the first week, when the panic set in, and essentials such as diapers shot up in price. Ultimately though, localized production was quick to ramp up and fill in the vacated supply, so prices returned to normal by March. Some commodities, such as German cars have become hard to get, and prices have skyrocketed (like 5x for Mercedes), but Japanese and French cars haven't gotten much more expensive. The average wage has gone up (*from what I personally see, I don't have stats on all of Russia). So all in all - no effect.
  2. Seems like Russia was prepared and had a plan to cope with the sanctions. As stated earlier - localized production is replacing vacated supply, a wide sleuth of government subsidies for business and the common people has been made available to stimulate, promote and support growth. Exports that were sanctioned in EU, were quickly redirected to other markets, such as China, India and UAE - this could not have been done without prior preparation. This is likely the result of good planning and lessons learned from the Georgian and Crimean sanctions.
  3. With NATO actions being seen as a direct threat to national security, what good is an economy, if NATO military infrastructure isn't stopped?

The only relatively negative (maybe) effect I've noticed, is there is (supposedly) more limitation on freedom of speech. However, I lived in the US 1994-2016, and honestly - what we have here is Russia is a cake-walk compared to freedom of speech in the US, where, beginning in 2001, many people who spoke out against the Iraq and Afghanistan wars were fired and blacklisted, Russian news censored out as "propaganda", and increasingly "fake news" and unconfirmed facts, claims, and allegations levied against Russia as self-evident. All this, done strictly inline with the US government "line": Russia is evil, we are good, if you question our words or decisions, then you are not a patriot, you are a Russian troll or Putin's goon.

UKRAINE Honestly, it doesn't seem like Ukraine has much of a choice in the matter. Kiev echoes EU and US rhetoric. In towns, cities and territories captured by the Russian army, a large part of the Ukrainian politicians who remain, are slow to understand, that Russia is not Ukraine circa 1990-present. Some of them continue trying to abuse their power and use corrupt schemes to fill their pockets at the expense of civilians, but they all end up getting "the message" - allegations, investigations, court hearings, ultimately some form of justice. The people of these territories - so far, have little reason to hate on Russia. Basically, on the one hand you had Ukrainian soldiers taking cover behind civilians, brutality and marauding from Ukrainian soldiers, and a bunch of corrupt politicians. On the other hand, you have Russian artillery and airstrikes that do damage to your home, but then come along and for the most part, offer you humanitarian aid, begin construction to repair the damage done, drive corrupt politicians out, and offer you welfare payments to help you get back on your feet - there's not much resentment going on, from what I can see or hear from acquaintances in Ukraine.

Also I'd like to point out - Ukraine has been "independent" for a very brief period of time in history. Before Ukraine became a country, it was a territory that was controlled by countries surrounding it - Russia, Poland, Romania, Austria. As a result, Ukraine is not homogeneous - there's no "average Ukrainian" per se. There's Eastern Ukraine, which was historically part of the Russian Empire and later the Soviet Union. There's the Western Ukraine, which was historically part of Austria, Poland, Romania. Some Ukrainians in western Ukraine, to this day, don't know Ukrainian and don't have Ukrainian passports - they are descendants of Poles and Austrians, and speak Polish or Austrian. Eastern Ukraine is in this manner similar - Ukrainians in Eastern Ukraine speak Russian, consider themselves Russian. Attempts to "homogenize" Ukraine ultimately didn't really work. Neither western nor eastern Ukrainians, understood why they need to learn Ukrainian or "be" Ukrainian, if their ancestors were all Austrian, Polish or Russian. Attempts to create a "Ukrainian" identity did result in some amount of Ukrainian (ultra)nationalists, which levitated more towards European integration, but since they insist on a Ukrainian identity, as a result of this war, they found themselves with little support from the eastern and western populations. Many political experts think it logical for Ukraine to cease to exist as a result of this war - Eastern Ukraine up to Kiev, likely being annexed by Russia; Western Ukraine, likely being "saved" by Poland and/or Austria.

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  • 5
    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, 2022 at 14:26
  • 4
    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, 2022 at 15:38
  • 11
    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, 2022 at 1:46
  • 5
    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, 2022 at 11:09
  • 3
    @MSalters Around 10-20% of Russians have relatives in Ukraine (vice versa even greater number) and perhaps twice that number have been to Ukraine (pre-2014 or maybe even post-2014). It's myopic to consider Russian opinion being based on stories only. Some of Russians now got to see Ukraine from a different angle, that's true.
    – alamar
    Oct 10, 2022 at 12:19
1

Some analysis one year in is that

  • Western countries are pouring arms into Ukraine. That has blunted the invasion considerably
  • Russia seems to be tripling down by throwing more troops into the conflict. Men have been conscripted into service and Russia is openly talking of having 1.5 million troops

The current state is a stalemate.

There is a path out, but it would require bold and decisive NATO action (something that might be hard to pull off). The path here looks like this

  1. NATO carves up Ukraine and allows Russia to annex part or all of Donbas. The Ukranians would have to sign off on this, but this would be presented as an ultimatum for Russia (i.e. you don't negotiate it with them)
  2. NATO makes what's left of Ukraine a member of NATO
  3. NATO (after communicating a sufficient amount to Russia) moves slowly into Ukraine to sweep the Russians out, stopping at the new line they drew in Step 1

Not an ideal solution by any stretch of the imagination (and it's gutsy), but it is quite a bit more realistic than "Ukraine takes everything back", which seems increasingly unlikely. Ukraine will run out of one thing long before Russia will: troops. That seems to be why Putin has talked of 1.5M new troops. You don't need a better armed force, you just need to outlast the other side and some estimates have Ukraine and Russia merely trading kills

The most senior US general estimates that around 100,000 Russian and 100,000 Ukrainian soldiers have been killed or injured in the war in Ukraine.

What this does is give everyone a workable path out

  • Russia gets Donbas (which has Russian-speaking populations in it long before the war) and more territory. Putin can take a victory lap in Russia on that, making any sort of "sore loser" actions (i.e. nuclear) less likely
  • Ukraine (or what's left) gets NATO membership. Putin has been openly afraid of war with NATO (which was the goal) and thus Ukraine gets the stability NATO was meant to bring. This would be a net loss for Putin
  • NATO gets a win and makes it harder for future Russian incursions into eastern Europe
  • The Western countries supporting Ukraine can stop pouring "unlimited" military support in and can help Ukraine rebuild
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  • 2
    I agree with your scenario. It is very sad because we could have had that a year earlier, and 200,000 Ukrainians and Russians could still live.-- As a detail, I suppose that rather than becoming a full nominal NATO member, Ukraine may become something like an "associated member". All the security guarantees but, for example, not part of the regular NATO command hierarchy. In any case, if Putin's goal was to establish a large buffer zone between Russia and NATO he has shot himself in the foot. Which is an inherent danger of grabbing a gun, I suppose ;-). Mar 10, 2023 at 15:05
  • Putin said he won't accept anything less than Ukraine's neutrality, probably in their constitution like it was before (and still is the case in Moldova.) The recent volley of 80+ missiles in one day shows that he still has plenty of "arguments" like that, even if the front line is only moving slowly, but still it is moving in Russia's favor. Mar 10, 2023 at 15:58
  • 3
    I think this is rather unrealistic. This would be very close to direct war between NATO and Russia and a takeover of Ukraine by NATO. Much more likely are peace negotiations between Ukraine and Russia. And only God knows what will be the outcome there. Mar 10, 2023 at 18:12
  • 1
    @Trilarion I find negotiations (at least at this stage) to be even more unrealistic. As long as Russia has more bodies to throw at this conflict, they at least think can win outright. It seems to be working at present, to some extent. Yes, this risks open war with Russia, but again, Russia can take Donbas as a trophy.
    – Machavity
    Mar 10, 2023 at 18:17
  • 3
    .. 50% Ukrainians before the war. Russia ignores international borders, is responsible for the death of tens of thousands of Ukrainians and on top of that it gets land to keep? This is some encouragement for all others in a similar situation to simply take what they would like to have with arms. Not nice and not really suitable for the 21st century. I'm much more for the borders of beginning of Feb 22 plus reparations from the Russian side for all the inflicted damage at the very least as a basis for any peace treaty. Now that sounds a bit unrealistic but much fairer, if you ask me. Mar 13, 2023 at 7:38
1

On September 22, 2023, more than a year into the war, the New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman proposes a "dirty deal":

  • "Russia gets to keep some or all of its ill gotten gains".
  • Putin "will be able to go and say, I showed those Nazis in Ukraine. I punished them enough".
  • "In return, Ukraine gets to be in NATO and the European Union".

Rationale: "I don’t want to give [Putin] anything, but again, we’re talking about a dirty deal now."

Friedman considers the EU "one of the greatest miracles in global history".1 He thinks that the underlying reason for Putin's invasion is that he could not let Ukraine become a modern, West-oriented Slavic state. Such a country at Russia's doorstep would show the Russian people what is possible, much like West Germany showed it to the East Germans, and with the same demoralizing, de-legitimizing and destabilizing effects.

Bringing Ukraine into the EU would be "one of the most consequential geopolitical tipping points since East Germany was united with West Germany".

Friedman actually does not make clear though how Putin could live with this solution because, in Friedman's own words, "Ukraine joining the EU would be an existential threat to [Putin]", for the reason mentioned that it would be a counter-example to his rule of corrupt autocracy.


1 I agree, and this is usually not appreciated enough, a bit like a long-lasting unspectacular marriage.

6
  • Russians know very clearly that they were never admissible to EU and no meaningful political framework involving Russia and the EU exists. So yes, they see any of Russia's neighbours joining the EU as Russian international policy failure.
    – alamar
    Sep 25, 2023 at 4:39
  • And not for the reason that you've edited in. East Germans knew that they are, after all, Germans, and can live just like West Germans do. Russians know they're not getting into EU regardless of who they are or what they do. So any success of countries inside the EU is irrlevant.
    – alamar
    Sep 25, 2023 at 12:42
  • @alamar I paraphrased Friedman (faithfully, as I hope). Sep 25, 2023 at 13:36
  • This is weird because I have been reading Stratfor for a few years, read numerous pieces about strategy for Russia and none of these were basied on corrupt autocracy. The predictions would stay the same regardless of the regime.
    – alamar
    Sep 25, 2023 at 14:33
  • @alamar I admit that this wording is from me; I thought that characterization of the current Russia is self-evident (no free courts or press or parties -> autocracy; complacent oligarchs as allies -> corruption). Result is a bad economy (sub-optimal resource allocation, bad investment climate (no impartial enforcement of contracts), too little innovation, missing social safety net). But of course that discussion is tangential -- the essential part is that the economy is bad compared to the potential of a Western-style one (see Baltics), for whatever reasons. Sep 25, 2023 at 14:37
-2

While, at the moment, Ukraine is doing much better than Russia, and we will definitely see some more Russian defeats in the near future, it is unlikely that Ukraine will achieve the overwhelming victory that is described in some other answers. Even if this Ukrainian victory happens some years from now, the country will need to pay a huge price for it. In this context, the plan proposed by Elon Musk could be a solution, or, at least, the basis for a solution. Here are the most important statements by Musk:

Russia is doing partial mobilization. They go to full war mobilization if Crimea is at risk. Death on both sides will be devastating.

Russia has >3 times population of Ukraine, so victory for Ukraine is unlikely in total war. If you care about the people of Ukraine, seek peace.

Let’s try this then: the will of the people who live in the Donbas & Crimea should decide whether they’re part of Russia or Ukraine

This plan is short, it fits into only four points:

  • Holding new referenda under the auspices of the United Nations (UN) in the regions controlled by Russia. "Russia is leaving if it is the will of the people";

  • Crimea is formally part of Russia, as it has been since 1783 ("before Khrushchev's mistake," according to Musk);

  • At the same time, Ukraine provides the Crimean Peninsula with water;

  • Ukraine's acceptance of neutrality.

Musk has helped Ukraine a lot in this conflict, so calling him pro-Russian is problematic.

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    That's a great idea. Now, how do you ask people who live in an area that's actively being fought over (and millions of whom are refugees elsewhere in the world) what they want and be sure that their answer isn't being forced by one side or the other?
    – Bobson
    Oct 3, 2022 at 23:22
  • 6
    "the will of the people who live in the Donbas & Crimea" Elon doesn't have great ideas every day and this isn't one. Many people who lived there in 2014 left or are dead. Their will is impossible to determine. Oct 4, 2022 at 4:51
  • 3
    @convert en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1991_Ukrainian_independence_referendum Crimea voted 54% for independence from Russia. Kherson 90%, Donetsk 84% etc. I think it is fair to say that they overwhelmingly did not want to belong to Russia, and only Crimea was somewhat contested. They plan cannot be a solution, because it is unacceptable for Ukraine because it is based on russian narratives. It has been rebuked by the Ukrainian FM and President.
    – Polygnome
    Oct 5, 2022 at 17:43
  • 5
    @Polygnome: to be fair that was independence from the USSR. And opinions can change in 25-30 years. Even in the UK, Scotland was promised one [independence] referendum per generation, or something like that. bbc.com/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-51120175 Oct 7, 2022 at 13:02
  • 5
    @convert Just wanted to comment on how naive Elons idea is. Killing many people and then asking the remaining ones what they want isn't a great idea. Oct 7, 2022 at 20:24
-5

Justice is multifaceted.

In 2014, the Ukrainian president Yanukovych decided to prioritize Russia over Europe. As a result, civil war erupted in Ukraine. The current war between Russia and Ukraine developed from this intranational conflict. Whereas western justice demands Russia's surrender, Russian justice demands Ukraine's. However,

Peace is more important that justice:

A classic mafioso vendetta is an example of where justice is more important than peace. But is this a civilized way of dealing with conflict? No, only a compromise can prevent two warring parties, both of whom are convinced that they are right, from harming each other. This means a mutual sacrifice for the greater good.

A possible exit strategy is therefore:

An agent of peace introduces a persuasive bill in the UN, and manages to sway all the members of the Security Council to override both Ukrainian and Russian end goals, and implement a peaceful compromise in the Ukrainian/Russian conflict.

Something along the lines of:

  • Ukraine is to be divided into East and West Ukraine, along the most obvious natural boundary, the Dnieper River. The most recent example of a successful split is that of the Czech Republic and Slovakia, which separated peacefully into two new countries in 1993.
  • Yanukovych is to be restored as President, but now of East Ukraine, while Zelenskyy continues as President, but now of West Ukraine.
  • Kiev on the west side of the river will remain as capital of Western Ukraine, and Kiev east of the river is to be the capital of the new country, East Ukraine. The best example of two capitals that faces each other across a river of a split country is probably the capitals of the Republic of the Congo and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Furthermore:

Two new constitutions should be developed in East and West Ukraine. The following articles should be incorporated in the two Constitutions. 1. Neutrality shall apply indefinitely. 2. Minority languages and cultures shall be protected.

The East Ukrainian constitution is provided with two additional clauses: 50 years to pass after which a referendum on reunification with West Ukraine is to be held. And in case of a negative result an extra referendum on EU membership is to be held too.

And:

As part of this lifesaving compromise, Russia is to withdraw all its military forces and contribute the five annexed territories to the newly formed East Ukraine. And NATO and others are to cease supporting Ukraine with arms; and is to commit helping to restore Ukraine, prioritizing West Ukraine, while Russia prioritizes East Ukraine's restoration.

Reference: War in Ukraine: Did NATO Provoke Russia? | The Agenda.

7
  • I think Ukraine will not agree to this. Even just surrendering the Donetsk region or a grudging perpetuation of the current "line of actual control" seems unacceptable, currently. Of course, a war of attrition only bears fruit after sufficient attrition; given the vast material resources on both sides, "attrition" here means "so many young men killed that you have mothers protesting in front of the government buildings". Therefore, what will be in 1, 2 or 5 years remains to be seen. But currently this is not a viable exit strategy. Apr 8, 2023 at 15:33
  • I don’t think that Ukraine is a member of UN Security Council? Apr 10, 2023 at 1:13
  • Nobody in their right mind want Yanukovich as a president anymore.
    – alamar
    Apr 22, 2023 at 15:22
  • 1
    I disagree! As much as Yanukovych was hated in West Ukraine he was loved in East Ukraine. He speaks their language perfectly. Apr 23, 2023 at 6:28
  • While that was true the last time Eastern Ukraine was free and voted, that was before he shot protesters. Impossible to know, now.
    – bharring
    Jul 20, 2023 at 16:45

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