How Will The War In Ukraine End?

I will try to make this simple. It is a complex question, but it is something we should be contemplating if the world is going to avoid a nuclear holocaust. It boils down to three possibilities:

  • Unconditional Surrender
  • Negotiated Settlement
  • Prolonged Conflict and Exhaustion, i.e. Stalemate

From Russia’s perspective the military operation in Ukraine is not a war. War means destroying the enemy — physically, materially and politically. Despite the claims from Western propaganda, Russia has shied away from inflicting mass civilian casualties. Russia has not tried to destroy Western ISR platforms, Ukrainian government infrastructure or Ukrainian political officials. In short, Russia has only played a few of the military cards it holds. Going to war means you go all in.

Ukraine and its NATO allies hold a diametrically opposed view — this is a Russian war of aggression. In contrast to Russia, Ukraine has not only mobilized its population of military aged men, but it has dragooned youth under the age of 18 and men between the ages of 45 and 65 into uniform and sent the cannon fodder forward. Ukraine’s ability to sustain a war footing going forward is entirely dependent on money and weapons supplied by the United States and other NATO member states. Without foreign support Ukraine cannot continue to fight a modern industrial war.

So let us review some crucial facts:

  1. Ukraine is suffering devastating military casualties and does not have a trained reserve force it can send to the battlefield.
  2. Ukraine lacks a viable fixed wing combat air capability.
  3. Ukraine lacks a stockpile of tanks, vehicles, artillery, artillery shells.
  4. Ukraine does not have secure training facilities/bases on its own territory and must rely on other NATO countries to provide training. (This means the training is limited and not standardized.)
  5. Ukraine’s counter-offensive, which was supposed to breach Russia’s Surovikin defense lines, has failed and Ukraine lacks the combat power to escalate attacks.
  6. Russia, by contrast, has ample numbers of trained troop reserves, artillery ammunition, artillery (mobile and fixed), cruise missiles, drones, more than a thousand fixed wing combat aircraft, attack helicopters, and massive air defense systems.
  7. Russia is self-sufficient in critical natural resources required to supply its defense industries.
  8. Russia is no longer dependent on the West for trade and its economy is growing in-spite of Western economic sanctions.

Many Western analysts insist that the situation unfolding in Ukraine is a stalemate and postulate that the war with Russia will drag on for years to come. Nonsense. Given the facts outlined above, the advantages fall entirely into the Russian side of the ledger. Ukraine does not enjoy a single advantage over Russia at this stage. In my view, it is unlikely that the Russian/Ukrainian war will produce a stalemate.

What about a negotiated settlement? Possible, but any deal will be on Russia’s terms. Russia will insist on international recognition of Crimea, Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, Donetsk and Luhansk as permanent parts of Russia. This is non-negotiable. Ukraine’s political leaders continue to insist that is a non-starter. In other words, there is no deal in the offing.

Which leaves us with the third possibility — unconditional surrender. Ukraine’s military is heading towards a breaking point because of mounting casualties. Ukraine does not have a cadre of trained reserves waiting in the wings ready to rush to the front to continue the effort to breach Russia’s defensive lines. Ukraine is facing a situation like the one that confronted the Confederate General, Robert E. Lee, at Appomattox. Lee’s beleaguered army still wanted to carry on the fight against the North but, despite their spirit, they lacked the logistics and manpower to continue. Lee recognized the futility of the situation and agreed to the generous terms offered by General Ulysses Grant. I believe the moment is approaching when Ukraine’s General Zaluzhny will face a similar moment of truth.

I think the most likely scenario is a major rift between Zelensky and his military commanders over whether to continue the war. Ukrainians having a desire to fight is no substitute for having the necessary supplies of weapons and, more importantly, trained troops to use those weapons. At present, Ukraine has no viable path for sustaining military operations without guaranteed support from NATO.

The wild card in these calculations is NATO. Worst case — the United States or other NATO members decide to intervene by sending their own troops to Ukraine . This will mark the end of the “Special Military Operation” and the start of a full fledged war between NATO and Russia.

If you are interested in some of the “scholarship” on ending wars, I am providing links to some academic efforts on this subject below. I do not endorse or agree with some of the conclusions, but I thought it would be useful grist for those who wish to delve deeper into the subject.

Why Wars End: CASCON’s Answers from History

How Wars End: The Role of Negotiation (A Harvard Course)

It is commonly thought that wars end after a decisive military battle produces to a conclusive victory – one side surrenders and the other side emerges victorious. In fact, recent history suggests things are typically much more complicated: negotiations between the disputants commonly play a critical role in ending armed conflict. One only must consider Korea, Vietnam, Bosnia, Afghanistan, and Iraq. This reading group will explore the role of negotiation in terminating wars.

How Wars End (a book by Dan Reiter)

Dan Reiter explains how information about combat outcomes and other factors may persuade a warring nation to demand more or less in peace negotiations, and why a country might refuse to negotiate limited terms and instead tenaciously pursue absolute victory if it fears that its enemy might renege on a peace deal. He fully lays out the theory and then tests it on more than twenty cases of war-termination behavior, including decisions during the American Civil War, the two world wars, and the Korean War. Reiter helps solve some of the most enduring puzzles in military history, such as why Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, why Germany in 1918 renewed its attack in the West after securing peace with Russia in the East, and why Britain refused to seek peace terms with Germany after France fell in 1940.

How Does It End? What Past Wars Tell Us about How to Save Ukraine (a CSIS paper)

The time for crisis diplomacy is now. The longer a war lasts absent concessions by both parties, the more likely it is to escalate into a protracted conflict. Despite the bravery of the Ukrainian people in the face of Russian aggression, that is a dangerous prospect. The refugee crisis will grow. More civilians will die. Russia will become even more paranoid and irrational. In addition to punishment, Russian officials need a viable diplomatic offramp that addresses the concerns of all parties.

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Thanks for sharing!