A Theory of Victory

At Foreign Affairs Andriy Zagorodnyuk and Eliot A. Cohen outline a theory of victory for Ukraine in its war against Russia:

Moscow is no invincible juggernaut. Russia’s small gains were made possible only by its overwhelming advantage in firepower—which occurred only as a result of the disruption of Western aid. The country’s artillery systems are based on old models and lack precision and long-range capabilities, and its multiple-launch rocket systems, tanks, and aviation equipment are no match for Western models. If Ukraine can increase precision strikes by long-range artillery, it can turn the war’s arithmetic against Russia and impose an unacceptable rate of attrition on Moscow. Eventually, Russia will be unable to replace its manpower and materiel fast enough. The country’s economy simply will not be able to sustain this war in the face of constant losses.

If Ukraine has enough supplies, it will be able to keep Russian artillery at bay. Enhanced air defenses, including F-16 fighter jets equipped with long-range air-to-air missiles, would reduce Russian attacks on critical infrastructure inside Ukraine as well as on units stationed near the front. With Russia’s forces increasingly paralyzed, Ukraine would soon be able to use its Western long-range systems—such as its Army Tactical Missile Systems (better known as ATACMS)—to take down Russian command-and-control centers and air-defense assets.

Kyiv must also use drones in much larger numbers to fulfill all these tasks. Ukraine has already demonstrated that it can wield unmanned vehicles with devastating effects; it is thanks to drone attacks, for instance, that Russia’s Black Sea Fleet has been disabled. Drones have also helped prevent large-scale Russian maneuvers on the ground. And they are making it possible for Ukraine to strike deep into Russia, hitting Russian oil facilities, military bases, and weapons factories. To counter that threat, Moscow may need to station most of its air defense systems at home. Russia is simply too large for its defenses to simultaneously shield the homeland and the battlefront. It will become even more vulnerable if the United States allows Ukraine to strike legitimate targets within Russia using U.S.-donated weapons.

The process of softening Russian positions and weakening Russian resolve will likely take about a year, after which Ukraine should reclaim the initiative. Kyiv should again launch limited counteroffensives, which will allow it to retake key terrain. If this assault is successful, Putin’s regime could face a crisis bred of heavy losses and battlefield failures. The Russian political system, after all, is already showing cracks. The mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin’s failed 2023 mutiny, the demotion or arrest of senior military officials including General Sergei Surovikin, and the shocking success of Islamic State (ISIS) terrorists at striking inside Moscow in March all reflect the regime’s mounting vulnerability. If Ukraine advances to a point where Russia can no longer hold on to gains, Putin will find himself in deep trouble. His 2014 seizure of Crimea is critical to his domestic popularity; to see Russia’s control of the peninsula threatened would be a major symbolic defeat.

How realistic is this plan? It seems to me that Ukraine has problems in addition to late deliveries of munitions that the United States and its NATO allies are hard pressed to deliver at the pace they are being used by the Ukrainians. Ukraine just lowered its draft age from 27 to 25. And Al Jazeera is reporting that Ukrainian President Zelensky is calling for NATO members to take action against incoming Russian missiles directly:

Zelenskyy proposed that the armed forces of neighbouring NATO countries could intercept incoming Russian missiles over Ukrainian territory to help Ukraine protect itself.

Russia has fired thousands of missiles and drones at Ukraine since the start of its invasion in 2022 and launched an assault in the northeastern border region of Kharkiv on May 10 that resulted in their biggest territorial gains in a year and a half.

Meanwhile, Russia is conducting tactical nuclear weapons drills on the Ukrainian border.

2 comments… add one
  • CuriousOnlooker Link

    This reminds me of Yogi Bera’s quip, “ In theory there is no difference between theory and practice – in practice there is” .

    I don’t want to critique too much (through there is a lot to critique). The very first thing that needs to be answered to building a roadmap to “winning” or at least not losing the war is why did the Ukraine counteroffensive fall so short of expectations of Western experts — including some of the sophisticated war planning models we have. If the West doesn’t understand it’s shortcomings; how does it expect to win?

  • TastyBits Link

    In addition to killing lots of people and destroying lots of stuff, winning requires taking and holding land. Anything else is a “circle jerk”.

    I do not understand any of this. There will be no internal Russian collapse. There may be an internal Ukrainian collapse, but I would not count on it. The Russians can push to the Dnieper, but that looks unlikely. The Ukrainians may be able to take back some of their territory, but even taking everything, they cannot hold it.

    Holding the land will include potential insurgencies. Both sides know how to handle insurgents, but I doubt the West is going to be happy.

    Assuming NATO (the US) decided to expel Russia from all Ukrainian territory, it would require months to build-up the troops and equipment needed. This assumes that the US could muster enough troops and equipment while still invading every shithole in the world.

    As is victory through drones and smart bombs, this is a fantasy.

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