I’ll try to make it simple. It’s a complicated question, but one we must consider if the world wants to avoid nuclear annihilation. It is based on three possibilities:
- unconditional surrender
- negotiated settlement
- Prolonged struggle and exhaustion, i.e. stalemate
Military action in Ukraine is not a war from Russia’s point of view. War means destroying the enemy physically, materially and politically. Despite Western propaganda claims, Russia has largely shied away from inflicting civilian casualties. Russia has not tried to destroy Western ISR platforms, Ukrainian government infrastructure or Ukrainian political officials. In short, Russia has played only a few of the military cards it has. Going to war means you all get involved.
Ukraine and its NATO allies hold the diametrically opposite point of view – it is a war of Russian aggression. Unlike Russia, Ukraine has not only mobilized its own population of military aged men, but it has also pulled young men under 18 and men between the ages of 45 and 65 into uniform to serve as cannon fodder. . Ukraine’s ability to advance on a war footing is entirely dependent on funding and weapons supplied by the United States and other NATO member states. Ukraine cannot continue the modern industrial war without foreign support.
So let’s review some important facts:
- Ukraine is suffering catastrophic military casualties and has no trained reserve forces to send to the battlefield.
- Ukraine lacks a viable fixed-wing fighter air capability.
- Ukraine lacks reserves of tanks, vehicles, artillery, artillery shells.
- Ukraine does not have secure training facilities/bases on its territory and has to rely on other NATO countries to provide training. (This means that the training is limited and not standardized.)
- The Ukrainian counter-offensive, which was supposed to break through Russia’s Surovikin defense lines, has failed and Ukraine lacks the combat power to mount attacks.
- In contrast, Russia has substantial trained military reserves, artillery ammunition, artillery (mobile and stationary), cruise missiles, drones, over a thousand fixed-wing fighter aircraft, attack helicopters, and large-scale air defense systems.
- Russia is self-sufficient in the vital natural resources needed to supply its defense industries.
- Russia is no longer dependent on the West for trade and its economy is growing despite Western economic sanctions.
Many Western analysts emphasize that the situation unfolding in Ukraine is deadlocked and believe that the war with Russia will last for years to come. Nonsense. Given the facts mentioned above, the gains flow entirely to the Russian side of the ledger. Ukraine at this stage does not have a single advantage over Russia. In my view, it is unlikely that the Russian/Ukrainian war will result in a stalemate.
What about negotiated settlement? Possible, but any deal will be on Russia’s terms. Russia will push for international recognition of Crimea, Kherson, Zaporizhia, Donetsk and Luhansk as permanent parts of Russia. This is non-negotiable. Political leaders of Ukraine are constantly emphasizing that this is a non-starter. In other words, no deal is going to happen in the near future.
Which leaves us with the third possibility – unconditional surrender. Ukraine’s army is nearing the end due to mounting casualties. Ukraine has no cadre of trained reserve ready to go to the front to continue the effort to break through Russia’s defensive lines. Ukraine is facing a situation similar to what Confederate General Robert E. Lee faced at Appomattox. Lee’s beleaguered army still wanted to continue fighting against the North, but despite his spirit, he lacked the logistics and manpower to continue. Lee recognized the futility of the situation and agreed to the generous terms proposed by General Ulysses Grant. I believe the moment is drawing near when General Zaluzny of Ukraine will face just such a 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 who wish to fight have no substitute for an essential supply of weapons and, more importantly, soldiers trained to use those weapons. Currently, Ukraine has no viable way to continue 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 in Ukraine by sending their own troops. This would mark the end of the “special military operation” and the start of a full-scale war between NATO and Russia.
If you are interested in some “scholarship” on ending wars, I am providing links to some academic efforts on the subject below. I don’t support or agree with some of the conclusions, but I thought it would be useful for those who want to delve deeper into the topic.
How Wars End: The Role of Negotiation (a Harvard course)
It is generally thought that wars end after a decisive military victory followed by a decisive victory – one side surrenders and the other side is victorious. In fact, recent history suggests that things are usually much more complicated: negotiations between disputants usually play a key role in ending an armed conflict. One need only consider Korea, Vietnam, Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iraq. This reading group will explore the role of dialogue in ending wars.
how do wars end (a book by Dan Reiter)
Dan Reiter explains how information about the consequences of war and other factors can lead a warring nation to demand more or less in peace talks, and why a country may refuse to negotiate on limited terms and may rather pursue complete victory than persevere if he fears that his enemy may renege on a peace settlement. He thoroughly presents the theory and then tests it on more than twenty cases of war-ending behavior, including decisions during the American Civil War, two world wars, and the Korean War. Reiter helps solve some of military history’s most enduring puzzles, such as why Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, why Germany resumed its offensive in the West in 1918 after securing peace with Russia in the East , and why Britain refused to seek peace terms. With Germany after the fall of France in 1940.
how does it end? What past wars tell us about saving Ukraine (a CSIS paper)
Now is the time for crisis diplomacy. The longer the war drags on in the absence of concessions by both sides, the more likely it is to turn into a protracted conflict. Despite the bravery of the Ukrainian people in the face of Russian aggression, this is a dangerous prospect. Refugee crisis will increase. More civilians will die. Russia will become even more paranoid and irrational. In addition to punishment, the Russian authorities need a viable diplomatic framework that addresses the concerns of all parties.