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Geopolítica e Política

Lusa - Lusística - Mundial

Geopolítica e Política

Lusa - Lusística - Mundial

War in Ukraine

Republishing a piece written a year ago by George Friedman

16.03.23 | Duarte Pacheco Pereira

Ukraine - Effective Mortar Range And A Map

Ukraine - Effective Mortar Range And A Map
Moon of Alabama • March 16, 2023 at 9:17 UTC



Ukraine and the Long War

Thoughts in and around geopolitics.


Editor’s note: By definition, geopolitics moves slowly. It’s a drawn-out explanation for the long-term trajectory of nations, one that all too often gets lost in the shuffle of our modern news cycles. Those of us who study geopolitics, then, tend to repeat ourselves more than we’d like because a nation’s trajectory changes neither quickly nor dramatically. Its behavior necessarily elicits repetition – and for us, that’s a good thing. But even we welcome the occasional reminder that what we said in the past holds true today, and that when a forecast comes to fruition it benefits our readers not because we said it but because it’s true. With that in mind, we republish a piece written a year ago by George Friedman discussing what a long war in Ukraine will look like. It reads as if it could have been written at any time, as any good geopolitical analysis should.

For as often as it happens, nations typically don’t elect to enter wars if they know they will be long, drawn-out, uncertain and expensive affairs. They enter wars when they think the benefits of winning outweigh the risks, or when they think they have the means to strike decisively enough to bring the war to a quick resolution. Long wars result from consistent and fundamental errors: underestimating the will and ability of an enemy to resist, overestimating one’s own capabilities, going to war for incorrect or insufficient reasons, or underestimating the degree to which a powerful third party might intervene and shift the balance of power.

If a nation survives the first blow, then the probability of a victory increases. This is particularly the case in the long war. The nation initiating the war tends to have committed available force at the beginning, maximizing the possibility of an early victory. The defending power has not yet utilized its domestic forces or those of allies prior to the attack. Therefore, the defender increases its military power much more rapidly than the attacker. The Japanese could not match American manpower or technology over time. The United States underestimated the resilience of the North Vietnamese, even in the face of an intense bombardment of their capital. There are exceptions. The Germans in 1914 failed to take Paris, and in the long war were strangled by the British navy and ground down on the battlefield.

This is not a universal truth, but long wars originate in the attacker’s miscalculation, and with some frequency with the attacker moving with the most available force, while the defender, surviving the initial attack, has unused resources to draw upon. It is possible for the long war to grind down the defender’s resources and will, but having survived the initial attack, the defender likely has both will and resources to draw on, while the attacker must overcome the fact that it is fighting the enemy’s war, and not the one it planned.

The war in Ukraine is far from over and its outcome is not assured. But it began with a Russian attack that was based on the assumption that Ukrainian resistance would be ineffective, and would melt away once Russia came to town because the Ukrainians were indifferent or hostile to an independent Ukraine. This faulty assumption is evidenced by the relatively casual deployment of Russian armor. It also explains the Russian strategy of both bombing and entering cities. It’s difficult to subdue cities by bombing alone (think London, Hamburg and Hanoi). They are resilient, and the tonnage needed to cripple them is exorbitant. And they are notoriously advantageous for their defenders, who are more familiar with alleyways, roads, dead ends, and so on. The fact that the Russians operated this way indicates that they had low expectations of their enemy. This is to say nothing of Russia’s massive intelligence failure, which misread the enemy. (There are reports that the chief of the FSB intelligence agency’s Ukraine unit has been placed under house arrest.) The most important failure was the failure to see that Ukraine would counter with a large, relatively decentralized infantry force.

The protraction of the war allowed the West and its allies to initiate economic warfare against Russia on an unprecedented scale. It takes time to implement economic warfare, and the Russians gave away precious time. Similarly, Moscow didn’t anticipate the substantial military aid that would flow into Ukraine, particularly the kinds that were ideally suited for a light infantry force.

None of this has defeated the Russians, of course, but it has created a crisis. A military force shocked by the inaccuracy of intelligence must determine without confidence in its intelligence what to do next. Russia thus seems to have abandoned the goal to occupy all of Ukraine or even Kyiv, shifting instead to a strategy of creating a land bridge from Russia to Crimea. If there is no military dimension to the future, this is a reasonable retreat for the Russians. But a long, relatively narrow salient – military-speak for a bulge or vector – is vulnerable to many forms of interdiction. This leaves the Russian salient at the mercy of Ukrainian action at the time and place of Kyiv’s choosing.

The question of the long war depends on Russian resources, without which there is nothing to discuss. Russia is apparently short on infantry, or it would not be recruiting and trying to integrate Syrian and other soldiers. The possibility of having forces that don’t speak Russian and haven’t experienced Russian training would only be considered by a force short of manpower. And such a force, depending on how it is integrated and what the mission would be, would be taking a large risk in maintaining large-scale operations.

The problem has thus become political. The initial war plan failed. The Russians are certainly able to continue the war, but they apparently need more people and an overall better logistics system, which is hard to improve in the face of constant combat. The United States, facing the same essential problem, chose to continue the wars in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. The cost was substantial but did not threaten core national security because of the vast oceans between the war and the homeland. The Ukraine war is on Russia’s doorstep, and an extended war, with intensifying distrust of the government, can result in a trained Ukrainian special forces group expanding the fighting into Russia. Russians cannot assume immunity.

It is painful, from a political point of view, for presidents and chiefs of staff to admit failure and cut their losses. The desire to keep trying, coupled with a reluctance to admit failure, carries with it myriad problems. Russian President Vladimir Putin needs an honest intelligence review, but he had one before invading. It was not a lie; it was just wrong. In a long war, the defender has the opportunity to grow strong, and the attacker is likely maxed out in anticipation of victory and the intent to throw everything into it. If Russia has resources not deployed and held in reserve for another possible threat, and doesn’t ruthlessly cut its losses, it will be joining a long line of defeats, from Algiers to Khartoum to Hue.