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Russia’s Mistake

By Rr016 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=115940661

Russia appears to be shifting to a strategy of attrition, focusing on holding its gains and inflicting as much damage as possible on Ukrainian forces. This phase could last a while, and there are ways in which it benefits both sides. On the one hand, Kyiv does not seem to be in any danger of falling in the near future, and it will be difficult for the Russians to make the kind of progress necessary to cutting off Ukrainian forces east of the Dnieper. The cost of maintaining a force in the field is immense, and will contribute to the already catastrophic Russian economic situation. With Western supplies and (possibly) foreign fighters, Ukraine’s relative military position may actually improve over the next few months, which will become important if Russia plans a decisive summer offensive. On the other hand, sitting tight and relying on artillery plays to some Russian strengths. Modern armies with poor morale tend to fall apart when the move (either advancing or retreating), but officers can usually hold things together if they’re just sitting. An infantryman may reject or shirk orders to advance, but an artilleryman ordered to fire against unseen opponents miles away is in an altogether different social situation. The Russians can dig in and severely limit the effectiveness of Ukrainian counterattacks, limiting their own losses while inflicting damage on the opponent. And while the current situation isn’t good for Russia, they are in possession of quite a lot of Ukrainian territory, and it will be extremely difficult for the Ukrainians to dislodge them over the next few months.

Some links:

Finally, I have some thoughts on Realism and responsibility:

For these Realists, NATO is responsible for the invasion of Ukraine, in the same sense that the police are responsible when the bank robber murders his hostages. Realists are willing to accept this analogy because moral judgments traditional in the domestic sphere do not apply to the international system; Russia is entitled to crush small countries based on its interpretation of geopolitical vulnerability. Vladimir Putin is a hard man, making hard decisions in a hard world.

But now that has all fallen apart. If NATO forced Putin to act, then apparently it also forced him to pay no attention to his dreadfully underprepared army, leading to a series of humiliating defeats that have undercut Russian military prestige. It forced him to ignore the potential for fierce Ukrainian resistance and the prospect of Western unity that will quite likely expand NATO along an even larger section of NATO’s border.  It forced Putin to incur sanctions that will contract Russia’s economy by as much as 15% in a year, and that is spurring the emigration of the youngest and best-educated of Russia’s workforce.

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