Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has bogged down, and the conflict has moved into a stalemate. This means Russia is holding its current conquests in the east and south of Ukraine. It may even formally incorporate them into the Russian state. But it is no longer making major progress. Similarly, Ukraine has stopped losing territory and has even pushed back Russian thrusts in the north and northeast. But it has yet to launch a major counteroffensive. It has not yet retaken any large slice of ground occupied and reinforced by the Russians.
Russia’s initial February thrust into Ukraine was a poorly planned, misshapen catastrophe. Too many invasion routes led to a dispersion of effort, leadership, and logistical support. Russian incursions in the north and northeast of Ukraine were unsustainable. The territories taken in the east and south – in the Donbas region and along the coast – were too fragile and exposed. Russian President Vladimir Putin then concentrated his forces in the east, using Russia’s enormous superiority in artillery to pummel territory before sending infantry to take it. This worked relatively well for a few months, in the spring and early summer. But that, too, petered out, a reality variously attributed to better U.S. artillery help for Ukraine, or to Russia’s high casualties – especially among its best units, which were committed early to the fight. The analytical consensus is that the war is now stalemated.
Can Putin Hold His Quick Gains?
In the short term, a stalemate is not a bad outcome for Putin. He can term the new territorial disposition as the status quo and claim that he seeks peace. Defense is easier than offense, so he merely has to hold onto what he has already won. Putin still seems to want Ukraine’s entire coastline – most importantly Odesa – but that seems unlikely. If the war stopped now, he would still come out ahead. Indeed, his strategy of driving up fuel costs in the West, hoping it will pressure Ukraine to sue for peace, suggests Putin would like to stop the war now and lock his current gains in place.
If it stretches into the medium term, however, a stalemate is a disaster for Russia. If Western support for Ukraine persists, especially through the coming winter amid potential gas shortages in Europe, then Russia will face a determined, well-armed enemy who will keep fighting and fighting, regardless of the cost. Ukrainian morale, and more important, its willingness to absorb casualties, is much higher than Russia’s. Russia can win individual engagements, but Ukraine will keep coming back until it starts to win the larger war. Russia, by contrast, will suffer the widening consequences of punishing sanctions, and it cannot outproduce the Western defense industrial base.
More importantly, Ukraine would probably fight on even if Western support is reduced. Direct battlefield action would become much harder, of course, but an insurgency would likely spring up throughout occupied territories. Indeed, that may already be happening. A Ukrainian victory would take much longer and it would be bloodier. But the Afghans defeated the Red Army in the 1980s after a decade-long insurgency. Ukraine would likely try something similar, and the sanctions against Russia would probably stay in place. The result would be a classic quagmire – a militarily powerful state locked in a low-intensity conflict against an inferior opponent who simply will not quit. What Russia needs most of all is to win definitively – to end the war before it turns into a repeat of Afghanistan or Vietnam.
Can Ukraine Win a Major Reconquest before Winter?
There seems to be general agreement that Putin’s best chance is to hang on until winter, and then hope that cold temperatures and high fuel costs push the West, particularly Germany, to pressure Ukraine into making concessions and stopping the war. It is not clear if this will work. NATO’s rhetoric on the war continues to be strongly supportive of Ukraine. Russia’s war crimes in Ukraine will also make it hard for Germany, given its past, to twist Ukraine’s arm just because of inflation.
Ukraine’s best chance, though, is to actually break the stalemate, at least somewhat, before winter. Hence its much-hyped counteroffensive against Kherson. By retaking a significant metropolis and moving the frontlines on the map, Ukraine would boost Western confidence that it can win without a long war.
Russia cannot defeat Ukraine, but it can demoralize its backers. This is the difference between a stalemate that turns against Russia in the medium term on the battlefield, or in the long term in the form of an insurgency.
Expert Biography: Dr. Robert E. Kelly (@Robert_E_Kelly; RoberEdwinKelly.com) is a professor of international relations in the Department of Political Science at Pusan National University. Dr. Kelly is now a 1945 Contributing Editor as well.
Neil Ross Hutchings
August 22, 2022 at 4:43 pm
Good article. Stalemate looks likely with Russia being content with advances in the Donbas, a reconnected water supply for Crimea, and artillery on the Dneiper’s left bank trained on the city of Kherson. Slightly better defensively than the status quo before the conflict. Still unanswered for me is how the Russians were so successful against Ukrainian defenses north of the Crimean peninsula and yet are bogged down and advancing slowly in the Donbas against similar defenses?
August 22, 2022 at 4:53 pm
Ukraine does not need to advance and definitely does not need to surrender based on concerns about the German economy. All it has to do is defend Mykolaiv and Kharkiv, let’s get some sort of armistice in place so that sanctions can take care of the rest.
August 22, 2022 at 7:05 pm
This war reminds me a lot of a war of a small country, practically only with peasants who defeated the armies of Spain and France united!
And without fighting…
In what is known as a fantastic war, Portugal only lost 14 soldiers (yes 14…) while the losses of Spain and France were over 20,000 soldiers.
When you look at what the Ukrainians are doing, it’s very similar.
It’s a war of logistics rather than combat. And winter favors Ukraine.
Here in the comments, they often talk about the 2nd world war, in which Russian soldiers sacrificed themselves by the thousands to defend their homeland. But forget that these “Russians” were for the most part, the people who inhabited the territories that are now Ukraine.
These Russians are now Ukrainians ….
August 22, 2022 at 9:12 pm
I think most don’t understand what the basis of this war is.
1. The installed potus and his son were deeply involved in Ukraine. If this conflict keeps going it’s in there ie (potus and son)
2. With all this Mar-a-Lago thing and the fbi or whoever they want to start a CW2.0 so they can invoke martial law and stop the 2024 elections.
I believe there will be an attempt on 45’s life or he will be prosecuted by some made up evidence they concoct from the documents they stole from his personal home and that will in turn cause an uprising by the true American people that has been going thru this BS for 6+ years. It’s going to be a lot worse that Ukraine. jus say’n
August 22, 2022 at 9:16 pm
correction: “If this conflict keeps going it’s in there ie (potus and son) favor.”
August 23, 2022 at 12:42 am
Hmm, nam has zero corelation with russia, as nam didn’t declare any hostility against anyone. It was US that falsely appointed itself as god of nam’s affairs.
Still, in 1968, General westmoreland considered using nukes against the ‘namese when his US forces found the going difficult.
Thus, russia today can take fulk note of his idea. Now that ukro’s secret service has been fully active inside russia itself (with help from CIA & MI6), it’s time for putib to end this NATO-BIDEN manufactured euro charade by finishing off ukro with a thermo blast.
One blast, g-a-m-e o-v-e-r !
August 23, 2022 at 6:45 am
Ukrainain do not have fate in a quick resolve too the war in Ukraine,6 month after leaving a fail war in Afghanistan, American are entangled in a fail war in Ukraine, Russian cannot fail in Ukraine, because no one will have fear in them,so they will be their as long as it take to pacify Ukraine
August 23, 2022 at 11:21 am
To 403forbidden and Yrall. I come across people like you two all too often. You pretend you understand, but you dont. You just make excuses for Tyrants like Putin. I quote myself on ‘Nam and Afghan so often I have a reply ready to go that obliterates both your silly arguments at once:
One can stipulate mistakes made in Vietnam such as the draft, agent orange, mi lai massacre, etc.. and recognize that fighting there blocked communism from expanding into Thailand, Singapore, and beyond…
An objective person who learns all the facts would note that after General Abrams took over Military command in Vietnam from Westmorland in ’68, the draft was ended, we went from 400,000 troops in ’68 to 40,000 in ’72 and we still beat the commies so bad at the Easter offensive that only then did they come to the Paris Peace talks. It was post Watergate that the political will to keep giving money and air support to the south ended. South Vietnam would likely be what South Korea is today if we had lived up to our promises at those Paris Peace talks.
I dont think anyone would argue Afghanistan would be like South Korea, but in some ways it would have been cheaper to keep supporting them than South Vietnam. Case in point: instead of using F-16s, B52s, or AC-130 Gunships all the time… a larger fleet of A-29 Super Tucanos would have done most of the work supporting the Afghans on the ground since the Taliban have near zero anti-aircraft capability, whereas the NVA-VC had a lot, which means A-29s werent right for that mission. With constant air support, the Afghan morale would not have been lost so easily. At about $10mil apiece, We could have had eight A-29s for the cost of a single F16…It’s a propeller plane that looks kind of like a WWII era P51 Mustang, but with modern avionics, fire control systems, etc. and it would be possible to train up and transfer those duties to the Afghan’s themselves. Some of that was being done, but clearly not nearly enough priority was given to this program.
Plenty of blame to go around for this failure in Afghan. As I said, all of our last 4 presidents share it, as well as the military brass… but so do people perpetuating bogus history on the subject and convincing other people we had no chance of success. I could go on for days like this, but for now I digress.
Bottom line: Joe Biden, Trump, and others got Afghanistan wrong. They made the stupid political decision to abandon the country. Biden is getting Ukraine mostly correct. I think we should be sending Ukraine ATACMS and other weapons that would turn the tide further in favor of Ukraine. Russia is a pathetic spent force, and a well motivated people such as Ukrainians are proving what they can do with quality equipment from the west even when outnumbered by a tyrannical force such as Putin’s Imperial army of murderers. Fighting to a stalemate is stupid, we should be helping Ukraine win…and to teach Russia a lesson about moving past their Imperialist history.
in an ironic twist of fate, Vietnam and the US are now basically allies against China. War wounds can heal over time with the right people making that type of effort. Russia has a lot of repenting to do for it’s actions in Ukraine, and for centuries of invading and oppressing its neighbors. Better to start that sooner than later.
August 23, 2022 at 1:35 pm
The Russian Empire was built over 300 years by a sequence of moves against smaller neighbors, each ending in a “stalemate” – for a while. As soon as the Russians regrouped and rebuilt, they were at it again. This is why the Ukrainians know it is foolish to agree to the permanent cessions of territories in exchange for what would only be a temporary “peace”. Feed the bear one of the babies today, and the bear will be satisfied and go away – today. Tomorrow, the bear will be hungry again and back for another baby. It is most unfortunate for the Ukrainians that they live next to this bear, but that is their destiny. Some nations have such a destiny, and have no choice but to arm themselves to the teeth and to be on a permanent war footing. Either that, or resign themselves to becoming “extinct nations”.
August 23, 2022 at 3:02 pm
At 6 months, this is still a historically short war.
I object to the characterization of the war as being “Stalemated” or a “War of Attrition”, which would indicate both sides were logistically exhausted. Russia’s logistics are their Achilles heel, but Ukrainian manpower and western logistical support just keep rising.
I also object to the weather limitations of the war, where Winter somehow will prevent a Ukrainian offensive, when it didn’t prevent a Russian invasion in February. Modern Warfare with its heavy armor prefers frozen ground, and hates mud. Winter also makes hiding more difficult from smart weapon armed enemies and their Infrared systems, as well as the loss of foliage.
The Elephant in the room is that over the last few weeks Russian Logistics have been getting crippled. When shortages of fuel and ammo become critical for the Russian Forces, a rout becomes a serious possibility the Ukrainians can take advantage of. The Morale of the Russian forces is already poor, a rout could break their will to fight across the entire front.
A final note on the resolve of Western Support. Remember the Coldwar which lasted 46 years, or the 20 years just spent in Afghanistan? Democracies are seen as fickle, and subject to the whims of the voters. But wars once begun are only abandoned after every avenue for victory has been explored. The burden of support for Ukraine is chicken feed for the West at about $30 billion over 6 months so far. And Europe’s energy problems, which are political (stupid Germans), are a reason to support a quick Ukrainian Victory, rather than a ceasefire or long negotiated peace agreement which solves nothing.
August 23, 2022 at 3:49 pm
I don’t see the urgency of winter approaching. This isn’t a seasonal war. The expansion of attacks in Crimea and the Kherson quagmire are the two large acts that are unfolding. Crimea is a largely temperate region. Kherson is not going to be retaken with massive artillery barrages employed by Russia in the East, but by slow attrition, exacerbated by difficulty in resupply.
Time is a far more favorable condition for the Ukrainians.
August 23, 2022 at 5:04 pm
If American had the same urgency,they have helping Ukraine,why are they not willing to pay for helping their own citizens
Ukraine has never been an Democracy,it was built on the same platform of Russia, Corruption ,Time is not nobody side,when froze to death
August 23, 2022 at 9:18 pm
This looks a lot like a repeat of WW 2. Ukraine could replace Spain as a testing ground for new weapons and tactics. Biden could replace Chamberlain as the feckless and weak willed fool who suckered the opponent into a war that they could not win. Trump could replace Churchill as the strong man replacing the appeaser. The period 2008 to present could replace the Great Depression as the demoralizing economic conditioner getting young men who have been conditioned to failure a chance to prove their worth.
What is new this time around is that we have prepared a host of warriors to accompany us. As mentioned by Gary Jacobs above, VietNam could very well be an ally of ours in the fight against China. We turned a bunch of subsistence farmers into a formidable army simply by waging war against them. The effort was never to win the war, but to train an army. Of course it had to be done hush hush. Similarly the mid East wars go on forever because the jihadis have to be conditioned and motivated to fight Russia, China, and Iran. Afghanistan is a convenient jumping off place for each country. Notice how conveniently all the Syrian fighters were corralled in Idlib province. Were that $80 billion worth of weapons really left behind by accident? Was the withdrawal part of a con? So yes, Ukraine could be another VietNam, but you have to look at it askance.
August 23, 2022 at 11:57 pm
The way things are going, I do not think that the war will continue next year. What looks like a stalemate is, in reality, a plateau.
After the Russian retreat from the Kyiv direction of attack and reconstituting the destroyed formations, they changed the goal to consolidate the Donbas and the southern holdings. They used massive artillery barrages of up to 50,000 rounds per day. Fighting for 3 months, they took some additional territory in Donbas at a great cost in lives and equipment. Ukraine held the line and in the process practically ran out of artillery ammo. That’s when they screamed for Western artillery and pointed out their increasing losses, which went up to 200 a day on some segments of the front. That was in May.
That is when 155mm artillery was introduced. Then HIMARS showed up. That slowed down the rate of Russian artillery fire by an order of magnitude, and the advances stopped.
At this time, Ukrainian capabilities are growing due to the Western hardware, while Russian capabilities are on the decline. Russians have no means of countering the Western weapons, and they cannot replenish their own. The more-or-less stable front achieved and held for three months at great expense by the Russians is deteriorating.
The balance of power reached the crossover point. Ukrainians are destroying the logistics chain and the chain of command, and the Russians cannot stop them. It will take some time, and, I think, Ukrainians will go slow by starving troops of ammo, fuel, and food, but we will soon see a slow retreat by the Russians.
Old Desert Coyote
August 24, 2022 at 11:11 am
What every body seems to Miss is this war in Ukraine is not about Ukraine, or the United States or Germany. It is about Poland. The Poles are not going to let a Russian Military force with in a 1000 Km of its borders.
They remember that the Russians Invaded Poland on 1 September 1939, (with out any reason) Kill over 200,000 INNOCENT CIVILIAN poles, (most of them government officials, academics and members of the Clergy) and then didn’t leave for over 40 years. If the Russians get with in a 1000 km of the Polish border they will be facing Polish, troops, armed with the latest weapons and the whole of NATO. If the United States tries to restrain Poland FROM ENTERING THE UKRAINE war the Poles will tell Washington “TO GO POUND SAND”!
August 24, 2022 at 3:23 pm
The author is completely incompetent. why write these uplifting fairy tales if you don’t understand the topic of the Ukrainian conflict? Any real military analyst sees perfectly well that the Russian army has changed tactics to maximize the preservation of soldiers’ lives. Putin does not set a time frame, because time plays for Russia. Therefore, the army is slowly, saving the lives of soldiers and civilians, liberating the territories controlled by the traitors of Ukraine, who, for the sake of American imperialism, staged a war with their neighbor. A war that would never have happened without Western intervention in Ukraine’s affairs. Ukraine’s losses after 6 months are catastrophic – about 100 thousand people killed, and about 300 thousand wounded, missing and in captivity. The loss of manpower from the Russian defense, according to professional Western analysts and the military, is 10-15-20 times less than that of Ukraine. Such a difference in losses leaves Ukraine no chance. You should understand that Russia has always been preparing to fight with NATO, so the ammunition reserves will last for several years, the military industry, unlike the Ukrainian one, is fully operational. The sanctions failed to have a serious impact on the Russian economy. Any analyst will confirm that Russia has larger stocks of ground weapons than all of NATO combined. We are talking about artillery, tanks and MLRS systems. Serious stocks of shells and weapons have remained since Soviet times. The West does not have such weapons, which Russia would not have an analogue of. The only thing that is still not enough is drones, but Russia is quickly solving these problems, both by domestic production and purchases in other countries. In most cases, Russian weapons are more reliable and trouble-free, unlike Western weapons, which are more capricious and require more frequent repairs, which have nowhere to do in Ukraine. In Ukraine, even with Western arms supplies, it is catostrophically lacking. Everything that was on February 24 and after delivered from Eastern Europe of Soviet times has already been destroyed. There are not enough modern Western models. Given the crazy level of corruption, according to Western researchers, up to 70% of the weapons supplied by the West are sold to other countries or on the darknet and do not reach the front. Given the November elections in the United States and the 90% chance of losing both houses of parliament by the Democratic Party, as well as the low rating of the leadership of European countries, the risk of the collapse of the coalition in Germany and other countries, as well as riots associated with the discontent of European residents, I would not bet $1 that Ukraine will be able to hold out until next spring. Most likely, everything will end in the winter with the complete surrender of Ukraine. It will be a miracle. if the conflict drags on until spring. Do not forget that Ukraine’s economy is in ruins, NATO countries fully finance Ukraine monthly in the amount of at least $6-7 billion. As soon as the West realizes that the chances of Ukraine are zero, Afghanistan version 2.0 will happen