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Ukraine’s ‘Victory’ over Russia: All of the Tough Questions That Must Be Asked

TOS-1A
TOS-1A firing. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

While defense experts are working themselves into a froth over the recent gains Ukraine has made in the last several days, we should hold our applause for a moment and think about what this all actually means in the long run. As we need to be frank with ourselves: we have no idea what any of it means or if Kyiv’s recent string of victories will last, or what Russia will do about them. 

Now, for the good news. Yes, for the moment, Ukraine has some insane momentum in its war against Russia; of this, there is no doubt. It seems Russian troops have been quitting, POWs are being collected by Kyiv, and it appears that the Russian military in many areas is in what looks like a full retreat

But we need to ask a few questions. First, we should take stock of recent reporting coming out of the Washington Post that shows the cost of Ukraine’s offensive – both in military terms and in very personal and human terms. While it might not be in vogue to talk about – it’s more fun to talk about Russian losses, we get it  – Ukraine is losing a lot of men and material to keep this offensive going. There is a fundamental question of how long Kyiv can sustain this tempo of operations. At some point, soldiers get exhausted, supply lines grow too long, and ammo runs low – especially if that ammo is coming from the West and taking time to reach the front or factories can’t keep up with unexpected demand. 

Then there is the likely brutal Russian response – and I don’t think we are seeing the full impact of that just yet. I have been pretty shocked at how restrained Moscow has been in this war, thinking through all of the pieces of military hardware they could bring to bear. Moscow should be easily winning this war, but a combination of hubris, poor intelligence and planning, and thinking that NATO would never be willing to arm Ukraine to the extent that it has means Russia looks lost on the battlefield. 

Of course, that does not mean Russia can’t turn this around. At what point does Putin throw caution to the wind and throw the total weight of Russia’s military at Ukraine? At what point does he say the hell with losing fighters and bombers to Kyiv’s air defenses and flood the sky with everything he has? 

Then, and I think this is a critical point, is how involved and how far more involved the U.S. is getting in this conflict. Clearly, it is U.S. and Western arms, past and present training, and intelligence that is helping Ukraine not only go toe to toe –  but now actually beat the mighty Russian Army. How long will Washington have the stomach for such a high level of involvement? What happens if Putin escalates and launches a strike on NATO supply hubs in, say, Poland or if a missile accidentally hits NATO territory from Russia by mistake? What then? 

Right now, all I have is questions and very little room for happiness in this conflict. Yes, Ukraine has turned the corner, and that is to be celebrated, sure. But this war is far from over, and we should never get excited when a nuclear weapons state starts losing a conflict. A lot can go wrong, and options for escalation start to look mighty tempting for sure. 

Update: A retired U.S. Marine Corps officer who has trained with Ukraine’s army wrote in a quick comment about the state of the war I thought worth including on background: “We should not be shocked if Putin decides to really start smashing Kyiv and major metropolitan centers with long-range missile attacks. Putin right now is on the back foot and won’t take this setback lying down. I would also assume he will lash out at the West and NATO, and that could mean a major cyber attack coming from a third-party nation that will allow him deniability but have his fingerprints on it. The bottom line is this will get worse before it gets better. We should pray, not cheerlead.”

Expert Biography: Harry J. Kazianis (@Grecianformula) serves as President and CEO of Rogue States Project, a bipartisan national security think tank. He has held senior positions at the Center for the National Interest, the Heritage Foundation, the Potomac Foundation, and Pacific Forum. Kazianis has also worked as a defense journalist, serving as Editor-In-Chief of the Diplomat and Executive Editor of The National Interest. His ideas have been published in the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, CNN, CNBC, and many other outlets across the political spectrum. He holds a graduate degree focusing on International Relations from Harvard University and is the author of the book The Tao of A2/AD, a study of Chinese military modernization.

Written By

Harry J. Kazianis (@Grecianformula) serves as President and CEO of Rogue States Project, a bipartisan national security think tank. He has held senior positions at the Center for the National Interest, the Heritage Foundation, the Potomac Foundation, and many other think tanks and academic institutions focused on defense issues. He served on the Russia task force for U.S. Presidental Candidate Senator Ted Cruz, and in a similar task force in the John Hay Initiative. His ideas have been published in the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, CNN, CNBC, and many other outlets across the political spectrum. He holds a graduate degree focusing on International Relations from Harvard University and is the author of the book The Tao of A2/AD, a study of Chinese military modernization.

9 Comments

9 Comments

  1. 403Forbidden

    September 12, 2022 at 5:37 pm

    Recent advance by ukros much less spectacular than nazi advance at initial stage of op barbarossa in 1941.

    Russians haven’t brought out their big guns (yet) to teach ukros a great unforgettable lesson not to practise past fascisto leanings of hitlerian type in our modern era.

    There’s no doubt ukro blitz now guided by US intelligence since US operatives already working in donbass region from year 2014 after feb putsch of same year.

    Like in the nazi era, the ukros will soon get their comeuppance when russia whacks their already crumbling cities and towns with heavyweight weaponry. Kyiv will soon look like how wesel was in 1945.

    Problems between nations should be solved by DIPLOMACY not by joining armed organizations led by neoconized democracies or fascisto democracies possessing or boasting massive armaments industries and equally massive global arms deployment.

    Cuz end result is death & destruction. Take a look at internet photo of Wesel city in may 1945.

  2. Maj. Woody

    September 12, 2022 at 6:00 pm

    Short of a sweeping mobilization of civilian youth (or heaven-forbid tactical nukes), by all measures Russia HAS thrown everything it’s got at Ukraine. When they stared dusting off T-64s and buying ammo from the Norks, that’s when we we knew Russia was Winchester.

  3. Jacksonian Libertarian

    September 12, 2022 at 6:05 pm

    What is the purpose of this pearl clutching article?

    It’s just a bunch of fearful unknowns without a shred of common sense.

    “Ohhh…What are the Russian’s going to do?”

    How about go wee, wee, wee, all the way home?

  4. Walker

    September 12, 2022 at 6:10 pm

    403Forbidden – “Russia hasn’t yet brought out its big guns.”

    Are you talking about nukes? That would open a can of worms that would be imprudent. Hopefully doesn’t happen. If you arent talking of nukes, then what? And more importantly, why not? Is Russia intentionally losing then? Makes no sense.

    You stupid Russian deserve to have your noses smooshed in your fecal deposits.

  5. Ben Leucking

    September 12, 2022 at 6:45 pm

    Good grief, Ukraine’s leadership knows the condition of its troops, weapons and NATO supply chain far better than the author. Their planning and execution are superior to that demonstrated by Russia’s generals since the first day of invasion in February, and their Western-backed intelligence is not only effective, it operates in virtual real-time. Zelensky has already said that victory will come when Ukraine recovers every square inch of its land from Russian control and that the fight is far from over. Enough with the 1945 drama queen authors already.

  6. Yrral

    September 12, 2022 at 6:59 pm

    Is this all we got to show for this continue lost cause, Ukrainain still remains a defenseless sheep,unable to defend themselves from Russia bombardment, Russian just knock 100 of thousands of Ukrainain in the dark, without heat or electricity,the reason I do not support this because,at the end of the year Ukraine will be a shell of self ,come December, Russian could escalate with bigger bomb ,dropped on Kiev, Ukrainain will never see one ruble from Putin or the amount it will cost to rebuild Ukraine,the US won most of it battles,but lost the war,we as American, should learn from our own past failure,before we are dragged in

  7. TJ

    September 12, 2022 at 10:37 pm

    This article overlooks three very important items that undercut the author main thrust regarding a conventional response. Nukes are definitely in the russian arsenal, but that is an act that changes everything in a scary and unpredictable direction.

    1. Russians had the will at the beginning in February, but not the logistics. That is what has killed everyone of their offensive drives. They don’t have trucks and need rail. Ukrainians are destroying the rail hubs and Frontline depots. The ruskies cannot get ammo, fuel and food to the front lines. This may change the closer they are to the border and it remains to be seen if the Ukrainians are willing to bombard depots on the other side of the border.

    2. The Russians had the will in February, but have lost so many of their trained troops. Conscripts and hastily trained soldiers are not holding up well and their will is getting crushed. To rebuild and reorganize will take a lot of time and money, and the ruskies never had much money (Texas has a bigger economy than russia with a fraction of the population).

    3. Russia has fired almost 4,000 cruise and anti ship missiles already and seem to have killed more innocents than sokdiers. They do not have the stockpiles to “level” Kyiv anymore.

    So, the Russians have nothing left “to hit back really hard” with except cannon fodder. If they want to push up more air force aircraft, then they can lose a much higher percentage of them. Their best armor imhas had their turrets forcibly removed from the chassis. They have no trucks to move supplies, and their best troops are gone and not replaceable any time soon. Many of the Wagner criminals are cold and prone. Even the Chechens thugs are getting upset and making threats against the ruskies. But it’s the lack of logistics that will stillborn most viable plans the russians have.

  8. CPT K

    September 13, 2022 at 1:58 am

    Maj. Woody, you aren’t a MAJ, zero chance with that “analysis”… Or maybe you’re in the Air Force… oh, and Russia hasn’t sent anywhere close to their full combat power at Ukraine.

    “Jacksonian Libertarian”, you are neither Jacksonian, nor libertarian—supporting this American intervention is diametrically opposed to both Jacksonian realism and Libertarian basic principles.

    Russia will escalate as far as necessary to defend their own national interest and near-security, as we would in Mexico if China were arming and co-opting Mexico on our Southern Border… Putin isn’t the “problem”… the Russians, even the most liberal of them, all agree on the need to not let a situation develop where a hostile alliance—NATO, is on their doorstep/border. They will escalate all the way if necessary, and a Jacksonian Libertarian, like myself, would seek to advance our interests, not Ukraine’s, in focusing our American policy going forward

  9. DW

    September 13, 2022 at 8:28 am

    Unfortunately Russia also lost their loss. When they lost the battle of Kiev, there was no way the could win the war. Right at that point they should have retreated to the Donbas and shored up the Crimea, and immediately started real negotiations to stop the war and keep the new territory they had gained. At that point, they could have kept it. Now there is a real change they will be left with nothing to show for their war.

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