The Russia-Ukraine War: How to Guarantee American Interests No Matter the War’s Outcome – Though there are many possible ways battlefield conditions may develop in the first half of 2023, especially given conditions are so fluid and subject to change, I see three primary outcomes as having the most realistic possibility.
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The following is based on the prevailing conditions described in earlier portions of this year-end assessment, especially as it relates to the military, economic, and political dynamics involved on the battlefield, in the respective countries, and regarding the external nations that help each side. The three general outcomes are:
Russia Launches a Winter Offensive and Captures all of Donbas
Putin mobilized at least 300,000 troops in September. Half of them have been deployed to various fronts of the war in Ukraine, but 150,000 of them continue to train for future operations. Ukrainian leadership fully expects a major Russian offensive this winter.
In this scenario, the current number of Russian troops in Ukraine (potentially upwards of 250,000) continue to successfully hold the lines, and then sometime in late January or early February a sudden flood of newly formed Russian units storms weak points in the Ukrainian lines and breaks through into the rear, forcing large numbers of Ukrainian troops to either withdraw further to the west or risk encirclement and destruction.
(Note: This Is Part III of a three-part series. You can read parts I and II here and here.)
Lavrov reiterated on Wednesday that Russia still intends to liberate all four regions it “annexed” in September. Russian troops would seek to fulfill that objective in their winter offensive, driving Ukraine back beyond the Dnipro River in the south, back to Kharkiv in the north, and out of the Donbas in the center. Once attained, Putin would then declare victory, build a new “iron curtain” along the new border, and seek a negotiated settlement with Kyiv.
Russia Launches a Winter Offensive but Ukraine Blunts Putin’s Troops and Largely Holds the Line
In this scenario, in the same way as depicted above (and with the same objectives), Russia launches a winter offensive. But in this case, owing to experienced and tough Ukrainian fighters – bolstered by considerable defensive weaponry provided by the West – gave some ground in some areas but resisted the Russians in others, turning the war into a stalemate.
Russia Doesn’t Launch a Winter Offensive and Uses its Mobilized Reserves to Hold Current Positions
In this scenario, Putin chooses not to take risk, and opts for solidifying the current line of contact, using the additional 150,000 troops to backstop the troops in the north, east, and south to prevent any further Ukrainian advances. The Russians in the frontlines expand and strengthen their defensive works to make any future penetration by UAF too costly to consider, and begins to play for a negotiated settlement, making the case for his domestic audience that this somehow represents a victory for Russia, and again, the war becomes a stalemate.
American Policy Responses
In the foregoing section a couple things should stand out. First, there is no scenario that projects a Ukrainian military victory. This is because the plain military reality is that the UAF is not equipped or staffed with the necessary tools to conduct a major offensive operation of sufficient power to drive the hundreds of thousands of Russian troops out of Ukraine, especially given that they’ve been building extensive defensive fortifications throughout their zone of occupation. Ukraine can and will conduct local offensives, but they are presently equipped only to defend the current lines.
Secondly, in none of the three options was there any description involving a “winner” or an outcome that could lead to the end of the war. As previously noted, war is at its core a test of wills. It is difficult to imagine any outcome in the coming six months that would make the people of either Russia or Ukraine change from their current defiant position to being sufficiently humbled to accept a negotiated settlement on terms unfavorable to itself. It is therefore nearly certain that regardless of how things play out on the battlefield in the first half of 2023, the war will continue.
It is, therefore, of paramount importance that the United States form policies that ensure our national security and economic prosperity regardless of how the war progresses.
American Interests in Various Russia-Ukraine War Scenarios
First, it is useful to delineate what American objectives should be, almost irrespective of the foreign or military policy one examines. At the strategic level, there are roughly three main priorities that should serve as the foundation for any foreign policy a president might pursue. They are, in order: 1) to keep the United States out of any unnecessary wars; 2) ensure the U.S. fields and maintains a strong military that can deter any would-be aggressor from launching a pre-emptive attack against America or our treaty allies (or defeat the adversary if they try); and 3) safeguard the ability of the American people to prosper, financially and otherwise.
All three of those priorities should inform Biden’s responses to events in the war between Russia and Ukraine. While it is both understandable and appropriate for the United States to help a European nation that has been invaded by a hostile power, every action taken by either the White House or Congress must conform to those three priorities. All 193 governments recognized by the United Nations have as their primary obligation, to look after the security and needs of its own people. The U.S. government is no exception, especially in regard to the Russia-Ukraine War.
Under any scenario for how this war is conducted or concluded, the unambiguous number one priority of the U.S. Government is to avoid being drawn into the war as a direct participant. Flatly stated, the security of our country is not at risk, regardless of how the war unfolds. Our air, land, sea, and space forces are of a global nature that allows us to project power to a degree no nation on earth can, and our strategic nuclear forces ensure that no nation dare use nuclear weapons on us in the certain knowledge they will receive a powerful and equivalent response.
U.S. conventional and nuclear power is unquestioned, whether Ukraine wins, whether there is a stalemate, or even in the unpalatable event that Russia ekes out some sort of military victory. We successfully deterred the much more powerful USSR for decades, preserving our national security, and we will continue that streak into the foreseeable future, regardless of how this war eventually concludes – so long as we don’t allow ourselves to be drawn into a direct confrontation with Russia.
The U.S. Armed Forces should not be thrust into a major war unless there is a direct or imminent threat to our national security or that of a treaty ally – and even then, only if Congress formally authorizes it or declares war. Allowing our military to be drawn into a war against Russia when we have not been directly attacked would violate the first pillar of a good foreign policy and put at risk the second and third: our Armed Forces would be weakened in any war as a result of combat losses and our economy would be put in serious jeopardy.
Current & Future Policies
Since February 2022, it has been the general policy of the White House to help Ukraine “defend itself over the long term” by providing material and financial support. This policy is not without risk, but it has the net effect of weakening Russia and in any case does not directly violate any of the three foundational priorities. Thus far, Biden has been willing to give Kyiv enough weapons to allow them to defend their country but has withheld the massive support that might enable Ukraine to genuinely threaten to defeat Russian forces in Ukraine.
Some American pundits, like retired Gen. Keith Kellogg, suggest Biden should expand his policy to explicitly state that America will give Ukraine offensive weapons to, as Kellogg put it, “defeat the Russian army in the field; to have them leave Ukraine.” Such a policy would risk the first pillar – potentially drawing ourselves into direct confrontation (possibly nuclear) with Moscow – and violate the second and third priorities (by giving Kyiv the quantity and type of weapons and ammunition it would need would seriously deplete our own arsenals, putting our national security at risk, and cost hundreds of billions).
If Ukraine were to eventually win on its own, then the U.S. national security would be as secure then as it already is today (Russia has exposed how weak its conventional military power always was, and it presently poses no risk to attack or invade any of our European treaty partners). But even if Russia were to one day come out on top militarily, those same three principles would apply and our security would still be assured.
We know how weak Russia’s conventional military is today. Even if eventually successful, the cumulative losses suffered by Putin’s army in both manpower and equipment will take literally decades to replace. Meanwhile, the United States would help European members of NATO using those same decades to strengthen the alliances’ eastern flank, making it clear any future thought of westward ground attack would be futile.
The point should by now be clear: as long as the United States does not allow itself to get drawn into a direct conflict with Moscow, our national and economic security will be maintained no matter how this war is eventually brought to a conclusion.
It is a vital national interest of Ukraine to win its war with Russia. For the U.S., that is a desirable outcome, but not a vital national interest for which we would risk fighting a war. Our government exists first and foremost to ensure our country is safe from all external aggression, has a strong military that can deter any nation from attacking us (or defeat any foe that tries), and safeguards our ability to prosper as a nation. Anything that detracts from those prime functions must be rejected, no matter how much our heart may prefer a different outcome.
A 19FortyFive Contributing Editor, Daniel L. Davis is a Senior Fellow for Defense Priorities and a former Lt. Col. in the U.S. Army who deployed into combat zones four times. He is the author of “The Eleventh Hour in 2020 America.” Follow him @DanielLDavis
December 31, 2022 at 7:30 pm
Daniel Davis is a grade A idiot repeatedly stating for over a year that Ukraine cannot win in spite of all evidence that is. When someone has a track record as bad as his he fully deserves to be ignored.
December 31, 2022 at 11:00 pm
Your past analysis on Ukraine have fell flat. You consistently postulated defeat and having your pseudo analysis come a cropper, you have now began bringing scenarios to avoid further embarrassment as you hide behind self touted military credentials. And it’s increasingly clear that you are an unfeeling and cold hearted apologist of this senseless war, you can’t get the bigger picture. This is an emergent struggle between democracies and autocracies with major implications for Taiwan and many others. Your articles only serve as a nuisance and a disgrace.
January 1, 2023 at 5:54 am
Ahh, here is the Davis we all know and should hate.
First he refuses to even entertain a possibility that Ukraine can take any land back when that is the most likely outcome of all. I think this is imperative to his yellow belly wanting to run away. If winning is impossible, it makes it easier to turn our backs on Ukraine.
His reasoning itself is very poor. He lists his imperatives for America but missed a huge one. For America and the world to have real economic success, we need a world at peace. To have real peace, we can’t have bullies going around snapping up chunks of neighboring countries. America and Europe have made economic sacrifices for Ukraine. But the actual cost of allowing Russia to terrorize the world is even more. Of course Davis ignores this as well. His world view is wrong and really should not be given so much air on a site that is about Americas military power. Not that he should be completely quieted, but that his point of view should be a counterpoint and not the major point of this site. I will from now on resist the urge to read articles from someone I know has such a misguided selfish defeatist perspective. I realize I have absolutely no respect for this man, so no respect for his useless whining.
January 1, 2023 at 7:41 am
Dear Mr Davis, you forgot the third option: Ukraine takes the initiative again, and wages successful campaigns in the South or in the East, as it has done in the Fall.
By now, I can only say that I am not surprised that you do not even discuss this option. Throughout the year, you have been bullish on Russia’s chances and dismissive of Ukraine’s chances.
A sign of using one’s intelligence is that one learns of one’s mistakes. You were repeatedly wrong before. It may be time to reflect on your repeated errors in judgment this past year.
I wish you a great start of 2023!
January 1, 2023 at 2:27 pm
Putin (like Lenin) has his “useful idiots”.
January 1, 2023 at 2:42 pm
Typical murican we are godlike article..we are the best,we aree the strongest,we we we..???
No wonder he is retired.
January 1, 2023 at 4:34 pm
God bless people in the world.
The false in Ukraine socialism warfare is that after Ukraine withdrew from Soviet Russia, Ukraine government officers train the military and manufacture weapons hard with loans from the International Monetary Fund, and Ukraine people will repel the Soviet Russia army with Ukraine military.
But why Ukraine has not been defeated is that United States join the socialism warfare. In December 5, 2019, law school scholar have declared war on Soviet Russia as the attorney of Democratic Party. Perhaps some people will say this declaration of war is not legal. Although Democratic Party has declared war on Soviet Russia, Putin ignore this war declaration and set up socialism warfare in the world.
As socialism parties in Europe are friends of Soviet Russia, China Communist Party, North Korea, and Iran. It’s also the false in the future of Western Pacific. The incumbent president of South Korea and former Japan Prime Minister Abe admit that people should prepare for defense by self, but socialism parties in other Asia countries want to rely on US military.
Besides, many people in Israeli don’t stand with Muslim to worship God, and Democratic Party refuse to achieve the policy of Abraham Accords. Netanyahu preach freedom of which is the socialism policy of Israel Labor party, but he don’t say that people in Sinai Peninsula should obey Ten Commandments.
So U.S. defense plan is like electric transmission in winter blizzard.
However, according to the nuclear war policy from 50 years ago, U.S. military should not deploy most troops to small wars, but should deploy all military to decisive war in Russia, China, Korea, Iran, and respond to WMD.
Therefore, if U.S. military officers think this war is already the decisive war, Congress and Senator should vote and prepare to respond to WMD, and tell to people that Ukraine will be a WMD battlefield.
God bless America.
January 1, 2023 at 7:29 pm
Thank you for interesting analysis.
Something not mentioned is that core US interest is to put complete sanctions on European-Russian trade to prevent European states breaking free of US subjugation. In that sense, the war is a huge success for USA.
Also, awhile back there was an interesting text in National Review, “How to lose big in Ukraine”. Its point was that the credibility of the empire is severely eroded after losing a US trained and equipped army in Afghanistan and now losing a US trained and equipped army in Ukraine. So that is part of US equation.
January 1, 2023 at 7:38 pm
Like a flaming aircraft going down, Ukraine is done.
Just a matter of time.
It was always just a matter of time.
January 1, 2023 at 11:06 pm
Colonel Macgregor, Ukrainians 100,000 dead, and 300,000 to 400,000 wounded. Russians 25,000 to 35,000 dead.
Scott Ritter Ukrainians 100,000 dead, possibly 200,000. Russians 16,000 to 20,000 dead.
Ukraine on 6th, or 7th draft trying to enlist 13 to 15 year olds per MacGregor.
January 2, 2023 at 10:38 pm
Long term, government changes in western Europe stemming from the realization they got screwed by the US, Poland and the Baltics will be isolated and the big EU3 Germany, France, Italy will gravitate away from Nato. Mr.Davis sees no damage to our economic and national security, I unfortunately see the contrary, this debacle will go down in history as the worst ever.
January 3, 2023 at 3:23 am
“For the U.S., that is a desirable outcome, but not a vital national interest for which we would risk fighting a war”
Question 1: Was Afganistan vital national interest?
Questin 2: Was Iraq viat national interest?
Just wonder what the resources used in these two operations could have of impact if used in the war in Ukraine…..
January 4, 2023 at 8:19 am
Daniel Davis is delusional. Nuff said.
January 5, 2023 at 2:23 pm
This could be a credible analysis so I did some research…
Firstly, looking up Col Davis, wow, now I know three people taking credit for 73 Easting. Until recently I though it was just McMaster by himself astride the Abrams…now I know McGregor and Davis were in the loader and gunner seats.
Meanwhile, it should be pointed out that unlike Iraq and Afghanistan we have not had a single casualty from the war in Ukraine and we are depleting munitions that we have stored for decades in preparation for war with the USSR. Looks like they are (30 years late) being put to intended use. I wonder if we will miss the M117s.
Also searching for the Daniel Davis articles from 2003 that set out our vital interests in Iraq and Afghanistan. Can’t find any of those. Yes, he was active duty back then but so was Shinseki.
So why object to sending munitions (many quite old) to a democratic country being invaded by a large dictatorial power and no objections to sending troops and spending 2 trillion on Iraq and Afghanistan?
January 6, 2023 at 3:03 pm
Soooo if the US just let Russia be and absorb country after country and increase its imperialist rhetoric and threats against western democracies then… US interests are safe forever?
Another analysis from Comrade Davis
Keep predicting Davis. I mean you might make a correct one some day. You never know…
January 18, 2023 at 4:13 pm
If the U.S. abandoned Ukraine to genocide, Ukrainians would be subject to concentration camps and torture chambers and mass imprisonment and mass death, China would invade Taiwan, and every medium-sized country that could afford it would seek nuclear weapons as a deterrent against the expansionist superpowers, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Moldova would share a border with a hostile and expansionist Russia that just gained more power. Davis seems incapable of the thought experiment “what if we do nothing” to help the Ukrainians. It turns out that helping Ukrainians is also in U.S. own interests, and we should give the Ukrainians what they need to win this horrible war that Russia launched against them.