With the Ukrainian Armed Forces (UAF) nearing the complete tactical capture of Urozhyne and Robotyne, and having established a foothold on the Russian side of the Dnipro River in three places, supporters of Kyiv claim its offensive is finally producing fruit.
They hope the operation may yet reach the Azov coast.
Viewed from the strategic or even operational points of view, however, the cost to the UAF in acquiring those gains has been vastly higher than the benefits they confer.
As Part I and Part II of this short series show, there is no rational path to military victory for Ukraine. The longer Kyiv and Washington ignore this painful reality, the greater the damage that will be pointlessly inflicted on the people of Ukraine, and the more territory they might cede in an eventual negotiated conclusion. It is time to prioritize diplomacy and seek a negotiated settlement.
Some still hang their hopes on the acquisition of more high-quality Western military equipment. Last week, the Biden administration announced it was seeking an additional $24 billion for Ukraine, much of which would be to supply new weapons and ammunition. Others point to America’s willingness to provide F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine in the relatively near future as yet more evidence things will turn around.
The impression most analysts and pundits have is that once the Ukrainian military possesses a certain number of modern weapons, and enough of its forces undergo advanced NATO training, they will be able to match and then defeat Russia. What those beliefs expose, unfortunately, is a lack of understanding of how wars are waged and won. It is the human dimension, not the tools of combat, that determines the outcome of wars. On this front, the UAF may have already suffered irreparable loss.
The Human Factor in Ukraine War
The issue is no longer about equipment. It is not even about training, be it good or bad. The most crucial component of the Ukrainian Army’s potential to wage war is the human resource. According to leaked U.S. intelligence, as of April the Ukrainian military had lost approximately 130,000 killed and wounded. The number has likely skyrocketed since the June 5 launch of their offensive. Especially harmful to Ukraine has been the loss of their most experienced, NATO-trained troops.
It will be increasingly difficult to replace losses of this magnitude. There are fewer and fewer Ukrainian men left to mobilize, and increasing numbers are fleeing the country or paying bribes to avoid what many see as a pointless sacrifice of their lives.
With the losses already sustained over nearly a year and a half of high-intensity combat — and the failure of the current offensive to accomplish even intermediate objectives — there is very little chance Ukraine will be able to build a new offensive capacity in the foreseeable future. It could take a generation to rebuild a credible fighting force, and even that might only be possible with an uninterrupted period of peace and the provision of a full complement of armored vehicles, along with ammunition and required logistics.
As of today, even if the Ukrainian Army could be fielded entirely with the equipment and sustainment of the U.S. Army, the diminished capacity of their remaining troops means they would likely perform as they have over the past eight months. Kyiv’s supporters will certainly disagree with that statement, claiming instead that if they only had more kit and ammunition earlier, they would have been successful.
Yet as earlier installments of this series have shown, the strategic decisions made by Ukraine’s most senior leaders, and the sometimes-poor tactics employed by soldiers, were at the heart of Ukraine’s inability to win on the battlefield. More gear and ammo would certainly have increased Ukrainian forces’ destructive power, but there is no evidence — on the current battlefield or in military history — that this would have changed the outcome.
The West must concede that, right or wrong, the Ukrainian Army was given a chance to launch its offensive and see if it could work or not. The West in general, and the United States in particular, have contributed mammoth amounts of military aid to Ukraine.
Combined with the great number of casualties Ukraine has suffered, this is the cold, hard truth: There is no rational basis upon which one could argue Kyiv will form, after all its losses, a capacity that exceeds what they have shown to date.
This means it is almost certain Ukraine will never win its freedom on the battlefield. To preserve the territory it presently holds, and to prevent the loss of any more land, Kyiv must accede to the harsh reality that the most prudent course is now to seek a freeze of the conflict and enter into negotiations to end the war.
It goes without saying that no one in unoccupied Ukraine wants that outcome. To refuse to seek a negotiated end, however, is to choose a path that is likely to fail — likely to result in possibly tens of thousands more Ukrainian men dying, and more cities and territories falling to Russian control.
American national security and economic prosperity must be at the heart of any policy Washington puts into effect. The U.S. contributed well over $100 billion and sent thousands of armored vehicles, millions of shells and rockets, and significant intelligence support for nearly a year and a half. It is now necessary to acknowledge that this remarkable level of investment did not produce a return on investment, nor did it reverse Russia’s invasion.
It would help neither Ukraine nor the United States to double down and invest another $100 billion and countless more arms. It would only extend the war, increase the suffering of the Ukrainian people, and keep the possibility of escalation alive. It is time instead to work with Kyiv and our NATO allies to begin the distasteful but necessary work of seeking a diplomatic settlement, ending the war on the best terms that can be found for Ukraine.
Continuing to prosecute this war with our heart, making decisions based on emotion or on the outcome we would prefer — at the expense of the reality with which we are unfortunately faced — will deepen the harm done to Ukraine and divert more American money into an unwinnable conflict that could escalate again.
From the Vault