How the Ukraine War will End

How the Ukraine War will End. By Edward Luttwak.

So how can the war end? Herakleitos of Ephesus wrote that “War is the father of all things” — even of peace, since it exhausts the material resources and manpower necessary to keep fighting. It thereby induces the acceptance of lesser outcomes — even capitulation — as the cost of better outcomes keeps rising.

There is another kind of war termination — the kind that is peddled to innocent students in “conflict-resolution” classes, the kind that gains international applause and Nobel Peace prizes: war-ending not obtained by exhaustive war but by the benevolent intervention of third parties. This end can never yield peace. Its only product is frozen war, as in the case of Bosnia and Herzegovina, where the perpetual imminence of renewed war dissuades construction and the return of workers from Germany.

Peace achieved by the exhaustion of resources is the most durable form of peace because deprivation is better remembered than other people’s deaths. But of the two belligerents, only Ukraine can run out of material resources. Except now it cannot, because the United States has seemingly added Ukraine’s sustainment to its other entitlement programmes — a commitment augmented by whatever contribution the British and northern European countries care to make, and the relative pittance given by France, Germany, Italy and Spain.

In the days of Herakleitos himself, war was the father of peace principally because it killed off young warriors, forcing a relaxation of conflict until the next generation grew to military age. …

In Ukraine, so far there is no question of war-ending manpower losses. In spite of a declining population, the number of male Ukrainians who annually reach military age is at least 235,000, or 20,000 per month. Ukrainian casualties, both killed or invalided out of action, have not exceeded 5,000 per month. As for Russia, colourful stories that relate the use of mercenary units and the lucrative contracts offered to combat volunteers are not true indicators of a manpower shortage: every month more than 100,000 Russian males reach military age, while the monthly average of killed and invalided wounded is under 7,000.

So the stories reveal something else: Putin’s refusal to declare war, fully mobilise the armed forces, and require conscripts to serve in combat, suggests he fears the reaction of Russian civil society. Yes of course Russian civil society had been silent on the war, or near enough. But its silence is not the silence of the grave signifying nothing. It was a very eloquent silence: fight your war but leave our sons alone. …

We might be headed for another Seven Years’ War. It did not seem like that when the Ukrainians counter-attacked in August, and Putin briefly considered retreating to Donetsk and Luhansk, as he signalled overtly. Then seven months after starting his Six Days’ War, Putin finally mobilised the trained reservists he needed on day one.

War is primarily a contest of wills and logistics.

Ukraine is well ahead in the will department, because it is fighting for its freedom, on its home soil. For Russian soldiers, this war is optional (Putin’s “vanity war”) and it does not matter much if they “lose” by giving Ukraine back its territory. The Russians are struggling to find enough soldiers who want to fight. But for Putin, of course, winning this war is now a matter of survival, so his will is strong.

Russian logistics are tied to a rail network, and the Kerch Bridge, which makes them vulnerable. The Ukrainians have long range precision weapons and partisans, and are now crippling Russian logistics within Ukraine. Ukrainian logistics are better because they are largely by road and on their home turf. While the Russians are making it tough for them with missiles, they are running out of precision everything due to sanctions.

Wars go on until one side or other no longer wants to fight, because it is exhausted or physically cannot fight any more. Neither side is anywhere near that point yet. A deal would be possible, except that Putin will be seen as losing.