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Will Russia win the Ukraine war?

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Will Russia Win the War in Ukraine?

In short, the answer is ‘yes’. I will explain this authoritatively with authentic references. Most of what you read of the course of war in Ukraine in the media is heavily coloured by Western or Ukrainian propaganda. Propaganda by both sides has such great variation that figures have been reduced to a farce. Western/Ukrainan propaganda, for example, places Russian casualties between 315,000 to 372,090. Russia places Ukrainian losses at 383,000. Ukraine claims its own casualties at 125,000. BBC News Russian places Russian casualties at 86,000. Sentimental Indians, rattled by the plight of the Indian students stranded there, developed sympathy for Ukraine and thus tend to believe their propaganda. I would correct the wrong notions by a professional, unbiased analysis that is not obscured by such farcical figures.

What Ukraine’s Commander-In-Chief Himself Says of the War

Ukaine commander-in-chief Gen. Valery Zaluzhny

Ukraine’s much-hyped summer counteroffensive turned out to be a massive failure having turned into a frustrating stalemate. Their commander-in-chief Gen. Valery Zaluzhny himself admitted to The Economist that in five months of their counteroffensive, they managed to advance just 17 kilometres, and that it would take a massive technological leap to break the deadlock. Such a technological breakthrough is not in sight anywhere. Hypothetically, if the West were to arm Ukraine with any radical weapon system, Russia could easily respond with its six ‘super weapons’ (the Avangard hypersonic glide vehicle; Burevestnik nuclear-powered cruise missile, Zircon anti-ship cruise missile; Kinzhal air-launched ballistic missile; Poseidon unmanned underwater vehicle; and Sarmat super-heavy MIRV ICBM), thereby escalating the war. Putin has the courage to go nuclear also.

Lt Gen Zaluzhnyi with Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskyi (left) during the Battle of Kyiv

Gen. Zaluzhny concedes that their counteroffensive’s main thrust in the south ran into trouble, getting battered by Russian artillery and drones. In the east, on the approaches to Bakhmut, there were impregnable minefields. In a rare show of intellectual honesty, he admits that Ukraine is stuck in a long war in which Russia, because of its much greater overall demographic, military, economic and industrial strength, has clear advantage. He soberly reflected, “For us, the most expensive thing we have is our people…sooner or later we are going to find that we simply don’t have enough people to fight.” He forgot to mention that Ukraine has lost up to 35% of its GDP since the war began.

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In any case, now it is reported that Zelenskyy is considering sacking the army chief for his plain speak.

A fundamental principle of war is that winning wars depends on the endurance of the nations and not on the area of territory seized or ceded. England in the Second World War is a classic example. The WWII began in September 1939 and the British could register their first battlefield victory against Germans in November 1942 only at El Alamein. In the Eastern Theatre, they had to surrender Singapore and the Japanese advanced up to Manipur. It was only in April 1944 that the Japanese were defeated at Imphal. Yet, in the end, Britain emerged victorious. There is no way Ukraine can match the endurance of Russia.  

The War As Perceived in the West Itself

According to the Updates (January 18, 2024) presented to the British House of Lords, “The war in Ukraine continues against a backdrop of escalating Russian strikes against Ukrainian infrastructure and population centres. Fighting remains intense on the front lines, though neither side has been able to achieve a strategically significant breakthrough. There are fears that Russia may be willing to sustain a long and protracted conflict, not least in the hope that international support for Ukraine will decline.”  

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“The Ukrainian military’s counteroffensive, launched in June 2023 in the south and east of the country against occupying Russian forces, has ostensibly made less progress than Ukraine or its western allies may have hoped…Russian defensive fortifications have successfully blunted Ukrainian offensive moves, particularly Ukrainian attempts to sever the ‘land bridge’ between Russian-occupied Crimea in the south and other territories under Russian control in the east. Russia’s defensive lines are the largest and most fortified in Europe since the Second World War. Russian forces have also laid dense layers of anti-personnel and anti-vehicle mines in front of many of their defensive positions.”

Why the West Cannot Go Whole Hog in Supporting Ukraine Militarily


The West faces a fundamental dilemma in weaponry help to Ukraine. Joe Biden, for once, was right about the extent of America’s involvement he was prepared to accept. USA must not be dragged into a direct confrontation with Russia. They would thus give weaponry to Ukraine, but only to enable it to sustain itself in the war; not enough to enable it to win decisively.

That’s why, for example, Ukraine was not given any long-range missiles that could strike deep into Russia. Even the USA’s ATACM (Army Tactical Missile System) used last October 30 for the first time, can reach up to Crimea only. Now you can understand why Pakistan’s ISI, in its three decades of arming the terrorists in Kashmir, never gave them Stinger anti-aircraft man-portable missiles. Had they given, and had the terrorists shot down any military or civilian plane, India would have launched a full-scale war that Pakistan could very well lose. 

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That’s why, as the Kiel Institute for the World Economy reported last December, newly committed western aid to Ukraine dropped nearly 90% from a year earlier. Ukrainian President Zelenskyy failed to persuade US lawmakers to approve an additional $61.4 billion for Ukraine. In October 2023, a Reuters/Ipsos poll found only 41% of the Americans in support of continued weapons supply to Ukraine. The US has already spent $79 billion on Ukraine and if Trump wins 2024 elections, he might abandon Ukraine! The historical experience is that Americans are electrified only when their own soldiers are fighting heroically and not by financing someone else’s war. The European Union agreed to 50 billion-Euro ($54 billion) aid after two months doubts and only when Hungarian PM Viktor Orban reversed his stand on February 1.

Alexander Bavunov of Carnegie Endowment for International Peace also agrees that the intensity of the West’s concern for Ukraine has faded significantly and what was feared in 2022 as clouds of the Third World War has turned out to be more akin to a Second Yugoslav War. He says that paradoxically, the strength of Ukrainian resistance, which has denied Russia a resounding and quick victory, has actually worked against Ukraine in the sense that Europe and the US have lost the feeling of any impending crisis. “The war seems increasingly distant and alien, while at the same time becoming a routine affair.” The charisma that was carefully built around Zelenskyy’s persona by the Western media has also faded for the simple reason that it was contrived. Bavunov notes, “When the leader of a country under attack leaves to give a speech to a foreign parliament, still wearing military fatigues, he gets a standing ovation and promises of support. The second, third, and fourth time he does it; the effect is not the same.”

Putin Has the Resolve to Fight On and Win

Putin is not just a cynical strongman, hanging on to power at the cost of his country’s ruin, as the Western media makes him out to be. When in June 2023, Yevgeny Prigozhin and his Wagner Group, a Russian government-funded paramilitary and private military company, staged a rebellion, Western media jumped to write off Putin as history. However, Prigozhin was killed mysteriously in August, apparently by a covert operation and Putin has emerged stronger than ever. It was such a slap on the face of the entire Western media.

Putin has managed to successfully neutralize Western designs to limit Russian oil revenues. Few people have cared to note that earlier India used to import most of its crude oil from countries like Saudi Arabia, Iraq and UAE. Following the Ukraine war when the world powers, including the European Union and the Group of 7, imposed sanctions and restrictions on Russia’s oil exports, Russia countered it by offering discounts. Since nearly two years, Western criticism notwithstanding, we are now importing 40% of our crude from Russia. Despite the war, Russian GDP grew at 3.5% in 2023, and there was 7.4% growth in manufacturing. Economically, I agree with Carnegie Endowment that it is clearly possible for ordinary life in Russia to continue despite the war.

Western media makes much of the Russian dissidents. Fact is, Putin has successfully managed to project the war to his people as a part of a larger struggle against the ever-present evil designs of the West and people have been galvanized by it. He has not hesitated in procuring drones from Iran and artillery shells from North Korea, both far inferior to Russia. That is classic crisis management.

How Western Hopes Have Been Shattered

Gen. Zaluzhny was candid enough to admit that he was wrong about hoping that heavy casualties amongst Russian ranks would bleed and emaciate Russia. But Mother Russia’s mettle is different. If they could take 27 million casualties in the Second World War, where does Ukraine war count? Thus, Western hopes that the inability to win the war would force Putin into negotiations have been shattered. In fact, if their now declassified intelligence assessment of some 315,000 Russian casualties is correct, it flies in the face of their understanding of Russia’s resolve to keep on fighting. 

A rattled West, according to the Institute for the Study of War, a prominent think tank based in Washington DC, must now stare in the face of the possibility of a ‘battered but triumphant’ Russian army looming large on NATO’s borders from the Black Sea to the Arctic Ocean, posing an unprecedented threat to NATO for the first time since the demise of Soviet Union.

More importantly, as the ISW notes, a victorious Russian army at the end of the Ukraine war would have combat-experience drawing on a wealth of hard-won experience fighting mechanized warfare’, and considerably larger than its pre-2022 level. Russian economy too would ‘gradually recover as sanctions inevitably erode’.

As the GIS Reports (Geopolitical Intelligence Services, Liechtenstein based think tank) also maintain, there can be no such thing as a ‘draw’ to resolve the Russia-Ukraine conflict. Any outcome other than a clear victory for the Ukrainians, as they would define and accept it, will be regarded as a victory for Russia.

Reality Check and Prognosis

Some people hope that innovations in drones, electronic warfare, anti-artillery capabilities and de-mining equipment, and the use of robotics could bring about the breakthrough Ukraine needs. This is daydreaming. These people have never learnt from history. Throughout the 44 years of Cold War (1947-91), both USA and Soviet Union desperately sought to achieve a technological breakthrough. However, the Cold War never turned into a ‘Hot War’ because any real breakthrough by one side would have created a dangerous imbalance and the other side, apprehensive that it might lose a war in the face of that breakthrough, would have gone for an immediate full-scale pre-emptive nuclear strike. The same argument applies to today’s Russia also.

Gen. Philip Breedlove, former Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) of NATO Allied Command Operations (2013-2016), agrees, “If we don’t do anything different than we’re doing now, eventually, Ukraine will lose because Russia has more people and depth than Ukraine does.”

Remember, battles and wars are entirely different things. Armies might win or lose battles; however, in the end, nations win or lose wars. Strong armies do not win wars; strong nations do. Only those nations are really strong where the public and the media do not start wailing collectively over the ‘horrors of war’ and bring their government under undue pressure. Mother Russia is like a tough boxer with the proverbial ‘granite chin’ or an ‘iron jaw’. She will take any amount of punishment without flinching and yet come back fighting to eventually win the war.

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Dr N C Asthana IPS (Retd)
Dr N C Asthana IPS (Retd)
Dr. N. C. Asthana, IPS (Retd) is a former DGP of Kerala and ADG BSF/CRPF. Of the 51 books that he has authored, 20 are on terrorism, counter-terrorism, defense, strategic studies, military science, and internal security, etc. They have been reviewed at very high levels in the world and are regularly cited for authority in the research works at some of the most prestigious professional institutions of the world such as the US Army Command & General Staff College and Frunze Military Academy, Russia. The views expressed are his own.


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