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The Longer This War Goes On, The Worse It Will Be for Ukraine.

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The Longer This War Goes On, The Worse It Will Be for Ukraine.

As the war continues, the situation for Ukraine will get worse. Ukraine is running out of weapons, which the West is having a harder time replacing. It is running out of men, that it is having a harder time replacing. Political infighting in Kyiv is growing, further undermining the war effort. At the same time, Russia is only growing stronger. With this war settling into a war of attrition, the conditions are favoring Russia. It is time to negotiate before Ukraine loses more territory and people.

As we approach the two-year mark for the war in Ukraine, it is becoming ever-more evident that the long-term prospects have shifted in Moscow’s favor. Ukraine’s much-vaunted counter-offensive is now widely acknowledged to have failed to achieve even its most moderate goals. After early setbacks, the Russian military adjusted its strategy, was able to stabilize the frontline, and is now making moderate advances along the line of contact. Russia continues to hold an advantage in both the number of personnel and weapons production, Putin’s regime shows little signs of crumbling, and it is now widely accepted that the sanctions regime has failed to limit Russia’s economic growth. At the same time, Ukraine finds itself short of manpower and weapons, and as infighting within the leadership grows, there are signs that the war is no longer the priority for its Western backers. While many commentators have adopted the new narrative of a stalemate in the conflict, this paper will argue that the discussion of a stalemate is more a reflection of hope than of reality. In reality, as it currently stands, the longer this conflict continues, the more the circumstances shift to favor a complete Russian victory. Efforts for a negotiated settlement must be started soon before more lives are lost and Ukraine loses more territory.

As the war settles into a war of attrition, the need for ammunition continues to increase, as a result, Ukraine is rapidly burning through its weapons supplies, in some cases forcing troops to ration shells and other ammunition and change operational plans.[[1]]

At the same time, Western support for Ukraine continues to deteriorate, either out of necessity, reflecting depleting levels of weapons supplies, or out of expediency, as political support for the endeavour subsides. Back in October 2023, the head of the NATO Military Committee, Admiral Rob Bauer, noted that NATO states are reaching “the bottom of the barrel” when it comes to their own stockpiles,[[2]] reinforcing a message given earlier in June by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg who noted that “Our weapons and ammunition stocks are depleted…”[[3]]

While the US is certainly not scraping the bottom of the barrel and continues to have ample supplies for its own defense, at current production, it is unable to continue to supply Ukraine at the rate required. As noted by the commander of US Air Forces in Europe, Gen. James Hecker: “we’re getting dangerously low and sometimes, in some cases even too low, that we don’t have enough.”[[4]] For example, according to Pentagon acquisition chief Bill LaPlante, the US is producing 155 mm artillery rounds at a rate of 28,000 per month (twice the rate as last year),[[5]] whereas, by some accounts, Ukraine is firing somewhere between 110,000 and 356,000 rounds per month.[[6]] This is still short of the number that Russia is firing—estimates of between 20,000-60,000 shells per day.[[7]]

Adding to the issue of supply shortages, there is a growing danger of a loss of Western support for Ukraine. As of this writing, the Biden administration has encountered troubles in Congress in seeking support for its request for additional aid for Ukraine as the once solid consensus on aid has deteriorated. Similarly, US public opinion has started to shift with an increasing number of Republican and Republican-leaning voters saying the US is providing too much support.[[8]] In Europe, Ukraine has encountered similar indications of a potential loss of support. In December, Hungary’s President, Viktor Orban vetoed a European aid package worth €50 billion. In Slovakia, Prime Minister Robert Fico won reelection vowing “not to send another bullet” to Ukraine.

More importantly, even if Ukraine were able to get the weapons it needs, there may not be enough soldiers to use those weapons. An investigation by the Asia Times, found Ukrainian losses to be around 150,000.[[9]] This compares to Russian losses of around 43,000.[[10]] While both of these numbers are likely underestimates, they demonstrate the staggering loss of life, especially for Ukraine whose population has shrunk from 43.8 million to 28.5 million.[[11]] Just as telling, the average age of soldiers currently serving in the Ukrainian army is now 43,[[12]] indicating a loss of traditional military age men. And Kyiv can’t seem to find a way to call up additional fighters. President Zelensky and General Zaluzhnyi, the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, have been in an apparent dispute over who is responsible for proposing the recruitment of an additional 500,000 troops, a move that some worry will lead to more men fleeing Ukraine to avoid the fighting.[[13]] Kyiv’s desperation to find fighters has led to efforts to forcefully repatriate men of fighting age who left, back to Ukraine.

This deterioration on the battlefield is accompanied by growing infighting among the elites in Kyiv. The dispute between Zelensky and Zaluzhnyi over the call-up of 500,000 men is only the most recent. While rumors of disagreements between the two men have circulated for a while, the dispute erupted into the open in November, over the General’s assessment of the war as having reached a stalemate. In addition to Zaluzhnyi, Oleksiy Arestovych, Zelensky’s former advisor, has now become one of his greatest critics, fleeing the country to avoid arrest. Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko, a pivotal figure in the Maidan protests, and Yukia Tymoshenko, a key figure on the Orange Revolution, have both reproached Zelensky for mismanaging the war, with Klitschko accusing him of becoming an autocrat.

In contrast, the current picture for Russia is more certain. Russian weapons production has increased dramatically since the start of the invasion. Despite sanction, Russia has been able to establish effective supply chains using non-western partners, finding alternative suppliers for critical components, like semi-conductors from China. Moscow has also ramped up its domestic military industry, significantly increasing its production—in some cases ten-fold.[[14]] According to TASS (Russian News Agency), Russian forces are at over 84 percent sufficiency.[[15]] Bolstering its domestic production, Russia has been able to establish outside suppliers of military hardware. In particular, Iran supplied Russia with its Shahed-136 drones, which proved incredibly effective against Ukrainian targets, and which Russia is now manufacturing domestically under the name Geran-2. Similarly, North Korea has been selling Russia weapons, primarily shells.

While Russia has lost a significant number of men in Ukraine, its population can support these losses. Compared to Ukraine’s population of 28.5 million, Russia’s population is 143 million. Russia’s initial force of 300,000 has been augmented by an additional 400,000 men, many of whom have yet to be deployed into Ukraine. Further, new recruits coming into the Russian military are estimated at 30,000 a month, enough to replace battlefield loses. [[16]] According to, Zelensky’s former advisor, Oleksiy Arestovych, an additional 14,000 Russians are volunteering every month.[[17]]

Bolstering Russia’s increasing advantage on the battlefield, is a domestic situation that, despite brutal sanctions, is dramatically different, and better, from the one Kyiv is facing. Since the war began, Ukraine’s economy has shrunk by 29% and while there was growth in the last year [[18]], Kyiv remains dependent on Western aid to not only maintain its military but also its economy, from pensions to public services to the salaries of its civil servants and government officials.[[19]] In contrast, Russia’s economy, despite the sanctions has grown. In 2023, the Russian economy grew 3.1%. Further, despite hopes of a collapse (briefly bolstered by the Prigozhin/Wagner insurgency), Vladimir Putin and his regime appear to be in a quite stable position. According to the Levada Center, Putin’s approval ratings, heading into this year’s elections, are in the 80s. Further, support for the war is at 76 percent.[[20]]

Finally, Moscow has successfully reframed the conflict as an anti-western crusade, convincing many in the developing and non-Western allied world (what the Kremlin calls the global majority) to either side with Russia in this conflict or to remain vehemently neutral. While a majority of the member states of the UN voted to condemn Russian aggression and its annexation of Ukrainian territory, it is worth noting that a majority of the world has been unwilling to go along with the sanctions regime. Significantly, both India and China abstained from condemning Russia’s annexations. More broadly, Russia continues to grow in favorability in the developing world, where the conflict is primarily seen as a European war. As noted by the Economist Intelligence Unit: “the number of countries actively condemning Russia has fallen from 131 to 122, as some emerging economies have shifted to a neutral position… now representing nearly 31% of the global population…[and] There has been a large shift in stance among countries that lean towards Russia, whose number has increased from 29 to 35.”[[21]]

Consequently, the longer the current situation continues, the more dire it will become for Ukraine. With the failed offensive, Ukraine has moved to a defensive position, trying to limit Russian gains, with hopes for a future offensive. But a prolonged defensive posture plays to Russian strengths. A negotiated solution must be found, even if it means accepting the loss of some territory, no matter how noxious this may be to both Ukrainian and Western leaders. According to reports, the US and its Western allies are now acknowledging that this war must end in a negotiation, and they are hoping to strengthen Kyiv’s position in any future talks.[[22]] The irony is that this conclusion could have been reached in early 2022 before Russian gains, the massive loss of life, and immeasurable destruction. The difference now is that Ukraine will be negotiating from a much weaker position and Russia will exact a much higher price. That is, of course, if Russia is even willing to negotiate.

REFERENCES

  1. Harmash, O., Balmforth, T. (2023, December 18). “Ukrainian troops face artillery shortages, scale back some operations …” Reuters. https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/ukrainian-troops-face-artillery-shortages-scale-back-some-operations-commander-2023-12-18/

  2. Ridgwell, H. (2023, October 4). “NATO warns of ammunition shortage due to war in Ukraine.” Voice of America. https://www.voanews.com/a/nato-warns-of-ammunition-shortage-due-to-war-in-ukraine/7296981.html

  3. Nato. (2023, June 19). “Speech by NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg at the day of Industry, organised by the Federation of German Industries.” NATO. https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/opinions_216080.htm? selectedLocale=en

  4. Marrow, M. (2023, July 12). “US, NATO weapons stockpile ‘dangerously low’: USAF general.” Breaking Defense. https://breakingdefense.com/2023/07/us-nato-weapons-stockpile-dangerously-low-usaf-general/

  5. Robertson, N. (2023, September 16). “Production of key munition years ahead of schedule, Pentagon says.” Defense News. https://www.defensenews.com/pentagon/2023/09/15/production-of-key-munition-years-ahead-of-schedule-pentagon-says/

  6. Fein, W. B. and J. (2023, December 19). “The US needs more munitions to deter China.” Defense News. https://www.defensenews.com/opinion/2023/12/19/the-us-needs-more-munitions-to-deter-china/

  7. Panfilovych, O. (2023, February 20). “Reznikov: All factories in Europe are capable of producing 600 000 152 mm projectiles every year. Russia spends that much every month.” Babel.AU. https://babel.ua/en/news/90720-reznikov-all-factories-in-europe-are-capable-of-producing-600-000-152-mm-projectiles-every-year-russia-spends-that-much-every-month

  8. Cerda, A. (2023, December 8). “About half of Republicans now say the U.S. is providing too much aid to Ukraine.” Pew Research Center. https://www.pewresearch.org/short-reads/2023/12/08/about-half-of-republicans-now-say-the-us-is-providing-too-much-aid-to-ukraine/

  9. “Exclusive: 150,000 Ukraine soldiers killed in action through October.” Asia Times. (2024, January 4). https://asiatimes.com/2023/12/exclusive-150000-ukraine-soldiers-killed-in-action-through-october/

  10. “Russian casualties in Ukraine. Mediazona count, updated.” Mediazona. (2024, January 19). https://en.zona.media/article/2022/05/11/casualties_eng

  11. Population, total – ukraine. World Bank Open Data. (n.d.). https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/ SP.POP.TOTL?locations=UA

  12. Saradzhyan, S., Lieven, G. B. and A., Bugayova, N., Davidson, K., Graham, T., Gvosdev, N. K., Force, B. R.-U. W. T., & Cunningham, M. P.-B. and C. (2024, January 11). “Average Age of Ukrainian Soldiers Is Past 40 and That Could Be a Problem.” Russia Matters. https://www.russiamatters.org/blog/average-age-ukrainian-soldiers-past-40-and-could-be-problem

  13. Шевчук, С. (2023, December 26). “‘Нет хорошего финала’. Правительство хочет мотивировать сотни тысяч украинцев мобилизоваться в ВСУ усиленным контролем и увеличенными штрафами. Поддержит ли это Верховная Рада.” Forbes.ua. https://forbes.ua/ru/war-in-ukraine/nemae-khoroshogo-finalu-uryad-khoche-motivuvati-sotni-tisyach-ukraintsiv-mobilizuvatisya-do-zsu-posilenim-kontrolem-i-zbilshenimi-shtrafami-chi-pidtrimae-tse-verkhovna-rada-26122023-18136

  14. “Russian has the upper hand in arms race with the West – Russian …” Reuters. (2023b, December 25). https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/russian-has-upper-hand-arms-race-with-west-russian-minister-says-2023-12-25/

  15. Fabino, A. (2024, January 2). “Russia dramatically increased weapons production in 2023 despite sanctions.” Newsweek. https://www.newsweek.com/russia-increases-weapons-production-2023-despite-sanctions-armed-forces-1856938

  16. Sheth, S. (2024, January 16). “Russia is recruiting 30,000 new soldiers a month, enough to replace the ones thrown into the meat grinder in Ukraine, war analysts say.” Business Insider. https://www.businessinsider.com/russia-recruiting-30000-troops-a-month-ukraine-frontline-losses-analysts-2024-1

  17. UnHerd. (2024). Oleksiy Arestovych: Zelenskyy’s challenger . Retrieved January 20, 2024, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sehuAOw0-NI&t=1132s.

  18. Méheut, C. (2023, October 19). “Ukraine’s economy starts to rebound as it adapts to war.” The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2023/10/19/business/ukraine-economy-war.html

  19. Harmash, O., & Balmsforth, T. (2023, December 19). “Ukraine economy heads for tough 2024 as western aid concerns grow. Reuters.” Reuters. https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/ukraine-economy-heads-tough-2024-western-aid-concerns-grow-2023-12-19/

  20. https://www.levada.ru/en/

  21. Garcia, L. (2023, March 9). “Russia’s pockets of support are growing in the developing world.” Economist Intelligence Unit. https://www.eiu.com/n/russias-pockets-of-support-are-growing-in-the-developing-world/

  22. Hirsh, M. (2023, December 27). The Biden administration is quietly shifting its strategy in Ukraine. POLITICO. https://www.politico.com/news/magazine/2023/12/27/biden-endgame-ukraine-00133211 and Time for diplomacy in Ukraine, Italy’s Defence minister says. Reuters. (2024, January 10). https://www.reuters.com/ world/europe/time-diplomacy-ukraine-italys-defence-minister-says-2024-01-10/

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