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Could Ukraine lose?

This is an optimistic opinion piece and the answer to the rhetorical question set out in the title is: almost certainly not, at least not for many years. However the reason the question needs to be asked and answered is because of the profoundly cynical political games underway in Washington, DC right now in which Ukrainian lives and misery are being bartered for votes. The Americans on both sides of the political spectrum know that Ukraine has no prospect of losing her war with Russia any time soon, and that is why they arse being so lackadaisical in reaching a bargain on funding the Ukrainian Armed Forces. Let me explain a little more how these issues are interlinked.

Since Russia’s evacuation of Kherson in early November 2022, the extensive front line in Ukraine has been held more or less constantly and none of the domesday scenarios painted by various analysts have come to pass. The only settlements of any size that have changed hands in the last eighteen months are miniscule: Robotyne, pre-war population of 480, east of Zaporizhzhia; Ivanivske, a suburb of Bakhmut, pre-war population of less than 2,000; Avdiivka, a pre-war suburb of Donetsk completely destroyed by a good decade of fighting; and Krynky, on the south / east side of the Dnipro River, with a population of fewer than 1,000 inhabitants. Robotyne was seized by the Ukrainians in September 2023 and then (apparently) retaken by the Russians in early 2024 but there is nothing left. It was virtually inevitable that Ivanivske would fall being a suburb of Bakhmut and it is of no strategic significance. Avdiivka was being held by the Ukrainians so that at least in theory they could threaten central Donetsk with artillery although it never really came to that; when Avdiivka did fall, in December 2023, it went quietly with a tactical Ukrainian withdrawal after the Russians had trapped it on three sides for months and nothing really came of it. Krynky was the fabled Ukrainian bridgehead across the Dnipro River from which the Ukrainians were meant to push deep into Russian-occupied territory; but it never happened. By the second half of February 2024 the Russian Armed Forces claimed they had retaken Krynky; but nobody really knows because it is far too dangerous for any independent observers to travel there.

The populations of these four settlements is in all likelihood zero or close to it, and has been for some years. There has been building-to-building street fighting in each settlement and the devastation is complete.

Over that same eighteen months, in which the sides have been making territorial gains or losses of barely a few kilometres on each side, including territory with just a few hundred people maximum occupying it amidst wartime conditions, well over 100,000 men on both sides have died.

It is said that Russia has tripled her military spending and has improved her supply lines, logistics and provision of ammunition to the front line, in particular artillery and mortars as well as small arms rounds. However this doesn’t matter. We are talking about tiny movements backwards and forwards in the course of a colossally long 1,000-kilometre front line in which no level of manpower or technological capability can bring anything approaching a decisive breakthrough. Both sides are extremely well dug in through a network of trenches and riverside positions along the Dnipro and it does not seem that any level of military expenditure will change that. The only thing that can continue is that the sides keep attacking one-another and causing death and maiming one-another’s soldiers. It reminds us perhaps of the Somme, one of the principal trench warfare front lines in World War I, throughout the four-year war, the front line never moved more than a few kilometres irrespective of how many resources the sides through at it. That is the point of trench warfare: once dug in, trenches are basically impossible to get through.

Now we are told that the morale of the Ukrainian Armed Forces is low, because the US Government is failing to pass the legislation necessary to provide more enabling funding to the troops. That may be true; but it hardly represents the military reality which is that no amount of money is going to cause a sudden rout on the part of either side such that the front line is suddenly massively going to jump. Russia can throw as much money, manpower and resources as she wants at Ukraine but if all she can achieve is a few kilometres and a couple of villages every twelve months in Europe’s second biggest country then we are looking at a campaign of decades in order to subdue Ukraine and Russia does not have that much time.

Rather this is a war that Russia is looking not to lose, because Russia persuaded herself that the Ukrainians would roll over and support the Russian invasion and never would they fight for their homeland in this way. That is because the Russians do not understand the Ukrainian psyche which is, if a little idiosyncratic, fundamentally a European one: they conceive of themselves as a separate nation and this is a once-in-a-century opportunity to fight for this ideal. Therefore Russia has got bogged down and Ukraine’s massive land army is also getting larger with a reduction in the conscription age from 27 to 25: something that the Ukrainian people grumble about but will accept because they are fighting for their nation.

The politicians who debate Ukraine aid in Washington, DC understand these things because they have briefing memoranda; and they understand that the Russians are nowhere near overwhelming Ukraine in a catastrophic way. At current reduced funding levels Ukrainians will grumble and they will continue to die but they will not collapse as has been suggested. Therefore in an election year in Washington, DC, the question of who is doing enough to support Ukraine funding has become a political football which is why the financial support is being held up through procedural manoeuvres in Congress. American politicians know Ukrainians will tough it out regardless. After the election, the United States will adopt the necessary financial and military policies to cause Russia to ceasefire and possibly even to draw back, and it is fully well known how to do that. However in the meantime more Ukrainians have to die so that Americans can play politics.

This is what is terribly frustrating for both the Ukrainians and the world: this war has a political purpose to it in the United States during General Election year and that is for the parties battling it out in that election to use Ukraine as a hammer each with which to hit the other. It is no wonder that Ukrainians get exasperated; they count coffins while American politicians count votes. Nevertheless this is how US politics is done and if we want the New World once again to come to act as saviour of the Old then we are going to have to play along with their rules, like them or not.


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