Thinking about Ukraine

September 05, 2022

The Russian invasion of Ukraine staggers on, but recently there's been some evidence of at least a performative counter-offensive on the Ukranians' side.  I don't think it will change things very massively on the ground, but they could take some land on the west bank of the Dniper and provide more political talking points for the EU to continue to support Ukr over the cold winter ahead.  The EU's support will be crucial; the US can do a great deal, but it sort of needs the EU to align with it, and not just passively but actively.

What's the real strategy here?  In a way, Ukraine seems to be fighting three distinct enemies: the Russian army, the Russian nation & state, and Vladimir Putin. These three opponents are being fought on three different timescales, and present three different senses of victory.


(1) Re: the army: Assume the Ukr can mount a successful counteroffensive that recaptures Kherson W of River, runs up against the Dnipro, stops there. Then, what happens after this fall? 

The best people I know studying things (like Michael Kofman) emphasize the importance of contingency throughout, the indeterminacy of battle. But what happens in next say nine months, up to beginning of next summer? How will that affect Ukraine's military capacities?

What are the Russian army's options in Fall/winter?  Seems their options are shrinking.  Will it go into a cold war?  Will Russians go after Kharkiv?

What about UKR forces training in NATO countries, the UK and elsewhere?  Will that matter?


(2) In a way, as I heard someone say, this war needs to be understood more broadly than the Ukraine-Russian context, as part of a "War of Soviet Succession." Will there be a dominant hegemon in Eastern Europe/Western Asia? More generally, there are major geo-strategic changes suggested here, perhaps a need to weaken Russia.  Russia seems to be being very severely weakened, but the weakening will take a matter of coming years, not months.  Key here is not UKR or US, but Europe on the one hand and China on the other. On this level, the battle for Ukraine may be won or lost in Berlin. And what will China do?


(3) Finally, how much of this is Putin? What happens after him? He is, after all, mortal (he'll turn 70 in October). Imagine in five or ten years, when he’s gone; what then? What do we know about how successions happen on this front? It's a worrisome question. But how much is Russia's aggression related to Putin, and how much is structurally organic to Russia, and how much is context-dependent, i.e. relative to other states in the near abroad and farther away?


Lots of questions.