The war in Ukraine is now a year old. On Friday, 24 February I watched two webinars discussing the past year, and what the future might look like. Brookings held an event titled, “Meeting the Russia challenge: Lessons from the foreign policy transition from Bush to Obama.” The panelists, including Condoleezza Rice and Fiona Hill, recalled some of Russia’s past actions, and discussed how they shape Russia’s actions, and our own, today. Also posted on the Brookings page is a special section called “Lessons From Ukraine.” The contributors are among our country’s, and the world’s foremost experts on their subjects.

For more thoughts on the war, see also the Council on Foreign Relations current Ukraine page for more analysis. Finally, RAND has posted a blog titled “One Year After Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine: Experts React” where you can read quick reflections on the year past and the future by the experts.

There was also a webinar online at foreignaffairs.com.  Again, expert analysis and opinion. Unfortunately they do not seem to provide recorded events for later viewing. Their year in review can be found here (paid subscription may be required for full content.)

My study of hybrid warfare/new generation warfare continues. Today I decided to back up, thousands of years in fact, and think about the beginning of the study or war, and how it shapes the war in Ukraine, and warfare today in general. I narrowed my focus to three points, all stemming from Sun Tzu’s adage, “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.”

  1. Study Russian history- from hundreds of years in the past, to Putin’s actions last week, to develop an understanding of his mentality and its shaping of Russian doctrine, his actions and decisions.
  2. Study Russian doctrine- especially that part of it dedicated to New Generation Warfare (NGW), and pay attention to differences between the doctrine on paper and actions on the ground.
  3. Take a close look at US military doctrine (which directly affects those of our partners) especially information warfare, assess the shortfalls, and search for indications that they are being remedied.

Putin’s fascination with Russia’s history of imperialism is often noted in articles and talks. It came up in both above events, mentioned by numerous panelists. In summary, Putin may see it as his duty to continue Russia’s imperialist aims. These aims are an integral part of Russian history and life in Russia in general- warfare, hardship, and suffering are part of Russian history and the Russian psyche.

Continuing on with hybrid warfare/NGW, for a concise perspective on NGW and counter-NGW, and where the US Army falls short, a must-read is “Russian New Generation Warfare: Deterring and Winning the Tactical Fight,” by James Derleth, in Military Review, September-October 2020. Pay close attention to the notes at the end- there are important definitions included, not to mention a worthy reading list.

Here is a direct quote from his summary, which urges us out of the past, and into developing robust counter-NGW tactics:

“The dichotomy of war and peace is no longer a useful construct for thinking about national security or tactical operations. We are in a state of competition and conflict that is continuous and dynamic.”

What does continuous conflict in this context mean? In short, it is about continuous and unrelenting information warfare. It is about weaponised information. The availability of information and being connected 24 hours a day is not going away, it is only spreading horizontally to more people, and more remote locations around the globe. And with it the spread of engineered truth- “truth” that fits the writer’s needs, will spread as well. In our post-truth political and informational environment it becomes harder each moment to avoid deception, to sort truth from lies; we have no choice but to continue to try.

Finally, Russian combat losses to date:

Russian combat losses as of 26 February, 2023

Russian combat losses as of 26 February, 2023

Yesterday the Brookings Institution hosted a webinar on Ukraine’s economy. The webinar is archived and available to watch by clicking the link. The first part focuses on Ukraine’s economic situation- its fiscal policy, energy, inflation, and trade, as well as current and future needs. A recurring theme in the discussion was the gap between money that has been pledged to Ukraine and money that is actually making it to the country. There was also a thoughtful discussion on reconstruction, with projected numbers, discussion of where the money might come from, and the need to start the process now. The second part focused on historic examples, first with a history of the Marshall plan, then examples of recent reconstruction projects in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Sudan.

Two recent articles discuss the need for clear, pragmatic, and cautious goals in Ukraine. From the Diplomatic Courier, “Lack of Clear Strategic Goals in Ukraine Risks Escalation” by Ethan Brown, the author suggests that now is the time to consider an “off ramp from conflict escalation.”  He asks “what is the grand strategy?” and references the lack of such in Afghanistan and that unforgivable outcome.  He in no way suggests capitulation, or even negotiation on Putin’s terms, but notes that the Russian dictator is unlikely to back down any time in the foreseeable future, thus suggesting that Ukraine and the world are in this for the long term. 

From Foreign Affairs in the article “Go Slow on Crimea“, the authors Liana Fix and Michael Kimmage suggest caution on the retaking of the peninsula, albeit clearly part of sovereign Ukrainian territory. But they note that not taking it will in fact create unending problems for Ukrainian security, for its relationships with and accession into both the EU and NATO, and again for the rest of eastern Europe, Crimea being a testing ground and staging area for further conquest. 

My take on the situation has never changed- Russia is a terrorist state that perpetuates conflict in order to conquer and rule, and Ukraine is just a stepping stone to the rest of eastern Europe and Putin’s imperial goals. The answer to the problem in short: if you back down from a bully, as soon as you turn your head he will hit you again. Therefor we must:

  • Incentivise Russian withdrawal from Ukraine by maintaining and strengthening sanctions and policies against Russia until they squeeze the very blood from the aggressors; this includes freezing (and eventually seizing for reconstruction funding) ALL Russian assets available to countries supporting Ukraine.
  • Clearly define that stance that all Ukrainian territory must be returned, including and especially Crimea.
  • Continue supplying aid, weapons, and training to Ukrainian forces, and the forces of surrounding countries, and bolstering NATO throughout Europe. 

History teaches us that the Soviet Union, failed experiment in sociological control that it was, finally fell due to economic stagnation and collapse, the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, and the people of Russia and all Warsaw Pact and Soviet Bloc nations getting a taste of western freedoms, democracy, and culture at the end of the 1980’s. History is repeating itself. 

  • Russia may be setting conditions to conduct a new offensive against Ukraine—possibly against Kyiv—in winter 2023. Such an attack is extraordinarily unlikely to succeed.  A Russian attack from Belarus is not imminent at this time.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin’s objectives in Ukraine have not changed.
  • Putin is using two simultaneous military efforts to pursue his objective of conquering Ukraine and securing major concessions.
  • Putin is likely setting conditions for a renewed offensive before the spring of 2023 to coerce Ukraine into offering concessions.
  • Russian forces may be setting conditions to attack from Belarusian territory, although ISW continues to assess that the Belarusian military will not join the fighting in Ukraine.
  • Ukrainian forces reportedly continued counteroffensive operations in the direction of Kreminna and Svatove.
  • Russian forces continued offensive operations in the Bakhmut and Avdiivka areas.
  • Russian forces continued defensive operations south of the Dnipro River in southern Ukraine.
  • The Russian officer corps continues to suffer heavy losses in Ukraine.
  • Ukrainian partisans conducted a sabotage attack on a power transformer substation in Berdyansk, Zaporizhia Oblast.

And finally, Russian combat losses/ citizens sent to their death by their murdering dictator, as of today:

Russian combat losses as of 16 December, 2022

Russian combat losses as of 16 December, 2022