A Frozen War in Ukraine Would Be a Victory for Russia

A Frozen War in Ukraine Would Be a Victory for Russia
Ukrainian soldiers train with a T-72 tank, near Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine, Jan. 11, 2024 (photo by Dmytro Smolienko for NurPhoto via AP Images).

Nearly two years into Ukraine’s devastating full-scale war with Russia, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy made a major change last week, replacing Gen. Valerii Zaluzhny with Gen. Oleksandr Syrsky as commander of the Ukrainian military. While we do not know the exact reason for Zelenskyy’s decision, it is also unsurprising. The signs that the war in Ukraine was becoming a long one were already evident by the middle of 2022. Now, 18 months later, Ukraine is indeed fully locked into a war of attrition with Russia. Without a clear path to military victory, a rethink of Ukraine’s strategy is necessary.

How did we get to this point? Russia launched its “special military operation” in February 2022 with what appeared to be the goal of quickly overthrowing Ukraine’s government and gaining control of the country with minimal casualties to its own forces. It was similar to the tactic it used to annex Crimea back in 2014, except at a larger scale. But while that approach succeeded in Crimea, it failed in the all-out invasion of the entire country, as Ukraine’s armed forces demonstrated resourcefulness and resolve, while its population demonstrated resilience. At that point, Russia switched tactics, seeking to inflict punishment in the hope of breaking the will of the Ukrainian people.

With the Ukrainians still unflinching in the face of massive and repeated rocket barrages, Russia turned to its current strategy of territorial defense. This entailed digging into defensive positions; reorganizing its military governance so as to control some of its more “autonomous” elements, such as the infamous Wagner Group; and then waiting for Ukraine’s international support to fade. This is a strategy that Russia seems set to maintain.

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