All sides’ strategic incentives in the Ukraine War point toward continued conflict in 2023. The war’s settlement will emerge from the battlefield, not primarily from negotiations. Russia, meanwhile, is planning another offensive to solidify its territorial position and prepare for another year of war.
Every weapon that the West refrains from sending to Ukraine in the next two months will be regretted in the next six.
In addition, the notion of Russia’s absolute incompetence must be eliminated. No military is perfect, and Russian forces have their problems — but Western analysts are far too optimistic about Russia’s initial failures.
Russian military improvements
Despite coordination and competence issues plaguing Russia’s military, its assault on Kyiv very nearly worked. Russia achieved operational shock, overloading Ukraine’s command-and-control system and converting a coherent military force into disaggregated units. It fixed around half of Ukraine’s military in the eastern Donbas region while achieving strategic surprise with a lightning dash on Kyiv — a shock purchased at the cost of effective planning and coordination at lower command echelons, but surprise nonetheless — and met its key objectives in Ukraine’s south in the first week.
Yet Russia’s trade of surprise over planning coherence proved decisive. Russian troops, lacking a clear picture of the overall campaign, encountered unexpected resistance and could not formulate reasonable tactical plans. Ukraine’s military, which had exercised for years and had extensive plans for a Russian war, was resilient enough to survive the war’s first days without coherent command-and-control. After Feb. 27, Ukraine re-established control over the operational space; Russia took another two weeks to do so, by which point the Kyiv offensive stalled and Russian forces were at risk of encirclement.
Russia’s effort since withdrawing from Kyiv has been marked by an attempt to regain operational control; its commanding officer in Ukraine, Gen. Sergey Surovikin, appears to have done so — as Ukraine’s military commander, Gen. Valerii Zaluzhnyi, implied in a recent interview.
War commonly reveals the limitations of peacetime officers; Zaluzhnyi cashiered ten Ukrainian commanders and lost one to suicide. At this point, Zaluzhnyi knows his theater and brigade commanders and their staffs exceedingly well — an exceptional advantage in high-end war, where operational control is crucial. Surovikin, however, has made far more progress than any of his predecessors toward creating a coherent Russian command; Russia’s retreat from Kherson was reasonably well-executed and took significant planning.
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Seth Cropsey is the founder and president of Yorktown Institute.