Can Ukraine win the war? These analysts think so. Here's how it might unfold
When the invasion of Ukraine began three weeks ago, many thought it would end quickly because of Russia’s military strength. But as the war drags on and Ukraine digs in, two questions are increasingly being asked: Can Ukraine win this war, and what will it take?
While Russia has occupied the southern city of Kherson, Ukraine’s military and civilians have prevented the Russian army from taking control of other major cities. Russia has also suffered significant casualties, with conservative estimates putting it at more than 7,000 troop deaths, according to The New York Times.
The reason for Russia’s lack of battlefield success started before the invasion began and can be attributed to systemic issues, including corruption and poor training, and bad assumptions, said Steven Horrell, a senior fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA).
Horrell, also a former U.S. naval intelligence officer, thinks Russian President Vladimir Putin saw the attack on Ukraine unfolding in a vastly different way.
“I think Putin truly believed the things that he said about the Ukrainian people welcoming them,” Horrell told NPR. “They just failed to understand that the Ukrainian armed forces of 2022 are far different from the Ukrainian armed forces of 2014 when they annexed Crimea and began their adventures in eastern Ukraine.”
Those previous incursions by Russia provided Ukrainians with training by fire and allowed them to identify and adjust to shortfalls quickly, Horrell said, adding that Russia was also struggling with logistical problems this time around.
With all these factors in mind, Horrell said Russia could “certainly fail,” either in terms of strategic objectives, defeat on the battlefield, or both.
Russia wants to control Ukraine and have it be a non-Western leaning state, but Horrell said the Ukrainian people had shown that the invasion alone would not eliminate their Western ideals. And, he said, they would not accept a president who was chosen by Russia.
“That is almost zero chance of occurring now,” Horrell said. “And for Ukraine … you would define victory as the complete expulsion of the Russian invaders, not just this recent invasion, but to get the borders back to 2014 before Crimea was illegally annexed.”
Retired Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges serves as the Pershing Chair in Strategic Studies at CEPA and said that based on his experience and the reports of Russian ammunition and manpower shortages, the war may culminate in the next week.
“The time challenge for Russia is not just military,” Hodges wrote in his analysis on Tuesday. “The effects of sanctions are growing — Russia may soon default on $150 billion of foreign currency debt — and Russian domestic resentment is also growing.”
Hodges said the U.S. and other Western powers needed to move with “urgency” to offer more support against Russia.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced an additional $800 million worth of security assistance for Ukraine on Tuesday – bringing the total amount of aid in the past week alone to $1 billion.
Blinken said the additional funding would be used for things like “anti-aircraft, anti-tank, and anti-armor systems as well as small arms and munitions used by Ukrainian security forces on the ground right now in the fight to defend their country.”
But what the U.S. and NATO remain opposed to is instituting a no-fly zone over Ukraine. That is something that former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch believes should remain an option.
“I think that has to be on the table. But I also think there are other ways of doing a no-fly zone,” Yovanovitch told NPR. “I think we have lots of smart people at the Pentagon that can figure out ways to do this in a way that is less risky.”
Ultimately though, Yovanovitch said she believed Ukraine would win the war.
“Russia may prevail militarily, but there will be a resistance, and it will be an ugly one for any Russians that are attempting to impose their will on Ukraine,” Yovanovitch said.
“I think that there’s going to be not only a guerrilla war, but there’s going to be civil resistance where, you know, people get poisoned when they go to the restaurant, sharpshooters are on roofs picking off Russian soldiers. It’s going to be long and ugly, but this is a people that fights back.”
But an incomplete victory for Ukraine is another potential outcome of this war. Horrell said this is a scenario that would end in a “frozen conflict” if Russia still held Crimea and the Russian-led separatist areas of eastern Ukraine.
“In one sense, that’s a success for Russia in that it gets an anchor dragging Ukraine down, both in terms of economic advancement and full realization of their national potential,” he said. “But also, that’s the sort of thing that keeps a country out of the E.U. and out of NATO.”
“At this point, though, with the success we’ve seen in three weeks [of Ukraine defending itself], is that even acceptable terms for Ukraine? I think it may not be.”