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When will the Ukraine war end?

Weapons companies will have plenty of demand for their products as there is no end in sight for Russia’s war in Ukraine.

| 8 min read

Nato has around three times as many active military service personnel as Russia, spends more than ten times as much on defence and has more than three times as many naval vessels and aircraft at its disposal. With 16 aircraft carriers to Russia’s one, Nato can deliver air power from the sea as well as using its land-based planes from a variety of locations around the world.

The US is the dominant partner in Nato, providing leadership and the major part of the forces available. This year has opened with Nato’s exercise Steadfast Defender which sets out to demonstrate the capability of Nato to reinforce Europe from the US across the Atlantic. It will go on to show how Nato can concentrate forces anywhere within its large expanse of European territory to defend. It will deploy 90,000 military personnel from 32 countries.

Nato is designed as a defensive alliance with forces sufficient to deter or prevent invasions into its territories. Given the Russian invasion of Ukraine Nato sees the need to show Russia its capabilities to deter any ambitions over other places. In the Baltic states Russia points to the presence of Russian people and might want to use the excuse that it needs to go to the aid of Russians settled there as it claims for parts of Ukraine.

Neither Nato nor Russia want a war between them

The relative strength of forces must act as a big deterrent to Vladimir Putin entering a war with Nato. He is well aware that, if he attacked a Nato member however small, the whole alliance would respond. Nato has no wish to engage in a war with Russia and has been careful throughout the Ukraine hostilities to date to signal that Nato will not become directly involved in the conflict.

In the early days of the war, Nato and the member states were reluctant to send modern or powerful weapons and laid down the rule that no Nato personnel would be fighting in Ukraine under Nato or member state authority. It was decided not to enforce a no-fly zone over Ukraine with Nato jets, nor to assist Ukraine’s own anti-missile and drone defences in the way the US and some allies helped Israel against the Iranian attack recently. That decision avoids direct exchanges of fire between Nato and Russian planes.

As the war has progressed, Nato members have relaxed a bit over how many and what kind of weapons they can supply, and have provided training for Ukrainian personnel to use them. Nato has still insisted that its weapons cannot be used by Ukrainian forces to attack Russia on its own territory. The fact that Russia has a colossal arsenal of nuclear weapons for battlefield and long-range use means Nato proceeds carefully in its response to Russian aggression against a non-Nato member.

Just as Nato firepower, manpower and financial backing greatly exceeds that of Russia, so Russia’s forces greatly exceed Ukraine’s. Western defence experts were pessimistic for Ukraine at the outbreak of the war when they looked at the supremacy of the Russian army in tanks, artillery, manpower and much else. The spirited defence put up by Ukraine and the success of handheld weapons and drones against the Russian tanks changed thinking.

Ukraine needs more air defence to protect cities, power stations and the civilian population from Russian missiles and bombs. Ukraine is also stretched to recruit a large enough army to man the long trench fortifications and has lost a lot of men in battles already.

Nato has been giving Ukraine enough weapons and ammunition to halt the Russian advance, but not enough to turn the tide and push Russia back to its own frontiers. This is prolonging the conflict. Russia is watching and waiting for crumbling Nato resolve in the hope that, one day, Western support for Ukraine in terms of military equipment and money will run out or so reduce that they have more chance of a breakthrough somewhere along the long and well-defended front line.

The war is concentrated along the border between the Russian-occupied areas in the south east of the country and the rest of Ukraine. Both sides have dug in and planted extensive minefields, giving defence an advantage. Both sides fire large numbers of shells and small arms fire at each other, and make use of drones.

Both Nato and Russia are learning from the battles how modern weapons work. Both are using cheaper drones and hand-held weapons, whilst Russia deploys more missiles. The war has highlighted the need for much more conventional ammunition than planning had allowed, and the way in which relatively cheap weapons can do damage to expensive planes, vehicles and missiles.

What happens next?

Russia’s strategy appears to be to step up army numbers and military supplies, and to try to concentrate enough force at certain points where they might then be able to break through the defences. Russia is also waiting for Western resolve to reduce and is hoping that the US and Europe will tire of the costs and damage of the war.

Russia would still like to take the whole of Ukraine, but would probably consider a peace treaty that granted it what it has won by war so far, and gave it some control or influence over the government of what remains of Ukraine to the West. Russia would not want Ukraine joining Nato and could at any time go back on a treaty and invade a further part of Ukrainian territory.

Nato under US leadership is willing Ukraine to fight on but not willing to give Ukraine more aggressive weaponry to counterattack into the Russian state. This is likely to prolong the war but makes a knock-out victory for Ukraine difficult. Donald Trump says he wants a negotiated settlement without setting how or what that looks like. Jow Biden might want negotiations at some point in the future but so far has avoided giving any idea to Russia that Ukraine will give up territory Russia is now occupying.

Russia’s expansion in Chechnya, South Ossetia in Georgia and Transnistria in Moldova formed a pattern that has been repeated in Ukraine.

Ukraine wants to liberate the country from Russian rule, and has not ruled out retaking Crimea annexed ten years ago as well as trying to recapture the south-eastern oblasts that Russia has seized more recently. Ukraine will not indicate any willingness to surrender territory to maintain morale and to persuade allies to help fund the war.

Any move to talks would start by careful exploratory discussion through intermediaries by the two sides. It would need the US to help persuade Ukraine that it was time to try to reach a compromise with the invader. There are no signs of any early wish to negotiate.

Russia’s expansion in Chechnya, South Ossetia in Georgia and Transnistria in Moldova formed a pattern that has been repeated in Ukraine. This makes Nato reluctant to propose talks and a compromise, all the time Ukraine has resolve to seek to evict Russian forces. It means the brutal war of attrition continues for the time being.

It also means Nato will remain more alert and will be increasing its defence spending, weaponry and defensive activities. It means weapons companies will have plenty of demand for their products and encouraged to develop a new generation of cheaper and smarter weapons to reflect what is being learned in combat in Ukraine. Nato has realised it did not have sufficient ammunition nor large stocks of cheaper ways of shooting down drones and missiles and resisting advancing tanks.

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When will the Ukraine war end?

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