Ukraine: Outcomes Pt 2

Yesterday provided a synopsis of the overview of the background to what is going on today. Given the reports that the Biden Regency offered Vladimir twenty percent of Ukraine (which isn’t really theirs to offer or give) in exchange for peace, we need to look at some of the possible outcomes.

I want to take these from worst-case to best-case. In every case, there are ways for things to go very well, or to go catastrophically wrong. On all sides, what happens is not only up to senior leadership, but your mid- and even low-level leaders will have their chance at glory or infamy. When it comes to war, David Drake has long pointed out that what does or doesn’t happen often boils down to one scared private. If you don’t want that scared private being the one who decides war/no-war, nuke/no-nuke, don’t put them in that position. That, however, requires competent leadership…

I’ve argued with myself over the order of the first two items, but for now, I think the absolute worst case scenario is the well-meaning imposition of peace based on current lines or claims. Exactly what the Biden Regency, and a host of well-meaning but poorly informed people, have called for.

Neither side is going to buy it. Russkiy Mir demands the return of Ukraine (along with a host of other independent countries) to the fold, willing or not. Ukraine wants its independence and all its territory. The only things such a “peace” will buy is a far more devastating war in the near future.

Both sides are going to arm, train, fortify, and prepare. Given that I’m reasonably sure there are those in Ukraine who are lamenting ever giving up the nukes, there will be efforts to develop or obtain special weapons of some type or types. It may be clandestine, but it will take place. Meantime, Russia — despite the corruption — can buy or produce weapons to replace the rusted/deteriorated junk in various stockpiles despite sanctions. Guarantee a number of Western companies and/or governments will get rich off it too, as they’ve been doing all along sanctions or no.

When the two sides resume, and they will, it is quite likely to set new standards for fast, brutal, and horrific. Each will be going at it to win, to eliminate the threat posed by the other, and in the end both are quite likely to die. Don’t believe me? Just take a look at military history through the ages. Troy and Carthage are not the norm, because the norm is that the tribes on both sides involved were so damaged that they literally either didn’t have the people to go on, or were so weakened that others came in and took them out.

If you think that various levels of civil and military leadership in both Ukraine and Russia are not aware of this, you are mistaken. So, when the war resumes, there will be planning on both sides for the Gotterdammerung. In the case of Ukraine, I see whatever is done as directed at Russia, along the lines of “from Hell’s heart I stab at thee” type thing. The worst case is going to come from Russia, which if it sees the illusion of ever creating Russkiy Mir and retaining status in the world slipping, is quite likely to try to level the new playing field, or at least to ensure they don’t go down alone.

If you want to guarantee a truly horrific war in the near-term, and one quite likely to turn into a full-scale world war with nuclear and other special arms being used, decree an unjust peace. All that bit of self-satisfied virtue signaling will do is to guarantee true horrors within ten years of its imposition.

The second worst outcome is the status quo. As in some form of near-constant combat with no truly decisive action. This could literally go on for years, as the Russians have a lot of people they can feed into the meat grinder and Ukraine has a will, training, and a growing stream of weapons to offset Russian numbers. The devastation that will result from such is almost impossible for most to imagine.

The loss of troops will be one thing; but, the losses in the civilian population will rise exponentially. The continuing and even expanded torture, rape, and murder of civilians when the Russians take an area will have repercussions far beyond the battlefield and on levels many have yet to consider. Never mind that it will generate a generational implacable hatred between the Ukrainians and the Russians, it will have a fundamental negative effect on Russian cultural life. It will also change how Russians, citizens and those who have fled, are treated around the world.

On top of that, you will have massive losses of infrastructure, nor will it be limited to Ukraine. As the damage mounts, Ukraine will hit back and will seek to make points in so doing. As with anyone who fights back, Russia will declare this an outrage and escalation, which will lead to a series of escalations.

Environmental damage? Take a look at France, where there are still trenches from WWI (and WWII), areas full of unexploded ordnance, and even no-go areas because of the use of war gasses and UXD from a century ago. What you see there is nothing to what will become of potentially large areas of Ukraine. Then again, part of the plan for Russia all along has been to eliminate Ukraine as a source of food and fertilizer to the world. Vladimir really doesn’t care if the Middle East and Africa starve, so long as Ukraine starves and capitulates.

There is more, and even worse, but what it boils down to is the longer this drags out, the more likely it is that someone will do something stupid in terms of either special weapons or attacking the nuclear power plants in the Ukraine. Someone, somewhere, is going to see a chance to break things open by the use of chemical, nuclear, or other special weapons. I would give good odds that it will be at a mid- to low-level, and I simply note that chemical weapons rarely have PAL and other controls. If they are available, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to make them usable.

Given internal politics in Russia, which is all Vladimir and the other leadership care about, the push to do something will hit one or more truly frightening points. Note that Vladimir has already set the stage for the following scenario by shelling on or near nuclear plants, and has planted the lie with the Russian public that it was Ukraine. Again, please understand that Vladimir et al don’t care if the Biden Regency, you, me, or anyone else believes the lie. They don’t. It only matters if it has traction internally. Pressure mounts, and the nuclear power plants get hit.

Whatever else happens, Ukraine as a functioning country is destroyed. This will impact farming, mining, everything. Imagine Vladimir in a dirty and stained wife-beater, waving a Makarov around drunkenly, and screaming to the police that only if that bitch hadn’t fought back she wouldn’t be dead. That’s exactly the same mentality going on in regards Ukraine and Russkiy Mir.

Next up, a Russian success. Let’s say they seize Donbas and more. It won’t matter who declares a truce or peace, if you think the fighting will magically stop, again, I have that bridge for sale. Within occupied areas, insurrection and covert operations will abound. There will also be atrocities, as Russian doctrine calls for examples to be made. This will backfire, and whatever is left of Ukrainian armed forces and government, in what’s left or in exile, will both make the most of it and find interesting and creative ways to extract revenge.

Which again could lead to the use of special weapons by either side. Please do keep in mind that special is not just nuclear, but chemical, biological, radiological, thermobaric (according to some), etc. Ukraine has shown itself to be intelligent, imaginative, and delightfully devious when it comes to improvising or developing new weapons.

A Russian success will become a meatgrinder, mostly for them. Civilians will suffer and die, but I’d be willing to bet that Russian military and civilian losses in trying to occupy any or all of Ukraine will make the losses so far seem pale. You are already seeing a taste of this in Donbas and elsewhere. Problem is, this is exactly the scenario of Russia can’t win but Ukraine can lose. This is also, despite the fact that Russia will make a lot of threats towards anyone they even remotely suspect might be helping Ukrainian partisans or military, the scenario that I see as least likely to lead to any truly global war of any type. Nasty and heartbreaking, yes. A world ender, no.

Also, for reasons political and demographic, I don’t think the Russians will be able to hold. It may be weeks or it may be a decade, but they will not hold. When they withdraw, unless otherwise prevented, they will go scorched Earth and do as much damage as possible. Again, the mentality of ‘the bitch resisted’ is already evident and will only get worse.

The next case is Ukrainian victories. This offers in some ways the best chance to end the war, but also the highest likelihood of the use of special weapons by Russia.

Let’s say that Ukraine has spent the winter gathering supplies, getting logistics repaired and expanded, making plans and contingencies, and integrating and exploiting troops that have been being trained abroad. Keep in mind one of the things smart militaries do with such trained people is have them share that training as often and as quickly as they can. They also practice via simulations in the field and electronic before heading out for real. So far, the Ukrainian military appears to be fighting smart, so…

The more they retake, the more desperate the Russians will get. Which leads to three potential scenarios and outcomes.

In the first, military success prompts someone to use some form of special weapon to stop the advance. Net result is the offensive stalls, and both sides settle down behind current lines to lick their wounds. A temporary truce of shock, exhaustion and retrenchment takes place. It is quite possible that a peace may can be brokered, but I would give odds that it would be along the lines noted above and used as a time to prepare.

In the second, the use of one or more special weapons creates a crisis for Russian leadership, one that causes a fight for succession to break out. Another variant of this is for Vladimir to become medically or otherwise incapacitated, a fight for succession breaks out, and Ukraine smartly and adroitly exploits it. Keep in mind, there are multiple variants for each of the scenarios I’m providing. In any event, given losses, restiveness in various areas far from Moscow, and even covert actions by China and others, the Russian Federation starts to come apart. In this case, it does lead to execution of Russia’s version of Case Zulu, and things go south for the world. Shall we not play that game please?

The third, final, and absolute best case I can see is also the one I think is least likely to happen though it is the absolute best case for the world. In that case, Case Zulu is avoided, and smart leadership world-wide steps in to not just engineer a soft landing for the various sections of the Russian Federation and Russia itself, but works hard to help them thrive and grow, while eliminating as much of the nuclear threat as possible. China might well do it in more than one area out of self-interest, and Japan might also see opportunities in paying forward their part of reconstruction in Kamchatka and other far east regions. Get the islands back, secure a flank, and create some enormous economic opportunities for all parties.

The best path I see not just out of this war, but to prevent any number of future conflicts and to greatly reduce the threat of a global nuclear war, is for Russia to break up as peacefully as possible. That third scenario really will require the good fairy to wave her wand, as we’ve not really done it successfully so far. For all that the USSR broke up surprisingly softly, that was as much luck as competent leadership, nor did parties around the world truly work towards success. If they had, we would not now have Russkiy Mir and other delights of the current Russian Federation.

As I’ve noted before, do keep in mind that the current top crop of potential successors to Vladimir are all more hardline than he is in terms of Ukraine and Russkiy Mir. They are all of the Slavophile camp, and detest the West and those who feel the West has anything to offer Russia, Greater Russia, or the Slavic people. There are no members of the Western Thought Club anywhere near top or even mid-level leadership positions in Russia.

The fact is, there are far more opportunities for things to go south than to end in a peaceful, equitable, and just peace. That said, with even median leadership, we have a good chance to prevent the use of special weapons, or to at least limit the use so that things don’t lead to a full exchange on the nuclear level. With our current leadership around the world? Well… If we find good leadership and get it in positions to do good? That would be great, but it is not the way to bet.

The best we can do is work towards the best possible outcomes as we can, to prepare for the worst, and hope for the best.

As a final note, China is the potential wrench in the gears. Xi is in trouble, and as such is pushing as hard and fast as he can at Taiwan and the U.S. His actions are not those of a strong and stable leader, but one weak and unstable internally. That said, China has a military that would appear to be able to do more than hold its own. It is a very serious threat to the U.S., and to Russia as well. The fractals that come from including China in various scenarios related to Ukraine as well as nuclear war are somewhat overwhelming.

Keep in mind that there are parties involved world-wide. What allies on both sides do, when they do it, and how they do it, will truly determine the course of the war, and its expansion or end. It is a complex situation with multiple scenarios at each point. In other words, it’s the real world as opposed to the happy shiny world of simplistic platitudes and virtue signaling. Simple would be nice, I admit. I just don’t see it anywhere in the real world. I wish I did.

Final thought: The fighting will resume and soon. I fully expect to see some Russian victories and some Ukrainian victories. Which side seizes the momentum and makes the most of it will depend on logistics, morale, and training. Wait. Watch. Pray.

7 thoughts on “Ukraine: Outcomes Pt 2”

  1. I think this is all cogent analysis, except for the part about Russia breaking up. The USSR broke up because at the end of the day it was a typical kind of empire. Its non-Russian member states were hostages whose populations never wanted to be ruled from Moscow, and their local communist governments were the usual colonial viceroys whose power came only from the imperial armies.

    Yes, there are ethnic minorities within Russia proper, but which of them, aside from the Chechens, have either the will toward independence? Attempting to foment a breakup of the Russian Federation would play directly into Putin’s narrative. His domestic propaganda would go overnight from sounding crazy to sounding like a warning sadly ignored. I think the reasonable, mainstream goal remains to restore Ukraine’s 2010 borders and the international rules-based order. Nobody seriously argues against that on principle, only on practicality, and practicality shifts with the tide of battle.

    1. I would commend to you Kamil Galeev’s work in general, but especially on the need to break up Russia. Good odds it may happen without outside help, given how restive various portions of the south and far east are already.

  2. Okay, now include Zeihan’s demographic stuff for Russia, China, Ukraine, and Europe. His baseline on Russia is they physically cannot breed the next generation of Glorious Red Army from what they recognize as Russky Mir Russians. So do they go Jannisaries, or perhaps more aptly given their claim to being the true successor of the Roman Empire, Roman Legions full of German Barbarians led by that nice general Attila, using the Russian Federation’s internal “lesser” peoples?
    And the demographic cliff for Emperor Xi the Pooh has just hit the general media. Are they on their last round in the chamber of Military Aged Males too?

    1. China does have its own demographic issues, as does much of the world and it’s not pretty. As for the Jannisaries, just look at Wagner and the Chechen legions. Wagner has had to turn away recruits in Africa.

  3. My theory is that China is quite happy to play both sides here. They are taking what’s useful for them (cheap oil) but declining to give Russia real help (industrial goods and weapons) because a Russia that’s been bled white on the West’s tab leaves a convenient vacuum in central and northeast Asia.

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