Why will the Ukraine war end in a Russian defeat? Because Russia has already lost. Winning a war means choosing when to end the fighting and on what terms. Putin cannot end the conflict on his terms. He lost that option months ago in front of Kyiv. Ukraine controls when, how, and on what terms the war ends. Zelensky is the organ grinder. Putin is the monkey.
Ukraine (and the US) will try to keep Putin dancing until he slips and falls. Publicly. Shamefully. Looking like a loser. His reputation in tatters. His military in shambles. Putin can only hope his increasingly exhausted forces don’t stumble and collapse again like Kyiv. That face-saving outcome is possible, but unlikely.
Putin can (barely) take Lysychansk. But Putin cannot force a decision. He can’t stop the war from grinding on. Grinding his army to pieces along the way.
Ukraine can and will keep grinding as long as the US keeps supplying them. The US will keep supplying Ukraine until Russia’s army is well and truly broken. Because the US and Ukraine both win by shattering Putin’s military capabilities. That is the end game.
When? Zelensky just told the NATO summit the war likely ends Christmas 2022 – the front half of winter on the steppes. My guess is that is the intersection of two lines
- How long it will take to break Russian morale and fighting strength – precipitating another Kyiv-style rout someplace somewhere.
- How long Ukrainian morale can hold out (hopefully long enough to force the result above).
Zelensky’s bet is that Russia’s army will break someplace, somewhere. Keep grinding the organ and wait for the monkey to stumble. Forcing Russia to the negotiating table in a position of weakness.
What are Ukraine’s victory conditions? My guess would be.
- A shattered Russian military. Needing years to fix. How many years? More time than Putin has – either in power or on this earth (especially if he really is ill with cancer).
- A return to (roughly) pre-war conflict lines. Zelensky wins that via… a shattered Russian military. If he’s really lucky, he wins more.
- Note the US’s victory condition is also a shattered Russian military.
Christmas is a long time from now. Europe and the rest of the world would love to get the wheat shipped and the oil/gas flowing before then. Ukraine controls that timing, not Russia. Russia can’t/won’t drop its blockade until Ukraine decides to end the war. Ukraine won’t end the war until they “win.”
Even the French and Germans seem to have (finally) figured this out. After flirting with appeasing Russia, they have realized that won’t get the gas flowing. Destroying Russia’s military will. The faster Ukraine achieves its victory conditions, the faster the world gets back to normal. Cue German and French deliveries of new artillery systems after the NATO summit last week.
Regardless, the world likely starts 2023 with the war over, the gas taps back on, a shattered Russian military, and a big sigh of relief (unless you are named Putin). I don’t see this in a lot of market/economic forecasts. But it should be.
So that is the political/strategic end game. I’ll do a short piece on the military end game later this week. Then back to economics.