So How Long is this War Going to Last?

I first started drafting this post on 5 March. I then stopped work on it, because, you know, there were a lot of possible outcomes back then and if we waited long enough, some options would come off the table. The options that have disappeared was that this war was going to last only a few weeks, ending with a negotiated settlement and a partial Russian withdrawal. It has now lasted more than three months and looks like it is well on the way to lasting at least another three more months. 

This is a war that first needs to be resolved on the ground. It is about taking or not taking territory.  At this point, it is clear the Russia’s objectives have morphed into taking and holding the better part of four provinces: Lugansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia, and Kherson oblasts. Ukraine’s objectives are to take back some or all of them, and also Crimea and Sevastopol (annexed by Russia in 2014). So, the fight on the ground needs to be partially won by either Russia or Ukraine or fought into a long bloody draw. Then at some point, there may be a desire on both sides for a peace treaty. But until this is resolved on the ground, this is not going to happen. Therefore, I am pretty certain that the war will continue for the next three months, taking advantage of the summer months of good weather to push the Russian offensive as far as it will go, and to push the Ukrainian counter offensives as far as they will go.

If at the end of the summer nothing has been clearly resolved, then are they will have an opportunity to negotiate a cease-fire. Right now, Ukraine is saying it will not quit fighting until such time as they have reclaimed all the territory that has been taken from them (although what this includes may be negotiable). Russia seems equally determined to hold onto all the territory it has already taken. So, what is basis for a cease-fire?

Right now, each side has probably lost more than 10,000 troops. The total cost of this conflict may be more than 28,0000 dead. Ukraine has clearly lost more than 4,000 civilians and Russia has had one Russian civilian killed in Russia. The Donetsk Peoples Republic (DPR) has lost over 2,000 soldiers and the Lugansk Peoples Republic (LPR) has lost at least 600. 

The real key though is the economic situation. Russia economy is looking to decline between 8.5 to 15% this year and decline a few percent more in 2023. The Ukrainian economy is looking to decline 35-45% this year, and not sure where it will be in 2023. On the other hand, with almost a $100 billion in aid coming into an economy of $181 billion, I do wonder what the real decline will be this year and next year. It is possible that the Ukrainian economy could actually grow because of this war, although this is hardly the way anyone wants to grow their economy.

So, Russia can continue the war as long as there is the will to continue. Its GDP in 2021 was $1,710 billion. Even at 85% of its economy it can continue this war, especially as long as oil prices remain high.

Oil is both a big issue and not that big of an issue. While taxes on oil and gas makes up over 50% of the Russian government budget, oil only makes up 7% of the Russian economy. They can adjust by changing their taxation rates (they currently use a flat income tax). Of course, this may create public discontent (increasing taxes tend to do that, as does inflation, which they are also suffering from).

The real issue here is how long are the Russian civilians willing to tolerate this war. Russia has avoided sending too many conscripts into the fight. They do outnumber Ukraine by more than three-to-one in population, so theoretically with full mobilization they could build up an army three times larger than anything that Ukraine could deploy. This would kind of guarantee victory, but it might take over a year. To date, Russia has not attempted to do this and does not look like it will. They instead are trying to do “war on the cheap,” which is something that the U.S. tried in both Iraq and Afghanistan with poor results. 

The reason that Russian is not doing full mobilization is that it will almost certainly create a significant anti-war movement inside of Russia. An anti–war movement can quickly morph into an anti-government movement. Clearly, they fear their own population. They can produce all the surveys they want showing 80% support, but their actions, like not going to full mobilization during a war, clearly show what the reality it. One can get some sense of that with the 1420 interviews that I have posted here or watching the DDT concerts in Ufa on 18 May 2022 on Youtube. DDT is a deservedly very popular Russian rock band that has been around since the Soviet era. They are clearly not Putin fans. So, it appears that Russia is going to go forward with the forces that it has and the picture on the ground is not going to change rapidly as a result.

The Ukrainian population is mostly in support of this war although they did not have much choice as they were invaded. This is the type of support that takes years to whittle away. So, it does appear that they are willing to fight and willing to fight for a while. The key is the degree of outside aid. As long as “The West” is willing to provide it with $100-$120 billion a year, year after year, Ukraine can and will continue this fight. If the aid drops over time, then Ukraine has a problem, because at the start of this war, the Russian economy was almost ten times the size of the Ukrainian economy. So, it appears the essential element to keeping Ukraine in the war is continued support for Ukraine. About half the aid comes from the U.S. Is the U.S. congress going to pass a $40-$60 billion dollar aid bill every year? Our GDP is $25.35 trillion, so this is maybe 0.2% of our GDP.  Our defense budget was $782 in 2022, or 3.4% of our GDP. Should up to 10% of our defense budget be aid to Ukraine?

So, what is the picture on the ground? Well, it appears that Russia is slowly gaining ground and Ukraine is consistently suffering casualties (and I assume Russian losses are similar). It was become a war of artillery and infantry, with the artillery doing the killing and infantry doing the dying. This a good old fashioned conventional war of attrition. Any campaign that lasts longer than six weeks turns into a war of attrition. How long does a conventional war of attrition last? Well, the Iran-Iraq War lasted eight years (1980-1988). At this point, if both sides are able to maintain the war, then there is no reason to doubt that it could continue for years. 

It is clear that Russia has reduced its objectives to whatever they can seize in the immediate area of Donetsk and Lugansk provinces. They are not really seriously attempting to take anything more at the moment. They look like they will take Severodonetsk. Whether they can take anything further is unknown. It is clear that at some point, their primary objective will be to hold onto the four provinces of Ukraine they have seized and wait for “The West” and Ukraine to tire and then negotiate a cease fire. This plan basically does not indicate any desire to negotiate away any seized territory. I do not currently see any compromise being offered like giving back Kherson and Zaporizhzhia provinces in exchange for peace.  I also do not see right now Ukraine agreeing to a cease-fire in place. 

Ukraine as some point needs to get a counteroffensive going and start reclaiming ground. Most likely this will be in Kherson province as a victory there opens up lots of possibilities (including retaking Crimea). They started offensive operations there a few weeks ago, but so far it has stalled out. Possibly due to a lack of force and lack of forces.

So, the three long-term scenarios are:

  1. Russia continues to advance.
  2. Ukraine starts advancing.
  3. The war stalemates.

As I said, this war is going to be decided on the ground. Looking back at my draft posting on 5 March 2022, I note the second to last paragraph of that post said “So, right now this is beginning to look like a six-month to three-year war.” That was where I was leaning in early March and it is where I still stand today. If anything, I am more leaning towards a three-year war than a six-month war. I do not think by the end of this summer that both sides will be willing to sit down and find a compromise that could end this war.

This is a war that will not be decided by diplomats or international political pressure. It is a war that will be decided by the men fighting on the ground. 

Now, my last paragraph of my draft 5 March post was: “Might be shorter if someone replaces Putin or overthrows him, but the track record on that is un-even (for example, Saddam Hussien was not overthrown by losing the Gulf War in 1991).” That is another long discussion that I may address later. Right now, it does not appear be on the short-term horizon. It may be on the horizon in the long-term.

This entry was posted in Eastern Europe, Russia by Christopher A. Lawrence. Bookmark the permalink.

About Christopher A. Lawrence

Christopher A. Lawrence is a professional historian and military analyst. He is the Executive Director and President of The Dupuy Institute, an organization dedicated to scholarly research and objective analysis of historical data related to armed conflict and the resolution of armed conflict. The Dupuy Institute provides independent, historically-based analyses of lessons learned from modern military experience. ... Mr. Lawrence was the program manager for the Ardennes Campaign Simulation Data Base, the Kursk Data Base, the Modern Insurgency Spread Sheets and for a number of other smaller combat data bases. He has participated in casualty estimation studies (including estimates for Bosnia and Iraq) and studies of air campaign modeling, enemy prisoner of war capture rates, medium weight armor, urban warfare, situational awareness, counterinsurgency and other subjects for the U.S. Army, the Defense Department, the Joint Staff and the U.S. Air Force. He has also directed a number of studies related to the military impact of banning antipersonnel mines for the Joint Staff, Los Alamos National Laboratories and the Vietnam Veterans of American Foundation. ... His published works include papers and monographs for the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment and the Vietnam Veterans of American Foundation, in addition to over 40 articles written for limited-distribution newsletters and over 60 analytical reports prepared for the Defense Department. He is the author of Kursk: The Battle of Prokhorovka (Aberdeen Books, Sheridan, CO., 2015), America’s Modern Wars: Understanding Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam (Casemate Publishers, Philadelphia & Oxford, 2015), War by Numbers: Understanding Conventional Combat (Potomac Books, Lincoln, NE., 2017) , The Battle of Prokhorovka (Stackpole Books, Guilford, CT., 2019), The Battle for Kyiv (Frontline Books, Yorkshire, UK, 2023), Aces at Kursk (Air World, Yorkshire, UK, 2024), Hunting Falcon: The Story of WWI German Ace Hans-Joachim Buddecke (Air World, Yorkshire, UK, 2024) and The Siege of Mariupol (Frontline Books, Yorkshire, UK, 2024). ... Mr. Lawrence lives in northern Virginia, near Washington, D.C., with his wife and son.

8 thoughts on “So How Long is this War Going to Last?

  1. Good post, and not much to disagree with. At this point, there is nothing to indicate a successful conflict for either Russia or Ukraine if hostilities ceased today. War aims are still out of reach for both sides, so the fighting will continue.

  2. Very solid points and a very pleasant read!
    One small detail i may would have talked about are the sanctions and the problems russia may face with reproduction of military products (like optics).

    Greetings from Austria!

  3. “Ukraine as some point needs to get a counteroffensive going and start reclaiming ground. Most likely this will be in Kherson province as a victory there opens up lots of possibilities (including retaking Crimea).”

    Would be my bet too. With Ukraine’s higher level of mobilisation of personnel I assume that the counter attack will happen spring 2023.

    The Kherson region is the most obvious solution as it offers possibility to inflict long term economic damage by seizing the north end of the North Criman Canal again, this is a good bargain chip. Without water the Crimea has the same issues which led to the transfer of Crimea to Ukraine in 1954.

    • “Would be my bet too. With Ukraine’s higher level of mobilisation of personnel I assume that the counter attack will happen spring 2023.”

      I think they would want to get that going a whole lot sooner than that.

      • Hopnest questions:

        When did the Ukrainians start their training of the drafted men or how long does it take to get combat ready units (IIRC the Germans in WW1 calculated with 12-15 months when starting with untrained men in large numbers)?

        Does Ukraine have enough heavy weapons?

  4. Crimea : Even if the UKR take back Kherson, I have a hard time believing the the RU wont blow the 2 bridges.

    I really hope this doesnt drag into 2023.

  5. Pingback: The Russo-Ukrainian War of 2022 – Day 159 (ground actions) | Mystics & Statistics

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