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A framework to analyse the Russia-Ukraine war

opinionA framework to analyse the Russia-Ukraine war

The Russia-Ukraine war is in its second month, the world is watching with horror and consternation at the bellicosity of the participants and with hopes that peace talks are not more information warfare. Several sources have been pronouncing victory or defeat for Russia and censorship of various forms complicates the understanding. This article presents a simple framework for readers to draw their own conclusions for such conflicts, and not be guided by conclusions presented here or elsewhere.
The effective use of a framework requires common understanding of some basic issues, concepts, context and background. The unit of analysis is a war with clearly identified actors. “Demilitarization” means precluding from the territory of a country capabilities which can potentially threaten another, it does not mean giving up a military completely. Germany and Japan, for example, built powerful defensive forces after World War II. Cities are not military objectives, they are strategic, political or economic prizes. Urban warfare is very costly in lives and destruction, to be pursued for overriding objectives only. Russia itself experienced this in Berlin (1945) when the last 15 miles of territory taken in about 15 days cost the Soviet Army more than 150,000 killed. Precision munitions are useful, but require extensive use for weeks/months (USA-Iraq/Serbia, Russia-Chechnya/Syria). In the 1971 Bangladesh liberation war, with regime change as an objective, the Indian Army went straight for Dacca while positioning to block enemy movements in other cities. States ceaselessly watch and act on capabilities of others more than on intentions which can change overnight. Russia has the largest number of nuclear warheads including TNWs, but its second strike capability is limited. Russian Air Force is mainly configured for defence and ground support roles, compared to the US Air Force’s strategic and SEAD/DEAD capabilities. Offensive capabilities of NATO/US/UK were increasingly in a position to gain access to Ukrainian territory, potentially diminishing the effectiveness of Russian capabilities. With weak natural defences on the North European Plain, Ukraine (and Belarus) allying with potential adversaries is a nightmare for Russia.


The framework here consists of analysing a war on three criteria: a) Objectives of the initiator (attacker), in three dimensions: Strategic, Political and Military, and their overlaps. Objectives are seen from the position of the initiator (attacker), preferably as stated by the initiator or those which can be reasonably inferred without mixing in subjective conclusions of the analyser (reader). Wishes/dreams or their interpretations are not objectives. b) Extent of achievement of these objectives, seen as a differential from pre-war to post-war; c) Costs incurred in achieving these objectives. These are to be seen in the short and long-terms. The unit of analysis here is the current Russia-Ukraine war.

OBJECTIVES
Objectives of the initiator (Russia), declared or implied are given in the box. Those already excluded (pursuing regime change or occupying Ukraine) have not been considered, along with their implications (no need to occupy capital city Kiev at great cost, encirclement adequate). Invading with 200,000 troops a country with an army of 175,000 well dispersed in urban areas limits the objectives.

EXTENT OF ACHIEVEMENT OF OBJECTIVES
These are subjective, susceptible to disinformation, and to be arrived at with caution:
a) Ukraine not to be part of a potentially hostile powerful coalition like NATO: Ukrainian leadership statements indicate early achievement. Diplomacy by third parties may have prevented the war itself.
b) “Demilitarization” of Ukraine: Will be achieved along with the previous objective, with assurance of adequate defensive forces for Ukraine.
c) Acceptance by Ukraine of accession of Crimea to Russia: Strategically located on the Black Sea, Crimea is under Russian control with “accession” confirmed by a “referendum” since 2014. Achievement likely in the long-term unless Russia is comprehensively “defeated”.
d) “Independence” for Luhansk/Donetsk regions (Donbas): Regions with large ethnic/linguistic Russian populations (Minsk Accords-Normandy Format), civilians reportedly ready to fight against Ukrainian army and militia. Achievement likely to be limited to the small area and shifting of Ukrainian army from vicinity. However, attempt to extend this region westward to city of Dnipro (fulcrum of eastern Ukraine) will result in serious contest.
e) “Denazification” and Russian as second official language: All societies have fringe elements and Ukraine has armed “neo-Nazi” groups. Russian is the language of 33% of the population which feels linguistically discriminated against (Vienna Document-2018). Very likely to be achieved in eastern Ukraine regardless of conflict.
f) Securing a land corridor connecting Russia to Crimea: Gives Russia control over Sea of Azov to forestall potential threats. Stiffly contested Mariupol is key for this and other objectives (for Donbass and for the coast). Unlikely to be achieved, but Russia can get security and access commitments.
g) Control over the coast from Mariupol to Odessa: Makes Ukraine landlocked and will be unacceptable to it. Movement of Russian forces westwards from Mariupol/Mykolaiv towards Odessa or northwards towards Dnipro will indicate Russian posture. Russia may not insist on it if other stated objectives are met, and this one will not be achieved.

COSTS
These can be strategic, political, military, economic and overlapping. a) Economic: The wide-ranging economic, financial, trade and technology sanctions imposed by the West will have very severe long-term impacts on the Russian economy. Secondary sanctions will make the impact even more severe. With a nominal GDP of $1.5 trillion (2020, PPP-$4.1 trillion) the economy is smaller than that of Texas, and is expected to shrink by 15% (2022) and 5%-8% (2023). Inflation is already more than 15% and the currency has been impacted severely. Trend of decreasing income inequality, with Gini index at 48.4 (1993) to 37.5 (2018, USA-41.4), will be reversed. Exports which decreased to about 26% of GDP in 2020 will be at high risk as the world develops alternatives. The global economy, highly dependent on commodity exports from Russia, will also suffer with disproportionate impacts on European and Asian economies, exposing Russia to a vicious economic cycle. Industry faces accelerated technological decline and obsolescence. Some of the actions by the West were expected, which emphasises the importance of the objectives for Russia even at such great cost. Other actions like freezing of sovereign reserves are unexpected, and still others will play out over time. An insurgency will be severely debilitating in the long-term. b) Strategic: Ability of Russia to project power beyond its near abroad will decrease rapidly. Importance of the US for Europe and increased US presence near Russia will increase significantly. NATO has been reinvigorated. Russia faces isolation in several international forums. The West senses an opportunity for regime change, and to diminish the role of Russia significantly for a very long time. Russia will lose strategic space to a rising China due to increased dependence, and shrink to a junior role in any partnership. c) Military: Extent of losses of personnel and equipment of the armed forces is not a constraint, but long-drawn guerrilla warfare will be unsustainable.
Objectives are mainly strategic and military while the costs are economic and strategic, indicating that the invasion may not be defeated militarily. This war and consequent weaponization of finance and corporates will lead to cementing of blocks. Globalization peaked in 2008 with global trade/GDP at 60%, steadily decreased to 45% in 2020, and will retreat further. Russia losing the 1905 Russo-Japan war destabilized Europe, and experts then warned well in advance that Europe was heading for a conflagration which came about in 1914. Combination of faultlines of Europe, a marginalized Russia and a remilitarized Europe may in future pose serious risks for the world.

Vivek Joshi is an Advisor with A-Joshi Strategy Consultants Pvt Ltd, and has more than 25 years of international management experience. He is the author of a book “Start-up to Scale-up: Entrepreneur’s Guide to Venture Capital”, and publications which are listed on http://expertstrat.com/publications-videos/

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