KYIV, UKRAINE – JANUARY 22: Civilian participants in a Kyiv Territorial Defence unit train on a Saturday in a forest on January 22, 2022 in Kyiv, Ukraine. Across Ukraine thousands of civilians are participating in such groups to receive basic combat training and in time of war would be under direct command of the Ukrainian military. While Ukrainian officials have acknowledged the country has little chance to fend off a full Russian invasion, Russian occupation troops would likely face a deep-rooted, decentralised and prolonged insurgency. Russia has amassed tens of thousands of troops on its border to Ukraine. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
By Alexander Crowther and John Nagl
Just a few weeks ago, Russian forces held a sham referendum that saw Kherson and three neighboring territories be claimed as Russian land, annexed from Ukraine.
In the past few days, however, Ukrainian forces have taken back Kherson, the only regional capital that Russia had seized following its “special military operation.” In Kherson, Ukrainian forces were able to easily defeat the Russian forces that occupied the region despite Russia sending thousands of conscripted troops to fortify their position last month.
When the invasion was first launched in February, the question was how long Ukraine would stand not how long it would take for Russia to win.
In 2014, Ukraine’s military suffered a convincing defeat from Russian forces in Crimea. A former top commander of Ukraine’s armed forces said the military was in “ruins” in 2014.
Between 2014 and 2022, Ukraine’s military underwent a vital transformation both in how to fight and what they were fighting with. In 2016 Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko ordered a large overhaul of military operations ranging from command and control to medical logistics. Spurred by their fear of a Russian invasion, the changes and improvements were implemented quickly and effectively.
Support from the West has helped. The United States ramped up its support of Ukraine after the annexation of Crimea, giving Ukraine $2.7 billion between 2014 and 2022 in military aid and weapons.
Two weapons in particular, anti-tank Javelins and HIMARs, have helped Ukraine defend against the Russian offensive. With the anti-tank javelins, Ukraine has disarmed a lethal pillar for Russian armed forces, causing Russia to lose half of its tanks in Ukraine. HIMARs have given Ukraine the ability to attack Russia behind their front lines, targeting ammunition depots and other strongholds.
Beyond the improvements in command and weapons within the Ukrainian armed forces, vital to their success is their fighting spirit. Patriotism and a staunch belief in their sovereignty has fueled Ukrainians across the country to support the war at risk of their lives.
Despite Ukrainian successes, the war is far from over. Russia continues to hit civilian infrastructure in Ukraine with missiles and Russia is building up their military presence in Crimea.
Russian President Vladimir Putin will not give up Crimea easily; he believes it is rightfully Russia, and even personally drove the first semi-truck across the bridge that connects Crimea to Russia. Ukraine wants Crimea back and isn’t willing to give it up without a fight. When Ukraine and Russia begin to fight in Crimea the war could easily devolve into a frozen conflict with the front lines not changing for months; no amount of support and patriotism can prevent that.
This war ends when Russia quits, and Russia will eventually pull out of the war because of the pressure of the sanctions levied against them by Western states. On Sept. 5, Bloomberg reported on a confidential document they had obtained from within the Russian government that indicated Russian was in a far more dire economic situation then they are publicly willing to admit.
The report, along with research from the United States Treasury, suggests Russia is being impacted by the tariffs both in terms of supply chains and revenues.
One of the first sanctions the United States announced against Russia was the banning of exports of computer chip materials. Russia does not have the capabilities to produce their own computer chips and the effect of that sanction has already been seen through Russia’s inability to properly produce missiles. Civilian grade computer chips used for household appliances are being found in Russian missiles and other military equipment.
As Russia continues to be unable to access parts for computer chips, missiles and other equipment will become less effective.
Additionally, the Bloomberg report estimates that 200,000 IT specialists could leave the country in the next three years, a direct indication of the brain drain Russia is experiencing. The report estimates that the economy may not return to pre-war levels for the next decade.
Even more dangerous for Russia, and what could ultimately cause them to pull out, is the West’s growing ability to function without Russian oil. Putin is funding the war through one of the only commodities Russia is still allowed to export, oil.
A full cutoff of oil and gas exports to Europe could cost as much as $6.6 billion a year in lost tax revenues, according to the report. If the war becomes a frozen conflict that spans months and years, Europe’s decreasing demand for Russian oil and an inability to reinforce troops in Crimea could see the entire army collapse.
Putin will destroy Russia with a high-cost war and a lack of funding for it, and risks collapsing the whole economy over a “special military operation.”
It is long past time for the Ukraine War to end; sadly, only Putin’s departure from power will accomplish that objective.
Alexander Crowther is a research intern and John Nagl is a Professor of Warfighting Studies at the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, Pa. This article represents only their views and not those of the United States Army nor the Department of Defense. Nagl’s work appears frequently on the Capital-Star’s Commentary Page.
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