18 May 2022

Medium Term Benefits To Europe From The Ukraine War

An estimate, first issued by the U.K. Ministry of Defense earlier this week, states that Russia has now lost over one-third of all the forces it brought to Ukraine (58,333-63,333 soldiers from February 24, 2022 to May 15, 2022). 

Russia's losses in just three months are already, proportionate to its population, order of magnitude similar to U.S. military casualties in the entire nine year long Vietnam War. And, in addition to this absolute cost, units that lose 10% or more of their force in a short period of time have degraded morale and effectiveness because casualties of this scale are so disruptive. The Russian army in Ukraine is now in this disrupted and degraded state.
Ukraine says Russia has lost almost 1,200 tanks, a number that we cannot verify. However, the military and intelligence blog Oryx, which counts Russian military equipment losses in Ukraine based on photographs sent from the front lines, says Russia has lost 664 tanks (as of May 13, 2022) and about 3,000 other armored vehicles and heavy equipment so far.

From a military perspective, the Ukraine war is strengthening the rest of Europe considerably. 

It is exposing the strengths and weaknesses of Russian conventional forces and providing "sandbox" tests of what does and doesn't work in terms of weapons and tactics against those forces.

Even more importantly, the attrition that Russian conventional forces are experiencing, since it is drawn from the same pool of military resources that would otherwise be available to use against other European adversaries of Russia, mean that there are significantly fewer tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, mobile artillery systems, helicopters, warships, guided missiles, military logistics vehicles, armored personnel carriers, and soldiers that are available to fight them.

Furthermore, the high tech modern Western weapons used by Ukrainian forces and supplied by its Western (including former Eastern European) allies have been so effective against many kinds of heavy Russian armored military equipment that Russia may simply decide that these conventional military warfare resources are so obsolete that they need to be scrapped entirely. 

After all, this isn't the first conflict in which heavy Russian military systems like its tanks have been utterly trounced, it has been happening since at least the Gulf War in 1991. But, this conflict has shown that even more modern Russian heavy weapons systems are almost as vulnerable as their older ones.

This conflict has also cast real doubt on the desirability of trying to replenish and replace the cruisers and frigates of its Black Sea fleet, because this conflict has more than any other conflict since the Falklands War in 1982, demonstrated in real world conditions, how vulnerable these large warships are to modern anti-ship missiles.

Likewise, the Russian force structure that includes a significant component of green, ill-trained, and uncommitted conscripts, and relatively few seasoned and highly skilled non-commissioned officers, as well as a stunningly incompetent corps of both junior and senior officers, if Russian military policy decision-makers are paying attention, could result in a major overhaul of the Russian army redesigned on an all volunteer basis with fewer, better trained soldiers at all ranks. It could take a decade, however, to first decide to make, and then to implement these kinds of reforms. And, this would involve a necessary quantity-quality tradeoff, leaving Russia with an army that is as competent as its European counterparts but is significantly smaller than its current force which is already reeling from massive casualties in Ukraine. This greatly impairs its future ability to launch wars of conquest and aggression in the future because it takes lots of boots on the ground to control foreign territory, since this military task has not experienced the revolutionary economies of scale and technology that other aspects of conventional warfare have in recent decades.

Furthermore, the massive interactional sanctions Russia is suffering, which has reduced its imports of foreign goods by 44%, led to permanent brain drain, and in general, reduced the capacity of the Russian government to replenish the military equipment that it is losing in this conflict in the medium-term. So for the next several years or so, Russia can't easily replace the military resources it has lost in Ukraine.

It has spurred Sweden and Finland to move to join NATO, which makes the alliance stronger by expanding it, and has caused existing NATO members to acknowledge the alliance's relevance and their commitment to it.

It has also made the transition already underway in Europe towards shifting to renewable energy and to achieving energy independence from Russia which is an unreliable economic partner urgency.

For example, it has led E.U. governments to slash the amount of red tape involved in building new solar and wind power facilities. Energy conservation measures have become much more salient. And, finding alternatives to Russian natural gas supplies (and to a lesser extent, global petroleum supplies) has also become a priority in Europe.

Recent moves by Russia to shut of natural gas pipelines in Poland and Ukraine, and to disconnect Finland from Russia's electrical power grid, before these steps were taken, provided Russia with political leverage to discourage European governments from taking strong actions against it.

But, now that Russia has pulled these triggers, the result has not been that European countries are changing their actions to accommodate Russia in order to restore their access to Russian electricity and natural gas and petroleum. Instead, it has forced reluctant moderates in the affected regimes to acknowledge that they have no choice but to aggressively develop alternatives to these Russian energy exports, because Russia has forced their hand.

The reforms Russia is forcing in European energy policy will also have the incidental side effect of putting Europe on a much more aggressive path towards addressing human caused global warming and climate change.

So, by the end of the next several years of the medium term when Russia might have restored a significant share (but probably not all) of the military equipment and soldiers it has lost while its fighting in Ukraine (the end of which is not currently in sight and will result in significantly more Russian military attrition and lost control over Ukrainian territory before it ends), the rest of Europe is very likely to be effectively energy independent of Russia and no longer subject to the capacity it had for economic duress on the eve of this conflict.

Meanwhile, non-Ukrainian European militaries, because Russia's threats of nuclear warfare have kept them out of direct fighting in this war, have suffered no casualties, no combat losses of their military equipment (although some has been given away to Ukraine as aid), and has spurred increased military spending, all of which, collectively, makes their forces more daunting defenders in the face of an further conventional military attacks by Russia with its military resources available for Europe that are already depleted by the heavy mobilization it has made in the Ukraine War followed by its losses in that war.

The bottom line is that the war in Ukraine to date, further exacerbated by the fighting still to come before it ends and continued economic sanctions Russia will still face, has greatly reduced the amount of military resources Russia has to fight a conventional war in Europe, has reduced the credibility of Russia's conventional military forces as a means to threaten its neighbors worldwide to take it seriously, and has reduced its own economy's health and its economic and diplomatic power over its European neighbors dramatically, while pushing its European neighbors to invest more in strengthening their only ability to repel conventional military attacks from Russia with state of the art modern military systems, with military cooperation, and with greater investment in military resources.

As a result, the war in Ukraine, while excruciating for Ukraine and highly uncomfortable for most of the rest of Europe, has made and continues to make the rest of Europe considerably safer from conventional military, economic, and diplomatic aggression from Russia for a period of at least five to ten years, if not more.

Russia was making a bid in the 2014 annexation of Crimea and the February 2024 invasion to swiftly restore some of the empire it lost with the collapse of the Soviet Union and to increase its power in global geopolitics. But, instead, it has brought upon itself the opposite result, probably losing a little territory controlled by it and its allies or coming out with no net gains, at an incredibly high cost in blood and treasure, and profoundly reducing its power in global geopolitics. 

This could even create a domino effect in other places where Russia has been establishing trying to re-establish a sphere of influence like Moldova, the Caucasus, Central Asia, and Syria, with Russian power slipping, for example, in Moldova and the Black Sea.

At a minimum, this more than justifies the massive amounts of military and economic aid that Western nations have provided to Ukraine, that have been pivotal in making it successful in responding to Russia's invasion of its territory this year. 

A fair share of this aid from other countries near Russia has also been of older systems with military aid providing countries, which facilitates the ability of these countries to update their own stockpiles of military equipment to new, state of the art military systems, without simply scrapping the old systems in a total deadweight loss. 

The biggest worry about the current trajectory of this conflict, however, is that with Russia's conventional military resources depleted and devalued, that Russia will be more prone to rely, for lack of military, economic, or diplomatic alternatives, upon its nuclear weapons stockpile, which rivals that of the U.S., includes tactical nuclear weapons not present in the military stockpile of any other country, and bring the entire globe and humanity to the brink of a nuclear war driven apocalypse. 

The path to allow Russia to suffer the serious defeat it has already started to experience, which protects the rest of the world from its conventional military power, its economic threats, and abuses of its diplomatic power, while not causing it to resort to weapons of mass destruction in desperation, particularly while Vladimir Putin remains in power, in a narrow one that will be difficult for world leaders to navigate.

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