Sunday, May 15, 2022

Ukraine's Million Man Army

Ukraine's defense minister Oleksiy Reznikov made some comments last week that caught my attention. He said that in preparation for a "new, long phase of war" Ukraine will arm a million soldiers. The equipment for this huge army will come from foreign weapons and "stimulating Ukrainian producers." Reznikov also echoed some comments made by President Zelensky, that Ukraine will keep fighting until it takes back every square inch of its territory.

First, I wanted to note how hard it is to actually destroy a modern industrial economy. Russia has struck many of Ukraine's older, larger defense factories with missiles, doing heavy damage to them. But reports indicate that Ukraine's overall production of arms is rising rapidly. Items I have seen mentioned include helmets, bulletproof vests, and small-arms ammunition. We know that Ukraine continues to manufacture its own drones and missiles as well. Just as in World War II, it is proving very difficult to disarm any nation by bombing its factories. Most industrial production can be dispersed among many small facilities with only a small loss in efficiency.

Second, this business of raising a million-man army to fight for every square inch of land makes me queasy. I of course fully support Ukraine's war against Russia's perfidious invasion, which only gets more disturbing as time goes on. The theft of tens of thousands of Ukrainians, including children, strikes me as a new level of atrocity.

It is nonetheless possible for even a just war to turn to evil. 

Consider this scenario: in a few months, Russian advances have completely stopped, while Ukraine continues to make incremental reconquests in some areas. With Ukraine mainly on the offensive, the casualty ratio has reversed, with Ukraine suffering most combat losses. Russia signals its willingness to make peace with only modest territorial gains. Ukraine insists on pushing forward until every square inch of its territory is recaptured, no matter the cost.

You can say, Ukraine is a democracy, that's their call, but as with any nation in a terrible war the right of dissent has already been curtailed and this could easily go further.

What would the west's responsibility here be? Public support for providing more arms would probably fade; in fact I think Biden sought such a big package now because he knows that getting additional support will grow increasingly difficult. Emanuel Macron already seems to be thinking about this scenario, positioning himself to broker a peace once the two sides are fought out. 

But suppose Ukraine fights on anyway, supported by the old Warsaw Pact states. How far would this have to go, with how many losses, before it came to seem worse than occupation? Thinking back to World War I, most of us do not have fond thoughts about the French commanders who sent tens of thousands to their deaths to drive the Germans away from Verdun. There is a horror to even the most necessary war.

Obviously I am getting far ahead of events, and there are much more immediate worries. But some of the words I am hearing bother me, and it does sometimes happen that even a very good goal turns out to be not worth the cost.


G. Verloren said...


In literally every single bit of film and media I've come across regarding the war, every single Ukrainian commenting on how they believe the war will go has said with utter confidence and zero hesitation that they will absolutely win.

For good or for ill, Ukraine has set into motion their own form of propaganda - and it's highly effective propaganda at that. It's not quite state mandated propaganda, although there is some of that going on as well. It's a collective societal propaganda. They are telling both the world and themselves that they will not rest until the crimes against them have been punished - and that's a pretty damn strong and compelling narrative, even when you're aware that it's propagandic in nature and that reality might end up deviating substantially.

Not all propaganda is bad. This narrative has emboldened the Ukrainians themselves to possess the very "doggedness" that seems to be making a critical difference in the war effort for them. But it has also emboldened the rest of the world to finally take a long overdue stand against Russia's monstrous behavior, and to render massive amounts of material aid which are also making their own critical difference. And it's all backed up by a cause which is about as uncomplicated and just as they ever manage to come in war. It's quite an incredible thing.

Is there a risk of the war turning evil? Of course - what war doesn't have that risk? But it's incredible enough, in my opinion, that the war didn't start evil, as so many do; and even moreso that we've seen no actual evidence to suggest that it will trend that way. The Ukrainians know the value of their moral high ground, and they seem deeply reluctant to abandon it.

G. Verloren said...


You worry about the Russians digging in and the casualty ratio reversing - but I don't know how big a risk that actually is. The Russians are not just losing so many men because they're attacking against defenders - there are other major factors at play that are also dramatically multiplying Ukrainian lethality, which have nothing to do with offense and defense.

The entire Russian war-making effort is deeply flawed; their whole military is wildly dysfunctional; their objectives muddy at best and wholly infeasible at worst; their troops poorly trained and equipped; their leaders are dying like flies with the survivors bickering bitterly among themselves; morale everywhere is in the toilet. The levels of arrogance and incompetence on display have been staggering, and have resulted in far more deaths than can be attributed merely to the difficulties of offense versus defense.

It's that very level of incompetence that leads me to believe the Russians will struggle massively to mount anything like a competent defense.

This is the military that didn't know enough not to occupy Chernobyl - that ordered its troops to dig trenches and crude bunkers in the contaminated soil, dooming every soldier who manned a shovel or who slept in the dugouts to a grisly death in the next few months. This is the military has failed to establish air superiority despite massive numerical advantage in aircraft. This is the military that sent raw conscripts over the border without telling there where they were going or what they were doing, and without proper communications gear, resulting in numerous cases of Russian soldiers surrendering simply because they were lost and couldn't get in contact with their superiors after roaming the Ukrainian countryside.

This is the military that has thrown away countless tanks through failing to provide even the most basic of infantry support for them, a foundational doctrine of modern warfare. This is the military that has lost countless other vehicles through failing to perform basic maintenance on their tires. This is the military that is abandoning even more vehicles of all types without even facing combat, simply because they can't operate basic supply lines to keep them fueled. This is the military that failed to predict and account for the Rasputitsa, despite the phenomenon also occurring in Russia itself and it bearing a Russian name!

Idiocy is lethal in warfare, and the Russians have demonstrated nothing but. Meanwhile, the Ukrainians have proven they are both incredibly thoughtful and clever. Unless those factors change, I don't see much hope for a Russian defense of any kind, so long as Ukraine retains enough weapons and equipment to keep their war machine moving.

My hope is that we've already seen play out a miniature (and far less competent) version of what occurred in Europe in World War II - a surprise invasion, Blitzkrieg occupation, then the surge of aggression grinding to a halt, losses becoming unsustainable, until partial retreat gives way in an avalanche to total retreat that simply never stops. The Eastern Front hit a turning point on January 31, 1943, and for the next twenty months the Germans were in continuous retreat until the very end of the war. There was no reversal of fortune once they were on the defense, rather than the offense - they never got their feet back under them, and stayed off balance and impotent until they had no option but to give up the fight.

Susi said...

Good read:

Kennan wrote: "Russia is deaf to the logic of reason but very sensitive to the logic of power." Lenin once said: "Try it with a bayonet, if it's soft, push. If it's hard, leave." In other words, if we treat Russia in the Sea of ​​Azov and in Crimea and in eastern Ukraine as before, by only resenting without doing anything else, there will always be more stitches coming from Russia.