Ukrainian soldiers are great diggers. People have observed that the front line between government-held territory and that of Russian-allied separatists looks like a trench zone from World War I. Glimpses I have seen of positions from this war also feature lots of deep digging. Russian attempts to overrun these positions with armored assaults have mostly failed, presumably because the defenders are well-equipped with modern anti-tank weapons. But then anyone who ever played an SPI board game could have told them that you can't take entrenchments with armor.
Terrain matters in war, which is why the Russians are doing much better in the south than the north. Northern Ukraine is forested and marshy, and in the spring vehicles are limited to improved roads. Since Russian attacks can't break through Ukrainian positions, they pile up into 40-mile traffic jams. Their supply columns have to move through dense forest perfect for ambush. In the south the country is drier and more open, and the Russians have been able to bypass entrenched positions with rapid armored movements. Ukrainians seem less bold under the open sky, even though Russia has not yet made much use of its air force.
It remains very hard to get a sense of how the war is going. The Russians have committed the force they assembled for this war and have no more operational reserves, but have not won. Does that mean they are on the ropes? Or just that they will need time to bring up more forces? Have they been stopped militarily, or are they just out of gas? They have brought in mercenaries from the Wagner Group and are seeking recruits in Syria; does that mean they are desperate for troops, or just that they want to limit Russian losses for domestic political reasons? How bad a sign is it that Ukraine has taken many prisoners, they claim more than 2,000? I mean, the Germans took a lot of Russian prisoners, too. The Russians have lost at least 150 tanks and 300 other armored vehicles; this is a small part of their overall armory, but given what we have learned about shoddy maintenance etc. how many of their other tanks are really ready to fight? A military train was spotted headed for Belarus with a cargo of civilian trucks, presumably because they are running out of military trucks. Is that desperation? People on Twitter are laughing about it, but I suspect they would feel very differently if the Ukrainians were pressing civilian trucks into battlefield use.
Ukraine has been very successful in exposing Russian problems while hiding their own, so we have no sense of how close Ukrainian forces who have been fighting for two weeks might be to cracking. There are hints that they are holding back substantial reserves (for example, none of the tanks their reserve regiments use have yet showed up in lists of destroyed equipment). But maybe that is another clever ruse. Some of the things they have not done worry me. For example, they have not sunk any of the Russian ships floating within missile range of Odessa. In fact the only successful missile strike I know of is one on a fuel depot in Belarus. Given that they are supposed to have hundreds of missiles, what's the deal? Why are they yelling so loudly for a no-fly zone when so far as I can tell the Russian air force is barely active? Seems like a fearful thing to be doing.
One group that seems to have a lot of confidence in Ukraine is the Pentagon. Their spokesmen are verging on gleeful, perhaps remembering Napoleon's famous adage, "Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake." You have to think that NATO would not have given effectively their entire ready store of anti-tank missiles to Ukraine if they expected Ukraine would be quickly overrun. They see a chance to wreck the Russian army and are seizing it.
Ukrainian resolve has been amazing, and there seems to be no way the Russians could conquer and rule this country. Various talking heads have said, "This will be a 15-year war." I doubt it; I think some kind of negotiated settlement will have to be reached. The only question is who will have the upper hand on the battlefield and therefore the upper hand in negotiations. Right now both sides are talking tough, which means the fighting will go on.
Russia is in a terrible place, politically, morally, economically, and that is likely to get worse before it gets better.
Meanwhile in the West, a big group of conservative and moderate commentators are welcoming the war. They are all saying some version of, "Now here is a real moral crisis, so shut up about micro-aggressions and trans rights and let's focus on defending freedom against tyranny." This is the fight they want. This is also the fight that thousands of ex-soldiers who fought in Iraq or Afghanistan want, and they are on their way to Ukraine to put their killing skills to use in a cause they can believe in.
The risk that the war will spread is real. NATO is giving Ukraine all kinds of support, including near real-time intelligence from AWACS planes flying just over Ukraine's borders. According to a story I read yesterday, 16,000 westerners have volunteered to fight in Ukraine, and the first are already in the trenches. A lot of Russians are being killed with NATO weapons flooding over the border, and the simplest way to reduce that flow would be to bomb the border crossings. In a deeper sense I feel the worry that Yuval Levin expressed in the video I linked to yesterday, that this is the dawn of a new era of war. Between the weapons, the blown-up buildings, the lost and maimed lives, and the financial wreckage, it has surely cost the world hundreds of billions already, and we may just be getting started. People say "Putin is finished," but it looks to me like millions of Z-wearing neo-fascists are loving this fight. The world is going to be a poorer, darker place, perhaps for decades.