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The Folly of the Big Push
The War in Ukraine (2014-2023)
Here in the Anglosphere, a pair of prominent pundits persist in predicting the imminent arrival of a major offensive. Doug MacGregor argues that the big arrows on the map will be painted in the red, white, and blue of the Russian Federation. Mick Ryan presumes that the predominant colors of such symbols will be those of sunny skies and sunflowers. Both agree, however, that position warfare will soon give way to the classic combination of break in, break out, and operational exploitation.
Trapped, as I am, in the prison of sequential time, I cannot comment upon the accuracy of these predictions. Indeed, for all I know, the writing of these words coincides with the filling of ammunition bins, the synchronization of watches, and the desperate recitation of half-forgotten prayers. What I can say, however, is that neither side in the present war has anything to gain from a big push, however successful it might be.
In the spheres of statecraft and economics, the long stalemate has served the Russians well. Moreover, if one believes the oft-repeated Russian claim that the “special military operation” serves chiefly to destroy the armed forces of Ukraine and discredit Ukrainian nationalism, then a long war of attrition will do a better job of achieving those goals than a latter-day Blitzkrieg.
The original form of that mode of warfighting resulted in conquests so quick, and, by the standards of the era, so bloodless, that they failed to convince the best of the overrun peoples that they had, in fact, been properly defeated. Thus, to put things more bluntly, if the Russians aim to put a crippled beggar on every street corner in Kyiv, thereby discrediting slava for two or three generations, “slow and steady wins the race.”
Similarly, while the people in charge in Ukraine have much to gain from the expectation of a major offensive, they have little incentive to bet the proverbial farm on a single role of Bellona’s dice. If they succeed, their supporters in the West, many of whom are already weary of the war, may well say, “We have won. It’s time to make peace.” If the Ukrainians lose, the boosters may conclude. “We have lost. It’s time to make peace.”
To put things another way, the folks in charge in Kyiv are much in the position of the soi disant champions of the independence of Quebec. If they achieve their ostensible goals, they will soon find themselves on Linked In, “open to new opportunities.” If, however, they remain “so close, yet so far away,” the funds will continue to flow, like honey in August. (Forgive me, General Ryan, for the hemispheric presumption of that simile.)