A Blog by Jonathan Low


Jan 2, 2023

The Way Ukraine Can Win Its War With Russia In 2023

While many observers seem impatient for another stirring set of Ukrainian advances like those around Kharkiv and Kherson this past fall, it is important to remember that they were preceded. for months, by a methodical destruction of Russian troop strength and logistics. 

The Ukrainians appear to be pursuing a similar strategy again, as yesterday's Himars attack on a Russian barracks suggests. Once Ukraine has sufficiently weakened Russian forces they will again advance in strength, but the goal is not just liberating villages or regions, it is destroying the Russian army so that it cannot attack again. JL

Phillips O'Brien reports in his substack, image Clodagh Kilcoyne, Reuters:

Going into 2023, the Ukrainians have some idea of where they want to fight, but the biggest calculation they will make is how much of Putin’s 2nd Army (and maybe 3rd if another conscription comes) needs to be destroyed before they can liberate their territory. The first step of Ukrainian victory will be the continuation of this great wasting - with the Russians speeding up the process of their own destruction. Ukraine's goal wont be specific towns, (but) the destruction of Putin’s army. They will rely mostly on ranged weapons to methodically dismantle the Russian forces facing them. Once they feel they have done that sufficiently, they will then press forward.

Since before Feb 24 I assumed Ukraine would emerge victorious in some form from a war with Russia, if Putin was rash enough to invade.


What the Ukrainians did in the summer of 2022 was basically attrit down Putin’s first Russian Army. Particularly once they gained an advantage in range and accuracy, they spent their effort destroying the Russian ability to resist, actually avoiding direct assaults wherever possible. They attacked in Kharkiv where there were very few Russian troops and then in Kherson, once they realized that Russia had too many troops to attack directly, the patiently destroyed Russian logistics and command and control, making it impossible for Russia to maintain forces on the west bank of the Dnipro.

The War in Early 2023

So going into 2023, the Ukrainians probably have some idea of where they want to fight, but the biggest calculation that they will make now is how much will Putin’s Second Army (and maybe 3rd if the recent rumors of another round of conscription come true) needs to be destroyed before they can achieve their primary objective which is to liberate their territory. This is a tricky calculation, but clearly one that they are making. In a noteworthy interview with the BBC (clearly part of a public campaign to get more support from NATO countries, the Ukrainian military intelligence chief Kyrylo Budanov—the same man who in May say Putin’s first army would run out of steam in August) the Ukrainians basically admitted as much.


Budanov has also stated that at the present high usage rate, the Russians will start running short of ammunition in March. This was tweeted about this morning by the Institute for the Study of War.

I have no idea if that is the real calculation—as the Ukrainians have been extremely intelligent in how they frame questions to try and appeal to their supporters—but certainly the Ukrainians are making that calculation. This judgement of Russian losses will almost certainly govern their path to victory in 2023. Until they believe the Russian forces are so weakened that they can make significant gains, they will be pressing the west for military aid, and relentlessly degrading the Russian forces in the field, targeting everything from supplies, to command and control, to, increasingly, concentrations of Russian forces. Destroying Putin’s second army will take time, but it should in some ways be more straightforward than destroying the first army. This second army has a much higher percentage of poorly trained and motivated soldiers, and its equipment if anything more antiquated and less-well maintained. This army also has to hold its positions in what will undoubtedly be a pretty miserable winter at times.

Something that will help the Ukrainians immeasurably in this task of attrition is if the Russians continue to attack. People get rather excitable about things such as the continuing Bakhmut attacks by Wagner or a possible Russian attack from Belarus—and you know what—both of these things are good for Ukraine. With their calculations on Russian force strength, the more the Russians waste their own forces, the quicker a Ukrainian eventual victory will occur. I can think of hardly an operation that would make the Ukrainians more pleased than to see the Russians mustering what little effective offensive power they have in Belarus (away from the main body of their army) to try some assault on Kyiv. Their first army could not conduct advanced combined operations—good luck with this untrained one.

So the first step of any Ukrainian road to victory will be the continuation of this great wasting stage we are in—with the Russians hopefully speeding up the process of their own destruction. However, until the Russians are weak enough, the Ukrainians will be cautious, pressing for small openings such as around Kreminna and Svatove, but their goal wont be specific towns and villages, it will be the destruction of Putin’s second army. They will rely mostly on ranged weapons to methodically dismantle the Russian forces facing them.

Once they feel they have done that sufficiently, and hopefully received enough support from outside, they will then press forward. Where they do that will then receive a great deal of attention, and it will almost certainly be dependent on where the Russians are the weakest and where the Ukrainians believe they can make the greatest advances. However what happens at this stage, while it will be more dramatic as the maps will be rolled out again, will be less important than what is happening now in this attrition phase that they are fighting.


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