Prognostication of the trajectory of a war – for that is what Ukraine today as much as the Russians may like to call it a “Special Military Operation,” is extremely hazardous.
Yet 14 days after the first shot or missile was fired on the night of February 23, there is a degree of clarity on options for possible end states from the earliest to one in an extended in time frame.
This will be followed by an examination of how wars or an extended fallout of the conflict in Ukraine an insurgency ends.
The Clausewitz trinity describes three factors that drive war and each of these are relevant in the context of Ukraine today.
Firstly, primordial violence, hatred and enmity – this may be enigmatic in the sense that two people who are so close of the same Slavic stock seem to be at each other’s throats today – yet this is the blind force that is driving Russians and Ukrainians to unleash brutal violence.
Whether this is a general sentiment in people of both countries or is restricted to the fighting elite can be discussed separately. However, the present level of hatred is evident in the ruthless shelling of cities, person to person combat and celebration of fatalities of the opponent.
The Second element– chance, probability and creativity - can be found in Ukraine in ample measure. The most important evidence is unexpected resistance by the Russian armed forces leading with tanks, missiles and artillery from Ukraine’s less famous military and the people at large. Ukrainians simply adopted Mao’s People’s War at the subterranean level.
The probability factor was ill-judged by the Russian command which planned operations on a logistics tail of just about three to four days, 14 days later reports which are unproven state that the Russians are scavenging for food in Ukrainian cities.
Ukrainians are applying creativity of war fighting in resisting a military that is classically bogged down in the mud. Terrain was one of the factors which has been talked about by Clausewitz as much as other military savants of the past and present.
Creativity in Ukraine is also evident in the way information has been used to advantage to mobilise people’s resistance with the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy himself providing the lead through his daily videos. Russia on the other hand has been found flat footed.
Third element of the Clausewitz trinity is rationality of war which makes it subordinate to policy. Here given that Russia has initiated the conflict examining war objectives of Moscow assumes importance which are to state simply keeping Ukraine in the orbit of influence and as a corollary out of the jaws of NATO.
In this third element lies the answer to the end state in Ukraine which in turn will be determined by the second order trinity which emanates from the first and outlined by Col Harry G Summers treatise “On Strategy: A Critical Analysis of the Vietnam War,” in the context of United States in Vietnam.
Second Order Trinity
This second order trinity is People, Government and the military.
These three elements are important to determine resistance offered to the adversary in this case by Ukraine to Russia.
Clearly Ukraine’s People and the Government are unwilling to give up the fight for now while the military which was what Russia banked upon to give up arms is giving resistance but sheer numbers may make it succumb in the context of conventional war fighting.
In which case it may take other forms of the unconventional - a long insurgency campaign hoping to keep Russia bogged down for years and replicate another Afghanistan faced by the Soviet Union in the 1980’s and the U.S. and NATO in the same country less than a year ago.
Calculation of the End State
How does this contribute to the conclusion of envisaged End State?
Hypothetically speaking the End State in Ukraine can be as near as tomorrow, which is what we should all hope for. But emotion that drives the war may extend the same till there is an exhaustion of the spirit and hatred on both sides and acceptance by Ukraine leadership that pursuance of violence will be harmful for the people and the nation. On the other hand, Russia will have to accept sovereignty of Ukraine as a state – something that Moscow may not be willing to right now.
At the other end of the spectrum is a long drawn out insurgency that may manifest where the People and the Government refuse to accept state subordination to Russian objectives and while conventional military option is not deemed practical – waging a revolutionary war would be undertaken.
Some elements of this option seem to be unfolding with plans to establish a government in exile, an appeal for support to foreign mercenaries including in the cyber sphere though these will only add to the complexity. No doubt organizing an insurgency will take time but that is the long option that may emerge.
A guerrilla war in Ukraine may seem attractive to those who see this leading to crippling Russia in the long term, but the more prudent course would be to end hostilities at the soonest as extending a violent confrontation with a nuclear weapons state would remain an extremely edgy if not an outrightly hazardous option. Perhaps that is what Russia is aiming for through a frequent mention of the N word.
The long option to the Ukrainian people and the nation while also impacting the economy of Europe at large will clearly be catastrophic.
Russia and the Second Order Trinity
In case Russian leadership led by President Vladimir Putin too is not willing to accept the vicissitudes of the long option and seeks to persist with the offensive with a revised plan of operations in the short term, exhaustion in Ukraine and the West could set in the time frame for which is not too easy to evolve.
Having launched hazardous course of war, Moscow can ill afford to leave it halfway and accept defeat especially given the authoritarian structure at the Kremlin.
Can Russian people force their leaders to review the decision, this also seems unlikely given heavy suppression of dissent and the “educational campaign,” highlight the necessity of the Ukraine War as an afterthought launched by the Kremlin.
Rationality of war should dictate ending the same may thus be the best option, but in war as Clausewitz himself has said – the simplest is the most difficult.
How Wars End?
Wars end through mediation or through success of one side and exhaustion of the other.
While efforts at mediation the Ukraine crisis have been ongoing for some weeks now, these have not resulted in a favourable outcome.
Yet there is hope that mediation could lead to end of violence and a reasonable peace.
Where that is not attainable, then the long option of exhaustion will remain a painful one for Ukraine the most, Russia, Europe and Rest of the World.
Exhaustion will not only be restricted to violent wars but will also include economic sanctions, embargoes and so on extending over varied domains.
Conclusion – Let Rationality Prevail
Let us end on an hopeful note that the End in Ukraine is tomorrow, of course with conditionalities outlined by Russia are negotiated and Rationality – the third element in Clausewitz trinity comes into play.