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For Ukraine to Win This War, Russia Must Loose it - This Has Already Happened

Power is a fickle thing for something that promises ability to control. Military strength is a type of power that can be exerted in two ways: during peace and at war. In peacetime military might is, perhaps counterintuitively, easier to measure. This is enabled by the simple fact that it impacts the internal politics of countries, shows up in the discourse and is a looming threat of moderate, but constant intensity. At war however military strength is not always easy to weigh. Yes, one can observe the map with a stopwatch, compare the number of dead and wounded on both sides, count the burning vehicles, but all this is only possible with full knowledge of what is happening. And as we know, Truth is always war's first victim. Therefore we reach our first conclusion: all war is  (also?) a war of information.

The second idea that I would like to introduce to you is related to the first, but does not follow from it. Consider two armies, one decides to hold territory and only withdraw when they would loose more men and equipment defending than the attackers; the other army was tasked with taking a city at all cost. It is clear that both armies can fulfil their strategic objectives simultaneously, provided enough attacking soldiers die or become wounded. This is the situation we have in the Ukraine right now: two examples of military doctrine and a full-on information war in the aether to complicate things even more.

The title of my blogpost today may come across as provocative, but I am deadly serious. The Russian state has more resources than the Ukrainian state and has demonstrated the will to use them to eliminate the latter as a hostile player in the region. What follows is that the outcome of the war could only be a Russian victory, correct? Well, it seems that is not the case. You see, despite the valiant defence of Ukraine by a vast number of its inhabitants, it is the Russian state that was given the opportunity to win the war or to loose it and, for one reason or another, Russia has chosen to loose this war. The decision to push for the capital of Kiev and even drop airborne troops to occupy its airfield seems to have been politically motivated and not in accord with the best military doctrine. The choice to man the first wave of attack with conscripts, without telling them explicitly that they are going to war seems baffling and could only be motivated by a) poor judgement about the morale of the Ukrainian people - the assumption that they will surrender on the mere news of a full scale invasion or even welcome their Russian cousins with open arms, or b) a desire to scout the terrain ahead with disposable and low quality troops so that the main bastions of defence are localised for the elite troops of the second wave to clean them up quickly. Option a) shows political motives overriding military judgement, option b) either confirms the latter or adds to it a military doctrine outdated in the age of satellites and drones. Both suggest that Ukraine's week of defence has not went well for the Russians mostly because of Russian error.

I do not wish to detract from the efforts of the Ukrainian nation in defending the territory they claim as their home, but merely would like to underline that they are not as victorious as Russia has been defeated. The most dynamic front of this war is the noosphere. The initial attack by Russia hit the internet like a thunderbolt, flooding it with footage of awe-inducing explosions, cars fleeing the capital at night, screaming civilians and paratroopers descending onto a sleeping Ukraine. A full information offensive trailed behind developments on the ground by not more than 20 minutes, news about Harkov being taken or Zelensky fleeing the country popped up on twitter and other outlets almost immediately after war broke out. And then... silence from the Russians and, come morning, a tide of Ukrainian retaliation swept the internet, complete with burning vehicles, humiliated captives, armed civilians and a general atmosphere of fierce opposition. It is as if Russia, anticipating a swift victory, only prepared 24 hours of good news ahead and, met with resistance, fell almost silent as the extent of their failure, obviously magnified by Ukrainian patriotic euphoria, turned the tide of global opinion about what is happening. The results play out before our eyes, the so-called West has descended into a Russophobic frenzy, with many states swiftly (hehe) imposing very harsh sanctions and American liberal pundits on twitter falling over each other to make the most stupid comparison between Putin and the bad guy from their favourite comic book. Russia on the other hand responded by effectively conceding defeat, pointing to their nuclear button, bubbling on about some allegedly anti-fascist operation, showing pictures of Ukrainian nationalists performing the Roman salute, complaining that they treat their POWs fairly and that if they wanted to they could have flattened Ukraine with their long-range artillery if they wanted to (which is absolutely true).

The mismanagement of first the attack and then the explanation of what happened have cemented Russian defeat on the most important plateau, that of information and consequently interpretation. Russia is still most likely going to win the war on the ground when it deploys its best divisions, perhaps we will see a complete surrender of the Ukrainian regulars within the month, however the war in the aether has already been decided. I have argued that their defeat has been entirely their own choice, first by prioritising political goals over military objectives and then by completely mismanaging the information war. Claims that an offensive war is merely an anti-fascist intervention or even a 'war in the defence of annexed territories' could only speak to the most pro-Russian audience and indeed, it seems apart from isolated units elsewhere, the only sizable group of people that believes that the Russian state is in the right are Russians, and even in Russia public opinion has been asked by domestic media to swallow a lot and not everyone is buying it. I will not even comment on the PR suicide of cracking nuclear knuckles which simply looks grotesque.

Russia has lost what we consider the most important aspect of the war, namely the moral high ground, which will for the rest of this conflict most likely stay with Ukraine whatever Ukraine chooses to do. Nevertheless, it seems that the Russian state has prioritised differently, considering annexation of good new farmland and heavy industry to trump not being a pariah of the international community. Despite this it would be hard to overlook the damage in the information sphere that Russia has obtained. The greatest consequence of this are not sanctions or Ukrainian flags flown from embassies, but the loss of credibility of the Russian army as a world-class fighting force. The initial humiliation of Russian troops will stick with them for long after Specnaz has brutalised Kiev into submission. War is a clash of wills. The will of the Ukrainian people has made them contest the pretender to hegemony in the region and checked their military capabilities. While Russia remains the greatest military power in the region, it has been demonstrated that the bear can bleed. Other countries are looking on and on one hand will be more afraid of Russian aggression, which will make them prepare for it, and on the other will be emboldened by Ukraine's fierce resistance to not give in to future Russian demands. Power is a fickle thing for something that promises ability to control and in this case it seems as if Russia, through attempting to use their power, has made itself relatively weaker through mismanagement of the conflict. While Ukraine will not win the war it seems that Russia has already lost it in the only significant way in which it could.

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