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"Ukraine quagmire - prestige over strategy?" Topic

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Griefbringer27 Dec 2022 5:37 a.m. PST

Last week I did read a short article about so-called quagmire wars, where a major military power ends up getting stuck in a long, futile war against a seemingly lesser opponent (e.g. Soviet military in Afganistan). The author suggested that the present Russian invasion has been developing into a similar conflict. Some of the key features of such a conflict were described as:

1.) The major military power enters the conflict confident of it's superiority over the lesser opponent.
2.) After initial successes, small military set-backs start to gradually building up, until the major military power finds itself fought to a stand-still.
3.) Once the stand-still has been reached, further resources keep on being thrown into the conflict, in an effort to break the deadlock, even if these do not make any real difference.

The author also suggested that at this last stage, rational strategic decision-making starts to suffer as the major military power tries to "maintain the course" instead of re-evaluating the situation and pulling back from the conflict. Partially this seems to be associated with the "sunk costs" fallacy, where the previous losses are used to justify further future losses. However, the decision-making can also become rather emotionally driven, where actual strategic goals become subservient to an observed need for the country and its military to maintain their (presumed) prestige, respect, honour and glory, to recover lost face and to revenge what is being felt as a humiliation by the lesser opponent.


Russian military, despite its nominally vast assets, had been more or less struck in a quagmire in Ukraine from the summer onwards, with mounting losses and little progress. Since then, new offensive operations have been mainly limited to maintaining the very slowly creeping advance in Bakhmut (for no obvious strategic objective) and to barbarously bombarding civilian infrastructure.

Meanwhile, the Russian leadership has been announcing that they are willing to up their stakes, including the "partial mobilisation" of nominally 300 000 men to reinforce the military, as well as the recent announcement of intending to more permanently increase the size of the military and reorganise it, with no expenses spared. Quantitatively, Russia still has large amounts of military equipment and manpower that could potentially be mobilised (their practical quality might be another issue).

Russian political decision-making recently has not been described as entirely rational. Furthermore, in the present conflict there is not at risk only the national prestige (or what is left of it), but also the very prestige of the people at the top – and in an authoritarian/dictatorial regime, maintaining face and prestige tends to rank quite highly on the priority list of those at the top.

So it may be that the Russian leadership will keep on pouring their resources into the Ukraine quagmire for as long as they can, whether it makes any strategic sense or not.

Tgunner Supporting Member of TMP27 Dec 2022 6:51 a.m. PST


This doesn't feel like a "little war" like Afghanistan, Iraq, or Vietnam. In none of these wars was the "other side" fielding anything like conventional armies that could stand on the battlefield and fight against the superpower arrayed against it. Ukraine's armed forces are fighting toe-to-toe with Russia's in very conventional battles using what are pretty close to bleeding edge weapons- drones, smart munitions, C3whateverISR, advanced ADA, and nearly top-of-the-line MBTs. They are staying in the field and contesting every town/village/fighting position and have launched what can only be described as successful conventional counter offensives. The Taliban/Afgan rebels, AlQs, Iraqi Baathists, Iraqi Shia Mahdis, and Charlie/NVA could only DREAM have having such capabilities.

But this is a quagmire… just not THAT KIND. It's something different and older.

This feels more like WWI.

The Russian invasion in the winter was more like the Fall of '14 with great armies maneuvering and losses being stunning (by WWI standards this war is a small affair, but by modern standards…). The Russian invasion ran out of steam and the Ukrainians went on the offensive and clocked them a few times. Now both sides are pretty much involved in a stalemate while they regroup their armies and sort out their logistics for what will sure to be another around of offensives (1916 anyone?). Artillery is king now as ADA has shut down both sides air forces beyond using drones and smart munitions. Trenches are everywhere too because exposed soldiers and material dies very quickly otherwise. History may not repeat itself, but is sure likes to rhyme.

In short, this is a war of attrition.

Both sides only have so many soldiers, so much materials, and only limited means to reconstitute said troops and materials. Russia is digging into its Cold War reserves now and is even leaning on allies (North Korea and Iran) for additional munitions and drones. Ukraine is doing the same with NATO- drawing on our war stocks at frighting rates. The winner will be the side that's willing to fight it out to the last soldier/munition. Ukraine is fighting for its life, while Putin is using his soldiers to fight for his ("some of you may die, but it's a sacrifice I'M willing to make!")!

Can they, the Russians and Putin, win? Yes, if they are willing to go the extra mile and spend that last munition/life to achieve it.

The question is whether the Russian people will make that sacrifice? It also begs the question about whether the Ukrainians will make the sacrifice (with Russian war crimes and their disregard of innocent life- that seems likely) and will the West continue, or even be able to, support Ukraine in this war?

In the other wars the conflict was only live vs. death for one side. In this one it's live vs. death for BOTH sides. It's two anacondas wrapped in a death grip and slowly strangling each other. The question is who has the better grip and who can take the squeeze?

Tortorella Supporting Member of TMP27 Dec 2022 8:13 a.m. PST

Interesting… the artillery, trenches, destruction, terrain, all remind me of the same thing. I never expected war to dissolve back into this kind of conflict.

Personal logo Legion 4 Supporting Member of TMP27 Dec 2022 12:18 p.m. PST

Russian incompetence from the top down has been major, almost legendary by now. As long as the Russians can't successfully execute modern combined arms ops. They will be left with using their FA to destroy critical infrastructure like power plants, etc. and targeting civilians, etc. Trying to beat the Ukraine into submission. If they can't maneuver, they will just use the "big guns". Pushing things back to times reminiscent of the artillery barrages and trenches of WWI.

It went back to WWI as we saw modern maneuver warfare was spawned to break the stalemate of the trenches. Then perfected in WWII. With the Russian failure to fight modern mobile warfare. They have no option. Highly doubt they will ever go on even a small offensive. They have little to no offensive capabilities and much of their assets were lost in the earlier months of the fighting.

I think as long as the Ukraine has US/NATO, etc. support it, will be able to push the Russians out of their territory. But it may be costly. For both sides. Unless the Russians fold and pull out … which I don't think will happen. The war has a long way to go. If Russia will hold the Crimea at all costs. They don't have the forces to do it. Will Putin then go to WMDs ?

Royston Papworth27 Dec 2022 12:18 p.m. PST

All good points, but I feel that currently this one is more like Korea than any other war, although I suspect before long it will be another Yom Kippur.

Ukraine is the new Israel…

Prince Alberts Revenge27 Dec 2022 3:44 p.m. PST

I think it is similar to WW1 and the Korean War. The lethality of the weapon systems involved causes heavy casualties and the inability of either side to break the will of the opponent means that combatants become exhausted and entrench. When they get enough operational ability to go on the offensive, they do (with varied success).

Either there will be a cessation of hostilities or one side will break due to exhaustion and instability on the home front.

Personal logo Legion 4 Supporting Member of TMP27 Dec 2022 6:24 p.m. PST

I suspect before long it will be another Yom Kippur.

Ukraine is the new Israel…

If the Ukraine continues to get the support they will eventually go on the offensive. Don't think the Russians can stop them.

When they get enough operational ability to go on the offensive, they do
Don't think the Russians will be able to go on the offensive again. They will only attempt to hold. Even in the Crimea, what do the Russians have to hold effectively or even counterattack ?

Griefbringer28 Dec 2022 5:45 a.m. PST

Comparisons to WWI and Korean War are also interesting, especially on the tactical and operational level.

However, on the strategic level, what are the strategic goals of Russia at the moment? Kremlin spokesman time and again repeats how nothing will prevent the Russian military from achieving their goals in Ukraine, but what those goals actually are seems to be never stated – and it is uncertain if the leaders in Kremlin themselves know those goals. Not stating the objectives in public could of course be explained by needs of operational security, but perhaps a bigger reason is not to state anything concrete to the public, thus allowing any outcomes to be announced later on as "Mission Accomplished" rather then as abject failure to reach the stated goals.

Kremlin leadership is more interested in remaining in power than to achieve any specific outcomes – but to remain in power, they need to maintain certain perceived prestige in the eyes of the public (augmented by a fear of the oppressive state security machine). And a poor outcome for the Ukraine quagmire might result in a dangerous loss of face in the face of the domestic public. As for perceived prestige abroad, Russian military has lost a lot of it, but they probably still have some left in various directions.

Kremlin representatives are also frequently moaning about the Ukrainian unwillingness to get to a negotiation table, though for the time being it seems rather unlikely that the Kremlin leadership would be willing to negotiate in good faith. Also, they have not exactly been doing acts of good will to help bring forth any negotiations.

As for Ukraine, their short term strategic goals seem to be rather clear for the time being: reclaiming captured regions, and stopping Russian attacks against infrastructure.

Andy ONeill28 Dec 2022 12:32 p.m. PST

The Russian aims were to take out the leadership, occupy the capital and install a puppet government. Murder anyine they didn't like the look of.

The wheels came off that one pretty quick.

Doesn't take a huge lot of imagination to see Ukraine is likely to grind the Russians down. They tried more conscripts. No joy. Tried same plan repeatedly. No joy. Tried blustering against the west. No joy.

The writing is on that wall.
Anyone silly or confident enough to read it out loud gets dragged off or finds themselves headed out a window.
Russians still seem to be spreading those negative vibes though.

The whole thing is a tar pit. The only good result is getting out. Once you're in a tar pit though, not easy to get back out.

Be better for the Russians and everyone if the Russian hawks were offed and a more reasonable leadership replaced them.

Personal logo Legion 4 Supporting Member of TMP28 Dec 2022 12:54 p.m. PST

Be better for the Russians and everyone if the Russian hawks were offed and a more reasonable leadership replaced them.
Too bad this probably won't happen anytime soon, if ever, I'd think. But the only way this can be stopped if the Russians withdraw … Or the Ukraine continues to attrite the Russians. To the point, they will be all gone from the Ukraine and/or dead.

Griefbringer29 Dec 2022 5:27 a.m. PST

The WWI comparison might also apply as regards the "sunken costs" fallacy.

Back in 1915, the western front was in a stalemate, though enormous numbers of men and material had already been lost. And nobody in power was willing to admit that those losses had been for nothing, so more men and material kept on being thrown into the grinder in the vain hopes that some sort of victory would eventually manifest.

Now in 2022, Russia finds itself in stalemate, with large numbers of men and material lost. And those in power in Russia cannot admit that all those losses could have been for nothing (neither are they willing to admit the full extent of the losses, but that is another issue), so more men and material are scraped together and thrown into the grinder in the hopes that something that can be flagged as a victory at home would eventually manifest.

Personal logo Legion 4 Supporting Member of TMP29 Dec 2022 1:15 p.m. PST

No matter what Putin will claim victory …

Personal logo Legion 4 Supporting Member of TMP01 Jan 2023 10:43 a.m. PST

I believe this is whistling past the graveyard…in this case the Ukrainian graveyard. The Russians will probably launch an offensive from Belarus in late winter, early spring. The Ukrainians are being bled white at Bakmuht and have no ability undertake any offensive, no matter how much material they get.
We will have to wait and see. I've whistled by graveyards before. However, again, based on the Russians' military performance which is dismal to marginal at best. My $ is on the Ukraine with US/NATO/etc., support.

Russia's tactics have morphed into WWI style human wave attacks, a meatgrinder war of attrition. They are an incompetent poorly functioning excuse for a military. Only rivaled by some Mid East or African militaries currently and in the past.

My study of history, training & experience on active duty, '79-'90 leading an Air Assault Rifle Plt and later commanding a Mech Co. in the US Army. Tells me human waves, poorly trained motivated, lead, etc. forces that can't execute combined arms modern mobile maneuver warfare in the 21st Century. Is not a war "winner" … And many US high ranking US RET Officers, seem to agree. Or in actuality I agree with them.

UshCha01 Jan 2023 12:41 p.m. PST

carnot Where will they get the tanks and APC's. Russia is a "small" country low GDP like the UK. They have confirmed losses that are vast. (see link

These are stuff confirmed by pictures so way below actual losses.

Russia – 8560, of which: destroyed: 5352, damaged: 218, abandoned: 303, captured: 2687

This list only includes destroyed vehicles and equipment of which photo or videographic evidence is available. Therefore, the amount of equipment destroyed is significantly higher than recorded here. …….this list. All possible effort has gone into avoiding duplicate entries and discerning the status of equipment between captured or abandoned. Many of the entries listed as 'abandoned' will likely end up captured or destroyed. Similarly, some of the captured equipment might be destroyed When the origin of a piece of equipment can't be established, it is not included in the list. The Soviet flag is used when the equipment in question was produced prior to 1991. This list is constantly updated as additional footage becomes available.

Russia – 8560, of which: destroyed: 5352, damaged: 218, abandoned: 303, captured: 2687

Tanks (1600, of which destroyed: 937, damaged: 72, abandoned: 60, captured: 531)

Where are they going to get cheap western kit to make new ones or repair stuff in the near scrap pile? They can't make the expensive bits themselves. Like Legion 4 states war is no longer the preserve of poorly trained ill equipped infantry on their own. There army is crap because they can't keep an army that size on a UK sized GDP. We can't and we have direct access to western kit.

Personal logo Legion 4 Supporting Member of TMP01 Jan 2023 4:35 p.m. PST

UshCha +1 …

Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP01 Jan 2023 10:05 p.m. PST

Lack Of Good Analyses Contributes To The Decline Of The 'West'



ROUWetPatchBehindTheSofa02 Jan 2023 3:58 p.m. PST

Russian MOD casualty estimates are so much BS. The Ukrainian military should have ceased to exist some time ago so how come Wagner and Co aren't storming across central Ukraine? And its not because of the all the Polish NATO soldiers there!

You can also see the degradation in Russian equipment in there cruise missile and drone 'barrages' getting smaller over time and there doesn't appear to be any significant reduction Ukraine's ability to intercept if anything it seems to be getting better (though that may well be just a function of the fall off in numbers and increasing use of older systems and systems in secondary roles more susceptible to interception).

I'd also make the point while a number of European countries may well have procurement issues of all kinds by and large the armies are professional and have shown considerable ability to 'make do' over previous decades. To the point with the British Army it may actually be a problem. At least anecdotally Ukraine seems to making progress in fixing its initial problems over the last 10-months. Russia just seems to adapted around its ones…

Personal logo Legion 4 Supporting Member of TMP03 Jan 2023 12:47 p.m. PST

If Russia says it … it's most likely a lie.

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