Can Russia lose the war in Ukraine?

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M Ahmedullah, 28 April 2023

Well, it’s obviously possible. However, the opposite possibility is also true. So, how about the probability of Russia losing or winning the war? Not knowing much about the reality on the ground means that my assessment of either way probability is based on media reports and the propaganda of the two sides: the West and Russia. I have no idea what types of weapons the West is supplying to the Ukrainians, how they are training their forces, and the capacity and potential of the Russians in terms of their military technology, training and war industry.

Based on my understanding of the situation in Ukraine, it will be very difficult, if not impossible, for the Ukrainians to defeat the Russians, even though the help of the West and the capacity of the Ukrainians will continue to improve. Although the Russian war machine and the ability of their fighting forces are currently clearly inferior to what the West possess, it does not mean that the Ukrainian forces will be able to operate at the level of the maximum capacity of the West, particularly operate at the at the fighting capability levels of the USA, Britain, France and Germany.

Russian war machines and their forces performed far below in the Ukrainian war theatre than what we would normally expect from a superpower. One important reason for this is that they had very little combat war experience since the 1980s, and also very little opportunity to test their weapons – unlike the West that has been fighting endless wars since the 1940s. This means they haven’t had the chance to test their weapons, learn from mistakes, poor performances and improve; test their fighting strategies, tactics and goals in real-life situations and improve their fighting capabilities based on combat experience with the enemy. 

Just as the West is learning from Russian failures and studying their fighting methods and weapons, Russia is also using the war to test its weapons – new, improved weapons are likely to be rolled out of production based on learning from their weapons in combat – and trying to understand how the West is helping Ukraine to develop their war skills, strategies and tactics, as well as the Western weapons being used by Ukrainians in the actual theatre of war. Russia also has enormous resources from all the lands it conquered during the last few hundred years, making them part of the Russian motherland.

As such, I cannot see how Russia can lose the war, and, at the same time, achieve victory based on its initially stated goals. But, on the other hand, if the Ukrainians do not manage to make a significant breakthrough in the much talked about autumn offensive to come, we are talking about a prolonged war with more destructions and devastations in Ukraine – which most likely will end with a negotiated peace deal and include some parts of Ukraine permanently incorporating into Russia.