Basic Lessons of War in Ukraine So Far

Basic Lessons of War in Ukraine So Far

War in Ukraine has been looked at, analyzed and combed. Not surprisingly, as it represents one of the very few conflicts between two modern forces. Wars in Yugoslavia happened thirty years ago, and were fought under conditions of an arms embargo. Invasions of Iraq were also a relatively long time ago, and fought against an enemy – conventional Arab military – that would have struggled to defeat a World War I era army.

And it has many lessons, both geostrategic and military.


First lesson of this section is that hard power is the ultimate power. While soft power can be useful, it is only useful so long as your opponent allows it to be useful. In other words, the enemy must actively allow destruction of their own society in order for soft power to work. But in conflict with a fundamentally different society – be it West against Russia, West against China or West against the Muslim world – “soft power” counts for nothing. In such conditions, only thing that counts is the military power. Therefore, disarmament is suicide.

Second is that the conflict between Russia and the West is a conflict between two fundamentally different cultural organisms. And while the progressive leftists like to pretend that such things do not matter, they in fact do matter, and matter a lot. West and Russia have completely different cultures, values and thus also speak completely different cultural languages.

Third is that the appeasement does not work. The enemy will not stop until he is stopped, and appeasement only signals weakness. But Germany was, much like in the leadup to the Second World War, in bed with Russia. After 2014. invasion of Crimea, only Western response were few weeks of sanctions. And even in 2021., as Russian preparations for invasion became obvious, Germany still refused to cancel the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project, deliver weapons to Ukraine, or even just begin transitioning to nuclear power. In short, Donald Trump was completely correct about German energy dependancy on Russia.

Fourth is that despite the nuclear weapons, conventional state-on-state conflict is very much a possibility, even with or potentially between nuclear powers and/or great powers. For this reason, designing a military solely for counterinsurgency work is not a good idea. Yet the US military had, after the Cold War, cut or discontinued projects such as F-22 stealth fighter, Crusader self-propelled artillery, Comanche helicopter and Zumwalt destroyer.

Fifth is that nuclear deterrent is indispensable. There is one reason why Hitler did not use chemical weapons in the Second World War: his enemies had them as well, and everybody knew how bad they were. United States only used atomic bombs against Japan because Japan could not hit back. Therefore, in modern world, nuclear deterrent is invaluable. It may or may not prevent a conventional conflict, but it certainly will prevent the enemy from using their own nuclear arsenal. Vladimir Putin had used his nuclear arsenal as a weapon of blackmail as well, which again is something that can only work against states with no nuclear weapons.

Sixth is that nuclear energy is indispensable. On moral plan that Leftists so like to talk about (but never actually consider seriously), nuclear energy is the cleanest energy source we have available, as well as the only one of relatively clean sources of energy that actually can replace fossil fuels. Neither wind, solar nor hydraulic power is able to do so – and first two heavily rely on oil derivatives to work in the first place. On the geostrategic plan, nuclear energy would make the West (and Europe especially) independent of Russian fossil fuels. Any country that does not have sufficient nuclear power available has to rely on fossil fuels – and Russia is their biggest supplier. Germany, having abandoned nuclear energy, is importing two thirds of coal and oil from Russia. Matter of the fact is that the current invasion of Ukraine had been bankrolled by the West itself, through leftists’ idiotic refusal to accept nuclear power.


Estimations are hard

First lesson is that properly estimating enemy capability, as well as one’s own capability, is difficult. What works in one war may not in another, and enemy always gets a vote. As does Murphy. Predictions before the war – even with the poor showing of Russian forces in the 2014. invasion of Crimea – still predicted that Russia would ultimately win. And this is not surprising. Conventional wisdom holds that even if Russia was not very competent, sheer weight of numbers should have prevailed.

Of course, conventional wisdom is often wrong. I have already discussed this before in several articles [link1, link2, link3, link4], but it can be surprising how effective territorial defense units can really be when defending their own land. And if territorial defense is taken into account, Ukraine actually considerably outnumbers Russia in terms of available troops. Pre-war analyses mostly either did not take territorial defense into account, or else underestimated just how effective such forces can be. For this reason, Ukraine’s ability to defend itself ended up being seriously underestimated.

Second aspect of incorrect predictions was significant overestimation of Russia’s capabilities. Western analysts were very aware of the dangers of underestimating the enemy, and for a good reason. Underestimating the enemy can easily lead to catastrophic outcome. For this reason, it was generally assumed that the Russian military package will work in all aspects – logistics, tactics, systems and the people. Overestimation was also helped by the fact that soft factors are difficult to understand without an inside view of a military and so any analysis had to rely on hard factors. What little was known of the soft factors – specifically, the Soviet Deep Battle doctrine – as well as Russian superiority in air assets and long-range precision munitions meant that there were good reasons to believe that Russia would indeed achieve decisive maneuver superiority.

But these predictions failed. Russians did not follow their own doctrine, and instead attacked all along the front in a wide-front approach more reminiscent of Eisenhower’s strategy than anything else. Russian air operations were also very poorly coordinated, and despite some initial successes, they failed to establish air superiority over Ukraine as well as failing to either eliminate or suppress the Ukrainian Air Force. What this meant is that Russian forces wasted units in unnecessary attacks while failing to fulfill key objectives.

Initial Russian invasion force of maybe 200 000 was clearly insufficient to achieve the objectives set by the government. Even the gradual increase in number of combat troops has failed to produce results. This should get NATO thinking, as it seems obvious that even had Russian military reform been successful, relatively small size of the force deployed sharply limited its ability to achieve strategic objectives. Russian military did not have enough infantry to protect armor, and presence of Ukrainian territorial defense formations in Russian rear areas made supply effort very difficult. Russian logistics have been falling apart since early point of the invasion, their weapons had proven unreliable, electronic warfare was missing in action, and Russian forces had suffered from blue-on-blue incidents.

Assymetric strategy

I have written before about basics of Byzantine strategy, guerilla warfare and why it survived for so long. These, as well as Mao’s theory of protracted war, can help explain Ukraine’s successes. Essentially, while war has revealed some flaws in the Russian military, it would be wrong to assume that Ukraine’s resistance is somehow unique or surprising in the context of modern warfare, or warfare in general. In fact, unless one is facing Arabs, a modern country with extensive conventional forces is an incredibly tough nut to crack.

But going back to theory, Byzantine strategy, Mao’s theory and modern Ukraine strategy have many things in common. This is unsurprising, as all were designed with the aim of allowing an inferior force to combat conventionally superior opponent. Basic idea is always to trade space for time, avoiding direct contests of strength while at the same time using the assymetric approach, terrain and time itself to inflict friction – and losses – onto the enemy.

What this means is that the initial stage of the enemy invasion is spent avoiding direct confrontation. The attacked in the initial stage is far stronger, and is aiming to both capture territory but also to destroy the defender’s capacity to wage war, specifically, the defending military force. Defender, unable to confront the attacker directly, has to trade space for time. Essentially, space itself becomes a component of defense. As the enemy advances, forces suffer attrition: just movement itself causes attrition as people get injured (or even killed) and equipment breaks down. Supply also becomes more difficult further one gets from one’s own logistical bases, as trucks carrying fuel use fuel themselves. And when advancing into hostile territory, there are additional sources of friction. Terrain ahead has to be scouted, which significantly slows down the potential rate of advance. Remnants of the enemy forces as well as any potential civilian insurrection groups remaining in the rear can count on support of the populace. This means that supply lines have to be secured, which necessitates leaving behind significant forces to carry out this task. Advancement in and by itself makes the attacker weaker. Defender thus should husband their elite maneuver formations, while using territorial defense units to slow down the enemy advance and impose additional attrition.

Only times when defender should not fall back are highly defensive positions which can be held by territorial defense forces. These are too valuable to be left undefended, not because defender can expect to hold them indefinitely – though that may happen – but precisely because the attrition such positions can inflict on the enemy. In medieval warfare, these were fortified cities and castles. In modern warfare, large (or even not-so-large) cities can serve such a purpose.

This is precisely what Ukraine did, abandoning the less defensive countryside while holding onto major border cities. This forced the Russians into a number of costly sieges, which expended their momentum and resources while at the same time leaving their supply lines vulnerable to attacks by Ukrainian forces still operating in the rear.

The result was eventual establishment of the strategic stalemate, as Russian advance was stopped in front of Kyiv and Mykolaiv. This allowed Ukraine to train new troops, as well as incorporate the equipment acquired from abroad. Russia for its part shifted to attritional campaign, relying on firepower to try and bleed Ukrainian forces out. But this strategy also proved, and is proving, costly for Russia as well: Ukraine is being supplied by the West, and because it is defending itself, Ukrainian forces actually outnumbered Russians overall for much of the war. Ukraine was growing stronger during the stalemate. Recruits raised through mass mobilization are accumulating combat experience, and Ukraine has been forming offensive units, but preserving them for future counteroffensive. Russia on the other hand kept bleeding its offensive power, which allowed Ukraine to launch two counteroffensives from August to November, capturing Kherson.

Russia however began mass mobilization in late September, which allowed it to gain manpower advantage for the first time in this conflict. Ukraine after Kherson ceased offensive operations, instead choosing to regenerate combat power and prepare for Russian counteroffensives. These began with escalation of fighting around Bakhmut in November 2022., with major offensives starting in February 2023.

At any rate, these offensives have achieved little. Fighting in Ukraine appears – especially on the Russian side – to be most similar to positional warfare of the Western Front. Russia in particular is trying to force an attritional conflict without guarantee it will win it. Even so, fact that Russian forces had been reinforced with a large number of mobilized personnel gives them the mass necessary for successful defense without necessarily providing them with the power for offensive actions. Thus lack of success in Russian offensives may paint a picture of weakness that could prove false in any potential Ukrainian offensive.

Further, the idea of equipping and training Ukrainian military to fight like a NATO force may well prove devastating for Ukraine. Current model of a combination of firepower, maneuver and territorial defense units works well. NATO forces generally rely on speed, maneuver and intelligence, but these are of low supply in the current war in Ukraine. And while Western analysts have blamed anything from Russian incompetence to weather for relatively static nature of the war in Ukraine, it is more likely that this is simply how warfare between peer opponents will happen in the future – heavy unmanned reconnaissance and dense guided munitions presence make large-scale maneuver simply too risky, as well as costly if attempted. Western ideal of rapid maneuver supported by air power has worked against third world opponents, and in modern times, against utterly incompetent Arab armies. But the few times Western forces have faced a competent enemy – most notably, war in Korea – warfare had typically eventually degenerated to positional war. Thus, while Western style of warfare may confer major benefits for Ukraine, assumption that it will do so is based on very shaky foundations. Thus, proposals to adopt Western model may well be dangerous for Ukraine. Rather than being an anomaly, it is entirely possible that the current artillery war is the only way to really fight a peer power.

In fact, the single most important thing that West can do for Ukraine may be supply of artillery shells. Between SAM and UAV presence, as well as displayed vulnerability of air bases, air power is not likely to be decisive. Likewise, while Ukraine has utilized Soviet Deep Operations doctrine to counter Russian attacks, increasingly positional nature of warfare has limited their ability to do so in the future. Yet it is unclear for how long the West can do even that. Both the NATO and Russia are biting deep into their old shell stockpiles, indicating that it will be only a question of who runs out first. Massive production at the level of the First or Second World Wars is impossible for several reasons. Back during the world wars, West had a massive unemployed potential workforce in its women. But after the Second World War, feminism and modernity introduced women into the general work force – and this work force is not available for quick mobilization. Thus, for both sides, something like the Shell Crisis of 1915. is likely, with no obvious solution. Russia may already be suffering from ammunition shortages, though it is still capable of properly supplying key efforts with sufficient quantities of ammunition. Ukraine may be in better position, as it can also be indirectly supplied by non-NATO countries such as South Korea and Singapore selling munitions to NATO. This issue of supply may have been what led to Putin to invade Ukraine to begin with: if he didn’t expect the West to openly and consistently supply Ukraine, then Ukraine will have run out of ammunition far sooner than Russia did, and Russia will have won simply by the weight of numbers. As it is, Western supplies prevented this outcome, while Russia’s winter offensives had left Russian military in worse position than it was in 2022.

Massive vulnerability of Western supply however lies in the globalist ideology that had pervaded the West for decades now. Many of the critical compounds necessary for ammunition production are produced in China, and China does not want to increase supply. And while West does have stockpiles and is producing munition, Ukraine’s ammunition expenditure is several times the rate of production in entirety of the West. For this reason, at least since March there was pressure on both the US and EU to ramp up ammunition production. But because the West had focused on producing high-tech guided weapons under assumption that artillery warfare is thing of the past, capability to quickly expand production of artillery shells simply isn’t there.

Importance of Morale

While hardware is important, it isn’t everything. Analysists relying solely on hardware comparisons have consistently produced incorrect results. Before the First Gulf War, analysts predicted that United States would suffer between 20 000 and 40 000 dead and wounded soldiers. Even the lower estimates by Posen, Mearshimer and Epstein predicted between 3 000 and 16 000 casualties, of which 1 000 to 4 000 dead. Mearshimer revised his estimates in January 1991., predicting fewer than 1 000 dead.

Coalition lost 292 dead, 467 wounded in action and 776 wounded.

So why were these predictions so wrong? Most simply, they did not account for lack of morale among the Iraqi troops. Campaign ended up being a walkover. Later 2003. campaign was even easier, and US forces in both campaigns were much more of a threat to themselves than the Iraqi forces were.

And such examples are strewn all over history. United States lost the Vietnam war due to a lack of will. Not long after, USSR invaded Afghanistan – a war that it lost. Yugoslav Army expected to break Croatian resistance in matter of days – they failed to advance much beyond the majority-Serb areas. All of these failures were simply because importance of morale was heavily underestimated. As Napoleon wrote in his Observations on Spanish Affairs:

“In war, three-quarters turns on personal character and relations; the balance of manpower and materials counts only for the remaining quarter.”

Ukrainian troops, while often not well-trained and well-equipped, are fighting for their homeland. Russian army on the other hand is relying on conscripts which not only lack training, but also lack the motivation to fight a war of conquest far from home. Just as importantly, this war has again shown that militaries are merely tools. If political side of the war had been mishandled, if geostrategic situation had been misjudged, then even an excellent military performance – which Russia, to be clear, has not shown at any point – is unlikely to salvage the situation. If will is lacking, physical power of an army will likely turn out to be merely a mirage, even if it manages to handle the technical side of things properly. And Russians are not managing to do this either.

Importance of Territorial Defense

Very early in the war, it became quite clear how important the Territorial Defense is. Territorial Defense forces had been instrumental in holding the line, both in the cities and outside them, and freeing up standing army elements for carrying out offensive and maneuver operations. Territorial Defense forces existed in Ukraine since 2014., but were only later properly organized.

Aside from the Territorial Defense Forces, Ukrainian territorial defense also includes territorial self-defense units. These are organized by administrative and self-government authorities, and cooperate with military territorial defense brigades. All Territorial Defense units bring with them significant advantages: knowledge of the terrain, confidence and motivation.

When forming the Territorial Defense, Ukraine created 25 Territorial Defense brigades – one for each of 24 oblasts (regions) plus one for Kyiv. It was assumed that reservists and people with military experience would be admitted to service. Territorial Defense units were to train reservists and support civilians in case of crisis or war. Overall, structure and organization of Ukrainian TD was heavily influenced by Polish Territorial Defense.

Combining the military with the civilian society is crucial for increasing defensive potential of the state. For this reason, Territorial Defense organizations should have agreements with civilian sector institutions such as prisons, foresters, and especially the postal and railway services. Railway is of key importance when it comes to army’s mobility, even today. Commanders in Territorial Defense should also understand mission command approach, that is, utilization of mission orders.

Other lessons

While UCAVs cannot do air superiority or close air support missions, they are invaluable in SEAD, DEAD and BAI missions. Thanks to unmanned systems, any nation can now have credible air power to hit enemy rear areas.

Having active transmitters is dangerous. Primary focus should be on passive systems. Radio silence should be default, with usage of landlines whenever possible and maximum command-and-control decentralization. When emitting is absolutely necessary, such emissions should be as short as possible, as weak as possible, and utilize techniques such as frequency hopping and coded communications.

Size of the army still matters. Russian force of 200 000 was clearly insufficient – in 1968., USSR had sent 500 000 men to occupy Czechoslovakia in far better strategic situation.

Ballistic missiles are definitely a menace, but Russian ballistic missile campaign failed to shut down Ukrainian air bases. This however was in part due to significant dispersal efforts by Ukrainian Air Force.

MANPADS are very effective, but need larger SAM systems. Otherwise the enemy can simply stay above 5 000 meters or so. Air defenses are very difficult to destroy in general.


While Western politicians are promoting transgenderism and multiculturalism, this war has shown that “hard” power is still well and alive – and is in fact the ultimate arbiter. Thus, getting rid of military capability is simply suicidal.

4 thoughts on “Basic Lessons of War in Ukraine So Far

  1. The reasons for the Soviet Union joining with Germany on the attack on Poland is simply that the Poles had gained a large slab of eastern Ukraine that was part of Russia according to the boundaries of Poland decided at Versailles. Won through a war with the Soviets. lest not also forget Poland had an ‘alliance’ with Germany as well pre 1939 and grabbed parts of Czechoslovakia along side Germany and Hungary after Munich.
    No wonder the Poles were confused when the British and French declared war but did nothing to help them , as Poland was a dictatorship like Germany and an authoritarian anti semetic quasi fascist state. The real country to fight a war over was democratic Czechoslovakia


    1. Poland gained large slab of eastern Ukraine after the Soviet Union invaded Poland in the war of 1919. – 1921. As it was established in 1918. – 1919., Poland was originally in borders very similar to those of today’s Poland, or of medieval Poland pre-Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Regardless of what Pilsudski wanted – and I am aware of his plans for expanding Poland – Western Allies wanted to set Poland’s eastern border at Curzon’s line – again, that is precisely where it is today. There was no reason why Poland would not have remained in those borders.

      And Soviet Government was attempting to conquer Poland from the outset, which is easily proven by them setting up the Polish Communist government in Moscow in 1918. They merely used the opportunity of the alliance with Germany in 1939. to do something they had always wanted to do.


      1. Poland had 6 border wars from 1918-2022
        Germany (x2) over Poznan and Silesia
        Soviet Union

        gee I wonder what was the common factor there?
        The documentation from the time has the Soviet government recognising the independence
        and Sovereignty of Polish Republic. General Pilsudski , head of the polish army had different ideas over the eastern Ukraine, he later became a Mussolini like dictator of Poland.
        If they didnt have designs on Ukraine and only wished to repel the Soviets, which you claim wanted to take over Poland ( Marxism-Leninism saw that a communist revolution in Poland as inevitable anyway) the end result shows differently.
        Modern history- written by the Poles- , shows the Poznan and Silesia border wars with Germany as ‘uprisings’, but dont mention it was a polish minority, but confirm Polish ideas on expansion


      2. Read again what I wrote:
        “Regardless of what Pilsudski wanted – and I am aware of his plans for expanding Poland”

        Fact that Poland did have imperialist ambitions hardly justifies Soviet imperialist ambitions.

        And no, Soviet leadership – specifically, Lenin – wanted to invade not just Poland, but rest of Europe. They recognized independence of Poland because it was opportune thing to do so at the time, but even while fighting the war against the Whites, Soviet *still* invaded, not just Poland but also Finland, Baltic States (Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia), and also – all the way until Lenin’s death – supported various Communist revolutions and uprisings that had happened in Europe and elsewhere.


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