If he could step back to February last year, Putin would likely still intervene, just without the "initial soft touch" the Russian displayed.

An underappreciated aspect is that, according to the OSCE, Maidan-Ukraine massively escalated its shelling of Donbass, had amassed a rmy large enough to overpower the seperatist rebels, and was as a matter of fact going in.

Putins government would face existential threats if Maidan barbecues Donbass. As such, a counter invasion was essentially certain. The question was if Russia would focus on defending Donbass, or attempt to regime change Kiev.

As to the wars outcome.

Ukraine has essentially 4 possible "states". Pro Russian, Pro Western, Neutral and Ruined.

The Russian order of preference is:

1: Pro Russian, 2: Neutral, 3: Ruined, 4: Pro Western

The US order of preference is:

1: Pro western 2: Ruined 3: Pro Russian 4: Neutral

The EUs and Ukraines preference is:

1: Pro Western 2: neutral 3: Pro Russian 4: Rubble, but it also doesnt particularly matter.

A ruined Ukraine is the only "agreeable" outcome. For any other outcome, either Russia loses it "we can turn Ukraine into Rubble" veto, which is extremely unlikely, or the US changes its preferences, or the US loses its "we determine who rules in Kiev" veto.

Both changes in preferences of the USA (be it to internal politics or increased Chinese assertiveness or due to pressure elsewhere) or a loss of the USAs "we determine who rules in Kiev" power are things I assert as less unlikely then Russia losing its abilitiy to turn Ukraine into rubble.

The US prefering to focus on China, after Ukraine is rubbleized and thus less "worthwhile" to Russia is a possible situation. The US mishandling its pupeteering in Kiev to a level that their influence is sufficiently reduced is another such situation as well. The Ukrainians have committed enough warcrimes that western PR could throw them under the bus.

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The Russian attack last February wasn’t meant to achieve a military victory (it wasn’t remotely big enough for that) but to get Ukraine to negotiate.

-Ukraine and Russia had agreed on the outlines of a deal to end the war, but Washington vetoed it.

- at the end of a war, but not during a war, territorial gains and losses are a good indicator of who won. During a war casualty counts and the ability to replace lost weaponry and logistics are. Attriting an enemy to the point of collapse without advancing or even while slowly retreating can be a winning strategy. Ukraine is not forthcoming with its casualty numbers but is conscripting women and 16 year olds to 60 year olds and sending some of them to the front after 3 weeks of training. (The US Army had a minimum of 52 weeks of training before sending soldiers into combat.) Ukraine is going around begging even for almost Museum vintage tanks. Russia isn’t doing any such thing. This should tell anyone with an open and fair mind how things are going.

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I think that we need to look a little bit further here: the Iran-Iraq war basically was the precursor to the Sunni-Shiite schism that still haunts the Middle East to this day, it also transformed the politics of the region, led to the formation of the GCC etc...

What is the impact of a prolonged conflict on Eastern Europe (outside the Former Soviet Union) and also China? On the issue of Chinese intervention, I would argue that a prolonged stalemate is exactly in Chinese interests. Since that is what is most likely to happen, the likelihood of Chinese intervention is remote. Demographically Ukraine is most likely cactus. But how does the influx of millions of Ukrainians to Eastern Europe transform them socially, economically?

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Nitpick: Russia has a population 3 times that of Ukraine within both countries' internationally recognized territories, but for the purposes of manpower calculations Crimea and at least the 2015-2022 territory held by the Donbas Republics are providing soldiers to Russia, not to Ukraine. This means that the "effective population ratio" is really closer to 4:1 in favor of Russia.

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My pure speculation is:

- China provides no/very limited assistance to Russia, since it benefits from stalemate. They also avoid pushing US into redirecting their attention to Asia.

- US keeps ramping up support, even at expense of Asia & China. They threw 1 trillion $ into Afghanistan. I just don`t see money as limiting factor.

- Russia fails to mobilize at anything close to Soviet levels.

- Russian Army becomes slightly better at fighting from experience. Ukrainian troop quality moves closer to Russian (lower), as motivated & skilled soldiers are killed off. You can`t manufacture patriots, the way you produce shells & ammo.

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Many years of conventional fighting ending in a stalemate (the most likely outcome *with* Western support) is a much better outcome than many years of insurgency ending in Russia controlling a ruined country (the most likely outcome *without* Western support).

So, your analysis argues in favor of a virtually unlimited level of support to Ukraine by the West.

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I know it came out too late for you to factor it in, but the Kotkin interview in the New Yorker is relevant to this piece (https://www.newyorker.com/news/the-new-yorker-interview/how-the-war-in-ukraine-ends) Along with the WaPo piece, I think it more or less reflects the admin's sense of an end-game.

I agree that stalemate is the most likely outcome, but things that might break it down the road is the Russians figuring out SEAD and being able to use air power for CAS, and/or getting serious arms transfers from Beijing. Or on the flip side, Ukraine getting F-16s in serious numbers and obtaining true air superiority. But the range of outcomes would still be something like Russia driving all the way to to the Dnieper, or Kyiv taking back Crimea. Still not total victory for either side, and these are still edge cases, because of escalatory dynamics (e.g. *if* Beijing really starts big arm transfers, the US probably moves up the transfer of F-16s in response earlier than it would have otherwise).

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Noting the confidence of those offering their counter-analysis below this carefully considered essay, while providing no sources to underpin their claims.

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In my view, you probably underestimate 2 crucial factors:

1) The growing military technological gap between Russia and the West: Russia may spend as much as they want, they are unlikely to close that gap, which seems to be growing rapidly. In practice, the backbone of the Russian military effort still consists in Soviet-style equipment (T-72, unguided artillery / missiles etc.) and tactics, which have been demonstrated failing and obsolete, not only in Ukraine but also in Iraq. It is telling that Ukraine managed to reach a stalemate while not having received the most modern (or even simply heavy) military equipment from the West.

2) The Putin factor: not only he is 70 and declining, but it is clear that the Russian political and economic elite did not support his personal military adventure. This war is not Russia's war against Ukraine: it's Putin's war against Ukraine. From that perspective, the cost for the Russian political, economic and even military elite to keep Putin at the helm of the country keeps rising and may ultimately approach an intolerable level. Without necessarily talking about an overthrow of the regime, a "dacha" scenario in which Putin may be quietly retired would seem rational from a Russian viewpoint. Whatever its political stance (even nationalist), Putin's successor would have an easy game to correct his predecessor's mistakes and patch up Russia's relations with the West, as was done by Khrushchev after Stalin's demise (which was not 100% natural but accelerated / facilitated by his entourage as they deliberately failed to cure him from his stroke).

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Excellent article

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