War in Ukraine III: an Interim Assessment

Peter Turchin

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Sixteen months into the war the final outcome of this conflict is still uncertain. Public statements from both sides continue to express unbounded confidence in their eventual victory (see, for example, Russia’s Strategic Failure and Ukraine’s Secure Future). But which way has the advantage swung, is known only to the military professionals serving on the general staffs—they have the data. A proper assessment of the prediction from the OL model, discussed in Part II, will have to wait until the war is over and the data become available to the public. Even then, however, we will not know everything.

What can be said about the state of this conflict now (as of July 2023)?

The official sources cannot be trusted (except in pushing their own propaganda). As an example, here are two assessments of the state of the on-going Ukrainian counter-offensive, which began on June 4, 2023:

Estimates on relative casualties vary hugely depending on who is assessing them (and which side they favor). American officials estimated in May of 2023 that 50,000 Russian troops were killed and 180,000 wounded, whereas for Ukraine the numbers were 20,000 killed and 130,000 wounded. The implied casualty ratio is 2.5 to 1 in the direction opposite of what is predicted by the OL model. Generally speaking, the official US stance is that Putin made a horrible mistake invading Ukraine and that Russia will lose the war. This opinion is expressed by serving officials and most retired generals, as well as columnists and reporters in mainstream American newspapers. In February of 2023, for example, the New York Times published an article, Soaring Death Toll Gives Grim Insight Into Russian Tactics, in which it stated,

the number of Russian troops killed and wounded in Ukraine is approaching 200,000, a stark symbol of just how badly President Vladimir V. Putin’s invasion has gone, according to American and other Western officials… The Russian military is running low on critical supplies and replenishment, said Colin H. Kahl, the under secretary of defense for policy. ‘They’re running low on artillery. They’re running low on standoff munitions, and they are substituting by sending convicts in human waves into places like Bakhmut and Soledar.’

But a few of former military and intelligence officials disagree. This group includes such critics of the “muscular” American foreign policy (so they also have an axe to grind) as Douglas Macgregor, Ray McGovern, and Larry Johnson. Contrary to the official position, they have consistently argued that, despite repeated claims that Russia is about to run out of this or that, instead Russia has maintained its numerical superiority in arms and munitions throughout the first 16 months of war and is likely to continue enjoying this advantage in the future. As a result of this advantage, they maintain, the casualty ratio has been heavily in favor of Russia. This is the same logic on which the OL model is based, of course. Furthermore, according to these former CIA and military officers, they have access to information possessed by colleagues currently in the services; information that is perhaps more accurate than what is reported in the mainstream media. Macgregor, for example, in May estimated Ukrainian KIA as 200,000–250,000.

Thus, we have two divergent views within America. The establishment’s view—government officials and mainstream media—is that Russia is losing, whereas the “heterodox” (if not “heretical”) position, maintained by a handful of dissidents, airing their views on alternative media, is that Russia is winning. For a definitive resolution of this dispute we will have to wait until after the end of the war. But there are some indications that the dissident view may be closer to the reality.

In the absence of direct data that we can trust, there are statistically valid approaches to estimating losses indirectly. In ecology, in which I got my Ph.D., this approach is called “mark-recapture.” The essence of it is to get two independent estimates of some quantity (in ecology this is usually population size). Although both measures are partial and incomplete (capturing only a part of the population), using a kind of triangulation we can estimate the overall population size.

This is what was done by a consortium of Meduza-Mediazone-BBC. One source of information they used was an obituary database that tracks combat deaths mentioned in Russian local news outlets and on social media. The second source was the Probate Registry data. Both are incomplete, but in different ways, which enables an analyst to estimate how many military deaths are missing from the obituary database, for example (it turns out, one half). This approach results in an estimate of 47,000 Russian soldiers killed (with a possible range of 40,000–55,000). The casualties incurred by the Donetsk and Lugansk Republics are not included in this count, and they could be as high as 22,000. Note (for potential bias) that Meduza and Mediazona are ardently anti-Putin publications.

An estimate of Ukrainian casualties was obtained by a Russian data resource WarTears. This project has been helping people searching for relatives serving in the Ukrainian armed forces, with whom they lost contact for whatever reason. The 8,500 such requests in their database (and what was the eventual fate of each soldier—dead, wounded, captured, etc) provides one source of data. The second one is the lists of killed, captured, etc obtained through open sources. Using an analysis similar to the one by Meduza-Mediazona. the WarTears group built a model, which was refined twice to fix initial problems (the model is currently in Version 3). Their estimate of Ukrainian KIA is 240,000. For potential bias, WarTears is an anonymous pro-Russian resource.

Finally, the third estimate is by Noah Carl on his blog, using a different approach. He used a poll by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology, a polling outfit based in Ukraine, that recently asked Ukrainians whether any of their friends or close relatives have died in the war. 63% of respondents said they had at least one friend or close relative who died in the war. Carl then used data from YouGov polls that asked people in 16 different countries whether any of their close friends or relatives had died of Covid; and data on Covid death rates from Our World in Data. This enabled him to construct a relationship relating the two. Extrapolating the curve, he estimated that 188,000 Ukrainians died since February 24, 2022 (this includes both military and civilian deaths). There are many caveats (which Carl discusses in his blog) and there is, obviously, a large degree of uncertainty associated with this result (thus, one different assumption lowers the estimate to 169,000; another assumption increases it to 209,000).

Although these three estimates all have large degrees of error associated with them, they line up much closer to the numbers estimated by the “heterodox retirees” than the official numbers. Again, emphasizing that this assessment is preliminary and tentative, and may be changed very substantially once we have better data, but, in my view, the currently available evidence suggests that predictions of the OL model are in the right ballpark.  

Stepping away from my neutral scientific stance, for a moment, it is impossible for a normal person not to be horrified by the scale of slaughter. Hundreds of thousands if dead on both sides; an equal or even greater number of maimed for life. This war has created an immense amount of human misery.

Next: can we use these ideas, models, and data (as best as we know them) to make projections on the future course of the war?

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Andy

I think it’s important to note that casualties are only one factor in a conflict and often not the most important one in determining which side is currently winning or will eventually win.

And when it comes to relative casualties, the ratio is also not dispositive absent other factors and context.

I think what the OL model fails to account for (as least as it’s been described here) is that war is ultimately a political activity – the use of organized violence by political communities to achieve political ends.

Often the reality of war or situational changes result in goals and political ends changing. Political communities discover through conflict what war can actually achieve vs what they thought it could achieve.

The US, for example, had decisive advantages over the Taliban, but over time US goals changed. The Afghan Army that we trained and equipped also had decisive material advantages but were broken by the lack of a supporting political community – something to fight for. The US had the goal of democratizing Afghanistan, Iraq and other places and discovered that war is not a good means to achieve that.

The conflict in Ukraine is more similar to the context of WWI which informed the authors of the OL model than Afghanistan and many other conflicts, but I do not think it’s focus on macro attrition factors can determine who will actually win, not least because what it means to “win” will change and the war exposes certain hard realities to the combatants.

Anders L

Using polling to estimate war losses seems to me to come with a significant margin of error. Especially the methodology of comparing it to covid deaths in other countries. My main criticism is that war deaths and covid deaths are completely different. A war death is something extraordinary, it comes with a fair amount of pride (for lack of a better word), people will boast about knowing someone who was killed in the war. Covid deaths are the opposite, not only is it slightly embarrassing to die of a respiratory disease, it is also difficult to determine the precise cause of death. From a strictly mathematical standpoint, covid victims were generally old with comparatively few friends and relatives while war victims generally were younger with more social interactions.

Jan Wiklund

“it is impossible for a normal person not to be horrified by the scale of slaughter” – well, then at least Europe is full of subnormal persons. There are millions who think that the war must go on until the Russians are beaten, and that any talk of peace discussions and ceasefire is treason. Possibly they don’t understand what war is, they think it is a kind of football match were nobody is hurt.

Craig

Excellent analysis
considering the population disparities. It appears that the the Russian army will always have a theoretical numerical advantage. The limit to this is the ability of the State to keep feeding the slaughter before its social institutions rebel. Historically we have seen this dynamic in 1917 and 1986.

Alan Patrick

I’be been tracking it weekly using the Oryx/Spioenkop data, the top level is the total and relative loss rates between the two sides over time (standard caveats re data accuracy apply but at least they are logging their dataset). To an extent it is also possible to tell what is happening, looking at the loss rates by specific types of machine at any one time. In theory one can estimate troop losses by the known crew in the vehicle (again with caveats re % occupancy, survival rates etc) but what can’t be seen are losses from artillery/MLRS et.

John Strate

The post furnishes a balanced view based upon available models and information. I’ve followed MacGregor. If his views are closer to the truth, it raises serious questions about the mainstream media and journalists and possible pressures they are under to echo the official narrative. Why is the Senate Foreign Relations Committee not holding hearings? Perhaps the American public is mostly indifferent to wars that do not involve American casualties.

akarlin

The Mediazona study underestimates convict deaths and leaves out Wagner entirely, while as Noah Carl himself pointed out the polls method is likely an overestimate because younger people have more friends than older people who die of COVID. As such, a more reasonable estimate of KIA would be something like 70k and 120k for Russia and Ukraine, respectively. This would be consistent with very high losses by Ukraine in the beginning, when it was lightly armed volunteers up against a professional Russian military with large amounts of armor and total artillery preponderance, subsequently being reduced to parity once that initial Russian army got depleted, HIMARS got to work, and hardware ratios evened out.

Noah Carl

I don’t think the Mediazona study leaves out Wagner deaths entirely. Here they write, “Towards the end of 2022 and the beginning of this year, losses among prisoners recruited by the Wagner PMC noticeably increased … In March 2023, inmates became the largest category in our war casualty count.”

Cameron

From the start of the war I assumed Russia would eventually “win” solely due to their resource superiority (i.e., achieve a favorable result, which I consider an outcome where Russia retains any territory gains). My main question is at what cost to Russia and if they would realistically maintain control & rebuild so it’s an economically viable holding. Currently, Ukraine has the asabiyyah advantage whereas Russia is clearly facing morale problems (Wagner mutiny, though I’m still not 100% certain how much of that was a real mutiny and not smokescreen theater). Whatever the outcome, NATO will surely back and agitate guerilla movements which will be a thorn in Russia’s paw, and the implications of LNG export decoupling is already having severe budget impacts. Not to mention political capital impacts, where Russia is now seen as much weaker than was once believed. Makes me think of Pyrrhus’ Italian campaign, or the ancient Chinese dynasties’ see-sawing with the Taklamakan corridor and northern Vietnam. It all remains to be seen of course, but I fear this situation will become a quagmire for the rest of this decade, which further muddies the concept of “winning” this war.

Alan

Of what Russia has taken, what are the pieces that strategically it won’t want to let go? I’ve always assumed that the Azov littoral/Crimea are the key areas they want to control so they are not at risk in Azov and can get in and out unhindered, plus access to a number of major ports

Cameron

I think you’re right about Crimea and the area around Azov. And of course in general the Donetsk region, as “liberating” that area was Russia’s casus belli and they’ve already made political moves to cement control and presence.

Max

The Osipov-Lanchester model is for a war in which both sides do everything they can do to win. No side in world war I or the civil war had an option to escalate.

This war is different as there are nukes. So at best the Osipov-Lanchester model might gives us a hint which side of the war will arrive first at a point where the choice is defeat or escalation, i.e. deployment of nukes.

Would NATO provide tactical nukes in addition to tanks, artillery, etc.? Would Russia use nukes rather than be defeated?

This is at present a limited war fought with restraint and for this reason the Osipov-Lanchester model cannot predict who will win.

Chris Morris

Interesting figures. Of course the Russians and Ukrainians are waging different wars. The Russians seem to have majored on flattening civilian areas with missile, bomb and shell. The Ukrainians seem to have focussed on killing Russian soldiers and destroying key infrastructure.
(You may have noticed the massive wave of moaning about two civilians killed on the Kerch Bridge, as if the Ukrainians were wicked wicked people trying to hit a key Russian bridge, and then there was yet another another wave of Russian missiles launched at Odessa and other Ukrainian cities)

Back in 1940, the Germans lost the Battle of Britain when they turned from trying to obliterate the RAF to trying to flatten London. They inflicted a massive amount of damage on London and failed to defeat Britain, while the RAF recovered.(and went on to fail to defeat Germany by flattening its urban areas).

It makes it difficult to assess the numbers when there are several wars going on in parallel.

Pieter van Pelt

The Russian answer to Ukrainian successes at the front is to terrorise the civil population by flattening homes, schools, hospitals. The people who are suffering this type of terrorism respond with horror and hatred towards Russia. If ever there were Ukrainians who were sympathetic towards Russia, these Ukrainians certainly changed their mind. Even if Russia can conquer Ukraine, they will inherit a very hostile population that will make life miserable for the occupiers. For many decades to come. This is how to loose a war that should be easy to win.

Isaac

Russia may be content to hold the most valuable parts of Ukraine (Crimea, Donbas, Black Sea coast) and damage the remainder of Ukraine enough that though hostile it will be incapable of doing much against Russia. I don’t want to see Ukraine as a failed rump state, but it is a possible outcome, and one that Russia may be happy with.

Ken BUTCHER

Your comment and Pieter van Pelt’s reply could only be written by someone getting their information exclusively from controlled Western MSM sources, which have no moral compunction about simply reversing the actions of the two sides. I have been following the developing situation since 2013, using sources on both sides. (Initially I was using purely Western sources, but I noticed the frequent inconsistencies in the narratives presented and therefore deliberately sought out the other side of the story.)

Since 2014, the Ukrainian army has been shelling civilians in the areas that voted most solidly for the democratically-elected government overthrown in the violent coup of 2014. They are currently fighting hard to hold onto Avdiivka, as that is their forward base for shelling the people of Donetsk, the largest city under the control of the democrats. This fact is simply written out of the story as reported in the Western mainstream.

For instance, Patrick Lancaster, an American reporter living in Donetsk, attended the aftermath of a Ukrainian Tochka-U strike that landed a couple of blocks from his home, in the shopping centre of his purely civilian neighbourhood. His video of the dead and dying and the desperate attempts to save the wounded were very grueling. It was too much to resist for Western media, which purloined the visuals (minus his commentary) as illustration of Russian war crimes in attacking civilians. Several of Lancaster’s reports have been mis-used in this way.

Similarly, the missile attack on Kramatorsk railway station that killed civilians waiting to be evacuated was used by the media for a couple of days as proof positive of Russian barbarity. The story suddenly disappeared when footage from an Italian TV crew revealed the missile’s serial number, which was in the middle of a sequence known to be used by the Ukrainian army.

Anyone depending on the Western media for assessment of military behaviour, and indeed of morale and public opinion on the two sides, risks being seriously misled.

Chris Morris

Further to “Ukrainian terrorism” in daring to attack Russian bridges, anyone remember a dam on the Don blown up by the Russians? That was different, of course. It always is.

Cui Bono

And you have definitive proof it was blown up by the Russians? Maybe you’d also have a definitive reason why, because it seemed not to be to their advantage in any way that I can fathom.

Chris Morris

Definitive? No. But balance of probabilities says that when large quantities of explosive are placed in a structure and detonated, it is done by the occupants, and not attackers. As for why, blowing up river crossings is a standard operation, and blowing up a dam denies the attacker use of the facilities + obstructs the crossing of the river for a while. The Russians destroyed their Zaporizhzhia dam on the Dneipr in 1941 for these reasons (and then the Germans repeated the process in 1943 on the partially rebuilt dam). In 1945, the blowing of Ruhr dams was an integral part of the German defence of the area

Steven Johnson

The examples from WWII of blowing up dams are misleading. The Soviets in 1941 were in wide retreat/defeat (despite the carefully overlooked role of what counterattacks they did make in breaking the blitzkrieg.) The same for the Germans in 1943 and 1945. The Russians in 2023 are not in wide retreat nor are they unhinged by the notorious Ukrainian summer offensive.

On the other hand, the long term damage to Crimea is quite significant. The destruction of an ammonia pipeline by Ukraine is confirming evidence the Ukrainians are pursuing a destruction of infrastructure strategy.

In short, cui bono? points to the Ukrainians.

Lastly, if Ukraine can sabotage the Kerch bridge or assassinate Dugina they can sustain another sabotage operation. You cannot assume means and opportunity lie only with the Russians.

Chris Morris

“Sabotage” is hardly a term to apply to bomb, missile, or shell damage, unless one is going to characterise the Dambusters and the other bombers of 1940-45 as “saboteurs”. And it is unsafe to assume that every act of demolition occurs just at the optimum moment for the party carrying it out, Things can be done too soon or too late (and that seems to happen quite often),
As for who damaged the ammonia pipeline, deliberately or accidentally, I am afraid that I would want a bit more evidence than a Russian Defence Ministry bulletin (strangely enough, not one Russian soldier came to harm in this alleged Ukrainian incursion, because, of course in official Russian sources, Russian soldiers are invulnerable to Ukrainian activity – which is why Peter Turchin has difficulties in establishing the real level of Russian casualties).

Deuxglass

Casualty figures are one of the most closely-held statistics during a war and the wide difference in estimates using different methods tells me that proxy figures although better than nothing do not elucidate enough to project the course of the war in Ukraine.
If we take the high number of Ukraine casualties then I can’t see why Russian forces had had to withdraw from large swaths of territory. If I take the high number of Russian casualties then I wonder how they can hold the territories that they now occupy. To make it even more difficult if Ukraine has lost as many as that then countries bordering Russia and Ukraine would probably send their own troops because their is no guarantee that Russia could give that would be trusted. The population of the frontline countries equal that of Russia thus negating the population advantage it presently enjoys.
As with most wars those who start them are confident they will succeed and that confidence remains almost until they actually lose.

Steven Johnson

There is an old rule of thumb, so common as to border on mere cliche, that the offensive needs a three to one advantage in numbers. The Russians call the war the Special Military Operation. In the sense that the initial force was apparently much closer to being even in numbers with the more experienced Ukrainian army, there was never an attempt to “conquer” Ukraine. The Russians have not withdrawn from “large” swathes of territory. Tactical withdrawals by a force that is not engaged in the offensive are meaningful largely in symbolic terms. When the Russians unify their command and commit closer to a million troops then we can talk about the failure or success of a campaign of conquest.

It is not even clear that conquest is the goal. The US claims Russia is trying to conquer the world or at least destroy Western Civilization (read that as “Christendom” if you wish) but then, they say that about all sorts of people they want to kill, don’t they?

On the other hand, Biden himself has said Putin has to go. Yes, officially walked back. But should that be taken seriously? US foreign policy is no more under popular control than Russian. The implied assumption that regime change or possibly the destruction of Russia as it is, is the real war aim is likely justified. Thus, the expansion of the war to Poland, the Baltics, Romania, probably Hungary because in the end Orban is not independent no matter what he imagines, will intervene forgets that in a genuinely existential war for national survival, Russia has nuclear weapons. The cop mentality that you have the right to kill someone who resists doesn’t work in this situation in my best judgment.

Cameron

There’s another rule of thumb that states speed is the essence of war. If one mobilizes more troops, it necessarily slows down any operational/tactical decisions. In this way, I don’t think it’s appropriate to claim outright that there was never an attempt to conquer Ukraine based on number of deployed troops, as Russia’s “opening” move was a lightning strike against the capital with the goal of seizure. There are plenty of examples in history where this strategy was successful. However, it didn’t work out for Russia so they reassessed what is feasible and the war has settled into the current phase.

Claims of world domination are being made on both sides, so really this is all propaganda and doesn’t reflect the realities of the situation. That being said, it cannot be discounted that it’s likely Putin’s overarching objective IS conquest to retain previous USSR states, as he has basically stated is his right and duty and the correct course for Russia. Note that I’m not assigning right or wrong, since empires always fight to take back what was lost if they have the means to do so.

Steven Johnson

Disagree “Putin’s overarching objective” should be discounted, on the solid grounds Putin has been around for decades. His aggressive policy to reconquer “USSR states” has been nonexistent. Dude hasn’t even reincorporated Belarus! The only remotely plausible piece of evidence is the Crimean plebiscite and the only way you can even claim that is by rejecting any right of self-determination in favor of a “principle” of the sanctity of existing borders as they are….except in Cyprus or Sudan or Serbia and so forth.

As to the notion that speed is the essence of war? Supposedly Nathan Bedford Forrest said victory was to get there “firstest with the mostest.” The force approaching Kyiv was never large enough to take the city. I don’t know whether the thought was to accept surrender (why expect that?) or a feint or blatant stupidity. But it’s just as likely it was meant to force negotiations, not the incorporation of Ukraine. Lugansk and Donetsk had not been incorporated for years either, meaning there was an option to return a suitably autonomous east, not annihilate “Ukraine.”

Tony

The force approaching Kiev was a threat. It pinned the 60k troops in, while the army in the east was disabled.

Zelensky would not let capital fall, nor could he move part of the force out without it being engaged and destroyed by the 30k Russian troops.

Steven Johnson

That is the feint argument. Maybe…

But the Russian force was manifestly inadequate to take a built-up urban area. Hannibal didn’t dare assault Rome, Winfield Scott didn’t wreck his army in the streets of Mexico City and the Germans learned the hard way in Stalingrad (the city has since fallen, now it is called Volgograd, I think. Or maybe they’re going back to Tsaritsyn?)

If McClellan had tried to enter downtown Richmond at one point of the Peninsula campaign, I suspect that he would have found his own anticipation of Stalingrad. Now it is easy to condemn Lincoln for his political fears for D.C. being attacked, but lots of people even today don’t get how hard it is to take a city with any defense, even an outnumbered one.

Isaac

Some argue that Putin judged that Russia wasn’t ready until now since it had been weak and dependent on the West economically. The autarky he has built has clearly resisted sanctions quite well.

Success also breeds (over)confidence; Russian foreign policy success (notably in Syria but also Georgia) may have caused Putin to be more ambitious than in the past.

Pieter van Pelt

The “hard” numbers of KIA and WIA on both sides of the conflict may suggest that Ukraine is the underdog in this conflict, due to less acces to munitions, less air superiority and a mixture of war machines while Russia has more resources, one factor as been overlooked in this analysis. While the model focusses on material resources (men, machines, ammo) nothing is said about the pure willpower to not loose this war. For Ukraine the war is a struggle for survival as a free country and loosing is simply no option. In a war situation, the primitive will to survive and prevail is a great source of energy, ingenuity and stamina to prevail and endure the worst. For Russia and its soldiers, it is simply a job to be done and finished; the naked existence of Russia is not at stake while Ukraine as a country and as a society faces annihilation. This by itself is sometimes a strong energy source that gives people superhuman powers and endurance of even terrible losses. I may be hoping for the impossible, but I still believe Ukraine can prevail.

Philip

I’ve read that Russia is pursuing this war exactly because NATO encroachment IS an existential threat to Russia.

Pieter van Pelt

NATO is primarily a defensive alliance, prepared to respond quickly and adequately to any Nation that attacks any NATO member. As the Romans already said: “Si vis pacem, para bellum”. If you want peace, prepare for war. If Ukraine had a well prepared standing army and was part of NATO in 2022, Russia would probably not have invaded its country. And this war would have never happened. I always wonder what is wrong if a country keeps peace with its neighbours and has a big stick in a closet for in case the neighbour thinks otherwise?

Nathan A

Nobody has done more for NATO expansion than Russian threat and aggression in general, and more recently, Putin’s war of aggression. Now plus Sweden, Finland, and eventually Ukraine. None of that would have probably happened without Putin.

Steven Johnson

NATO is not a “primarily defensive alliance.” It never has been. The recent declarations in the Vilnius where the North Atlantic Treaty Organization discovers that its defense *China* should expose this sentence as arrant nonsense.

Ukraine had a very large, very well armed and highly aggressive army actively at war in the east since 2014. Part of the old Ukrainian army of course is still with us—it’s called the Donetsk and Lugansk militias—but in many respects the Russian invasion in 2022 was simply an intervention in a long-standing civil war.

Tony

NATO has attacked plenty of countries. When has it ever defended? Russia spent almost a decade negotiating with Ukraine.

Nathan A

This is absolutely vital perspective. The total US casualties in Afghanistan were a tiny fraction of the local resistance fighters . They held out for decades and ultimately prevailed in driving out the invaders (as they saw it) and their proxies (again, as they saw it). Not perfectly analogous since we’re talking about a democracy being attacked by an autocracy with Russias invasion of Ukraine, but the collective will to defend ones homeland against existential threat is…hard to quantity to be sure

Nathan A

*quantify* oops 😏

Steven Johnson

The war began in 2014 and it was never a struggle for Ukraine’s survival. The war began in 2014 and had nothing to do with national survival. The refusal to make the peace agreed in Minsk 2 was “Ukrainian.” The real independence of Ukraine is very doubtful. The highly unusual (and as I understand it technically illegal) financial support of Kyiv on extraordinarily favorable terms seems to me to be more like subsidizing the war. The IMF is notorious for squeezing blood from stone, not its generosity. It is also highly doubtful that Ukraine is meaningfully free. Zelensky campaigned on a peace platform, but defied the will of the people as quickly as possible. He broached nuclear rearmament of Ukraine and was preparing a major resumption of fighting in late 2021, too. This doesn’t seem like a free country to me.

Further on a personal note, I firmly believe that incorporating fascists in the military and police is not abolishing fascism, but fascizing the state. No, I believe it is entirely false to call Ukraine “free.”

No, I will not bother to make the obligatory attack on Putin. I will observe that I don’t believe Putin is a sincere anti-fascist *because Putin had not problem with the coup in 2014.* Putin’s anti-Communism is not something I admire.

Ken BUTCHER

Upvoted, but I am sure that Putin absolutely had a problem in 2104 with the violent overthrow of Ukrainian democracy and the new regime’s decision to make war on those who had voted for the overthrown government. However he is supremely analytical and realistic, and realised that Russia at that time was not strong enough to withstand the economic warfare that would have come from the West had he militarily intervened to support the democratic forces. Putin’s great advantage over Western leaders is his ability to over-ride the temptation to let emotions determine actions directly. He works to put his country into a position where it can act on the appropriate aims with a good chance of success and over-all benefit.

Steven Johnson

It’s flattering to be upvoted and it feels ungracious to quibble. But most people deny that there was a coup in 2014, that the fascists were the cutting edge of the coup, and most of all, they claim that Putin *did* invade Ukraine, as if the Russian naval base wasn’t already there. Just today I saw a fairly recent tweet from the popular history blogger Brett Devereaux falsifying the events. (And even that Putin invaded Georgia, rather than counterattacking!) Devereaux is a professional historian.

And rather than admit that the Ukrainian army fell apart, with part of the ethnic Russian/Russian-language speaker officer corps and ranks forming the core of the Donetsk and Lugansk militias which have since fought against a civil war against the hostile regime in Kyiv, the claim is that secret armies of Russian magically invaded and created a resistance army! (Kharkhov nearly went with Donetsk and Lugansk. The massacre at the Odessa Trades Union Building—which is a delight for the democratic supporters of Ukrainian fascism, rather than a moral issue—seems to have been effective in suppressing resistance there.)

But what was Putin’s real role, as opposed to these fictions about invasion? He immediately recognized the coup government. The objection that Putin recognized Russia was too weak face sanctions forgets that holding the Crimea plebiscite in fact triggered the first round of sanctions. So no, if Putin was playing eleven dimensional chess, he surely knew the US would never accept the loss of an opportunity to move into the Black Sea (potentially into the Caucasus and beyond, to Central Asia, by the way.) As Talleyrand said of executing the duc d’Enghien, it was worse than a crime…

And whatever limited assistance Putin may have provided to the Ukrainian dissidents in the army who founded the Donetsk and Lugansk governments, every indication is that he exacted the price that they not take the offensive against the fascists. Every indication to my eyes is that Putin has repeatedly attempted to negotiate, including accepting the deceits of Minsk 2. The divided commands, the limited forces suggest to me that even last year Putin was hoping to bring the US to the bargaining table. Putin is sober Yeltsin, that’s all, I think, not some principled genius.

Allan Groves

Very sobering. If more had this estimate we might have been more willing to provide our best weapons.

Nathan A

It will be impossible to know the true scale of civilian deaths in areas currently under Russian occupation until after the war. During early days of the invasion, it’s likely 10s of thousands were killed in places like Mariupol, possibly into the hundreds of thousands altogether. So, it’s important to differentiate civilian vs military deaths, and I would expect a large # of total Ukrainiana killed at the beginning, and tapering off now as better equipment for the troops and anti-aircraft defenses have arrived for protection of cities.

Dennis

In End Times, Turchin relates that Jack Goldstone found that wars tend to occur after population expansion. However, in this case, I thought Russia’s population was declining. I don’t know about Ukraine. Of course, one can argue that such historical tendencies are not definitive, and individual players (like Putin) can go against the current. But on the other hand, Putin is a product of his context, so we’re back to Goldstone’s supposed historical tendency, which doesn’t seem to hold here.

skyzyks

What is the purpose of the OL model and others like it? Casualty estimation obviously. But to what purpose? In wars of attrition, shouldn’t the focus be on military age populations in the respective combatants? Of all resources, this is the most fundamental. Exhaust that one and a combatant society cannot continue. Is there a general rule of thumb that sets an upper limit of military aged losses beyond which a society’s ability to continue in a conflict seriously degrades? The reasons for that degradation would be many but such a general limit very likely exists and lies well short of 100%. Where are the respective combatants in this conflict with respect to that limit?

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Roger

Peter Turchin asked, “can we use these ideas, models, and data (as best as we know them) to make projections on the future course of the war?”
I’m not qualified to answer that, so I’ll make a few observations and then ask a couple of questions. 
In 1991, the USSR fell (or started falling) to the apparent surprise of the West.
In 2003, a “coalition of the willing” (and perhaps misled) invaded Iraq to rid it of weapons of mass destruction, institute “regime change,” and begin a decades-long military campaign. 
In 2020, a pandemic began and the CDC and mainstream media asserted the most likely cause was zoonotic spillover and failed to investigate the lab-leak theory in a timely fashion. 
For those of you with the skills to determine whether it’s possible to determine the course of the conflict in Ukraine using the heterodox ideas, models and data Turchin outlined, will you answer that question? And if the answer is yes, will you try?

Steve H

None of these examples fit the OL model, which is a simple model of deaths.

Your first two examples are of coalitions which collapsed after decades. It takes a lot of energy to hold these large cooperative units together. I still haven’t seen a complete enough model. I suspect Dr Turchin would balance between internal stability and level of external threat.

Dmytro

What’s wrong with Gen. Syrskyi saying that Bakhmut will be taken? He explains his words in detail: https://www.pravda.com.ua/eng/news/2023/07/20/7412129/

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