Michael Kofman: Is the Ukraine War headed for stalemate?
The military analyst on the risks and rewards of Western intervention
Since Germany’s Olaf Scholz made an abrupt u-turn on sending Leopard tanks to Ukraine, the question of Western involvement in the conflict has returned to the headlines. As soon as the German Chancellor announced that he would approve the delivery of tanks, calls rose from Ukrainian officials for air support in the form of fighter jets to bolster these ground weapons. US President Joe Biden has since ruled out sending F-16 jets to Ukraine, but some military analysts consider the gradual increase in armament to be inevitable.
But with further global intervention, Russia is repeatedly warning of the risk of nuclear escalation. Could a stalemate between the two militaries actually prove to be the safest outcome?
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Michael Kofman is the Director of the Russia Studies Program at the Center for Naval Analyses and a Fellow of the Center for a New American Security. He joined UnHerd’s Freddie Sayers to give an update on the situation on the ground in Ukraine and debate the risks and benefits of pursuing an ‘all-out’ victory against Russia.
What difference will the tanks sent by the West actually make in Ukraine?
It’s not necessarily just the qualitative advantage of Western infantry fighting vehicles over Soviet ones. If you’re not using them well or not using them the way they’re meant to be, the technological advantage won’t get you there […] The folks that think this is all going to get there in time for a Ukraine spring offensive are incorrect. Most of the equipment and the training to be able to use it is likely going to show up later in the spring and may make a real impact more towards the summer.
Will F-16 fighter jets be the next addition to Ukraine’s call for armaments?
Eventually, Ukraine will probably have to switch to some kind of Western-produced aircraft. It’s just a matter of when and whether it should be right now or not. […] But I would definitely put F16s much lower down the list of priorities. I find that the things that folks are talking about are the big shiny items. But none of these things are going to make that big of a difference in the war relative to the aggregate weight of other things being done.
Are we focusing on the wrong details by zeroing in on tanks and fighter jets?
The media’s expectations are often wildly outside of the way this war has been progressing. This is a long war, it’s going to be a protracted war. The media often drives momentum narratives, and has high expectations over things that just don’t match the reality on the ground.
Are there Western soldiers in Ukraine, unofficially training Ukrainian soldiers?
If they are, they’re probably British. I think the likelihood of that is very high.
Will Ukraine push to retake Crimea?
There is one point where this war is not going to end. Its February 23rd lines, where it began. That is quite clear. It’s neither a viable political boundary nor a geographical boundary nor any sort of boundary. Nor can you picture the Ukrainian President basically getting to February 23rd lines, which are minimum interim goals and saying: ‘all right, we should talk about a settlement for the rest of this territory rather than trying to retake it’.
Is escalation with support from Western powers pushing us closer to a nuclear event?
Russian political leadership believe catastrophic defeat in Ukraine has regime implications for themselves, because they fully committed to this war as of September. Do they see that as a worse outcome than the potential risk of using nuclear weapons and all the costs that come with them? That’s the right conversation to have.
In a protracted war, who has the advantage?
Ukraine has significant advantages. And most importantly, it’s backed by a coalition of states with basically a massive defence industrial capacity. But that only speaks to potential and spreadsheets don’t fight […] In terms of manpower quality, over time Ukraine may have a real issue; hence, I raise training as something that really needs to be scaled up rather than the conversations about which German tank to send.
Is this war going to become a waiting game for the West?
If at any point Western countries really let their foot off the gas, to use a colloquialism, it could very rapidly result in stalemate.
Thanks to Michael Kofman for his time.
Well… a Ukrainian Think Tank expert on Russian Military…..giving the story on a Ukrainian War……Well, we know Youtube will object with nothing he has said.
When asked if Ukraine takes the Donbas will they then be able to take Crimea – he replied:
‘That would be a Brilliant problem to have, I hope we get there’.
Several other times he used the collective ‘We‘ when talking of Ukraine, and was very much talking of this as being his war too. To me I saw this come out in the entire position of his talk.
Personally I say get Colonel Douglas MacGregor to give the flip side story – it is Much more compelling, but is anti war (As I have been from the start because it is an evil war and Biden/Boris had no business in turning it into WWIII) I would tell people interested in other sides to watch ‘Redacted News’ on Rumble – this is their main story always, Redacted are a weird thing, and quite problematic, and really do not know all that much – but still – they give the other side. The side which says feeding this war is evil and Peace at ALL costs is the only answer.
Kofman told a big fib as well, one which I think should be the big story, but is not allowed to be fully talked of. Kofman said there can be no treaty as Russia will not offer a viable Deal. Come on you cannot say that… First Biden forbade a deal and sent his mini-me there twice when a deal was possible – to squash it.
I have heard Putin give his deal, Donbas independent and assure Ukraine will not be part of the EU, nor NATO, and Crimea is Russian. Sounds like a deal 1000000000 X better than this evil war – which is crashing the global economy, is bringing on a global famine, and will contribute to billions going from poverty to Abject Poverty as the problems ripple out around the world stronger. Not to mention 10,000,000, ten million, Ukrainians have fled to Europe and Russia, and 250,000 Ukrainians dead of disabled. And EU is deindustilazing and going bankrupt, as is UK over it. The remaining population In Ukraine is 19,000,000, not near enough to keep fighting, or to rebuild Ukraine, according to MacGreggor –
AND here is the thing – when it comes time to rebuild – no one will pay for it – those outside will likely not come back if they find something viable – more will leave the wreckage. It reminds me of the Punic Wars where Rome tore down Carthage and all its empire stone by stone, killed all the people, and salted the lands…. Only is is not Russia and Ukraine doing it – but Biden, Boris, and Zalenski.
I continue on another post, Part II
Er, this article is about assessing where this war is going, not trying to get a “gotcha.”
Quite a few analysts on the Allied side in WW2 also used “we” when they predicted an allied victory.
Turned out they were right.
Kofman is an analyst. One of the few who predicted Putin would invade. You are certainly welcome to consult the “caring anti-war” side who got things wrong, instead of the people who got things right about Ukraine.
But don’t claim they are more reliable than Kofman.
Does Sweden and Finland applying to join NATO not tell you something?
It makes me shudder!
NATO controls the Baltic completely.
Another gift of Putin’s genius.
Spot on analysis. As you mention Redacted or McGreggor provide a far better overview than this guy. Also very good economic analysis by a chap called Mark Sleboda describing this as a war between capital and commodities.
Oh, it is you again playing Russian propaganda songs on your one string balalajka ….
No serious experts on Western side ever predicted quick and painless victory.
Many, quite rightly, said that there was a window last summer and early autumn when giving Ukraine more help would result in more territory recovered from invaders.
Obviously due to usual suspects like Germany and France it never happened.
I never heard from anyone supporting Russian position, why Russian success in Ukraine would be beneficial to the West?
Defeat of Russian imperialism is definitely in West interest.
Even taking much narrower and cynical perspective, what is not to like about Ukraine destroying Russian military assets?
If they want to fight then help them to do it.
It is cheaper and less painfull to let them do it than asking Baltic States and Poland to do it.
Unless you think that Russia should just carry out further looting, rapes and genocide?
Great interview by one of the few analysts who predicted this war.
But I can’t see Russia attaining any further gains in this war unless Putin begins to draft his “hidden reserves” in the city. There simply aren’t that many rural guys who need to steal toilets as war booty.
I just read a good article arguing that the much feared Russian offensive of the “mobiks” has actually been going on for weeks. It’s just that Russia can’t get enough supplies to an one part of the front, so they have to attack in widely separated areas.
Stalin would have put 5 million men in the trenches by now. He would already have expended at least a million lives.
Unless “Vova” does the same, he’s going to lose.
Very interesting analyst (if a little hard to hear – it may be accent or mic issues). Good questions from Freddie.
To clarify on Crimea. I suspect what the analyst is hinting at is a Ukrainian strategy on Crimea that mirrors, on a larger scale, what they did in Kherson. They did not fight their way into Kherson. They cut it off from supply and therefore made the Russian military presence there untenable.
Ukraine will attempt to drive down from Zaporizhiya to Melitopol. That is a realistic objective. If they succeed at this and, as soon as the Rooskies finish repairing the Kerch Bridge, they blow it up again(!), Crimea will be completely cut off from resupply. (Check the map.) The Ukrainians will not literally starve the Crimean populace, but they will starve the Russian army there, and thence the Russians may have to reach a compromise re status.
First they have to get to Melitopol. As Kofman always caveats, that’s contingent on so many factors that we can’t predict which way it will go. But agreed, they will probably try.
OK – I would have asked this guy a very different set of questions.
1) What is the Point of this war? Why is Putin doing it, why is Zalenski having Ukraine destroying its self and its people and the world to avoid a treaty – one they may not like, but better than death and destruction. In other words – why is Biden/Boris doing this?
2) Is this an intentional Stale Mate? It would seem so. There are many reasons to think this stalemate is a desired outcome so far. Who blew up the Pipeline, and why is Germany Industry dismantling and moving to USA for cheap and reliable energy? What about the 26 fertilizer manufacturing plants in Europe shut down because no gas as feed-stock? (Evin the fertilizer plant in New Zealand shut – crazy stuff is afoot – Russia and Ukraine are the worlds biggest fertilizer suppliers – not now) Why is USA supplying expensive gas – and Qtar more so, to Europe LNG – way more than just Russian gas through a pipeline – is it worth wrecking the European economy over which flag flies over Donbas? Or is it something else??
3) How much $ to rebuild? What will Ukraine be once re-built? In this day of collapsing demographics, will Ukrainians stay 40,000,000 forty Million? or end up 25,000,000? They have the worst demographics in the region already. Who will pay the $ One Trillion $$ to rebuild? I know Blackrock and Blackwater are there like pigs looking for a trough.
4) as 7% of European gas goes through Azerbaijan, and the war with Armenia is looking scary, and you know Erdogan is going to get up to stuff – all the pipelines go through Turkey – Is there another Black Swan circling – Has this war created a situation where there is NO buffering in the system so a Black Swan Event will tip us all into global Depression? In other words can the world tolerate this destabilization at this precarious time (post covid insanity) Is this war a lot like Serbia and WWI?
5) what is so bad about a treaty – that Donbas become independent? India did it, tons of countries did it. Why is Peace not the FIRST thing on Every mind? The world is walking a knife edge – this war is insane, It is destroying the global economy and destabilizing everything. Is it worth wrecking the world over Donbas staying Ukrainian and that they can join NATO?
6) What if Biden gives F-16s and long range bombs, and some advisors on the ground so Putin blows up some Atlantic undersea cables and a couple Super Tankers get blown up in the Straits of Malacca and the entire global economy stops completely? You talk of battlefield nukes – lots worse than that can happen – just with simple explosives – Why drive the bear into a corner and then just keep poking him? Is this evil war worth destroying the world? Billions could die if the supply and economy breaks – and this could do it.
‘Or is it something else??’
Have you read about the ‘multi polar’ world? America is shifting its supply chains away from the east it seems, I think we are looking at a breaking of the existing globalised world order that was dominated by America, into regional power blocs maybe. For many reasons, America and the East not getting on, supply chain crisis from covid etc. If you search for global trends report 2040, it discusses the geopolitical situations likely by 2040, one is ‘separate silos’.
I agree the situation is increasingly complex, there seems to be a fair few proxy wars going on at the moment all over the place, like you say many black swans a circling. Nukes are not the main worry either, I agree, it’s the supply chain chaos, sanctions on energy, fertiliser shortage etc that perhaps should be worrying about more. Especially if the US and China end up fighting over Taiwan. I do think maybe it would be wise to take a step back at this point and decide whether breaking all this up is worth the consequences. Maybe russia and China are intent on breaking the old order now anyway?
Invading a sovereign country twice pretty much proves someone doesn’t care about the int’l order.
Probably never did.
calling a US puppet a ‘sovereign country’ is very nice, but still an exaggeration.
Was it a “puppet” before, or only after 2014?
And those puppets seem to fight a lot harder than the Russians.
So perhaps Russia is even less of a ‘sovereign country’?
You should highlight (5) of Elliot Bjorn;s submission. It is the only logical way forward, benefiting every nation – including Ukraine, which is being destroyed for largely political and economic advantage as stated in (2).
Perhaps, I’m not sure as it being the only logical way forward. While the peace proposal is a good one, logical and I think well worth considering, we also have consider the other side that if China and Russia are working together to break with the west, they aren’t likely to be too kind about it. A major factor to consider is whether the east west break is being driven by America, or by Russia and China or all involved now. Another is what are their intentions in doing so. What is their vision of a future world order? There’s a lot to think about if you see what I mean before we say that’s the only way forward. There’s a lot going on. I think it’s worth seriously considering peace, but we also have to accept it may not be our choice, it may not be an option now. It depends on Russia and Chinas attitude as much as it does ours.
Because it is blatant lie which Russian stooges on here keep repeating.
There was Ukrainian independence referendum in 1991 and Donbass and Luhansk voted over 80% to be part of Ukraine.
Even Crimea voted 54% for it.
Idea that surrendering to Russia would benefit Ukraine is just a sick joke.
People argue the same when appeasing Hitler.
Please tell us how well it worked out?
Please tell us as well why successful aggressor like Putin would stop there?
Historical precedence shows otherwise.
Putin’s invasion was a “Black Swan event” that changed everything.
You just have to accept that the good times of 1991-2022 (that very much resembled the 1920s) are over.
All those Post-Modern dreams and aspirations died the death on 24 Feb. This is 1915, or 1940.
Just get used to it, and try to figure out where we go from here. Unlike Realists like Mearsheimer, learn from history–and so become realistic.
Are you still here? You, Mr logan, are not here for sensible conversation, you have proved that over and over again. I doubt, from the quality of your previous posts, you are capable of the intelligence to contemplate the very big and complicated world of geopolitics. Please forgive me, but you are not worth engaging with.
IOW, you can’t think of a good reply.
What if Ukraine suffers a catastrophic defeat? Will the US use nuclear weapons to stop Russia?
Understand that in Western war-games, it is regularly NATO that first uses nuclear weapons, and regularly “tactical nukes”, in the vain hope that would not lead to an escalation. Russian conventional missiles are powerful enough that Russia does not need to resort to tactical nukes, they offer no military advantage.
Actually, Russian doctrine makes no difference between tactical non-nuclear weapons and tactical nuclear weapons.
Which has always been the worry in NATO.
Actually it is Russian doctrine of “nuclear deescalation” with tactical nukes.
In their military exercises with code “Zapad” they often used nuclear attack on Warsaw to “win” the war.
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