So Is Russia going to actually attack Ukraine?

Based upon on the buzz lately in the news and comments by some Western politicians, it appears that is only a question of when, not if, that Russia is going to attack Ukraine. Yet, Russia is saying they are not going to attack. So… who is right?

It still doesn’t look to me like they are going to attack. This opinion is not based upon any inside knowledge or deep understanding of the situation. I only know what I read in the news. But a few things get my attention:

Force Ratios: First of all, Russia has amassed a 100K+ troops along the border, plus some forces are in a training exercise in Belarus. I gather the actual figure is on the low side of 100,000, vice being near 200,000. On the other hand, the Ukrainian Army, before mobilization is almost 200,000. So, is Russia really massing so it can attack while outnumbered?

Now, there are a few other factors in what is not that simple of a comparison. First of all, Russia can move more troops into the area(s) of interest on short notice. So that buildup of 100K+ could quickly turn into 300K+. If Russia had more than 300K troops in the area, I would become very concerned. But right now, they do not.

Weather: People are making noise like something will happen in February. It is freakin’ cold at that time of year. There is snow on the ground. Do they really want to attack then? I would wait until after the spring thaw, like the Germans did in 1941, 1942 and 1943, when you have a nice long summer for your campaign.

Warning: Surprise is a nice force multiplier. I have a chapter on the subject in my book War by Numbers. It is now no surprise if an attack comes. Furthermore, they even lack strategic surprise, so Ukraine has been able to lobby for more aid and has received more weapons. Why would Russia help their potential adversary get prepared, which is what has happened over the last couple of months? Ukraine is receiving weaponry and support that is probably would not have otherwise received. So, did Russia really choose to give Ukraine 2-3 months of warning to prepare before they attack them? This seems counter-intuitive.

Again, I go back to my original post, which is here:

Russian Invasions | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org)

I may be proven wrong come February and Russia suddenly comes swarming across the border to take the rest of “New Russia,” to take Kharkov (the second largest city in Ukraine) and to cross the Pripet marshes and Chernobyl/Pripyat area to threaten Kiev, but right now, I am not sure this is the real scenario.

I still think the threats are part of a larger negotiation strategy (although I don’t rule out that the Russia government has simply made a mistake).

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Christopher A. Lawrence
Christopher A. Lawrence

Christopher A. Lawrence is a professional historian and military analyst. He is the Executive Director and President of The Dupuy Institute, an organization dedicated to scholarly research and objective analysis of historical data related to armed conflict and the resolution of armed conflict. The Dupuy Institute provides independent, historically-based analyses of lessons learned from modern military experience.
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Mr. Lawrence was the program manager for the Ardennes Campaign Simulation Data Base, the Kursk Data Base, the Modern Insurgency Spread Sheets and for a number of other smaller combat data bases. He has participated in casualty estimation studies (including estimates for Bosnia and Iraq) and studies of air campaign modeling, enemy prisoner of war capture rates, medium weight armor, urban warfare, situational awareness, counterinsurgency and other subjects for the U.S. Army, the Defense Department, the Joint Staff and the U.S. Air Force. He has also directed a number of studies related to the military impact of banning antipersonnel mines for the Joint Staff, Los Alamos National Laboratories and the Vietnam Veterans of American Foundation.
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His published works include papers and monographs for the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment and the Vietnam Veterans of American Foundation, in addition to over 40 articles written for limited-distribution newsletters and over 60 analytical reports prepared for the Defense Department. He is the author of Kursk: The Battle of Prokhorovka (Aberdeen Books, Sheridan, CO., 2015), America’s Modern Wars: Understanding Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam (Casemate Publishers, Philadelphia & Oxford, 2015), War by Numbers: Understanding Conventional Combat (Potomac Books, Lincoln, NE., 2017) , The Battle of Prokhorovka (Stackpole Books, Guilford, CT., 2019), The Battle for Kyiv (Frontline Books, Yorkshire, UK, 2023), Aces at Kursk (Air World, Yorkshire, UK, 2024), Hunting Falcon: The Story of WWI German Ace Hans-Joachim Buddecke (Air World, Yorkshire, UK, 2024) and The Siege of Mariupol (Frontline Books, Yorkshire, UK, 2024).
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Mr. Lawrence lives in northern Virginia, near Washington, D.C., with his wife and son.

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11 Comments

  1. As far as weather goes, isn’t Ukraine’s winter relatively mild compared to Russia’s? There’s also the region’s yearly mid-winter ‘warm spell’ which raises the temp enough to thaw the snow and turn Ukraine’s black earth into black mud. This usually occurs in Feb, [but sometimes earlier or later] for 2 weeks before returning to cold for one last period before spring.
    It was this warm spell in which made the German armored relief of Korsun in 1944 so slow and difficult. The mud was bad that year, that rumors began to circulate among German troops that a panzer column leading the 20-kilometer relief drive on a muddy road could only move one kilometer the first day. So they struggled along, all through that night. But in the morning, the tanks were no longer on the road and couldn’t be found. It was finally realized that during the night, all of the panzers and their crews had been swallowed whole by the bottomless mud, and have never been found.

    Not really. I made it up.

  2. Are the Russians big believers in force ratios?

    You have posted a number of times about how the 3:1 rule is highly problematic.

    I don’t see a few planeloads of anti-tank missiles going to far. The WSJ has been posting articles about Germany’s dependence on Russian fossil fuels. I assume someone is pushing those stories.

    Taking back over (as they might view it) areas that are poorer than you are is just an absolute economic drain. I suspect the Russians have seen this with Crimea.

  3. “Taking back over (as they might view it) areas that are poorer than you are is just an absolute economic drain. I suspect the Russians have seen this with Crimea.”

    That was always my issue: Russia is an economic power a little bit stronger than Italy, to occupy parts of a poorer country generates a long term economic problem on top of a possible military one (insurgency).

    The cynic in me hopes for an occupation, it would facilitate some political decisions in Europe esp. Germany.

    “I don’t see a few planeloads of anti-tank missiles going to far. The WSJ has been posting articles about Germany’s dependence on Russian fossil fuels.”

    Are there still AT missiles left in Germany?

    The whole affair locks for me like a stunt gone wrong: Russia wanted to extract concessions or even expected a change of government in Ukraine, now they can choose between an occupation to look strong and pay a high economic price or terminate the operation and look weak.

  4. The Prime Minister of Ukraine was reported this morning as saying that Russia was not in a position to invade given its troop levels. He was also amused at the German offer of 5,000 helmets.

  5. I also heard the US commander of NATO forces say in a radio interview that he thought the Russian build up was very fast. The Russians can move troops quickly he thought. So things could change at short notice. At present it seems more like a poker game.

  6. It seems to be a matter of Great Power rivalry similar to the environment in Europe just prior to WW !. In that case there was a background network of treaties that created two opposing sides and heightened the paranoia. The trigger event was the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand by Bosnian Serb terrorists. The over reaction by Bulgaria, Serbia, Russia, Austria-Hungary, France and Germany led to that event culminated in WW 1.

    Currently there are two opposing sets of alliances in the form of the Warsaw Pact and NATO with a background of confrontation and paranoia during the Cold War. The question is whether the Ukrainian confrontation will cause some trigger event (e.g. a shooting incident and/or economic crisis due to the cancellation of the Russia-European gas pipeline) that will be poorly handled by the current Great Powers and lead to a more general and disastrous war.

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