The Russo-Ukrainian War is still a limited war

It may not feel that way to a lot of the participants, but the Russo-Ukrainian War is still a limited war. It is not like WWI or WWII and is not likely the opening shots in WWIII. It is a limited war over limited territorial objectives. For Ukraine, it is nominally a war for national survival, but it is not for Russia.

The economic commitment of two sides is limited. In 2023, Russia committed only 4.1% of its economy to defense spending. I gather it is now about 7% for 2024. Ukraine in 2023 was committing a stated 37% to defense. In a full scale war you would expect to see 25% or more. For the Ukrainian allies, it is a lot less. In all cases, their percent of aid to Ukraine is less than 1% (Estonia provided 1.4% of its GDP in 2022). In most cases, it is well less than 1%. Their actual total defense spending of our NATO allies varies between 1.2 and 3%, with the U.S. spending 3.47% on defense in 2022. The latest U.S. aid package of $61 billion was 0.2 percent of our economy (our GDP is almost 29 Trillion). To put it in dollars and sense terms, if your income was $60,000 a year, it would be like contributing $127 to Ukraine.

And then there is mobilization. The Russian Armed Forces are 1,320,000 or 0.9% of their population of 146 million. The Ukrainian Armed Forces are 1,250,000+ or 3.7% of their population of 33 million. These are not particularly high mobilization figures for Russia and not maximized mobilization for Ukraine. For example, Ukraine is not drafting people under 25. I remember we were sending a lot of 18-year olds to Vietnam (and my older brother did get his draft number). For the record, the U.S. Armed Forces is 1,328,000 or 0.4% of our population of 334 million.

Now the actual size of the forces deployed forward are much smaller. We are estimating 450-617K for the Russians and 300-400K for the Ukrainians.

Although it was clear that the Russian objectives in 2022 were to eliminate Zelenskyy and occupy Kyiv, they have considerably reduced their objectives (thanks to failure of their operations in 2022 and the stiff defense put up by the Ukrainians). Now their objectives are four provinces (Lugansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson) in addition to continuing to hold onto Crimea and Sevastopol. Of those four provinces, Russian currently controls almost all of one and the majority of the territory in the other three. It does not control the capital city or the majority of the population in two of those three provinces. It claims all four and have officially annexed them. Russia has stated that turning over control of these four provinces are the conditions for peace. It will be a while before we see peace there.

Finally, losses are not at WWI and WWII levels. Ukrainian combat killed is at least 30,000 and probably at least twice that.  Russian killed is at least 60,000 and probably higher. Ukrainian civilian deaths are at least 10,000 and probably higher. Total military deaths in WWI were over 9 million. Total military deaths killed in WWII was over 24 million and civilian deaths maybe 49 million. Total killed in Korea was 2-3 million of which 33,686 were U.S. killed and 7,586 were U.S. missing (almost certainly all were killed). Total killed in the Vietnam War was 1 to 2 million, of which 58,281 were U.S. killed and 1,584 are still missing in action. These last two are considered limited wars. 

So yes, the Russo-Ukrainian War is a limited war. It is also a war of national survival for Ukraine, for if they negotiate at a loss (i.e. surrender Lugansk or Donetsk provinces, or conduct a cease fire in place), then there is a high probability that this will not be the last Russo-Ukrainian War. 

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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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2 Comments

  1. C.A.L: …For Ukraine, it is nominally a war for national survival, but it is not for Russia….
    And then there is mobilization… The Ukrainian Armed Forces are 1,250,000+ or 3.7% of their population of 33 million. These are not particularly high mobilization figures for Russia and not maximized mobilization for Ukraine. For example, Ukraine is not drafting people under 25….

    -When was the last time a nation fought a war of national survival without drafting 18-25 year olds? India in WWII?

  2. Chris, while not being drafted, are men (and some women) of age 18-24 volunteering to fight? I suspect that the parents are having the government be protective of their young adult children (having them go to college or work the fields), but it might be that the government sees the older folks as the ones who need greater inducement (by way of the draft) to fight for their country. Do you have any stats on that?

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