With the close of the year, it is once again time to reconsider the prospects for the end of the war. The major change, compared to our earlier analysis, is the elevated pace of Russian casualties. During November and December, the Russians lost just shy of 1,000 men per day, according to the official Ukrainian count. This is a spectacular pace of loss and, if continued, could shorten the war by as much as a year.

The length of wars is determined by a number of factors. These include the belligerents' economic and military capabilities, as well as their ability to maintain political cohesion.  Military deaths are a key factor in the public's willingness to sustain a conflict. Prior wars can therefore provide some insight into the limits of, in this case, Russian perseverance.

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The current Russo-Ukrainian war already qualifies as the fourth deadliest external conflict in Russian history. The third is the Crimean War (1853-1856), which lasted 900 days and cost the Russians 450,000 dead in a losing effort. At the recent pace of Russian losses, the current conflict will move into third place before Easter.

It is worth noting, however, that the population of the 1850s Russian Empire was approximately half of its current level. Therefore, adjusted for population, Russian eliminations would need to rise to 900,000 for the current conflict to qualify as third worst of all time and, by historical precedent, induce Russian capitulation.

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Two years on into the full-scale war launched against it by Russia, Ukraine, helped by its Western supporters, remains determined to persevere and win.

At the lower limit, Moscow might plausibly face meaningful public resistance around 650,000 Russian military deaths, about twice the current number and half again as much as from the Crimean War of 1853.

This view is based on three factors. First, deaths are simply more visible today, even with the various censorship programs employed by the Russian government. Second, Russia is for all that a marginally more civilized country than it was in the 1800s, and the public's tolerance may be accordingly less. Third, and most importantly, this war is entirely discretionary for Russia. 

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Unlike World War I, which saw massive losses of Russian territory, including Finland, Poland, the Baltics and Bessarabia (largely today's Moldova), Russia is facing no territorial losses compared to the pre-war era. Further, no fighting is occurring on Russian soil, and no one has attacked Russia. The war poses no existential threat to Russia as did, for example, the German invasion during World War II. St. Petersburg is not under siege, no one has sacked Moscow, and there is no house-to-house, to-the-death fighting in Stalingrad (Volgograd today). Thus, the Kremlin must justify 650,000 deaths for what was supposed to be a mere three-day, special military operation entirely of Putin's choosing. 

Russia's Achilles heel is exactly the low stakes of the conflict. Putin could order the troops home tomorrow, and Russia would be no worse off than in 2014, a time when Russia was actually seeing something of a renaissance.

At the current pace, Russian losses will reach 650,000 dead by late 2024. If this proves to represent a threshold of public tolerance, the war could end at that time. The next stop is one million Russian dead, which could be expected by autumn 2025 at the current rate of eliminations. 

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If the war extends so far, it will have lasted as long as World War I for Russia, and the media will routinely compare the conflict to the Great War, which saw 1.8 million Russian military killed (1.5 million adjusted for Russia's current population). Although Putin claims Russia will fight for five years, the Russian public found the losses of World War I intolerable and overthrew their government. If Russia continues to lose 1,000 soldiers every day, Russia will likely concede the war before the end of 2025.

For Americans, there are some important takeaways. 

First, this is a major war.  It will rank third in all of Russia's bloody history by the time the tulips bloom this spring.  This is not some minor conflict in a faraway country, but a major European conflict requiring substantial determination and commitment.

Second, this is not a forever war.  It will be resolved in some fashion within two years if hostilities remain at their current pitch.

Finally, independence is worth a very large number of Ukrainian lives. The outcome of this war will likely determine the fate of Ukraine and Europe for the next century, just as the defeat of the Ukrainian struggle for independence in 1917 determined Ukraine's narrative until the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. The Bolshevik defeat of Ukraine's republic set the stage for the Holodomor, which claimed up to 5 million Ukrainian lives, and presaged the Soviet domination of Eastern Europe for a half century. 

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The Ukrainians need to decide what independence is worth. If I compare it to Hungary, from which my family fled in the closing days of World War II, we would have gladly fought and thought losses of two percent of the population worth it if Hungary could have retained its independence in 1945 or regained it in 1956.  That equates to nearly one million Ukrainians, and at the current rate of exchange, 3-5 million Russians. 

If it is worth the price to Ukrainians, the Russians will lose, as long as Ukraine's allies stand beside it.

Steven Kopits heads Princeton Policy Advisors. A strategic management consultant and investment banker, he writes frequently on policy topics for a variety of publications, including Foreign Policy and The National Interest, and is a regular contributor to CNBC and The Hill.

This article is reprinted from Princeton Policy Blog. See the original here.

The views expressed in this opinion article are the author’s and not necessarily those of Kyiv Post.                                   

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Comments (7)

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pootie is a nutjob
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russia should have been stopped when they first invaded crimea in 2014 ,Ukraine will take back all their land no matter how long it takes them or who helps them,Ukraine will allways find a way,they are a very fierce fighting force,pootie boy will face the full force of the Ukraine soldiers

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pootie is a nutjob
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its beyond me why Ukraine is still stuck in this position,especially when they are also protecting Europe,they need to pull their fingers out of their buttholes and send the right gear to Ukraine and stop playing politics with this

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Paolo
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Can I just say I think it's disgusting how many European countries have regarded ukraine as a trivial matter, and France are surely the worst offenders.
Surely it's in everyone's interest to end this in 2024,
Give ukraine the f16s for air superiority
Give ukraine the long/ short range missiles they need
Give them the air defences, 155mm shells etc
Stop fucking around.

Markus scott
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@Paolo,

Markus  Scott
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Markus scott

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victotryisukraines
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if someone comes to steal your land and your people would any country put up the white flag and say lets do a piece deal,you are in fairyland if you think that,Ukraine is under constant russian attack,would pootin say lets do a peace deal if moscow came under attack,i think not all invaders must be defeated,would america say lets do peace if russia tried to steal their land?would europe call for peace if russia invaded,keep dreaming in your fairyland

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victotryisukraines
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remind the world,pootin illegaly invaded Ukraine to try and steal Ukraines land and wealth,pootie has no chance of taking over Ukraine,his 3 day war failed badly,Ukraine will win this war,russia economy will fail,pootie will fall,Ukraine was never a threat to russia,pootin got greedy and tried to steal Ukraine,now Ukraine is pooties worst nightmare,russia is off to sit in the naughty corner for sometime to come

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Imokru2
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Drivel. Horse hockey. Horse Puckey.

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Stefan
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One problem with this analays. While I in general agree with the statement "Military deaths are a key factor in the public's willingness to sustain a conflict", the past year has shown that in this conflict the factor "military deaths" on russian side is irrelevant.
Militiary deaths only matter if they are "valuable" assets. But in the current state of the conflict, what are they? Conscripts, contract soldiers scaped from the bottom of the barrel (those who see military service as their only chance of income) and in general, individuals recruited from ethnicities which the russian leaders consider "not valuable".
If they die, nobody cares. They'll be replaced, the supply is huge. And the general public is glad all the convicts etc. are gone.
I see the limiting factor in equipment. Russia is burning through tanks, IFVs and artillery in an alarming rate. Let's help Ukraine with that. Send over all those Bradleys and fire up the production lines for artillery shells (which we should have done a year ago) so the Ukraine kann smash the armor at a higher pace. Let's reduce the russion army to foot soldiers and finish them off with clusters.

Mps_707
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Markus scott
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Good comment , but actually Russia has only about 8 million 20 to 30 year old men, and around 1 million have already gone , killed or fled to avoid conscription. Many others are students and exempt, they may well run short

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