Andrius Kubilius. 2024 And Beyond: A Rationally Optimistic War Scenario

2024-01-17 |

The year 2023 ended in Lithuania with  apocalyptic predictions that everything is bad – Ukraine is losing, it does not know how to fight, Russia is winning and will soon come to us, and the West is betraying us all. And we are the only ones who know how to do everything, but nobody listens to us.

I am hyperbolizing a bit, but the end of the year sounded like this…

We are not special – in today’s world of instant global communication and rapid change, it is common for societies to swing from a wave of over-optimism to a black pit of pessimism very quickly.

HOW CAN WE OVERCOME OUR PESSIMISM AND STOP THE KREMLIN ENJOYING IT?

We have to admit that at the beginning of last year, many of us were hoping for a quick victory for Ukraine, and when we did not get it, we were tempted, without thinking too much, to compete to see who could paint a blacker and more desperate scenario for the future. In the darkness of the long winter nights, pessimism becomes a new dangerous pandemic, because our and all the West’s disbelief in the possibility of a different outcome, of the victory of Ukraine eventually leads very quickly to the Kremlin’s longed-for mood of “fatigue” and “acceptance of reality” in our midst. Obviously, if this mood is allowed to prevail, Ukraine will receive even less support from the West.

So, it is worth answering a simple question for ourselves: if the Kremlin benefits from our emotional pessimism and apocalyptic predictions, is it really wise for us to indulge in such black pessimism indiscriminately and to encourage it even more ourselves?

The desire not to succumb to global pessimism does not mean that we do not need to see what is happening on the ground: Ukraine’s war against the Russian invasion has entered a new phase in which there are no immediate victories for Ukraine in liberating its territory. The war may last longer than we expected a year ago. However, this also does not mean that Russia’s victory in this war is imminent.

In order to overcome our own pessimistic pandemic, we must first of all realize that the only inoculation that can protect us from such a pandemic is not the fountain of over-optimistic sentiment that opposes general pessimism, but only a much deeper rational analysis, based on facts, figures, and reason (but not on emotion). Meanwhile, we are still not used to such analyses, even after becoming a frontier state. It is about time…

It is worth starting such a rational analysis with simple, basic questions: firstly, about the political will of the West, and secondly, about the material capacity of the West to realize this political will.

DOES THE WEST WANT RUSSIA TO WIN THE WAR?

The first question in this series of questions is quite primitive: why has Ukraine, which is supported by a West that is dozens of times richer than Russia, not yet won the war, and why is this war turning into a continuing conflict?

I provided a numerical answer to this question a good month ago in my text “On the Reality of War”: despite the fact that the West is economically much stronger than Russia, Russia has spent more than EUR100 billion on financing the war in 2023, while Ukraine, with all the support of the EU and the US, has mobilized only EUR80 billion. Ukraine spent 25% of its GDP on the war effort, Russia almost 6%, while EU military aid amounted to only 0.075% of its total GDP. Thus, on the front line, the West’s economic advantage has not yet been seen, and therefore Ukraine is so far receiving only the kind of support from the West that allows it to remain undefeated, but is not enough to achieve victory.

This raises a second simple question: if the West does not support Ukraine to the extent that Ukraine can win, is it possible that the West, on whose support Ukraine’s ability to win this war depends, want Russia to win this war?

I do not have the capacity to delve into the depths of the thinking of the leaders of the democratic world, especially the leaders of Western Europe, but I do not see any rational argument why they should want and seek to see Russia win this war. On the contrary, the fears of Western leaders that a Russian victory over Ukraine would only mean that in a few years’ time, Russia would turn its aggression against one of the NATO countries – Finland, Estonia, or Lithuania – are becoming more frequent in public discourse. My personal hunch is that an increasing number of Western leaders now similarly see the danger of a “peace under Putin”, in which Ukraine would be forced to give up part of its territory, which would only mean a victory for Putin and the prospect of imminent future aggression.

It is likely that some Western leaders are wary of the prospect of a quick and crushing victory for Ukraine, either because they fear that the Kremlin would respond with an unpredictable escalation of its aggression, or because they fear that such a Ukrainian victory would result in the collapse of the Putin regime and the frightening uncertainty of who will take over the Kremlin after Putin. However, such fears, even if they exist, cannot explain why the West should want a Russian victory.

This leads to the rational conclusion that there are no Western leaders who want Russia to win this war. There is no logical argument as to why a Russian victory, followed by a new wave of Russian aggression, would be of any benefit to the West. And since the West is also likely to be increasingly aware that a Russian victory would probably mean an inevitable increase in Chinese aggressiveness against the “weak” West and Taiwan too, this makes it even less likely that anyone in the West would think that a Russian victory in Ukraine would be of any benefit to the West.

Some might say that the West, even if it perceives that a Russian victory in Ukraine is not only disadvantageous to it but even highly threatening to them, may remain indifferent to the fate of Ukraine. But those who would think so, would be assuming that Western leaders are simply unwise, and that the only wise people in the entire Western world are us. Such an assumption on our part would say nothing good about our own wisdom.

The answers to the first two basic questions lead to a simple conclusion about the political will of the West: there is no indication that the West wants Russia to win this war; however, the West’s support for Ukraine until now has enabled Ukraine only not to lose, but not to win the war.

FROM SUPPORT FROM WAREHOUSES TO SUPPORT FROM MILITARY INDUSTRY FACTORIES

Having concluded that the lack of Western support for Ukraine is not due to a lack of political will, the third rational question is whether the West is materially capable of providing greater military support to Ukraine at this time. That is, is the West currently capable of providing Ukraine with more artillery shells, long-range missiles, air defense systems, modern tanks, fighter jets, and drones?

We must recognize a simple truth: during the first years of the war, many Western countries, including Lithuania, provided Ukraine as their military support with what they had stockpiled in their warehouses. As the second year of the war draws to a close, such stocks in the West (and in Lithuania) are running out. Meanwhile, the production capacity of the military industry throughout the Western world, while beginning to grow, is still not sufficient to meet the needs for a Ukrainian victory. The reasons why Russia, even in an environment of sanctions, has managed to put its economy on the warpath; why Russia’s ally North Korea has managed to supply Russia with 1 million artillery shells in one month; and why the European Union is still not able to produce and supply Ukraine with the same amount of artillery shells it promised, namely 1 million artillery shells – that is a subject for a separate discussion. But it is obvious that this is the core problem of the war: the capacity of the Western military industry, which has only just begun to be mobilized for the needs of the war in Ukraine, is still not able to meet those needs in full.

As stated in a recent valuable analytical, strategic text published by the Estonian Ministry of Defence, “Setting Transatlantic Defence up for Success: A Military Strategy for Ukraine’s Victory and Russia’s Defeat”: in order for Ukraine to maintain its 155 mm caliber artillery superiority over Russia’s artillery capabilities, Ukraine needs a minimum of 200,000 artillery shells per month (2.4 million shells per year). This rate of consumption of artillery shells threatens to exhaust the stockpiles of such artillery shells in both EU and US warehouses by 2024. However, Estonian experts argue that the West can increase its artillery shell production capacity by 2025 to fully meet at least Ukraine’s minimum military needs. At the end of 2023, EU companies were producing about 50,000 artillery shells per month, which is about twice as many as they were able to produce at the beginning of the year. The US currently produces 28,000 shells per month, which is also twice as much as it was able to produce at the beginning of 2023.

The US plans to increase its production capacity to 100,000 shells per month by the end of 2025, while the European Union’s production of artillery shells needs to be increased by an additional 140% by the end of 2025 to meet Ukraine’s minimum needs. However, it is worth knowing that Russia plans to produce and deploy 3.5 million artillery shells this year (2023) (which is 3 times the production of the previous year), and plans to produce 4.5 million artillery shells in 2024. Therefore, the most important task for the West today is, first of all, to realize that the war cannot be won if the projected production of artillery shells in the West is almost two times less than the projected figures for Russia. And for the West to be able to close this gap urgently requires a common Western strategy, not just plans by individual NATO countries to slightly increase their production.

This leads to the conclusion that problems on the Ukrainian front are not due to a lack of Western strategic political will to support Ukraine’s victory, nor to a lack of Western financial resources to support Ukraine’s victory, but to a simple deficit in the capacity of the Western military industry. This is an economic issue for the West, not a political or strategic one. It is rooted in the West’s long-held belief that there will be no war with Russia and that there is no need to prepare for such a war in advance, thus negating the need to develop its military industry. This problem is gradually being overcome if the political will and financial resources needed to overcome it become available in the West.

This situation mirrors the one faced by the collectively democratic West on the eve of the Second World War when only Churchill, from the beginning of the 1930s after Hitler came to power in Germany, was worriedly proclaiming that Hitler was rapidly increasing the capacity of the German military industry. Meanwhile, Britain and the other Western democracies did not heed Churchill’s warnings, they naïvely hoped that peace could be negotiated with Hitler, and were virtually unconcerned about their own military-industrial capacity. As a result, Hitler had clear military superiority at the start of World War II, and it was not until the war began that Britain and the US gradually managed to catch up and eventually overtake the pace of Germany’s military industry.

Today, the Western democracies are only beginning to develop their military-industrial capabilities, belatedly, after the war has started. The rapid expansion of the military-industrial capacity of the democratic Western Alliance at the outbreak of World War II did not happen overnight. The same thing is happening now. This is the main reason why the West’s support for Ukraine is so far only enough to enable Ukraine not to lose, but not yet enough for Ukraine to win.

2024 – STRATEGIC DEFENCE. VICTORY – 2026?

Is the lag of the Western military industry behind the needs of the war in Ukraine surmountable? The same Estonian experts, in their strategic analysis, provide rational figures on how many and what other weapons (not only artillery shells) Ukraine will need to exceed Russia’s capabilities: from artillery “tubes” to long-range GMLRS, ATACAMS, Storm Shadow, SCALP, or Taurus missiles. Increasing their production capacity to the required volumes would not seem to be out of reach in the coming years. The same applies to the production of drones or the tactical training of a larger number of Ukrainian troops in the West. All such Ukrainian needs are easy to calculate, not difficult to quantify financially, and the West is fully capable of realizing them in the coming years. But physically it cannot happen tomorrow: for the West to be able to supply Ukraine with more weapons than it was able to supply at the beginning of the war from its own warehouses requires that the capacity of the Western war industry grows very rapidly, at least several times over.

The same experts, therefore, calculate that Ukraine will have to live through 2024 with a level of Western support that will be insufficient to achieve victory, and that Ukraine may have to switch to strategic defense as a result. By 2025, however, the rapidly growing Western military industry will have reached a level of production that will allow it to accumulate and provide Ukraine with enough support to achieve victory in 2026.

I realize that such an attempt to take a rational look at the prospect of war may not convince everyone of its rational optimism. And especially when that rational and constructive optimism is formulated not by someone else, but by our neighbors, the Estonians (although when I found the analytical document cited on the website of the Estonian Ministry of Defence, I became jealous that it was not published by Lithuanians). We are easily swayed by emotions, but wars are won (and lost) not by emotions, but by material numbers: the economic strength of the belligerents, the volume of their military-industrial production and the number of weapons supplied, as well as the finances devoted to it. And of course, we must not forget the number of troops mobilized.

Again, the same experts say that if the Ukrainian armed forces were able to destroy (counting those killed or seriously wounded) at least 50,000 Russian troops in each six-month period, Russia, with its mobilization and recruit training capabilities,

would not be able to regenerate its human military resources (I would guess, based on the information available in the public domain, that the Ukrainian armed forces are currently capable of far exceeding this indicator). For its part, the West can easily increase the quantity and quality of training of Ukrainian troops, given that 100,000 Ukrainian troops have been trained in the West so far, at a cost of only around EUR 350 million.

WILL WE FORM A “0.25% GDP” COALITION IN SUPPORT OF UKRAINE?

And finally, once again about money. And about us.

At the very beginning of this text, I reminded that in 2023, Russia has spent EUR 100 billion on the war, while Ukraine, with all the military support from the EU and the US, has spent only EUR 80 billion. That is why the front has stalled. As it turned out, the West was unable to provide significantly more material military support because the stocks in the warehouses have run out and new military production is growing more slowly than desired at this stage.

In this text, I have discussed expert estimates of the levels of arms production needed in the West to provide Ukraine with sufficient supplies to achieve victory. However, it is clear that new financial resources are also needed for the West to grow new arms’ production capacity. As has already been written, this year total EU military aid (provided by the EU institutions and all EU Member States) amounted to only 0.075% of the EU’s GDP. The US has given a little more to Ukraine, with military aid amounting to 0.10% of US GDP in 2023. But in any case, it is clear that in financial terms such Western military support to Ukraine is insufficient to achieve victory.

One of the problems that has become evident during these two years of war is that the level of military support to Ukraine varies considerably from country to country: during these two years, Lithuania and Estonia’s military support to Ukraine has exceeded 1.2% of their respective GDPs; Norway is not far behind with 0.79% of Norway’s GDP, and Germany’s growing support has reached 0.43% of Germany’s GDP, while France’s support is still only 0.02% of its GDP.

This situation needs to be changed. One way is the one proposed by the Estonian experts already quoted above: the countries of the transatlantic alliance should commit themselves to provide military support of at least 0.25% of their national GDP each year, which would generate around three times the current level of Western military support to Ukraine (EUR120 billion instead of the current EUR40 billion). This would be enough for Ukraine to win and for Russia to lose.

And finally: more on the prospects for Lithuanian military support to Ukraine.

As already mentioned, Lithuania’s military support to Ukraine in the two years since the start of the war amounts to 1.2% of Lithuania’s GDP (the second highest among NATO countries), i.e., about EUR760 million since the start of the war or EUR380 million (0.6% of GDP) in one year of the war. However, it is worth noting that Lithuania’s currently officially approved programme of assistance to Ukraine foresees that such assistance will amount to only EUR200 million over the next three years, i.e., about EUR67 million per year or about 0.1% of GDP. This level of planned Lithuanian assistance to Ukraine is clearly insufficient. Our strategic task, not only in terms of Ukraine’s security but also in terms of our own and Europe’s security, is not only to think about how to support Ukraine bilaterally, but also about how to set a good example of support for Ukraine to other Western countries, and about how to build, if not a coalition of the 1%, then at least a coalition of the 0.25%, so that we can jointly persuade the laggards.

The problem with our support to Ukraine is the same as for many other countries – we have given away all the military stocks we have accumulated over the two years of the war, which we do not really need at the moment, therefore our level of support has been exceptionally high. But today we have nothing left in our warehouses that we can give to Ukraine. And we do not have much of a defense industry of our own in which we could invest further and produce what Ukraine needs. Therefore, in seeking grounds for rational optimism about the West’s support for Ukraine and Ukraine’s victory in 2026, let us first of all deal rationally with the prospects for our support for Ukraine. Our declarations of solidarity, our calls for the West to increase its support for Ukraine and our apocalyptic lamentations that the West is probably betraying Ukraine will certainly not be enough. In war, victories are not achieved by declarations of solidarity from allies, but by the abundance of material support they provide.

PUTIN WILL NOT WIN

Rational analysis clearly demonstrates that Putin has no chance of winning this war. Because, as Putin himself complains, Russia is now at war in Ukraine with the whole Western world. Putin did not expect this when he launched the war against Ukraine. And the West’s total economic potential is more than 25 times greater than Russia’s entire economy. This will eventually become apparent in this confrontation between the West and Russia, which Putin himself “asked for”. It will be felt, among other things, on the war front in Ukraine. But it will take time for the West’s economic advantage to be transformed into an advantage in arms production. The West needs not only a “defense NATO” but also a “weapons production NATO”. And that depends on us.

Rational optimism is made by “doing”. I wish to engage in that “doing”…

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