The War of Attrition: time does not heal, time simply covers up


For the Ukrainian side, an ongoing war of attrition will lead to frustration within the country and “criticism” about how the war is conducted, “making leadership changes more likely”

It is unclear if the document is referring to leadership changes in a political or military context. Zelensky remains broadly popular in Ukraine, but tensions exist between his office and Gen. Valery Zaluzhny, head of Ukraine’s armed forces, whom some in Kyiv view as a political threat.

The grinding war between Ukraine and Russia is expected to bleed into 2024 with neither side securing victory yet both refusing to negotiate an end to the conflict, according to a Defense Intelligence Agency assessment that is among the highly sensitive U.S. government materials leaked online and obtained by The Washington Post. 

A stalemate also will result in Ukraine enacting the “full mobilization” of its remaining eligible population, the document predicts, sending more young men to the front lines. At the same time, Ukraine probably will intensify its reliance on strikes in Russian territory, the document says, a dynamic that has disquieted some U.S. officials fearful that such attacks could compel President Vladimir Putin to escalate the conflict or give China cause to begin providing lethal support to Russia. 

For the Russian side, the stalemate will force Moscow to employ “degraded reserves due to dwindling combat power,” the document says. The Kremlin also is likely to “accelerate” efforts to integrate captured territories into Russia. 

In the event that Russia deals a significant blow against Ukraine and captures more territory, Moscow is likely to “posture forces to achieve further objectives, such as regime change” in Ukraine.

In the scenario in which Ukraine gains a decisive advantage, however, U.S. intelligence believes that Kyiv is likely to “conduct riskier offensive operations for additional gains.” In response, Russia could be expected to increase nonconventional attacks on Ukraine, though, importantly, nuclear use remains unlikely.

The stalemate it describes as the most likely scenario by year’s send may not hold if there are “substantive improvements to Ukrainian or Russian military capabilities.” 

Both sides are preparing for fighting to escalate as warmer weather arrives, though officials in Kyiv and personnel on the war’s front lines have complained about logistical backlogs responsible for slowing promised deliveries of Western arms. 

All the while, what remains very consistent in the Biden administration’s position on Ukraine is its deep skepticism about peace negotiations. Publicly, neither Russia nor Ukraine has ruled out negotiations, but their demands are leagues apart.

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