I realized something yesterday. Many news outlets and analysts liken the fighting in Ukraine since the fall of 2021 to WWI, but not many (I am especially looking at you analysis types) try to explain why that is. I have been thinking about quite a lot in the last couple of weeks, the analysis angle, I mean. I think it simply comes down to the fact that a lot of commenters are afraid to admit that there is no current solution to the attritional stalemate in Ukraine, any more than there was a solution to the attritional stalemate on the Western front from the end of the Race to the Sea in October 1914 until the spring of 1918 when the Archangel offensives returned maneuver to the battlefield.
We all need to admit that the Russo-Ukraine War has reached an attritional stalemate. I am not even certain that massive donations of Western equipment to Ukraine will offset the defensive advantage of current military technology. To get an idea of the stalemate just look at the interactive map maintained by the Institute for the Study of war at: https://storymaps.arcgis.com/stories/36a7f6a6f5a9448496de641cf64bd375. Since the Ukraine breakthrough and exploitation in the fall of 2022 the front has largely stabilized. Even the much ballyhooed fall of Bakhmut in the summer of this year has not dramatically changed the shape of the battlefield, nor has the Ukrainian counter-offensive that began in July and looks more like the Somme in 1916 than it does the Hundred Day of 1918. What we are seeing by both sides are marginal tactical advances that impart no strategic value to the either side. In fact, you could argue that all the fall of Bakhmut to the Russian or the Ukrainian counter-offensive have done is impart weakness to the fronts of both by creating salients that are ripe for exploitation if one side or the other cracks the code of breakthrough.
The big question is; why the stalemate? The answer is both deceptively simple and fiendishly complex at the same time.
The simple answer is that quite obviously defensive technology, doctrine, and techniques are more powerful than offense.
The fiendishly complex part is to extrapolate the why from the simple answer. On the face of it the growth of ATGM’s, drones, GPS guided munitions, and long range rocket artillery rocket artillery are not earth shattering developments and all these systems have been around for decades making constant incremental improvements. I actually don’t think it’s the technology that has made the difference and brought about stalemate. What has caused the current stalemate is a combination of the efficient use of new technology combined with a revival of the kind of defensive techniques that have not really been used since the WWII/Korean War era. These defensive techniques and doctrines have not been used because there has not really been a war between two peer regimes.
The defensive system the Russians built up behind the front while the world and apparently Ukraine was concentrated on the siege of Bakhmut hark back to the defensive belts around Kursk in 1943. It is a defense in depth that actually works even though it is manpower intensive. In some ways the defensive belt is just a larger purpose built version of the devastation on the Western front.
I would guess that absent some doctrinal development or the introduction of a new technology the stalemate will continue until one side or the other bleeds the other white or an outside power gets involved on either side. Geopolitically, we are all living in interesting times.