Ukraine War: Is it being fought akin to WWII, big armies facing each other? Or is it being fought akin to Vietnam, insurgents endlessly harassing the invader?

Title kinda says it all.

I thought Ukraine had a decent military but I have yet to see anything like big armies squaring off and having a slugfest (ala Kursk…granted that was bigger than most battles).

Are jets dogfighting? Are big tank battles happening? Where are Ukraine’s tanks?

Or is Ukraine only fighting as insurgents?

I have never read of the Ukrainian military going mano-y-mano with the Russians in a major battle.

It’s being fought like the 1939-1940 Winter War between Finland and the Soviets.

The Soviets incompetently threw massive amounts of personnel and equipment at the Finns, who slaughtered them extravagantly, but the Finns were still forced to capitulate because the Soviets could still outlast them.

Ukraine is fighting a war of attrition that it can never win. They think that if they hold off long enough, and kill enough Russian soldiers, Russia will cut a deal, and perhaps Ukraine will lose Donbas and Crimea, but for the most part it will remain an independent country. The West is betting on that happening.

If Ukraine was to line up all their assets and throw everything they had at the attacking Russian army they might win a battle but would lose the war. Russia has infinitely more resources than Ukraine has, so Ukraine is attacking in small numbers in very strategic places in hopes to force Russia to take greater losses than they are willing to take. I wouldn’t call it guerrilla warfare, the military is using heavy weapons and taking out tanks and planes.

It’s hard to know if their strategy is working, but it’s the best they can do without NATO willing to step in and directly fight Russia, which is unlikely to ever happen. The big question is when will Russia sit down and make a deal, if ever.

Another comparison would be the South in the first part of the Civil War. Ukraine is fighting on their own territory and has better leadership and more motivated troops. Russia, although better equipped, is poorly organized with troops that have no particular interest in fighting a long war.

May 9th is Victory Day for Russia. Still being at war then would be a major blow to Putin. Cutting a deal and declaring victory for then would be a major win for Putin.

My bet is that his current plan is to reach a position where Ukraine cede the eastern corridor from Russia to the Crimea (and the Crimea) before the 9th. He will claim that this was his entire plan from the start.

If Ukraine can hold on past then, it may become a very different problem. I’m sure this is folded into the defence plans.

The comparison with the Winter War only works if Putin really has Stalin’s totalitarian level of control

When one side is being resupplied by a number of wealthy countries, and the other side is facing economic warfare by those same countries, the idea of a war of attrition takes on a whole new meaning.

Russia CANNOT replace its losses soon enough to make any difference. Ukraine can, and is.

I think a number of people are missing a point - when Austin slapped down Goetz in congressional hearings, he made the point - why do you think the Ukrainians have lasted so much longer an done so much better than predicted? Because the west is feeding them replacement weapons and advanced weapons. We see plenty of evidence the Russians are not up to fighting Stingers or Javelins.

The problem too is that neither side is in a position to rebuild what equipment they lose in time to make a difference. The advantage is that the Ukrainians are drawing on much of NATO and especially the USA - to the point that Putin has flailed about with threats about the resupply process.

The one valid point is that the one thing the west cannot replace is manpower, so the Ukrainians have to run a harassing war and avoid any full frontal battles where they trade casualties. When you’re down men in chess, you avoid a trading game.

So the question will be - can the Russians maintain a front against a harassing force? It didn’t work well around Kyiv. The huge morale difference will make (has made) all the difference in this war. For their supposedly bottomless supplies, it appears in terms of manpower and equipment the Russians may already be scraping the bottom of the barrel. A lot of their nominal force levels are just that - nominal.

That’s assuming that Ukraine’s principal target will be the Russian troops in the Southeast. They’ve got all summer to play hide and seek all over mainland Russia.

As Bootb said, it’s probably the other way around - Ukraine is the side that has 15 million men of fighting age and is being supplied by weapons that can destroy materiel much costlier ($30,000 NLAW missiles destroying $3 million Russian tanks.) If NATO and America keep supplying fuel, food and weapons, there’s no way Russia can keep up.

What you are describing is called a “pitched battle,” and it is essentially a thing of the past. Mechanized mobility, asymmetry in opposing forces, and the ability to rapidly insert air power have combined to disrupt the old-fashioned model in which a large army is marched in formation to meet another structured army head-on. Modern warfare is almost entirely fought in what has traditionally been labeled as “irregular” combat, which invites the question about whether it should still be considered irregular if it’s the new normal.

They do have a decent military which is why they aren’t facing off Russia in a pitched battle. The Ukrainians are making very effective use of their manpower and resources which is why they’re holding off or even pushing back the Russians.

Being resupplied by NATO also helps the Ukrainians immensely.

For the most part, no. Russia is not using a lot of air power because the Ukrainians have demonstrated an ability to shoot aircraft out of the air.

No. Partly because Russia was inept in moving their tanks early on which has resulted in quite a few being destroyed, and the “mud season” is not conducive to major tank battles.

They’re out there - but often they’ll be shooting from cover. There’s a video out there of a Ukrainian tank “hiding” behind a house shooting at Russian tanks as they drive by on a nearby road, leading to much confusion among the Russians because, at least initially, they didn’t know where the projectiles were coming from.

The Russians are rolling tanks in convoys miles long to project an image of power and strength. The Ukrainians have tanks, but are using them in a different manner.

You’re not likely to. “Mano a mano” is to some extent a thing of the past, and because of the asymmetry of hardware and manpower it’s not a good strategy for Ukraine. Hence they’re fighting in a different manner. This may be frustrating to the Russians who clearly showed up expecting pitched battles.

The fact that the average tank convoy is inept about determining where fire is coming from suggests possibly these are a significant proportion short term recruits with not a lot of training or experience. Plus they travel in “miles long convoys” because of the aforementioned “mud season”. They stick to the roads. I assume there is a dearth of 4-lane blacktop expressways in Ukraine, especially leading to Belarus or Russia. At least the tanks are spread out miles long so in the event of an attack, the turret from one tank does not land on the turret of the adjacent tank.

The thing mentioned during the initial invasion was that the offense needs a significant manpower and equipment advantage over the defenders - which worked to Ukraine’s advantage at first, but when they try to dislodge the Russians may work against them. OTOH, the Russians basically have to defend a huge long front while the Ukrainian military can pick their attack points at random and pick off the Russians, rather than resorting to pitched battles. Slow attrition works - they aren’t the ones trying to finish by May 9th.

What is the expectation should Russia be able to overpower and occupy the Donbas? At that point, would you expect some sort of settlement, with the parties agreeing to a new Russia/Ukraine border? Or will hostilities - and sanctions - continue indefinitely. If the latter, what will the form of the hostilities be? Will Ukraine forces launch harassing incursions? Or will they largely rely on strikes from a distance against military targets, transport and production in Donbas (and/or Russia)?

With Putin starting to harass in the west of Ukraine, if he gains control of the east, I suspect he will try to blackmail a treaty. No treaty giving Russia the land corridor and the Crimea, and he will just keep shelling random Ukraine cities until they give in.
This is a simple thug minded tactic. It won’t necessarily work. He is betting that NATO will never intervene and that even with continual resupply, Ukraine will just get worn down. Clearly this is his only hope. Whether NATO have the stomach to avoid such an endgame is the big question.

Sanctions are a simple question of economics. Putin is betting that at least some nations will drop sanctions as soon as major hostilities end because they are worried about lack of energy. Germany being the obvious one. But one doubts he has thought much through. It isn’t as if he planned to be in this situation. Again, staying on track is key for NATO.

Does Putin even care?

He wouldn’t be the first dictator to run his country into the ground in favor of keeping power. Putin will never experience a moment’s hardship from any of this.

Some commentators have suggested that Putin wants to be the great saviour of Russia and return it to the power it once wielded in the USSR days. He is 70. He could have lived out his days in unimaginable luxury still ruling the nation. But he chose to embark on this adventure. He has enemies within the state. No dictator ever holds ultimate power. There is always a breaking point. And he is probably enough of a student of history to know that the most trusted are often the ones to turn when things go bad. A major economic downturn will not go down well. This isn’t North Korea. Nor is Putin Stalin. (Personally I suspect that Kim du jour knows full well that he lives by the grace of the military who suffer him as a useful and pliant head of state.) Putin is not bulletproof, and recent times have proven that he is not as smart as either he thinks he is, or many in west thought he was.

It will be the Orthodox Easter this weekend. Putin has always turned up for mass. It has been pointed out to me that it will be telling what happens this year. It would not surprise me if there was not a special mass put on just for him, given how paranoid he may feel in the open. But it is a big deal in Russia, and Putin needs to be seen.

That’s the only part of what you say that has actually dictated how recent wars have been fought. We haven’t really seen any actual near-peer mechanized warfare in what… half a century, since the Israelis and Arabs or the Indians and Pakistanis last went at it?

Everything else has either been super-lopsided pitched battles (Gulf War and Invasion of Iraq) or asymmetrical conflicts (both Afghanistan conflicts, Iraq occupation, etc…)

And really this one is no different; Ukraine is severely outnumbered versus the Russians, so they’ve adopted what seems to me to be a classic Fabian strategy where they avoid pitched/set-piece battles, and instead harass the enemy/wear them down/attack their logistics. That’s nothing new either; the Fabian strategy is named after the Roman general Fabius Cunctator (“Fabius the delayer”) who originated this strategy versus Hannibal in the Second Punic War.

But if the US and Russia were to go at it, it would be more like 1944 than anything else we’ve seen.

First point - we think of North Korea and other dictatorships as being run by a an all-powerful leader who snaps his fingers to get things done. In fact, every dictator is forever watching for dissent in the ranks, the possibility that someone may have the urge to knock them off. Kim du Jour most likely was not worried about his odd brother - but about some faction in his government offing him and using the brother as a convenient prop (“Another Kim offspring is now running the country”). Someone does not have to be a threat to be a threat.

Putin remembers a time when the USSR did not have to listen to the West or rely on the Western economy, and presumably this is how he thinks of sanctions - they will learn to live without the West. The question is, what will the later generations of Russians think of this?

I assume the question will be - how willing are the Ukrainians to carry on the fight? My impression was the breakaway Donbas existed because the Ukrainians were careful not to escalate the fight too much for fear of Russian intervention. I assume that is no longer a restriction on the level of attack now, and so recovering (securing) all territory will be the objective. They are certainly going to be riled up over the damage already inflicted. As mentioned in another thread, I suspect reparations to rebuild the country will be required for any peace treaty, so the Russians will not agree until they have no choice.

The Russians will find themselves with a tenuous grip on an area constantly under threat along a broad front. They will be subject to regular attrition until, like Afghanistan, they no longer consider the effort worth the cost. Unlike Afghanistan, the weapons against them will be more technical and more numerous. I see a bright future for switchblade drones - take out a random gun placement or checkpoint or moving unarmoured vehicle or parked aircraft accurately from miles away. NATO can produce these things in quantity far easier than the Russians can.

A de facto ceasefire is unlikely - but even so, if Russia ceases hostilities and withdraws to its borders, Ukraine will then be free to fully resupply and rebuild defenses unmolested, which will make the next go-around even harder for Putin. After all, half his initial success was a complacent belief by many that he would be crazy to try to invade. Unfortunately, this has proven to be true.

Probably the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988) where several mechanized offensives and counteroffensives punctuated long periods of WWI style trench standoffs.