Predicting the future in a war is a fool’s errand. So many things can happen to change the situation on the ground that even a few days of almost random occurrences can undermine the basis for a prediction. But general principles can be used to guess what is likely to happen if the difference in strength between the two sides is lopsided enough. So let me be foolish.
My first assumption is that Biden won’t risk military intervention. He won’t declare a no-fly zone and he won’t shelter an openly operating insurgent force in a NATO country. I think Biden is truly afraid of Putin. Even the embargo against Russian oil and gas is probably more risk than he’s comfortable with. Bottom line, I don’t think he’ll step into the war because he believes that Putin would as a last resort use nuclear weapons if the West interferes on the Ukraine battlefield.
The Russians have fought several wars in the last thirty years. Some larger, some smaller. The most difficult one was the Chechen insurgency. Initially when the Russians attempted to occupy Chechnya the Chechens fought a brutal guerilla war that the Russians basically lost. But in the second phase of the war the Russians figured out how to deal with guerilla fighters. They surrounded them and then reduced the cities to rubble without engaging. This limited the Russian casualties but increased Chechen civilian casualties. I think that’s what they intend to do with the Ukrainian militias. They’ll empty the cities of anyone who wants to get out and then starve the fighters out or blast them out. This will tear the Ukraine to pieces and make it more likely that the Ukraine government will surrender. But it’s not just the government that counts. Even if the Ukraine government surrenders guerilla fighters could extend the war indefinitely.
I guess the biggest unknown is just how committed the militia fighters are. The Chechens were fearless and full of hate. We’re about to find out what these Ukrainian militiamen are all about. If they’re like the Chechens this thing won’t be over for years. And that may exhaust the Russians ability to sustain the war while the West maintains sanctions and provides material aid. If that happens Putin may decide to do something drastic and that could be disastrous for everyone including us.
But if the militias aren’t prepared to fight for every square inch of ground, then this thing will be over in a matter of months. The Russians will be methodical and brutal. They’ll reduce the cities to rubble and reclaim the country piece by piece until the militias have to surrender. Putin has decided what he wants done and he will go about it in a determined fashion. When the Ukrainian government surrenders, Putin will tie them up in a peace treaty to keep the West at arm’s length.
So that’s my read. The only variable that matters at all is the fire in the rebels. If they’re willing to fight to the death, they can hold up the war long enough to exhaust the Russians’ patience and resources. If not, then the Russians will win. It’s as simple as that.