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This article assesses the role and understanding of war’s most inflexible factor— time—and its associated pressures and advantages in the Russo-Ukrainian War. While there seems to be no consensus on who might prevail (and of course the elements of what constitutes victory itself can vary), the passage of time—frequently understood in military terms as endurance and exhaustion—is a useful framework to assess the direction of the war, relative advantage at various stages, who may ultimately prevail, and under what conditions that may be possible. Although timetables and schedules have played an enormous role in military history, there appears to be no systematic assessment of the role of time in relation to strategy and victory in the Russo-Ukrainian war. This article sets out the fill that gap through a systematic comparison of time’s passing and time pressures facing the combatants. Keywords Russia, Ukraine, Russo-Ukrainian war, NATO, Vladimir Putin King’s College London, England U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, USA College of Arts and Sciences, Indiana Wesleyan University, Marion, USA Corresponding Author: David V. Gioe, King’s College London, London WC2R 2LS, UK. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org 2 Armed Forces & Society 00(0) In mid-November 2022, the United States Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, opined that victory in Ukraine “is maybe not achievable through military means, and therefore you need to turn to other means,” noting that a possible slowdown of fighting during the winter months provides “an opportunity here, a window of opportunity for negotiation” (Ward et al., 2022). This drew much criticism from other observers and the Ukrainians themselves, who clearly have momentum and morale on their side and going into the winter. Milley’s assessment suggested that neither side has a dominant position and, when subsequently clarify- ing his remarks, Milley stated that “Russia right now is on its back. The Russian mili- tary is suffering tremendously. You want to negotiate at a time when you’re at strength and your opponent is at weakness” (Demirjian, 2022). Calibrating the right time to negotiate, or to press a military advantage, is a key question in war. Although Ukraine has the momentum as of late 2022, both sides face considerable time pressures that must be considered in their theories of victory. Working with, within—and against—time has always been a feature of strategy in war. The Russia– Ukraine war is no different. Yet, combatant, allied, and external perceptions (and exploitation) of time has been underexplored in any sort of systematic parallel by observers of this war. This is counterintuitive since timing considerations were rele- vant from even before the invasion. Indeed, the Russian invasion was carefully cali- brated with specific dates and seasons in mind; for instance, the Russians waited to invade Ukraine until after the Beijing Olympics (Wong & Barnes, 2022), but before the spring thaws turned Ukraine’s hard ground to mud. Furthermore, the entire Russian strategy was shaped by the Kremlin’s understanding of the role of time; or, more specifically, what could be achieved by its military within a certain amount of time. Russian victory was (erroneously) predicated on a short, sharp invasion that would collapse the government of President Volodymyr Zelensky. Russian President Vladimir Putin figured Ukraine was vulnerable and Kyiv would fall in days (McCausland, 2022). Despite the early sense of doom from many observers—includ- ing the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) director (Lillis & Bertrand, 2022)— the Ukrainians defied the odds. They successfully resisted the early Russian bid for Kyiv, halted Russian offensives in the South and East, and their recent counterof- fensive has the Russian military on its heels in the Donbas. With no end to hostilities on the horizon, it seems like an apposite time to assess the role and understanding of the unforgiving variable of time and its associated pres- sures and advantages in the conflict. As we consider the role time plays in this con- flict and where temporal advantages may exist, we note that many of the factors discussed herein are interrelated and any change to one could affect the others either directly or indirectly. While there seems to be no consensus on who might prevail (and of course the elements of what constitutes victory itself can vary), the passage of time—frequently understood in military terms as endurance and exhaustion—is a useful framework to assess the direction of the war, relative advantage at various stages, who may ultimately prevail, and under what conditions that may be possible. Gioe and Manganello 3 Military planners throughout the history of war have set timetables for when cer- tain objectives should be met, and sometimes they become hostages to their own timetables, such as the Germans were in 1914. As the historian AJP Taylor memora- bly put it, “The First World War had begun—imposed on the statesmen of Europe by railway timetables” (Derrick, 2011). Indeed, Germany mobilized its army under a plan that saw certain objectives achieved by certain dates planned out by the railways schedule. Germany was not alone in miscalculating time vis-à-vis their strategy for victory. All sides in that conflict felt the war would be over by Christmas with the right application of strategy and force (Hallifax, 2010). Just as often, however, those carefully constructed timetables are discarded when the initial plans run into cold military realities. The American plans to remake the greater Middle East by force, starting with Iraq in 2003, ran into such troubles when the war stopped unfolding as the Pentagon’s briefing slides envisioned (Ricks, 2007). As the old saw goes, the enemy gets a vote. At times, however, the inexorable changing of the seasons has more to do with determining the winner than any sort of martial prowess or decisive battle, a lesson learned by both Napoleon in 1812 and the Germans in 1941 when they invaded Russia and planned that they would conquer Moscow and secure vic- tory before their armies froze to death (Gompert et al., 2014). They were mistaken in thinking they could achieve their goals on the timeline envisioned and lost armies because of it. At times, however, time can be considered less of a pressure and more of an ally. Combatants can seek victory simply by surviving and running out the clock on their enemies (Carr & Walsh, 2022). This is especially true in counterinsurgencies and wars of national liberation where, usually, the indigenous forces can outlast invading forces. America was once the beneficiary of such a Fabian strategy under which General George Washington avoided decisive conflict in favor of preserving his army and waiting for the British to tire of the trouble and expense of the protracted war in the North American colonies (Weigley, 1973). However, once it became an overstretched superpower after the Second World War, America succumbed to the same strategies that it had successfully used to secure its independence 200 years before. America ran out of steam in Vietnam as the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) and the guerilla Viet Cong sapped American political will over a decade of mounting casualties and no clear progress (McAllister, 2010). Outlasting the Americans was the key to victory (Mueller, 1980). Likewise, the Taliban was another combatant whose theory of victory held that time was on its side in the conflict. Pursuing a “war of the flea” approach (Taber, 1965), if they could harness the passage of time, sur- vive, and be more patient than the Americans, the invaders would eventually tire of their quagmire in Afghanistan and leave the country to the Taliban (Kolenda, 2019). This proved the correct strategy. As reportedly observed by a captured Taliban fighter, “You have the watches. We have the time” (Yousafzai, 2011). National leaders and their generals who mistake the role of time in strategy for- mulation almost always regret it. As Putin is learning in Ukraine, the further a cam- paign deviates from the initial strategy (and hence force requirements, materiel, and 4 Armed Forces & Society 00(0) logistics), the greater the chances of catastrophe. In short, although timetables and schedules have played an enormous role in military history, there appears to be no systematic assessment of the role of time in relation to strategy and victory in the Russo-Ukrainian war. This article sets out the fill that gap. Although the Russians are farther from their initial strategy and campaign plan, it is not clear if time will be an ally for either side. As this article explores, time may be both an ally and an enemy for both belligerents, inviting a net comparison. As of late 2022, neither Moscow nor Kyiv are currently keen to seriously negotiate given the battlefield realities thus far. One reason may be that both sides feel that the battlefield tide will turn in their favor and that time is on their side. A political settlement at the end of hostilities is of course based on—and a reflection of—battlefield realities. Both sides want to achieve their objectives as quickly as possible; another way to view this is that they are both in a race against the unseen yet rigidly inflexible factor of time. Albeit operating under separate clocks, both combatants—and their support- ers to a lesser degree—feel the pressure of a ticking clock in some respects and confidence that time is on their side in other respects. This essay sets the Russian and Ukrainian clocks in contrast against one another and, in doing so, offers a novel way to assess which side may outlast the other in a war of exhaustion and endurance. Moscow’s Clock Moscow’s ticking clock involves a multitude of interrelated pressures that may cause Russia to run out of gas before Ukraine. At this stage, there is near universal accep- tance that the Russian “special military operation,” despite some early assessments to the contrary (Risen & Klippenstein, 2022), is poised on the precipice of collapse and that Putin will need to reevaluate the objectives for his misadventure in Ukraine if he is to have any hope of finding a palatable exit (Seffers, 2022). He shows no sign of doing so, perhaps believing that his clock is the favored one. However, failure to appreciate the realities of his own clock and course-correct in response could lead to Putin’s political—and quite possibly, literal—demise. There are several potentially lethal vectors of ruin for Putin to (re)consider. Military impotency, domestic eco- nomic decline, and the durability of Western cohesion are but a few of the chief concerns for Putin’s survival (Gioe & Styles, 2022). Military Performance Over Time Among the principal issues for Russia is the terrible performance of its military. One reason why the Russians fought so badly is because they were unaware of the kind of fight they were starting. One commentator observed that Russia made a strategic blunder by preparing for an occupation, not an invasion (Seffers, 2022), although it is unclear if Putin prepared for anything beyond wishful thinking. Russian combat losses throughout this campaign—some estimates place killed and wounded at nearly 100,000 troops—are unsustainable for the long term without a national mobilization Gioe and Manganello 5 (which would be fraught with political problems) and replenishment of modern weapons (impossible despite Iran’s recent support with one-way drones). To augment his forces in Ukraine, Putin reluctantly began a “partial mobilization” process in September, triggering an exodus of military-aged men (Lillis & Bertrand, 2022) and the most emboldened internal dissent of the conflict so far, to include shootings at military recruiting sites (Knight et al., 2022) and Russian-based hackers targeting the Russian government (Smart, 2022). Perhaps, this mobilization has bought Putin some time with conscripts arriving in Ukraine with almost no training and antediluvian weapons, but not a viable path toward achieving any of his stated goals. There are serious questions about how quickly new conscripts could be effec- tively deployed to the Ukrainian front (Fidler et al., 2022), but those who have been deployed ineffectively have already returned to Russia in body bags. Jeremy Fleming, the Director of the U.K.’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQs) recently observed that Russian forces are “exhausted” and Putin’s foundering mobi- lization efforts hint at a growing desperation (Suliman, 2022). Even if Putin could generate more manpower, Russian armed forces are quickly depleting their weapons of war, especially the higher-end precision guided muni- tions, and these cannot be called up from Russia’s regions like conscripts. Replenishing stocks of these weapons has ground to a near standstill as stiff sanc- tions have made acquiring the necessary microelectronic components all but impos- sible for Russian arms manufacturers (Liptak, 2022). There are even reports that arms manufacturers are raiding appliance and other non-military electronics for chips and circuits that might be repurposed for use in modern weapons (Nardelli et al., 2022). Russia may still possess a sizable arsenal of aging artillery, but a combina- tion of increasingly advanced Ukrainian offensive and counterbattery capability, tar- geting intelligence, and newly deployed air defensive systems will render Russia’s legacy arsenal far less effective. While the Ukrainians are receiving ever more (and higher-end) North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) supplied military hardware (Gould-Davies, 2022), Russia is not renewing its stockpiles at a sufficient rate. However, Russia may be able to call on its dwindling list of allies for help. Iran, for example, has provided drones to assist the Russian effort and North Korea has reportedly supplied artillery ammunition (Powell, 2022). These efforts are insufficient for Putin to think time is on his side from a military perspective. However, these developments have not pre- vented Putin from trying to spin things in his favor through disinformation, one of his preferred tactics. Quite a lot of propaganda has issued forth from social media and Russian state-controlled news, seeking to repackage the disastrous military realities so far as the result of a Western-inspired existential threat. Such efforts seem aimed at justifications of future escalation by Russian forces. For example, Putin’s lieuten- ants have parroted the baseless claims that Ukraine plans to carry out a dirty bomb attack. While not getting traction in the West (Barnes, 2022), this false narrative appears to be swaying opinion in Russia. However, as deft as Russia has been previ- ously in the malign information game, this tactic probably cannot add much time to 6 Armed Forces & Society 00(0) Russia’s clock because most Russians are unconvinced and Putin’s disinformation bubble continues to shrink by becoming less credible domestically and internationally. Russia’s Economic Clock Putin’s economic clock may be one that is running out of time the fastest. Russia’s economy officially entered a recession as the second and third quarters of 2022 each saw 4% contractions (Mosolova, 2022), and Russia’s Central Bank predicts a further gross domestic product (GDP) contraction of 7.1% in the fourth quarter (Belton & Dixon, 2022). Although Putin had set aside a considerable financial war chest to insulate his economy, many Russian assets were frozen abroad due to more compre- hensive economic sanctions that Putin failed to foresee. While the sanctions were stronger and more unified than Putin planned, Putin is still making money and using energy as a weapon. It is true that Europe has reduced its energy supplies from Russia, but it is still funding much of Russia’s war effort through energy purchases. That said, the Europeans do seem to be transitioning away from Russian energy and seeking new suppliers, such as African natural gas (Larson, 2022). Nevertheless, new energy sources take time to develop and will not likely move the needle significantly ahead of this winter. Putin will likely still get some money from energy exports to India, China, and other “friendly” nations, but once Europe re-structures its energy sourcing to orient away from Russia, much of this income will dry up. To prevail, Putin likely feels that he needs to outlast Western cohesion to win this conflict, and a cold winter requiring Russian energy sources was a key pillar in that plan. As the months grew cold, the logic went, Europeans would eventually reduce their support for Ukraine for heating their homes. Thus far, an unseasonably warm autumn in Europe has helped the Europeans stick to their plans to combat Putin’s energy weapon. The Longevity of Western Cohesion Putin underestimated the Western cohesion and unity generated in response to his invasion of Ukraine (Gould, 2022). His seizure of Crimea or other previous breaches of international norms were mostly met with a collective shrug from the West (Freedman, 2022c). Despite the alignment of Western countries to the “rules-based international order,” complete unity among the nations of the West is rare (Huntington, 1996), and disagreements in how to respond to Russia could easily arise, especially considering Europe’s current dependence on Russian energy, and a relatively insu- lated U.S. energy sector. If Putin and his military can survive long enough to see a dissolution of Western cohesion, that could be a deciding factor. Unquestionably, Western aid has made the Ukrainian resistance possible and economic sanctions have enervated Russia. A disruption in the coordination of aid and sanctions could quickly Gioe and Manganello 7 deteriorate the situation for Ukraine whose indigenous arms sector cannot compete with Russia’s. Perhaps, Putin thinks this is a race against time he can win. In the early days of the conflict, the West achieved remarkable coordination in an astonishing demonstration of unity against Russian aggression by mobilizing mili- tary support and enacting crippling economic sanctions in a very short time (Landler et al., 2022). Moreover, this conflict has drawn the United States and Europe closer, a surprising development given the deep fissures formed just a few years ago during the Trump administration (Ignatius, 2022), and the probable expansion of NATO is a direct result. Now, after more than 8 months of Western support and sanctions, there is a question whether cohesion among Western states can last indefinitely; it likely cannot. In fact, cracks are forming around a growing disparity between the U.S. and European economic aid to Ukraine. The United States is becoming frustrated with both the speed and amount of economic aid flowing from Europe to Ukraine, neither of which are keeping pace with U.S. efforts to prop up the Ukrainian economy (Stein, 2022). While the United States can chart its own policy course, European institutions must achieve consensus to act. As Niall Ferguson observed, while the Ukrainian army is “winning,” the economy is “losing” (Ferguson, 2022), a factor that may force Ukraine to the negotiating table faster than a military setback might. There is much speculation about whether and how a negotiated end to hostilities might occur. Lawrence Freedman has contributed an important analysis of the condi- tions that might lead to negotiation (Freedman, 2022a). While Western nations quickly agreed that Putin’s invasion was unjustified and swiftly responded with aid and sanc- tions, agreement on how best to encourage an end to hostilities could reveal or even exacerbate cracks in Western unity. On one hand, if Russian forces face an “unwin- nable” military situation, might Putin use a weapon of mass destruction? Assessing the degree to which Putin feels backed into a corner could prove to be fertile ground for Western disagreement; determining how far he can be pushed is a matter of differ- ing philosophies. Misreading Putin is easy to do (Stanovaya, 2022), especially when assessing how far he might go to avoid a clear loss and embarrassment. Significantly for any analysis of Western cohesion, definitions matter. What we term as “the West” (those wealthy democracies providing military aid to Ukraine) may be divisible into at least two factions: the United States and Europe, although intra-European unity is far from assured (Rodgers, 2022). In this scenario, the United States will likely be the longest hold-out as the country with the most investment in both Ukraine’s survival and in degrading Russia’s political standing (two separate but related interests). Moreover, the U.S. energy sector is better insulated against Russia-related market turbulence than are the countries of Europe, allowing the United States to take a more hawkish position, General Milley’s comments notwith- standing. Disagreement could easily arise between a hardline United States and a more conciliatory Europe as time drags on. 8 Armed Forces & Society 00(0) Domestic Pressure Builds in Russia Along with the external pressures depleting Russia’s ability to endure in this conflict, significant internal stressors continue to press against Putin’s time. At a basic level, Putin appears to be failing to keep satisfied his two fundamental constituencies—the Russian public and the elites, including his oligarchs and the siloviki, his security and military elites. From the protest rock band Pussy Riot to draft dodgers, growing pub- lic dissent over the past decade has been a problem for Putin. In the past, he has been able to iron-fist his way to suppressing public opinion and free speech (Bogush, 2017). The decision to invade Ukraine and the disastrous results thus far may prove to be too much for Putin to continue to tamp down public dissent. How long can Putin use repression to keep his people quiet (enough) about the war? As the conflict drags on and casualties continue to climb, the mounting caskets of Russian soldiers will only erode the public support remains. Russian support was for the war was higher when all it took was waving a “Z” flag. Demanding that Russians fight per- sonally in Ukraine has suffocated domestic support for the war in a way that calling Zelensky a dangerous “Nazi” or “fascist” cannot resuscitate. Pro-war Russian blog- gers have taken to criticizing Putin for the mounting military failures in Ukraine, saying he is not taking the necessary measures to win (Troianovski, 2022). In fact, public outcry on Telegram (a popular messaging platform) over Russian troop losses recently prompted the Russian Defense Ministry to issue a rare official statement playing down the death tolls (Ilyushina & Timsit, 2022). The dead soldiers, espe- cially conscripts, can prove a formidable foundation of resistance. This may be why Russian leaders cloaked their November withdrawal from Kherson as being con- cerned about the lives of Russian soldiers. Adding to the growing public pressure, Russian elites are increasingly restive. As Western sanctions have borne down upon the Russian economy, Putin’s inner circle of elites, oligarchs, and tycoons have been hit especially hard. His ability to continue to pacify this group which is hemorrhaging wealth and power is tenuous at best. Fissures are already starting to show. Putin’s inner circle has expressed broad discon- tent among Russian elites with the management of the conflict in Ukraine (Miller et al., 2022). Furthermore, as Putin tries to shift blame and enhance performance by reshuffling his military’s leadership (Vinograd & Matsnev, 2022), he has become obliged to field strongman (read: ruthless) commanders, a move meant to keep hawk- ish nationalist critics at bay, but at the same time forcing him to relinquish some of his control—a Faustian bargain at best. For instance, Putin promoted General Sergei Surovikin to be the overall commander of the war after the embarrassing Kerch Bridge bombing in October (Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 2022). Surovikin has a well-established reputation as both a brutal commander and criminal (Roth, 2022). His ascension coincides with increasingly vocal criticism of the Russian military leadership by players, such as Yevgeny Prigozhin (owner of the mercenary Wagner Group) and the Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov, both of whom harbor higher aspirations and have powerful private armies at their disposal. The risk Putin runs is Gioe and Manganello 9 choosing between fielding a group of ineffective but loyal toadies and appointing more effective strongmen who may turn on him (Cohen, 2022). With all of these societal and political fissures and pressures against Russia’s clock, Putin’s ability to salvage anything resembling victory in the Ukrainian conflict is quickly waning. Obviously, his hope is to outlast the Ukrainian clock, which, like its Russian counterpart, has several vectors that may both help and jeopardize Ukraine’s victory. It is to Ukraine’s clock that we now turn. Ukrainian Clock At roughly 9 months into the (latest) Russian invasion, Ukrainian forces seem strongly motivated and more capable than ever to defend and retake their territory. Dramatic gains resulting from a successful counteroffensive in the Kharkiv region have boosted Ukrainian morale and put some wind in their sails (Dylan et al., 2022). If this conflict turns out to be a war of exhaustion, the Ukrainian military looks to be hitting its stride as more and more Ukrainian soldiers receive advanced foreign train- ing and return to the fight—a bad omen for Russia. Despite this, the primary path to victory for Ukraine may not be in an outright military victory (given Russia’s dogged hold on their previously occupied portions of the Donbas and Crimea), but in outlast- ing Putin and exhausting the Russian military. The clock seems to be ticking on Putin’s ability to stay in power (Freedman, 2022b), but he could still play the weap- ons of mass destruction (WMD; chemical, biological, or nuclear) card, which could be devastating for the citizenry of Ukraine and amplify some calls for negotiated peace under the logic that liberating every last inch of Ukrainian territory is not worth another World War or climate catastrophe. Alternatively, unleashing (or test- ing) a weapon of mass destruction may serve to further isolate Putin from China and India who may not be able to turn a blind eye, and could perhaps prompt direct Western intervention, given the Biden administration’s tough talk of “catastrophic consequences” for Russia (Salama & Gordon, 2022). Foreign military and political support have been key elements of Ukraine’s success so far, as has the underesti- mated Ukrainian will to fight. All the same, like a wounded bear, Russia remains a powerful and potentially deadly presence and Putin seems comfortable on the escala- tion ladder (Kahn, 1965). How Long Will Foreign Support Undergird Ukrainian Military Performance? Exceeding expectations, the Ukrainian military has performed amazingly well against what—by many accounts—was thought to be an overpowering Russian force (Dougherty, 2022). Facing an existential threat to their homeland, morale among Ukrainian fighters is surging while Russian troop morale plummets to ever lower depths (Cohen, 2022). All the same, Ukraine is also up against a ticking clock in terms of military morale, exhaustion, and material supply. There is a very real 10 Armed Forces & Society 00(0) possibility the Ukrainian Armed Forces (or its backers) could run out of certain weapons systems, or even steam more generally, and this largely depends on the robustness and durability of external financial and military support as well as avoid- ing a winter stalemate. Ukrainian military success cannot persist indefinitely while territory is contested. While the Ukrainian Kharkiv counteroffensive has surprisingly reclaimed territory quickly (Yaffa, 2022), the Ukrainian military is really designed for defense and must be cautious not to get overextended in an overly aggressive posture by trying to do too much all at once. While clever in campaign design, the Ukrainian general staff is also sensitive to casualty rates. Moreover, many Ukrainian units have been fighting without a break since the conflict began. Despite the remarkable success they have had, some worry that rotating in less experienced fighters to give current units a break could result in diminished performance, leaving Ukrainian positions vulnera- ble (Khurshudyan & Hrabchuk, 2022). As the territorial responsibility expands, the military may get stretched too thin, presenting an opportunity for a Russian counter- punch in the form of a well-timed application of force at a weak point along a very long line of contact. Furthermore, if the Russian mobilization is given enough time to produce warm bodies (prisoners and other conscripts) to send to the front, sheer numbers may take over. As Josef Stalin reportedly quipped, “Quantity has a quality of its own.” From a material sense, the Ukrainian burn rate for weapons (HIMARS, javelin missiles, artillery rounds, ammunition, etc.) has been brisk and exceeded donor country’s use calculations. NATO countries, including the United States, appear ready to keep up with Ukrainian demand for additional and more sophisticated muni- tions and defensive systems (Vasquez & Fossum, 2022), even calling some workers out of retirement to man the restarted Javelin assembly lines, but the supply cannot come out of thin air, and many donor countries are running low on weapons to send (or running low on systems they are willing to send given, for instance, U.S. defense commitments in other theaters, such as Korea or Taiwan). This delta between Western (mostly United States) supply and Ukrainian demand could become acute over time. According to a former NATO official, the Ukrainian forces may burn through 6,000 or 7,000 artillery shells per day during periods of peak combat operations. The United States produces 15,000 rounds per month, an ominous mathematical equa- tion. NATO’s former assistant secretary general for defense investment, Camille Grand, framed the difference in weapons expenditure in this conflict as a function of time in a recent conflict: “A day in Ukraine is a month or more in Afghanistan” (Erlanger & Jakes, 2022). The well is running dry in other NATO countries too, espe- cially smaller ones, who maintain very limited supplies. One NATO official described 20 of its 30 member countries as being “pretty tapped out,” and others have some desperately needed resources but are mired in export control red tape (Erlanger & Jakes, 2022). While the more committed Ukrainian suppliers are raiding the cupboards for weapons to send, some private actors have stepped into this gap. For instance, even Gioe and Manganello 11 Luke Skywalker can now be counted as a Ukrainian ally, with actor Mark Hamill’s recent pledge to help send drones to the fight (Sicard, 2022). A potential exception to the NATO commitment to supply military equipment is Germany, which has been labeled as a “reluctant” supporter of Ukraine in some European capitals (Fix, 2022). While Germany has provided some basic equipment to Ukraine, its actual material support lags behind other NATO nations, such as the United Kingdom and Poland. Germany has come a long way in playing a role in European defense matters (con- sidering where it started in February 2022), but its continued dithering may be related to its China policy, which attempts the broader goal of riding the fence between the West and China (Evans-Pritchard, 2022), presenting another possible vector for cracks in Western cohesion. While German moral support has helped some, strong words would not take out Russian positions when front line forces call for fire sup- port. Its tepid commitment to Ukrainian aid begs the question: how long can Ukraine wait for NATO’s most latently capable continental power to step up? Generally, intelligence sharing, training, tactical/operational integration, and interoperability with Ukrainian forces appear to be going more smoothly than envi- sioned in the early days of this conflict. How much longer can Ukraine expect to receive substantial amounts of foreign military aid? Will the Ukraine Defense Consultative Group end up meeting for its own sake as donor fatigue invariably sets in? The answer to this question will most likely dictate how much time Ukraine has left on its clock. It is difficult to imagine Ukraine carrying on a conventional resis- tance without a continued and uninterrupted infusion of foreign military and intelli- gence assistance. More specifically, can Ukraine expect that the U.S. Congressional consensus on funding and arming Ukraine will persist indefinitely? With rising energy prices and inflation, could the results of the U.S. mid-term elections prompt a newly Republican-led House of Representatives to begin a reduction in U.S. military and economic aid? According to a Pew research study from August, Ukraine did not make the list of the top 15 voting concerns ahead of the U.S. mid-terms (Pew Research Center, 2022). As results of closely contested mid-term elections are now known, a clearer pic- ture of the U.S. Congress has emerged. Republicans have succeeded in achieving a narrow majority in the House (Knowles et al., 2022), while Democrats have held onto the Senate (Knowles & Goodwin, 2022). Although some quarters of the Republican Party have called for reduced aid or further audits of such aid, the Democrat controlled Senate will likely continue to support the Biden administra- tion’s robust aid commitments. Along with the potential of elements within congress leaning more to the right (Tharoor, 2022) and disrupting the current aid levels (Meyn, 2022), a powerful undercurrent of far-right political rhetoric may also erode public support for continuing aid to Ukraine (Risen, 2022). Pro-Russian sentiment will likely get louder from the extreme right in the U.S. culture wars and only intensify as America turns to focus on the 2024 election. Indefinite U.S. aid to Ukraine is not guaranteed, as political divisions illustrate. Any diminishment of the United States will drastically reduce the available time on Ukraine’s clock. 12 Armed Forces & Society 00(0) Furthermore, Ukraine is not the only combatant in this conflict receiving interna- tional support. Support to Russia from an outside nation could shorten Ukraine’s clock. For example, if Belarus gets involved (Dress, 2022), might that exceed Ukraine’s capacity for territorial defense, or perhaps as worryingly, require Ukrainian forces to redeploy to the north from their counteroffensives in the east, thereby tak- ing much pressure off of Russian forces there. President Lukashenko is starting to voice more support for Russia’s invasion and making small advances in military readiness. Lukashenko’s albeit small military, if mobilized, would create a three- front operational problem for Ukrainian forces. Adding another 1,000 km of border to defend from the north could prove to be too much, a development that would require NATO countries to consider even deeper levels of intervention. While direct Belarussian entry into the conflict may be a small chance, it is one that no military planner in Ukraine could completely ignore. In addition to nation-state actors, for- eign mercenary forces may help strengthen Russia’s military power. For example, U.S.-trained Afghan special force’s soldiers are being recruited to join the Russian ranks (Condon, 2022). Given the choice between returning to a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan (those who worked for the United States and their families are Taliban reprisal targets) and receiving a paycheck and expatriation assistance for their fami- lies, the fear of U.S.-trained commandos fighting Ukrainians may become realized. Can Russia be exhausted before either side draws in direct action from additional combatants, potentially extending and escalating this conflict? As the United States and NATO nations continue to provide support, albeit to varying degrees, Ukraine’s burgeoning conception of victory may become a mis- match with post-conflict donor ideal end-states. For example, Ukraine’s successful Kharkiv counteroffensive has emboldened Kyiv’s maximalist goal of not only sur- viving, but reclaiming all annexed regions as well as repossessing Crimea. While the United States and European nations may be willing to support the fight until the post-2014 boarders are restored, it is an open question whether reuniting Crimea is a part of the U.S. or European maximalist picture. Given the political and financial costs of Ukrainian support in the United States, the Biden administration may sup- port an end state where Ukraine survives as an independent nation—the exact dimen- sions of which might fall short of Zelensky’s maximalist vision. Furthermore, with the complications European nations face in regard to disruptions in the energy mar- ket and competing interests with their China policies, Ukraine might find it hard to secure meaningful foreign aid until Crimea is retaken. How Long Can International Political Attention and Support Last? The Ukrainians are rightly concerned about a frozen conflict and waning interna- tional attention. They already had a low-level conflict on simmer in the Donbas for the last 8 years, so that, they know the risk. Although a key difference now is that previously, units had regular rotations for rest and soldiers’ contracts had end Gioe and Manganello 13 dates—neither of which are true now. While not receiving significant international attention for the previous 8 years, Russia’s full-on invasion has spawned 24/7 media (and social media) coverage for the last 9 months. However, short of perpetual esca- lation, this level of attention cannot persist indefinitely and there is a risk that people will eventually scroll past events in Ukraine. If this turns into a war of media cycles, there may be very little to cover over the winter and global attention may not pick up again with the fighting in the spring. For now, Ukraine has dominated the news cycles, prompting Ukrainian flags being flown everywhere from global capitals to the social media pages of celebrities (McCarthy & Rodriguez, 2022). From a Western perspective, Ukraine appears to be dominating the information environment through a strong online presence with the skilled weaponization of memes (Scott, 2022) and urban legends (Peter, 2022). Such efforts are not only effectively countering Russian propaganda, North Atlantic Fellas Organization’s (NAFO) irreverent Shiba Inu dog memes are raising funds for the Ukrainian military (Drummond, 2022). As Ukraine has been on center stage, Zelensky has used the spotlight to address various parliaments and international organizations, garnering tremendous international support that has been essential in resisting Russian aggression thus far. How long can this level of global attention and popular support persist? In a hyperactive and contested information environment, popular internet fads can quickly fade from view. A new crisis, new strain of COVID, or even an early U.S. presidential campaign, may compete with Ukraine for the world’s attention. Flagging global interest (especially from the United States) could drastically decrease Ukraine’s clock. Many other factors may also contribute to erode Ukraine’s available time. Donor fatigue, economic stagnation, and “Russification” efforts in contested regions might all play a role in timing Ukraine out of this conflict or at least reducing its maximalist objectives. This section has addressed the most influential aspects of Ukraine’s clock, namely its ability to keep fighting as contingent on foreign support, but any of these other issues may become acute, exceeding Ukraine’s ability to carry on. It is possible that concessions could result if Ukraine cannot outlast Putin for the reasons described herein. And, with winter approaching and with a Russian campaign to degrade Ukraine’s energy infrastructure, a looming humanitarian crisis may break out as citizens struggle to feed themselves and stay warm—a development that will create additional urgency. A final note on net comparisons in strategic analysis, such as this is consideration of the concept of center(s) of gravity (CoG). However, competing schools of thought on methods for identifying CoGs make this a slippery issue to wade into (Eikmeier, 2016). Thus, in this article, we have opted to largely avoid featuring competing CoG calculations as part of our analysis. Military experts appear divided on identifying the Clausewitzian CoG for both sides of this conflict. Anecdotally, we have found that military experts have disagreed among each other and have identified more than one likely CoG candidate for each combatant. For Ukraine, the most cited CoGs are continued Western support and also national cohesion to continue the fight; for 14 Armed Forces & Society 00(0) Russia, CoGs have been identified as both the Army’s ability to last in the field and Putin’s regime stability, including control of the Russian population. We do not wish to referee this debate nor weigh in with a favored view, but, given the thrust of this article, we note that all four of the primarily identified CoG have a common denomi- nator: Time. As we have shown in this article, Western support for Ukraine and national cohesion are reliant on temporal factors as are the amount of time that Putin can cling to power while his army loses its ability to hold its initial territorial gains in Ukraine. Conclusion Predicting the outcome of this conflict is beyond the scope of this article. However, we have argued that time is a critical consideration in evaluating each side’s pros- pects, and that each side faces a ticking clock due to individual pressures—or advan- tages conferred—caused, or offered, by the passage of time in war. By comparing the key factors draining the martial luxury of time away from each combatant, we have presented a framework for assessing the conditions necessary for each side to pre- vail. For Russia, the foundering of its military, compounding economic stagnation, and Ukrainian integration into the West (if not formally into its institutions and alli- ances) are all pressing against Putin’s clock. And, political dissent at home as well as within Putin’s circle of elites, is a problem sapping Putin’s ability to remain in power. Even if Russia can conquer Ukraine’s Donbas before Putin’s clock strikes midnight, irreparable damage to Russia’s international standing has already occurred. For Ukraine, pushing Russian troops out of Ukraine’s pre-2014 boundaries would be a total victory. But, like Putin’s failed invasion, what objectives can be secured, and on what timetable? Assuming an ever-increasing amount of Western support and large reservoirs of Ukrainian morale, it is possible that a continued grinding offen- sive could achieve total victory, but a deposed Putin may be another path (although it is conceivable that he could be replaced by an even more aggressive nationalist zealot). Outlasting Putin and putting time on Ukraine’s clock through support appears to be the clearest path to prevailing. However, even if Putin falls from power, it is unknowable if his successor(s) will continue the conflict or how Russian policy toward Ukraine may take shape. Either way, Ukraine’s clock is reliant on a coordi- nated effort by Western countries to continue to train and arm the Ukrainian military while also imposing economic and political costs on Russia. In contrast, any disrup- tion in Western unity or support could lead to Ukraine running out of time and Russia’s gain. How each clock interacts with the variables we have identified and with the adversaries’ clock offers a way to assess relative advantage as the war con- tinues. As military and political leaders throughout history have learned, time waits for no one. Gioe and Manganello 15 Declaration of Conflicting Interests The authors declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article. Funding The authors disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: David V. Gioe wishes to acknowledge funding support from the British Academy under the Global Professorship program. Disclosures This analysis is solely that of the authors. It reflects no official position of the United States government nor any other institutional endorsement. 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(2011, October 2). 10 years of Afghan war: How the Taliban go on. Newsweek. https://www.newsweek.com/10-years-afghan-war-how-taliban-go-68223 20 Armed Forces & Society 00(0) Author Biographies David V. Gioe is a British Academy Global Professor in King’s College London’s Department of War Studies. He is also associate professor of history at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, where he serves as history fellow for the Army Cyber Institute. David is director of studies for the Cambridge Security Initiative and co-convener of its International Security and Intelligence program. He is a U.S. Navy veteran. Tony Manganello is an assistant professor of National Security Studies at Indiana Wesleyan University where he serves as department coordinator for the criminal justice program. He earned a PhD in War Studies from King’s College London, and his research focuses on a range of intelligence and security topics. Prior to entering the world of higher education, Tony served 11 years as a special agent with the U.S. Secret Service.
Armed Forces & Society – SAGE
Published: Jan 1, 2023
Keywords: Russia; Ukraine; Russo-Ukrainian war; NATO; Vladimir Putin
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