Who is winning the war in Ukraine?

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By SALEM NASSER*

Seeking this answer only in traditional media is to find very fragmented information and the challenge of making sense of the whole is immense.

Who is winning the war?

Of course, the answer to this question depends on what we mean by "winning" a war. Do you take into account the number of casualties, territorial gains and losses, the prospects of being the “last man standing”, the political and strategic gains already obtained or yet to come…?

The answer depends on unknowns that may underlie the question itself: for example, do you consider Russia's opponent, and therefore the supposed winner or loser, Ukraine, NATO or even the US?

We will accept, without intending to be exhaustive, the following criteria for evaluating success or failure in a war context: number of casualties suffered by each side; the proportion of victims; territorial gains and losses; the number of troops available to each side; the level of training and readiness of troops; the stock and quality of military equipment and ammunition each side can count on; the capacity of the parties to face the economic consequences of the conflict, etc.

I can, looking at these criteria and perhaps a few others, form my own judgment on how the war is going for the warring parties. However, as always, more important than sharing my opinion – especially considering that in this case I am in no better position than most to obtain and verify data – is assessing the difficulty of reaching a conclusion or even a very plausible hypothesis.

Among the criteria listed above, the only fact that seems to be consensual concerns the territories that came under Russian control. I am not referring to small advances or setbacks, but to huge extensions of conquered territories.

On all other variables, I'd say we're in the complete dark. And, for clarification, I'm talking about "we" who are exposed primarily to mainstream Western media and who look at that media with questioning eyes (those who don't bother to ask questions may feel well informed, but that feeling of yours will soon be challenged. , if you ever read this).

If one looks only at mainstream Western media (yes, I know, that needs qualifying) and asks questions, one is faced with very fragmented information and the challenge of making sense of the whole is immense. Let me illustrate this with some examples.

 

Images

Ever since the US invasion of Afghanistan and then the US-led invasion of Iraq, those of us who are old enough to remember are used to real-time televised warfare and have come to expect that any conflict that is closely scrutinized by the Western media will be shown to the world in a rich and permanent stream of images and videos.

That, I believe, is not happening this time, in relation to the war in Ukraine, and it requires an explanation. It's not for lack of access to the battlefield. The (generic, as some would say) West is supplying Ukraine with weapons, ammunition, money and training; it should have no difficulty incorporating journalists into combat troops, at least on one side of the front. Why aren't you doing this, when the practice has become commonplace? Possible reasons for this may emerge later in this post.

In any case, as you search in the usual places (google, youtube and others) some images and videos will appear. However, while doing the exercise, I was struck by the fact that almost all the results obtained (certainly the first dozen) are from Ukrainian exploits and Russian losses.

I wonder where the images and videos I hear about could be and which are said to show the exact opposite scenario, that of the Ukrainian collapse. The answer seems to be in the media that are not very accessible to us in the West, less known or censored from the beginning, as was the case with RT and Sputnik. The other half of the answer, necessary, is that our usual vehicles, traditional media and social networks are operating censorship when choosing the contents that can or cannot be transmitted or displayed.

 

victims and proportion

When it comes to wars, a very basic question to ask yourself is the one related to the number of casualties, dead and wounded. It is understandable that it is almost impossible to establish the exact number, especially since the fighting is taking place in the present. There are practical hurdles to getting the numbers right and there is wartime propaganda to navigate through by weeding out unrealistic statistics.

But at the same time, there must be a limit to uncertainty. Once again, the most superficial searches in the usual vehicles will result in fragmentary information from which it is difficult to draw conclusions. One finds numbers that put Ukrainian losses at less than 30 or 40 thousand, others conceive 100 thousand losses on each side, many, or most, imagine Russia losing more troops than Ukraine. One might doubt these numbers just by taking into account what was known and what is known about the differences in the military capabilities of both countries, but this is what one finds.

On the other hand, if we opt for alternative voices (which can be found even in vehicles that are not always censored), we will hear figures that put Ukrainian losses at something between at least 250 and perhaps 400 and that put the death rate at at least five or seven Ukrainians for every Russian.

Where should one believe that the truth is? These two scenarios, one very uncertain but pointing to Ukrainian superiority, and the other very firm, emphasizing Russian superiority, are two different worlds. Which one is the real world we live in?

 

who is winning

Recently, both the President of the United States and his Secretary of State stated that Russia had already lost the war and that was because it would not fulfill its objective which, according to them, was to occupy all of Ukraine.

Well, of course this is the kind of strong statement designed to have a powerful rhetorical effect. However, it is based on assumptions with which one may disagree. If it can be said that Russia had no intention of taking all of Ukrainian territory, then it did not necessarily lose. And it is also clear that, in this view of the alleged Russian defeat, nothing says that Ukraine is emerging victorious. It could end this war as a completely destroyed country anyway.

Therefore, the perspective of a winning party and a losing party must be sought elsewhere, but consensus information is lacking. In each of the questions that can be asked, there are opposite answers to be found: the counter-offensive is working; who advances and who retreats; who lacks training and ammunition; who is suffering economically; who is experiencing a population drain…?

But, we must remember, these questions concern the two parties to the conflict, Ukraine and Russia, as potential winners or losers. They do not necessarily or automatically tell us whether NATO and/or the United States will emerge victorious after this war. The above official US statements give way to interpretations that conceive of the war as being between NATO and the US on the one hand, Russia (and others) on the other, and Ukraine as simply being the battleground.

Whatever the case, it is difficult to conceive of NATO and/or the US reaping a clear victory from a clear defeat of Ukraine by a Russia still standing.

As I write, it might be suggested that it has taken me a long time to get to this point, and that is because we are beginning to see the first signs in the Western mainstream media that Ukraine's defeat is being acknowledged as a likely outcome and that some support in the West for a negotiated peace must begin to be pieced together without risking the charge of treason.

One begins to see a change in the press (still weak) and in some official speeches. This could be a way to prepare public opinion for what could be coming: the news of the final defeat.

* Salem Nasser is a professor at the Faculty of Law of FGV-SP.


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