Churchill wrote ‘The Statesman who yields to war fever must realise that once the signal is given, he is no longer the master of policy but the slave of unforeseeable and uncontrollable events.’

What develops in Ukraine and Russia over the next 6 months has big implications everywhere from Governments to European households. As result, this forecast and supporting assessment are to inform those charged with making decisions be that political, military or even domestic. It is a wave-top assessment only and the deductions will be sensitive to real-world events as they unfold.

And we thank a wide range of analysts, commentators and others that publish their thoughts via Twitter, LinkedIn and other channels. Over the last 200+ days, the analysis has often been excellent and insightful. There has been some very notable analysis on the prospects of the conflict turning nuclear in recent days which are worth looking for.

Entities seeking more specific support, especially with economic or other interests, should get in touch via info@prevail-partners.com

To support the forecast it is worth considering some of the critical factors affecting the course of events so far:

Putin Sets the Conditions for Military Failure. Putin personally set the conditions for defeat by not communicating the reasons for invading Ukraine to his Army in the field. By calling it a Special Military Operation and denying his intentions right up until the last-minute Putin sent an Army into battle with no understanding of why or even where they were to fight. Soldiers do not have the Kremlin’s paranoid obsessions with political survival, empire, status, and spheres of influence; however, they will fight if they believe in a cause they can understand. And Putin’s Kremlin cronies have all the paranoid obsessions but no effective way of translating that into a reason men should fight for them.

Zelensky Call to Arms. Possibly the most important decision made in the conflict so far was Zelensky’s decision to stay in Kyiv; through his actions and words, he conveyed the strongest purpose to the Ukrainian people and Army. He was quoted to have said ‘The fight is here, I need ammunition not a ride’ in response to a US offer to evacuate him which, ironically, seems to have had the same patriotic and emotional impact as Stalin’s ‘Not one step back’ order of July 1942. Zelensky conveyed the conviction that the Ukrainian people should stand and fight.

Atrocious Russian Military Performance. Men and Armies fight most effectively when they have a cause to believe in but Putin’s attempted deceit of the West through false diplomatic messages undermined his ability to provide the motivating ‘why’. Furthermore, the scale of corruption from top to bottom has hollowed out the standard of equipment, levels of training and logistics. Everything from fake tank armour to fuel theft has ripped a powerful machine to pieces under Putin’s kleptocracy. Most importantly, the manpower is poorly paid, fed, led and supported. The starkest example to the soldiers of how undervalued they are is the medical support. Soldiers will fight if they know the medical chain is effective should they be wounded; following the battalions with mobile crematoriums, as opposed to hospitals, undermines confidence. Recent footage from Russia has also shown newly mobilized servicemen being told to purchase their own medical equipment and sleeping systems with which to deploy – demonstrating both the lack of equipment available and the lack of care for the soldiers by their political and military leadership.

Exceptional Ukrainian Military Performance. People fight for their homes much more ferociously, and with greater tolerance for casualties, than abstract ideals. The recent political history in Ukraine strongly suggests that the Ukrainian people favour a relationship with the West and the EU rather than Russia. So, combining a fight for survival with an increasingly strong sense of self-determination provides the strongest ‘why’. Furthermore, Western support has been ‘just enough, just in time’ to enable the Ukrainians to hold the line to facilitate a transition to the offensive.

Clever Operational Design. The successful ongoing counter-attack is the manifestation of a clever operational plan which can be summarised as follows:

  • Create logistic difficulties for the Russians by targeting depots and stores which impedes resupply of artillery ammunition and fuel.
  • Maximise the potential of Ukraine’s own logistic means of good railways and roads to move men and material from one front to another under a strong cloak of security.
  • Mass in the south, telegraph your intentions, draw in as many Russian Battalions as possible in order to encourage the Russians to thin out the lines near Kharkiv.
  • Attack the main Russian forces in the Kherson front to keep the Russian reinforcements in place and degrade their premier combat units.
  • Subsequently, attack in the north and use all means, including light raiding forces into the Russian rear-areas, to fracture the Russian logistic system and break through the thin Russian lines.

As we have observed, once the Ukrainians broke through the Russian defensive line they were able to disrupt resupply and reinforcement; which caused the rapid collapse and retreat in disarray of the Russian defenders.

The above is an oversimplification and does not pay sufficient tribute to both the Ukrainian Generalship and the very tough fighting that is being conducted at the infantryman level. The scale of sacrifice is a testament to the ‘why’ inspired by Zelensky and others. Undoubtedly, the Ukrainian people mobilised and threw themselves at the enemy with courage and innovation which draws respect and admiration from all quarters.

The Forecast

So what for the future 0-6 months? The below eventualities are not isolated events and more than one may happen and trigger the next:

  • Coup in the Kremlin. Putin is replaced by a nationalist hardliner who escalates the conflict further by calling for general mobilisation. Warning signs for this are unlikely and it could happen very suddenly. Some internal chaos could be seen but it is more likely that, once the coup is enacted, security will be tight. It is possible that the new leader will be moderate, by Russian standards, and sue for peace, but this is less likely. The overall likelihood of this scenario is low owing to Putin’s henchmen having an almost unassailable grip on the levers of security.
  • Diplomatic Settlement. Zelensky has no political room to move for any settlement other than total expulsion back to pre-2014 borders. Putin, and any other Russian President for that matter, cannot accept Zelensky’s terms without losing too much Russian pride and international prestige. As a result, the overall likelihood of a negotiated settlement is extremely low.
  • Total Collapse of the Russian Army back to a rump in Crimea. The Russian Army is in disarray and maybe already defeated; however, retaking Donetsk, the whole of Kherson Oblast and Crimea is a much more difficult operational task with some big political risks for Zelensky. Although the Ukrainian Army will re-take more territory in the north, the Russian defences in and around Donetsk are much tougher. Moreover, some of the natural obstacles, like rivers, provide reasonable defensive lines even when the Russian Army is in a poor state. As a result, our current assessment is that the Ukrainian advance will come to a necessary pause before winter sets in fully. Russia will continue to control large swathes of Ukraine through the winter to next spring. This will be a result of the Russians being concentrated into better defensive positions supported by their overwhelming artillery combined with the Ukrainians being extended and needing to refit themselves.
  • Will Russian Mobilisation Succeed? The Russian Army is already in a poor state with low equipment availability and limited training capacity; as a result, mobilising the 300,000+ soldiers will add friction and stress to an already struggling entity. Clearly, adding more ‘soldiers’ will create pressure on the Ukrainian Army and, by spring, the Russians are likely to be better organised than they are now, so this mobilisation does raise the stakes. It follows that the Ukrainian Army will also need to increase the rate of mobilisation placing more pressure on the training pipeline that is overmatched. More training must be delivered to the Ukrainians over the next 12 months to counter this Russian mobilisation. Mobilisation (even in its current limited form) has also caused a significant reaction among the Russian population – namely the flight of fighting-aged males and some limited civil unrest – particularly in Dagestan.
  • Ukraine Recovers Crimea. Any Ukrainian attempt to recover Crimea will likely be seen as an escalation by Russia and could be a potential trigger for the nuclear option as Russia would claim they are defending their own sovereign territory. There is no legitimacy in international law for the false Russian sovereignty of Crimea; however, that is not how the Kremlin and Duma will frame it. The Kremlin is the master of falsehoods which, in their narrative that Crimea is Russian territory, may be enough to maintain some global support, even if they use tactical nuclear weapons. In addition, the tactical challenges for the Ukrainians will be significant. As a result, until there is a big political change in the Kremlin, the likelihood of Ukraine attempting to recover Crimea in the short term is very low. However, it is almost certain to be a long-term Ukrainian ambition.
  • Russian use of Tactical Nuclear Weapons. The military advantage of this action is low owing to the wide dispersal of forces; however, the Russians could choose this weapon to intimidate Europe and the US. The negative diplomatic and alliance consequences for Russia across the World would be very significant. Much of the World outside of Western Europe and the US is quietly ignoring their barbaric invasion and continuing to trade with Russia; however, the use of a tactical nuclear weapon is likely to shift many of the neutrals into supporting sanctions. Putin is likely to use the sham and illegal referenda conducted in the so-called Peoples Republics as an excuse to convince the West that he will wrap Ukrainian territory under the protection of his nuclear umbrella. It is currently assessed as a very low probability that Putin will sanction nuclear weapons use in Ukraine to prevent the conventional recapture of Kherson, Zaporhizhia, Donetsk or Luhansk Oblasts. Interestingly, even Serbia has come out against recognising the referenda which indicates that some of Russia’s allies are baulking against this potential threat. As a result, our assessment is that the likelihood of Russia using nuclear weapons is very low with the exception of a sustained attempt to recover Crimea.
  • The US and Europeans remain Strong. Goldman Sachs’ assessment that gas prices will continue to ‘decline sequentially throughout the winter’ will help European politicians maintain domestic support. Most importantly, the recent battlefield success of the Ukrainians has demonstrated an ability to expel the invaders and provides further political assistance to those governments who struggle to provide unfettered support to Ukraine. As a result, led by the UK, US, Poland, the Baltics and other hawkish nations, the rest of Europe is likely to continue, and possibly enhance, their support over the winter prior to spring.
  • Maritime Blockade. It seems likely that the Black Sea will remain problematic for maritime traffic for the foreseeable future. It is unlikely that Putin will relinquish his naval blockade owing to the perceived benefits of restricting the export of foodstuffs from Ukraine. As a result, Ukraine will be able to export only a fraction of the grain and other products which will contribute to global shortages and inflation. Turkey is also likely to continue to use its geography and control of the Bosphorus to influence Russia where possible.

Russia and Ukraine Regenerate their Armies. Assuming neither the Ukrainians achieve outright victory nor there is a negotiated settlement, both protagonists will be striving to regenerate their forces for renewed offensives in the spring.

For the West this requires several important actions:

  • Police sanctions much more rigorously, including investigating the many covert routes of procurement/trade being used, to reduce Russia’s ability to build sophisticated systems.
  • Resupply Ukraine’s depleted stocks and supplies for the maintenance/repair of Western-made systems.
  • Provide training from tactical through to combined arms manoeuvre training. This should also include funding training of Ukrainian equipment support battalions which will, in turn, help the army keep equipment operational. Part of this will have to be delivered by contractors inside Ukraine.

For Russia the challenge is huge; they will need to:

  • Rebuild an army that has lost a huge amount of prestige equipment, experienced officers and soldiers, and whose morale is extremely low.
  • Recruit soldiers and train them. Not only will they need to be trained to fire a rifle but man, equip, maintain and operate armoured formations in a coherent way.
  • Resolve their theatre logistic problems which will probably mean the Russian Army will have to reorganise the way they have conducted logistics.
  • Address the poor performance of their highly technical systems - like Air Defence, which have, thus far, underperformed.

In this regard, Prevail’s conclusion is that the Ukrainian Military will be better prepared than the Russians for renewed offensives by spring 2023. Notwithstanding, assuming the frontlines are relatively stable over the winter, a good army (UKR) dislodging a poor army (RUS) from well-prepared positions that remain supported by a substantial artillery superiority (RUS), will remain very challenging and costly. Russia is however seeking to rapidly replace expended capability through deals such as drone purchases from Iran, which may cover some domestic production shortfalls in the short term and cause difficulties for Ukrainian attackers.

Wider Security Implications. When empires collapse there are wider instabilities that emerge and the regional security implications of a weakened Russian empire are already manifesting themselves with renewed conflicts. Azerbaijan has attacked the Russian backed Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh and there is renewed border conflict between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Moreover, there have been substantial protests in the Russian Republic of Dagestan which should be seen as a warning to Putin from the people. It is likely that instability in the region and satellites of Russia will continue and further inflame while Putin fritters his influence and power away.

The image above is from the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation (SCO) Summit, held on 15-16 September 2022 in Samarkand, Uzbekistan. Putin apparently received a number of rebuffs at the summit, including being made to wait by President Erdogan (Turkey) and President Japarov (Kyrgyzstan). Putin was also largely ignored by President Xi (China), who did not make any significant overtures of friendship towards Russia and was reportedly lectured by Prime Minister Modi (India) over the invasion of Ukraine. These factors demonstrate how Russia and Putin are losing their standing among the international community, even among nominal allies.

Azerbaijan has recently re-engaged in hostilities with Armenia in Nagorno-Karabakh. Armenia is a member of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a Russia-led security alliance of which Armenia was also a member between 1994 and 1999. Azerbaijan likely began the border clashes over the disputed territory in order to gauge the Russian response – and that response was almost non-existent. This has caused some Armenian journalists and members of the public to question why Armenia remains in the organisation at all if no help is provided. Additionally, there have been recently renewed border clashes between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan – both of whom are full members of the CSTO. Putin’s folly in Ukraine has not only eroded Russian combat power but has likely also seriously degraded its international standing among allied/partner nations.

China and Taiwan. President Xi is likely to be considering his options for bringing Taiwan back into the body of China very carefully. Despite his bold statements and ambitions, he is watching, live, the unravelling of an empire in only 200 days owing to military ambitions that fail. China’s military may be powerful on paper, however, taking an unproven military machine to war, especially against Taiwan backed by the US, will be a gamble. If President Xi continues to dial up the rhetoric at home for bringing Taiwan under their yoke then he may find himself politically committed to act. As a result, Prevail’s forecast is that we are likely to see fewer bellicose statements from China calibrated to keep nationalists happy without leading to war with an uncertain outcome; President Xi and China have too much to lose.


Borodyanka Photo/Алесь Усцінаў