War is Hell(ish) Expensive!

All right, here we are in the midst of another bit of humanity’s ugliness.  Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

And once again, the stupid is on the rise. Let me deal with it and make sure I offend everyone, then we’ll get on to the real discussion.

First of all, all this appeasement talk? Stupid, this isn’t WWII. No fly zone? Stupid idea, unless you want a thermonuclear war. What about the Palestinians? It’s been 80 years, not even the rest of the Arab states care about the Palestinians – heartbreaking but true. What about the US invasion of Iraq? That was wrong then, it doesn’t make Russia right now. This war is really NATO / the EU / the IMF / the US fault? Nope, sorry, that’s particularly stupid. That’s about all the time that stuff is worth.

Now, let’s get down to the reality on the ground.

Russia is 146 million people, GDP of 1.7 trillion making it the twelfth largest economy in the world, behind Italy, Canada and South Korea, spends 60 billion a year on the military which places it fourth or fifth place, after the US, China, Saudi Arabia, India, and puts it just barely ahead of the UK, France, Germany, South Korea.

The Ukraine is 44 million people, GDP of half a trillion, it spends five billion.

So it looks like a big swat. Classic case of a big powerful country picking up a small country and throwing it at the wall hard to teach it a lesson.  We’ve seen it before:  The US in Iraq. Saudi Arabia on Yemen. Israel on Lebanon. The Russians on Crimea. Israel on Hamas. US in Afghanistan. Russia in Afghanistan. The US on Iraq before. Everybody on Syria. China on Vietnam The US on Vietnam. Russians against Angola and Ethiopia and Somalia. Americans against Central America. It always ends in tears. Why should this be any different.

Well, it is and it isn’t.

Because here’s the thing that people aren’t paying attention to.

War is expensive business. It’s hell. But it’s also expensive. It costs a lot of money, like an incredible amount of money. It’s not just manpower these days, it’s also highly trained and technically skilled manpower, which is expensive. And you need trained and technically skilled manpower, because those weapons systems are incredibly expensive to buy, and even more incredibly expensive to keep and maintain, and horrifically more incredibly expensive to actually deploy. And once you’ve deployed, you’ve got massive wear and tear on those weapons systems, and you need replacement parts, or even entire replacements.

That’s not even talking about the prodigious quantities of fuel and ammunition these systems churn through. The rate is incredible. When Israel had its ill fated war of choice against Lebanon back in the Bush II era, it actually expended ammunition and munitions at such an incredible rate, it ran dry. The US had to ship emergency supplies of jet fuel and cluster bombs to keep Israel going.

Invading a country is not cheap, and you can stockpile all you want, but the minute you cross a border, the clock starts running, and you’re pissing away all your accumulated weapons, and weapons systems and stockpiles of munitions,  and then the price starts going up because one way or the other, you have to replace all that stuff, and you have to do it NOW. You can’t just put together a five year budget plan. You’re in a war, you need to keep pissing out death until you’ve won or lost, there is no other option.

A war is ruinously expensive. That’s why it’s always big powerful countries, picking on small little countries that can’t fight back so good.  The US vs Panama, that’s a hundred to one in population, and a thousand to one in GDP. Russia vs Georgia or Chechnya, same thing.  It’s always that kind of lopsided ratio, because anything that’s close to peer to peer will basically wreck your entire economy and country, win or lose.  It’s also safer because these bitty little countries aren’t going to do much striking back usually.

Look at the Iraq war in 2003. The US had minimum 10 times Iraq’s population. The US GDP was 14 trillion. Iraq’s GDP was about 30 billion. The entire nation’s GDP was a fraction of the US military budget.  The Pentagon could literally have bought the entire country with its petty cash fund.  Even that is overselling the challenge. Iraq had been bled white by the Iran-Iraq War, it had been broken completely by the Gulf War, and the United States had spent 12 years regularly bombing the place and keeping it under such extreme sanctions the Iraqi’s were literally trading oil for food. It was a completely, and utterly broken country.

Same thing with Afghanistan, another broken country, wrecked by 30 years of civil war and ten years of Russian occupation, half ruled by illiterates, a bombed out shell. Easy pickings.

Weak shell countries are another criteria. The victim’s state has collapsed or is barely functioning, unable to resist or fight back? That’s Israel on Lebanon, Saudi Arabia on Yemen, everyone on Syria, everyone on Congo.

Now, if you’re paying attention, what you’ll realize is the Ukraine is just too damned big. It’s not one hundredth the size of Russia. Not even a tenth. It’s a quarter of the population of Russia, and a quarter the GDP. It’s been an independent functioning state for thirty years. It’s half again the geographic size of Iraq, and when you take Iraq’s deserts out of the mix, it’s easily two or three times the size.

Not easy pickings. It’s comparatively huge.  It’s way over the curve for proportionately, for small countries getting smashed around by big countries.

Which is why Putin has gone all in. It’s estimated that the Russians are throwing 70% of their entire military at the Ukraine.  And yes, it’s a big military.

But look at it this way:  Russia borders 16 different countries, has 20,000 kilometers of borders, is 17 million square kilometers and faces off against major military powers in China and Europe, and it has to manage a population of 146 million.  And now, it’s doing that with 30% of its military, because it’s decided to throw 70% at Ukraine. Because it needs to throw 70% at Ukraine.  Because the Ukraine is not a hundredth, or even a badly broken tenth, it’s a healthy quarter the size of Russia.

The Russian military is basically gutting itself to try and conquer Ukraine. It’s throwing everything in. There’s no reserves, there’s no back ups, there’s no piles of undeployed tanks, fighter jets, missile launchers, divisions, brigades, platoons, stockpiles of fuel and munitions.  Everything that hasn’t been thrown in already is simply not available because its necessary for the rest of the country.

Clearly they mean business. Just as clearly, this is a huge expenditure of resources, because now that 70% is shooting its load. That’s a huge commitment of fuel, of food, of replacement munitions, of simple spare parts.  At that level of investment and consumption, it’s hard to replace it quickly or easily.

And in fact, there’s been a lot of coverage of the Russian invasion that shows these kinds of problems. Vehicles immobilized by tires blowing or falling apart. Running out of fuel. Food shortages, munitions shortages, everything.

Take all that with a grain of salt, because given the absolute magnitude of the Russian invasion, and just how massively overcommitted they are, that kind of thing is absolutely inevitable.

It is, and is not, exactly as significant as you think it is.

Let me clarify. It’s not significant, because the Russians are counting on a fast, comprehensive, total win.  It took the US about 30 to 40 days to conquer all of Iraq.  The Russians are probably calculating 30 to 45 days for a total conquest, maximum. 60 days at the outside. I’ve seen one source that said they expected to wrap it all up in 15 days.

Which explains all the ‘war crime’ type things going on, bombing hospitals and civilians, etc.  When you’ve committed that massively, and with that short a timetable, you can’t afford to be nice. You need to get the job done, and its going to be messy. Particularly if you’re running out your own deadlines.

But here’s where it gets significant.  Supposing that the war drags out. It goes beyond 30 to 45 days. Then the Russians are in trouble, the wheels literally start coming off of the invasion. There’s no back up supplies, no stockpiles, no depots, they’re all in, and they’re using it right now. And its going to be incredibly difficult to replace that easily on an ongoing basis in the middle of an invasion. There’s going to be all kinds of shortages and bottlenecks.

If the war lasts any period of time, Putin and Russia are in big trouble.

But this is why they’re going in so big and so hard in the first place.  They’re counting on smashing Ukraine flat.  And make no mistake, they’re out to flatten the whole country. No half measures, no grabbing a couple of provinces, maybe imposing a lopsided treaty. They’re going for the full monte.

They may accept less, but if so, don’t believe for a minute that that was their plan. Anything less than full conquest is them accepting failure, and trying to call it a win by putting a cherry on top of a turd.

So here’s the bad news. They’re probably going to win. It’s going to be horrifically expensive, its going to wreck their budget and all, and ruin their army, but odds are 90% that they’re going to win. In a month’s time, Ukraine is going to be flattened like a pancake.

Now, it’s at this point people start to panic and go:  Oh noes! Finland! Oh noes! Moldavia! Oh noes! The Baltics! Oh noes! Poland.

Relax. None of that is going to happen for a few reasons, which I’ll explain.

First up? What army is Putin going to be using for all that?  The 30% that he needs to guard the rest of his borders and hold down the rest of the country, nope, that’s not available.  Or the 70% that he invaded Ukraine with, which has pissed away a large chunk, possibly most, of their fuel, munitions, spare parts, etc., with men in need of rest, weapons systems in need of repair, etc. etc.  All that is going to need to be rebuilt, refurbished, and built back into shape.

So… no new invasions are going to come out of this, at least not right away.

Putin simply doesn’t have the troops for the next big adventure.

Same thing happened back in 2003 after Iraq fell. Everyone was thinking Syria was next, then Iran, the Bushies were going to rewrite the whole middle east.  The Professionals weren’t worried. Bush didn’t have a spare army to pick his next fight with.

Well, technically, Moldova might get invaded. Basically, they’re the state equivalent of a happy meal. They’ll probably squeak by without a bunch of Russians coming in.

And Belarus might go Russian, not so much conquest, as the aging dictator willing the country to Putin after he dies.

But the rest, forget it.  The Rampaging Russian armies are not about to go on a conquering spree… because there are no spare Russian armies. There’s only the 30% that has to remain in place, and the 705% that needs to be rebuilt.

Well, Professor Valdron, what happens when they rebuild? What’s to stop them from resuming conquests.

Well, NATO and the EU are about 700 million people altogether.  And their GDP’s are about 35 trillion.  And they’re going to be taking advantage of Putin’s fateful pause to arm up.

Here’s a math question for you:  How many does 700 million go into 146 million?

Answer: As many times as it wants to.

Russia has nuclear weapons and can threaten MAD.  Sure, if it was only the US vs Russia, the US might back off and let some European NATO states go.  Sacrifice New York on behalf of Estonia?  I can see the big ‘no way.’

But the nuclear situation in NATO is more complicated. Because France and England are both nuclear powers. They don’t have MAD capacity. But they have enough capacity to do enough damage that MAD is triggered.  In fact, that’s the entire point of the French nukes, if the US gets cold feet, the French will make WWIII happen and the US gets dragged in, even if it didn’t want to.

So Russia is facing three nuclear powers, which makes things unpredictable and volatile for them. Too many variables means a lot more risk.

And the risk is higher for Russia.  Suppose the Russians invade Estonia.  The US might not care. On the other hand Poland, next door, cares a lot, Poland sees the writing on the wall, and the Poles will commit. It was hard enough to keep the Poles from committing to Ukraine. They’re not going to stand by while their next door NATO partner gets taken.  If the Poles commit, then Germany has no choice but to go in.  If Germany goes in, then France and Britain are dragged in.

It’s basically a repeat of the alliances that dragged everyone into WWI, except really simplified.  Like stupidly simplified. And we all know how WWI turned out.

So Putin is just not going to do it. Because he’s not stupid.

And even if he was, he couldn’t, and I’ll explain why.

Remember all those cartoons of Pythons eating really huge animals, pigs or elephants.  They’d be snakes with these huge bulges.  Well, that’s what Russia trying to devour Ukraine is going to be.

But it’s not a cartoon. Once it conquers Ukraine, Russia has to do something with it.  Maybe try and incorporate the whole country into Russia. Maybe bite off the bits it wants, and set up a puppet state in the rest. Maybe set the whole thing up as a puppet state.

Putin thinks this will be easy. He’s basically said so out loud. He’s said several times, the Ukraine is not a real country. There’s this attitude in Russia that Ukraine’s are basically Russians, but stupid and funny talking. They see the Ukraine war as a unification of something that should never have been separated. They honestly believe that the Ukraines, after a bit of ‘enlightenment’ will smarten up and become good Russians. A third of the country already Russian, half the country has historically voted for Russian oriented leaders. There’s an entire population of ready made ethnic Russians or Russian speakers for collaborators. So basically, apart form teething troubles, the whole thing will go smoothly, and everyone will go forward arm in arm, or at least, everyone will accept the new reality.

That’s crazy wrong. That’s probably as wrong as they can get it.

Because the Ukraines have a whole different memory of how history went down. What they remember is the Russians inflicting the Holodomor on them, a massive man made famine that killed 5 to 10 million out of 30.  And while a lot of Ukrainians survived, almost everyone starved to some degree.  That kind of thing leaves scars that lasts for generations. That sort of thing doesn’t get forgotten or forgiven.

There’s more history than that. The Ukraines have been around for a long time, going back to the Kyivan Rus. In 19th century, Ukrainian nationalism had a revival. In 1918 to 1922, the Ukraine was a temporarily independent nation, until the Communists conquered them again, and eventually inflicted the Holodomor.

The Ukrainians following the Holodomor welcomed the Nazis, on the basis that the genocidal maniac that is the enemy of my genocidal maniac is my friend. That didn’t work out so well, but the Ukraines were in it if they could fight Russians. After the Nazis collapsed, the Ukrainian resistance continued into the 1950’s, killing over 35,000 Russians and collaborators before it was crushed.

1991, the first chance to leave, it left, voting 90% in favour of departing the Soviet Union, and maintaining independence for the next 30 years.

So the way that the Ukraines see things is very different from how the Russians think things are.  Even the pro-Russian factions of Ukrainian society have mostly rethought their loyalties with the Russians gratuitously cruel and bloody invasion.  There ain’t no friendlies left.

All of this goes towards establishing that the smooth, peaceful and eventually productive reunification that Putin fantasizes about… probably not going to be a thing.

Now, let’s take a trip down memory lane. 2003, Invasion of Iraq.  The US figures that once it conquers Iraq, it will just hire a couple of Saddam’s old generals, hold some phony elections, and subcontract the Iraq army out to keep the country under control. The Iraq Army is not good for much, but it should do the job. In, out, re-arm and re-equip, low cost.

Didn’t turn out that way. Saddam remained on the loose for nine months. The Iraqi army couldn’t be trusted with Saddam on the loose, so it got dissolved. The Americans had to occupy the country themselves. They couldn’t trust the locals. So, an American Army got tied down for the next eight years.

And that was a tough thing, because the Americans didn’t actually have the troops for it. They had to go raiding the State National guards. They had to call up reservists. There were stop losses. There were extended tours. Keeping Iraq supplied with troops became like a game of three card monte. Forty and fifty year olds and weekend warriors were suddenly doing tours of duty in the Middle East. Crazy stuff.

Well, history is about to repeat itself. Putin’s not going to trust local administrators and officials. He’ll put his own people in. Then they’ll not be able to trust their staffs, so they’ll need to import a lot more Russians to keep things going, work alongside and keep an eye on the Ukrainians. All those remnants of the Ukrainian military, all those leftover supplies, missing supplies, Ukrainian weapons systems, javelin missiles, explosives and AK47’s, and literally tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of angry bitter ex military. That’s an insurgency.

Conventional military theory says  that you need a ratio of somewhere between 1 soldier and 25 to 40 civilians.

Well, do the math. The Ukraine is 46 million.  Ballparking, Putin will need between 1  and 1.5 million troops to occupy Ukraine.

He doesn’t have that many troops.

Doctrine also suggests that you don’t use your invasion troops on occupation duties. The invasion troops saw their friends die, they went through the ugly fighting, they committed rapes and massacres. So with invasion troops, they got bad blood against the civilians, the civilians have bad blood against the invaders. So the occupation gets messy, and by messy, I mean bloody, and by bloody, I mean insurgency fuel.

So now Putin has a problem.  He just doesn’t have the troops for an occupation period.  All the choices are bad. If he goes with occupation light, there’s no way to control an insurgency, it develops fast, entrenches, and you’ll never get rid of it. He can try and use the invasion troops, but that’s just going to lead to atrocities that will strengthen the insurgency, and there’s still not enough.

Eventually, with a draft and call up, Putin can expand the size of the army, call up shitloads of fresh recruits, train or retrain them, arm them, get them uniforms, buy or build the support vehicles and support systems, etc. That’ll take six months to a year or two.  And its going to be expensive as hell.

And in all that time, the Insurgency is going to be putting down deep roots.

Back in the 40’s and 50’s, the communists managed to quash a Ukraine Insurgency. But back then, they had all the advantages.  This time, the Insurgency will have the benefit of having been a state for thirty years, with all the communications, networking, relationships and organization that’s involved in. It’ll be a lot harder to infiltrate. And whereas in the aftermath of WWII, the Ukrainians were on their own… well, here the Ukraines have smuggling routes open to Romania, Poland even to dissidents in Belarus.

And the Ukraine’s pretty much have a straight highway or train trip to Moscow and any other Russian city they want to hit, and can easily pass for Russian when they want to. The Iraqi’s never had that.

So fair odds of a live, very bloody, very hard to root out insurgency.

And there’s a wee problem.  How you going to invade any other country, or even pick a fight with any other country, when most of your army is tied down occupying Ukraine?

Putin is not going to be going on any adventures, because for the next few years, all of Russia’s attention is going to be occupied with trying to occupy Ukraine. It’s going to take a lot of troops, a lot of administrators, a lot of spies, technicians, support.  It’s going to be a huge commitment that pretty much precludes any other significant military operation.

Now, insurgencies rarely ever manage to overcome the invader by force of arms. It happens, but its not easy or common. Odds are long in this case, but actually, there’s a chance.

But typically, insurgencies win by bleeding the occupier dry. By forcing them to spend so much time, so much energy, so much attention, by bleeding them white and draining their budgets, that eventually the invader/occupier says “Screw this, we’re going home.”

Happened in Afghanistan, where the Mujahedeen spent ten years bleeding a much richer, much more powerful Soviet Union.  Happened again in Afghanistan, where eventually the Americans after twenty years of doing it on the cheap just gave up and went home.  Happened in Iraq.  Hell, happened in the American Revolutionary War.

Do you know how much the eight year invasion and occupation of Iraq cost the United States?  Two trillion dollars.

Two trillion dollars.

The entire Russian GDP is only 1.7 trillion dollars.

Think about that.

The Iraqi’s actually gave the Americans a chance, before they went to insurgency. Makes sense, they were a broken people, exhausted and dispirited from two monstrous losing wars, a decade of sanctions and air raids, an incompetent kleptocrat. I think that when the Americans decided to occupy, they were just glad it was finally all over and they hoped life could start getting better.

That’s not going to be what happens here. Instead, a nationalistic people with a generation of independence, have been traumatized by a brutal ruthless conquest, and a conqueror with generations of horrific baggage including genocide. It’s a country twice as large and many times richer than Iraq, against an occupier half the size, and with a tenth the economy of the United States.  The insurgency will be immediate, brutal and orders of magnitude worse.

Ultimately, America failed badly in Iraq, and it cost the United States two trillion dollars, a tenth of its GDP.


The Ukraine insurgency will be horrifically worse and horrifically more costly. And the Russian Economy doesn’t have 8 trillion to throw around, or even 2 trillion.

What’s going to happen is that occupying the Ukraine is going to break Russia. It’s going to bankrupt the country, drain the economy, suck up all its resources and attention. There’s going to be tens of thousands of bodies, and terrorism in every city, and a frightened occupation army suspicious of every tree. There’s going to be massive forced enlistment, massive desertion, anti-war movements.

I give Russia five years, before it says ‘screw this’ and goes home and licks its wounds.

After that at least two generations to recover from this botched, misguided fiasco.

There won’t be any new invasions, in the next five years, or the next thirty.

I almost pity the Russians.

But I pity the Ukrainians more. They’re in for a world of suffering and hurt. They’ll win, but the cost will be terrible.

EDIT:  I poked around a little bit, and a found an Occupation Ratio of 1 soldier in 50 civilians , developed by the Rand Corporation.  That’s still over 800,000 soldiers, which Putin just doesn’t have.

He can call up reserves, but it will take time to mobilize, equip and train them for the mission, which leaves him an extended window for the Insurgency to develop and put down very deep roots.  It’s still going to cost a lot to literally create and equip a functional occupation army from these reserves, and there will be protracted ongoing wear and tear.

As to numbers, I’ll offer a more accurate ballpark.  Very broadly, Russia spends 60 billion dollars on its military, putting it somewhere between 4th or 5th place worldwide (behind the US, China, India and Saudi Arabia) (barely ahead of Britan, France, Japan, Germany).

It has approximately one million men under Arms. I think the latest assessment is between 766,000 (reported persons by audit) and 1,027,000 (western estimates)

Of this, a significant portion is literally by design, dedicated for other purposes and unable to take direct part in the Invasion.
* Navy – ships, submarines, naval facilities, and naval aviation represents approximately 150,000.
* Aerospace forces, represent 165,000
* Strategic Rocket Forces, 50,000.

No one is going to be taking submarines or nuclear missiles to Kyiv. So count them out. All of this manpower is essentially trained and dedicated personnel already committed to their various missions. They’re not available for redeployment. You’re not going to reassign airplane mechanics, or submarine personnel to front lines, and their equipment is not the right equipment for the job.  So out of that 766,000 or 1,027,000, deduct  365,000.

That leaves between 400,000 and 662,000 armed forces personnel theoretically available. But some of this remainder are in specialized detachments –
* Border services 170,000
* National Guard, outside the military structure, responsible directly to the President, internal security –

We wouldn’t count those as available for use in an invasion. I can’t see stripping border services, and the job of the National Guard is not to fight, but to make sure that the other armed forces don’t try anything funny. They’re not going to be committed.

The invasion is primarily a matter of ground invasion with close air support, that gives you:
* Russian Ground Forces are 280,000
* Special operations Forces are 2500, maybe 3,000.
* Airborne (paratroopers, ground-air support), 45,000
So a total of 328,000 troops theoretically available for invasion.

But Russia is a huge country, with 20,000 km of borders, 16 countries on those borders, and 20 million square miles. So it’s difficult to use all of that. A lot of it has to stay stay on bases throughout, maintain systemic infrastructure etc. Just because you have 328,000, doesn’t mean that you can commit all of them.

The Invasion force, including staging and support outside the Ukraine and inside the Ukraine is estimated to be about 210,000.
This basically represents something like 65% of their available ground operations active duty manpower. That is an incredible proportion, and it is not sustainable.

Terms of enlistment for many soldiers will expire in April. Likely there will be stop losses.

There are reserves, but warm bodies just aren’t enough, you have to train and equip and deploy.

The US with comparable military numbers and vastly more wealth, was simply broken by the effort of conquering and containing Iraq. Russia will be broken.

So I want to caveat, that some of my assertions may turn out to be overstated.  These are quibbles, they don’t change my argument or my conclusions.