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How Ukraine could become Putin's 'Vietnam,' say military analysts

Nathan Rennolds   

How Ukraine could become Putin's 'Vietnam,' say military analysts
  • It's almost two years since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
  • While there's no clear end in sight, experts say Ukraine could become Russia's "Vietnam."

As the Russia-Ukraine war enters its third year, there's still no end to the conflict in sight.

But while Ukraine is suffering from dwindling supplies of munitions and is struggling to recruit new troops, its forces could benefit from a drawn-out war of attrition should it continue to receive aid from Western nations, analysts from the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) said in a press briefing this week.

Some of the analysts noted that the conflict in Ukraine could even become a "Vietnam" for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"We've seen smaller countries frequently defeat larger countries in battle, with Vietnam and others being key examples. And I think that's exactly the right way to view this war," Max Bergmann, the director of the Europe, Russia, and Eurasia Program at the CSIS, said in a press briefing earlier this week.

In the Vietnam War, more than 58,000 Americans lost their lives in a long, protracted fight alongside South Vietnam against the communist government of North Vietnam.

The war, which began in the 1950s, lasted until 1975, when the South Vietnamese capital of Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese Army.

"I don't see the Ukrainians giving up, because this is an existential war for them. It is not an existential war for Russia," said Eliot A. Cohen, the Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy at the CSIS.

With crucial military aid from the West, analysts believe Ukraine could achieve something similar, grinding down Russian morale and potentially forcing Russia to readdress the costs and benefits of the invasion.

"I would just point to the repeated examples of small powers wearing down and defeating much larger ones: the Soviets losing in Afghanistan, the French and the US in Vietnam, the US and NATO in Afghanistan, the French in Algeria," Seth Jones, senior vice president at the CSIS, said in the press briefing.

"Plenty of examples where there was, to paraphrase Pakistan's ISI during the 1980s war in Afghanistan against the Soviets, death by a thousand cuts," he added.

But Ukraine's chances of success rest heavily on continuing Western aid packages.

Congress is currently debating a $60 billion package that could prove pivotal in shaping the course of the war.

"If that funding is passed I have no doubt that Ukraine will be able to completely absorb the Russian offensive that is going on in 2024," Bergmann said. "In fact, I would be quite optimistic about Ukraine's potential in 2025."

The bill passed through the Senate earlier this week and will now go to the House of Representatives.