Home » Ukraine Update: Russia can probably sustain a stalemate for only 3 more years

Ukraine Update: Russia can probably sustain a stalemate for only 3 more years

Republicans argue that sending aid to Ukraine is a bottomless pit where American money disappears with no hope for a positive outcome. Without American aid, there is justifiable pessimism around how Ukraine could win a war funded only by its European allies. It would mean steep cuts to Ukraine’s war effort.

But even as Republicans in Congress continue to block Ukrainian aid, there are good reasons to be optimistic about Ukrainian prospects in the long term. And there are good reasons to believe Ukraine can win a war of attrition against Russia.

Let’s conceptualize what it means to win a war of attrition.

Imagine Russia’s war-making abilities as a large reservoir of water, a pipe, and a smaller tank.

The reservoir represents Russia’s long-term capacity for supporting its invasion. This includes its GDP, military industries, manpower, and physical resources—the ability of Russia to continue to put soldiers and materiel in the field.

The pipe represents Russia’s short-term ability to convert long-term capacity into actual frontline combat resources. For example, the month-to-month delivery of artillery shells, armored vehicles, infantry, and supplies.

Finally, the tank of water represents the amount of combat power Russia has available at the front. This is the total capability of its frontline units and immediately deployable reserve forces.

Given that Ukraine doesn’t have the realistic option of bombing Russia’s military infrastructure into oblivion (attacking the “pipe”), Ukraine has two avenues to victory:

  • Drain the frontline combat power of Russia faster than it can be refilled. That is, eliminate Russian soldiers, armor, and supplies faster than they can be replaced by the pipe—until Russian frontline forces break down sufficiently that a significant weakness opens up.
  • Continue to fight until Russia’s long-term capacity is sufficiently reduced so that it cannot continue to sustain its frontline combat power.

The former is the shortest path to Ukrainian victory—but would require a manyfold increase in Ukrainian units equipped with Western arms and armor. Providing Ukraine with a military capable of quickly degrading Russia’s fighting ability through combat losses is likely impossible without additional large-scale U.S. aid. With Ukraine aid bills stalled in the U.S. Congress, that option is currently off the table.

While it would take longer, the latter route gives Ukraine another path to victory, straining Russia’s long-term capacity to the breaking point.

This may seem a hopeless task. Most serious analysts of the Russian economy or war industry agree that Russia is not at any imminent risk of economic or industrial collapse, let alone running out of manpower. One reason for optimism, however, is Russia’s reliance on refurbished Soviet-era equipment for a majority of its armor production.

For example, one of the most important armored vehicles in the war in Ukraine has been the infantry fighting vehicle (IFV). Able to transport small groups of infantry into battle, packing a moderate amount of armor protection and a quick-firing autocannon that can devastate enemy light vehicles or infantry, IFVs like the Soviet-era BMP1 and BMP2 are a common and critically important vehicle in both the Ukrainian and Russian armies.

Infantry fighting vehicles are also lost in massive quantities. Oryx’s database of Russian war losses lists 3,286 visually identified IFVs that have been destroyed. 

(Warning: The video below contains graphic violence.) 

Russia began its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 with an estimated 4,000 BMP1, BMP2, and BMP3 IFVs. Russia has lost likely approximately half of these vehicles in just under two years of fighting, with losses amounting to an estimated 2,000 Russian IFVs. Russia appears to have provided just enough replacement vehicles to maintain its strength in the face of these losses.

Russia currently produces only the BMP3, having closed its production lines of the Soviet-era BMP2 years ago. Russian production of BMP3s, even if we take Russian official figures at face value, amounts to only 400 BMP3s a yearor, at most, 800 BMP3s in the past two years. Russia has procured another 1,200 replacement IFVs with refurbished Soviet-era BMP2 and BMP1 mostly stored in major outdoor storage depots.

Far East Russian vehicle storage depot.
Soviet-era armored vehicle storage depot in the Russian Far East.

At the close of the Cold War, the Russian army inherited a disproportionately large amount of military equipment from the Red Army, compared with what the former Soviet satellite states received. But while Russia had a Soviet-sized military, it didn’t have the economy to sustain it.

As a result, Russia placed thousands of Soviet-era tanks, IFVs, armored personnel carriers, artillery, and other equipment into outdoor storage sites.

Facing a massive budget crunch in the early 2000s, in the initial years of his rule, Russian dictator Vladimir Putin implemented a series of cost-cutting measures, arguably the most important of which was an end to subsidies that kept the Russian military industry afloat. Only profitable Russian military industries that could continue to operate without state support survived. As a consequence, many Russian military industries simply disappeared, such as the domestic ability to produce semiconductor chips or military-grade hardened steel.

Mass production lines of older and cheaper Soviet arms, like the T-72 tank or the BMP2 IFV, were abandoned, as was the infrastructure necessary to mass-produce military-grade steel to feed those production lines. Discussions about reviving older BMP2 production lines have gone nowhere, since the factories, equipment, and steel mills that fed them have been gone for 20 years. The only production lines that survived were refurbishing old Soviet equipment, and producing a small number of high-tech weapons that were designed in the last days of the USSR—such as the T-90 tank or the BMP3 IFV.

The problem for Russia is that though the stocks of aging Soviet IFVs are massive, they are not infinite.

A recent accounting of Soviet IFVs visible in publicly available satellite imagery indicates a massive drop in the number of IFVs remaining in storage depots compared with two years ago.


High Marsed’s analysis indicates that from outdoor storage depots, Russia removed 1,081 BMPs of various types, corresponding to those aforementioned estimates that Russia sent 1,200 refurbished BMPs to the front in the past two years (over 700 in 2023).

What’s more, High Marsed’s analysis suggests that only 2,200 repairable BMPs remain. And even that might be overly optimistic for Russia, as Marsed explains that only visibly degraded vehicles were excluded from the count. Many vehicles could be degraded in ways that are not readily visible from satellite imagery.

Thus, at a consumption rate of around 600-700 vehicles per year, it seems a reasonable guess would be Russia would run out of BMPs to refurbish in late 2026 to early 2027.

But the collapse of Russia’s steel-alloy production capacity has implications beyond just IFVs. Russian tank production and replacement artillery tubes both also require specialized hardened military-grade steel alloys.

Russian tank production is similarly reliant on repaired Soviet-era tanks. And Russian artillery-tube production is in such a distressed state that the country’s primary source of replacement artillery barrels is cannibalizing barrels from archaic towed howitzers. Altogether, it looks like Russia will burn through its remaining Soviet stocks by late 2026, when its Soviet inheritance likely runs out. 

The question is, assuming that the U.S. eventually grants limited support, can Ukraine resist into 2027 and 2028, when these shortages would likely begin degrading the Russian army?


January 2024