The human factor in the war in Ukraine, by Jesús A. Núñez Villaverde


The will to win, along with freedom of action and the ability to execute, is one of the three fundamental principles of the art of war. Without it, the available means are worth little, including the budget dedicated to defense, the industrial base and the combat systems with which the armed forces are equipped. This is an impossible factor to quantify and in which The psychological component plays a fundamental role, the collective unconscious shared by the members of a national community in defense of their identity and, of course, the history and values ​​that have shaped it. In the case of the war in Ukraine, it seems clear that this will is much more present on the Ukrainian side than on the Russian side.

As much as Vladimir Putin has insisted on wanting to demonstrate that there is no Ukrainian identity other than the Russian, nothing indicates that the soldiers he is using in the invasion of his neighbor act with the necessary conviction to prevail. Many of them believed to be carrying out military maneuvers in the Western District of Russia and in Belarus, and have been plunged into real conflict against people who speak to them in their own language and who make them question their own performance. Others – up to 30% according to various Western sources, after Moscow initially denied their presence – are mandatory replacement soldiersmuch more interested in counting the days remaining for his discharge (April 1) than in being involved in a war that, on top of that, is going so badly for Moscow.

Both of them, mostly without previous combat experience, suffer daily hardships derived from a lousy strategic planning and tactical execution, both in their diet and in their living conditions in a winter scenario for which their team is also unprepared. And although they cannot handle reliable information about the number of casualties they are suffering, they know from their own experience that the figure is exorbitant. One derives from everything poor combat morale which, in part, explains the high number of high-ranking military commanders killed in the first step of the Russian deployment (seven in just one month of operations), forced to expose themselves to that risk in order to get their orders carried out and try to boost the morale of some commanders and poorly motivated troops.

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For his part, and in clear contrast to his attitude after the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014, the ukrainian armed forces are showing a strong will to fight. The brutal Russian offensive and, to widespread surprise, the example of Volodymyr Zelensky as national leader now unchallenged, largely explain the current situation. Evidently the Ukrainian forces, even with the addition of the citizen territorial defense battalions and the multinational troops of the International Legion, are not in a position to obtain victory and expel the invading forces from their territory; but with what has been done so far have completely derailed Putin’s plans. They defend themselves and their loved ones and, ultimately, they defend the existence of Ukraine as an independent state; something that many gave as a non-existent feeling or, at least, weak in a structurally fragmented country. And now Putin has taken it upon himself to activate it.

Maybe one day it won’t be like that anymore, and autonomous weapons don’t need anyone to animate them; but for now the human factor still counts. And a lot.


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