Will the front line in Ukraine change significantly in 2023?
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resolved Jan 3
Resolved
NO

Will the territory controlled by Ukraine/Russia change significantly at any time before January 1, 2024? This would include major territorial gains or capture of important cities/objects.

Possible examples: Russian capture of Zaporizhzhia/Kherson, Ukrainian Capture of Melitopol. Not sufficient: capture of cities like Bakhmut (little strategic importance or territorial gains).

The resolution will be subjective to a degree, feel free to ask about any particular cases.

See also:

UPD: Changed closing date to Jan 2, 2024, in order to have a bit time for reports to surface. Since the question is about significant change, this should be enough. The resolution cirteria is still about front line change in 2023.

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Can there be the same question made for 2024?

@PlainBG There is, the title is just worded a bit differently to include changes in the remainder of 2023 as well

predicted YES

@Quadrifold From the New York TImes today, Dec 26
"Ukrainian officials acknowledged that they had all but retreated from the eastern city of Marinka after a monthslong battle to defend it."

@JimPokorney

As far as I'm aware, Marinka doesn't have much significance strategically, and doesn't represent significant territorial gains, so it wouldn't lead to a positive resolution.

predicted YES

@PS I don't think it should lead to a YES resolution, but Marinka is quite important, it was very heavily fortified, and played an important role in the chain of Ukrainian defensive positions around Donetsk.

@AlexandreK I don't disagree with that, but AFAIK it has at most a tactical significance. For comparison, the market description explicitly said the capture of Bakhmut wouldn't count as a significant change of the frontline.

bought Ṁ50 of YES

With Raids Across Dnipro River, Ukraine May Be Seeking New Front in War

Military experts are reporting extensive strikes on Russian-held territory in the south, potentially with the goal of establishing a bridgehead on the east bank of the Dnipro.

https://www.nytimes.com/2023/10/20/world/europe/ukraine-russia-war-dnipro-assault.html?unlocked_article_code=1.4Ew.c0Ce.zNZQrYMJmHlG&smid=url-share

bought Ṁ1 YES at 11%
predicted YES

I am bullish on this (and similar) markets.

I think that this market should be closer to 50%. I think that the most likely way this market resolves YES is that Ukraine breaks through the Russian lines in southern Ukraine from the Robotyne salient and rapidly advances 10s of km within a week. Getting all the way to the coast seems less likely than cutting the Melitopol - Tokmak - Dontesk railway.

So far, there have been 3-4 Ukrainian offensives which caused the front line to change significantly: Kiev (March 2022), maybe Kharkiv city (May 2022), Kharkiv oblast (September 2022), and Kherson (November 2022). In each case, there was a long period of attrition where the balance of power was unclear, followed by a rapid Ukrainian advance.

For example, during the Kherson offensive, on Nov 8, this and similar markets were at 40% and falling. On Nov 14, Zelenskyy was walking around downtown Kherson.
https://manifold.markets/Nostradamnedus/will-ukraine-recapture-the-city-of

Objection: Russia choose to withdraw from Kherson & Kiev to more defensible positions. They're unlikely to choose to withdraw here because that would not make their positions more defensible.
This is true, but Russia did not choose to withdraw from Kharkiv city or Kharkiv oblast and the same pattern held.

Objection: Mud season is starting soon.
Mud season is less significant in southern Ukraine than northern Ukraine. Both sides have made rapid advances during mud season in southern Ukraine previously. Both sides are saying that they're not planning on stopping for mud season or the winter.

Objection: The Russian line has fortifications, which makes rapid advance less likely. This was not the case in for previous offensives.
This is true, and part of why I'm not higher. However, the Surovikin lines are not proving as tactically significant as I expected. For several weeks now, the front line has been past the first Surovikin line to the east of Robotyne and not yet to the first Surovikin line to the west of Robotyne. Instead of being stabilized by fortifications, the Russian lines seem to be stabilized by frequent counterattacks by VDV forces.

Objection: Attackers take more casualties / attrition than defenders, so the longer this goes on, the more the balance of power favors Ukraine and a rapid counteroffensive becomes less likely.
This is not obvious. It seems plausible that Russia is taking more casualties than Ukraine. Ukraine seems to be winning the counter-battery fight, which gives them a local advantage in artillery. Russian counterattacks are more costly than trying to hold the trenches and gradually ceding ground would be. Ukraine claims that they are intentionally going slowly in order to maintain a favorable casualty ratio.

There is decent evidence that Russian forces are being severely attrited. Both Ukrainian sources and Russian milbloggers talk about this extensively. In addition to talk, there is some evidence of Russia redeploying units, like the 83rd Separate Airborne Brigade of the VDV, from Bakhmut to Robotyne. This redeployment suggests that (1) Russia thinks that southern Ukraine is more strategically important than Bakhmut, which seems right, (2) Russia is concerned that the frontline near Robotyne might not hold if it is not reinforced, and (3) Russia does not currently have any high quality forces to do the job who are not engaged fighting elsewhere. I am much less certain about how attrited Ukrainian forces are. They have been committing reserves, which suggests that the initial forces have seen significant attrition, but they have not moved any forces between areas with active fighting yet.

In past Ukrainian offensives, I was surprised by how quickly the line moved once it got started. In the course of several days, I would go from being uncertain about the balance of power in a war of attrition, to hearing that Ukraine had captured positions far behind where the line had been. By the fourth time this happened, I was in a position to make some Ṁ from the Ukrainian capture of Kherson. There are some reasons to think that this time will be different, but I do not think that we should be too surprised by a rapid Ukrainian advance a fifth time.

Currently, my favorite commentary on this topic is by Michael Kofman and Rob Lee: https://warontherocks.com/2023/09/perseverance-and-adaptation-ukraines-counteroffensive-at-three-months/

bought Ṁ1 YES at 11%
predicted NO

@JeffreyHeninger Sounds like free money. Have you considered buying this up to at least 40%?

predicted YES

@Akzzz123 I prefer to accumulate large positions through regular small purchases (to get the daily streak) or through limit orders.

predicted YES

Since I posted this, another of my favorite sources on the war in Ukraine, Perun, has posted a video analyzing the counteroffensive: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vjf_vAkaBS8

predicted NO

@JeffreyHeninger

That doesn't look like an optimal allocation of your portfolio. You might find this interesting.

https://corporatefinanceinstitute.com/resources/data-science/kelly-criterion/

predicted YES

@JeffreyHeninger I agree with your analysis, but I'm not so confident the roll back will occur before Jan.

If the attrition is as effective as thought, and if Russia can politically neither retreat nor do another mobilization, then their troops are what they have, and they are being whittled away, leaving the remainders stretched and exhausted and unable to recuperate.

predicted YES

@Akzzz123 Mearsheimer has been wrong about everything so this is a contrarian signal.

predicted NO

@ErikCorry what was he wrong about? I haven't followed his thoughts and so first exposure was the summary above which aligns with my beliefs at the moment

predicted NO

@ErikCorry What was he wrong about?

predicted NO

@NicoDelon Almost everything. It's much more difficult to find anything that he was actually right about. His largest and most confident prediction was that in the post-Soviet era, Europe would descend into multipolarity and nuclear proliferation.

predicted NO

@SemioticRivalry Thanks! Surely if he was wrong about everything it would be easy to point at least one thing out. Glad you did.

predicted NO

@SemioticRivalry well okay since you didn't mention anything specific, I did read his wiki page and found he predicted the US would quickly and easily win the Persian Gulf war, which was not just a correct prediction, but also one that is relevant to the sort of military power analysis he is basing his Ukraine war prediction on. (He also suggested Ukraine should keep their nuclear weapons which now doesn't seem obviously wrong!)

predicted NO

@AlQuinn his pieces on Ukraine have been extremely shoddy and have been ridiculed by everyone serious. He said that Russia has at least a 2:1 advantage in the casualty exchange ratio simply because they have more artillery tubes. This is an insane claim. I'm not even saying he's wrong here (I hold 1,700 no shares) but he's simply not a good source.

predicted NO

@SemioticRivalry I found the one where he mentions a likely 2:1 loss ratio, and that seems to rest, at least in part, on the analysis done here in the case of Bakhmut: https://bigserge.substack.com/p/the-battle-of-bakhmut-postmortem?utm_source=substack&utm_campaign=post_embed&utm_medium=web

The little I've read on loss ratios in this war suggested the error bars are rather large due to secrecy and propaganda on both sides. But if someone going by the name "Big Serge" isn't a good source, who are these "serious" people you are referencing?

predicted NO

@AlQuinn yes, big serge the highly credible man with the russian flag in his twitter name and who declared that the kharkiv offensive was a disaster :) surely such a reliable academic like mearsheimer would only cite this man if he was an authoritative source.

https://twitter.com/witte_sergei/status/1568360951015157760

https://bigserge.substack.com/p/ukraine-counterattacks

predicted NO

@SemioticRivalry Yes, I saw that, but he also has a US flag in his Xitter name, and last I checked, little Russian flag icons don't necessarily mean you're wrong. But I wasn't siding with Big Serge anyway; rather I was asking if you could point to an analysis on loss ratios that you think is more credible.

predicted NO

@AlQuinn The American estimate was about 300k Russian casualties to 200k Ukrainian casualties, this matches up with several independent assessments. I agree that there are high error bars and I have seen varying estimates, but I haven't seen anyone credible suggest that Ukrainian casualties are higher than Russian, let alone "conservatively 2:1".

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Casualties_of_the_Russo-Ukrainian_War#Total_casualties

predicted NO

@SemioticRivalry The casualty sources listed there are fairly limited, and seem to ultimately rest on the assessments of the following: US Intelligence, anti-Putin Russian media, and Ukrainian government sources. All of these sources have a vested interest to skew the numbers in favor of Ukraine to varying extents. Based on this sort of evidence, I wouldn't completely exclude the possibility of a 2:1 ratio, even if it's not the most likely interpretation of the fragmentary data.

predicted YES

@AlQuinn

Mearsheimer is obsessed with NATO's role, whereas Russia has imperial ambitions that are independent of what NATO wants. They have destabilized all their neighbours with frozen "civil war" conflicts that all feature Russian support (and soldiers) for the "breakaway regions".

Ukraine - Donbas
Moldova - Transnistria
Azerbaijan - Nagorno-Karabakh
Georgiia - Abkhazia and South Osettia


Russia has also supported the Catalan breakaway movement for similar reason. And intervened in a brutal way in Syria.

Nobody was talking about NATO membership for Azerbaijan, or Moldova, but that didn't stop Russia from destabilizing them. Mearsheimer thinks everything in the world is caused by US foreign policy, and that countries like Ukraine don't have any opinions or interests worth taking into account.


Here are Mearsheimer's predictions from the beginning of June this year. These predictions have aged like milk, apart from the "no peace agreement" and "F16s take time" ones, which were pretty obvious. In particular, 1) Russia is further than ever from taking Odessa and Kharkiv, 2) the East of Ukraine is also a Porcupine now, 3) Zelensky did not enter the Minsk agreement since he was a comedian at the time, 4) NATO expansion has been a great deal for those who joined NATO, 5) the Russian air defence has been seriously damanged, 6) Ukraine has attacked targets inside Russia and this has caused no escalation, 7) nuclear response from Russia does not look any closer than it was.


Mearsheimer in the beginning of June:

(2) What’s likely to happen next:

— Russia will take the 4 oblasts they already annexed plus (if they can) another 4 oblasts to the Dnipro River including Odessa and Kharkiv. The goal would be to bring all the ethnic Russians under their control to avoid another “Donbas problem.”

— Russia doesn’t want to take western Ukraine (trying to conquer ethnic Ukrainians who hate them would be like “trying to swallow a porcupine”); but their goal is to turn Ukraine into a dysfunctional rump state so it can’t threaten them or be used as a Western bulwark on their border.

— There’s not going to be a peace agreement. Best case is a frozen conflict. Why? (1) the parties can’t agree on territory. (2) they can’t agree on neutrality. (3) Hyper-nationalism. Hatred on both sides makes a deal impossible. (4) No trust. Western leaders and Zelensky admitted that they had no intention of honoring the Minsk agreements and entered them just to buy time.

— George Kennan, Adm. Bill Perry, Amb. Jack Matlock, and Gen. Shalikashvili said that NATO expansion was a prescription for disaster. They were right. It’s only going to get worse. Mearsheimer hopes to be wrong about this, but this is his prediction.

— F16s won’t make a difference because it takes a long time to train good pilots. Also the Russians have very good air defense, and their own Air Force is ready to engage. Biggest risk of F16s is that Ukraine uses them to attack targets inside of Russia, creating an escalation, which could draw the US deeper into the war.

— Mearsheimer believes that if the Russians are losing the war, the likelihood of nuclear use to rescue the situation is high. (The war is existential for the Russians.) But as it stands now, the odds of nuclear use are very low because the Russians are winning.

predicted NO

@ErikCorry I agree that Mersheimer's view of NATO expansion being the ultimate trigger of the current war is a flawed view. He suggests that NATO expansion was a existential threat to Russia, while I believe the actual problem wasn't NATO in particular but western values that are a threat to the Russian regime (not country). The example of a large former core area of the Soviet empire (Ukraine ) taking a Western course provides a potent counterexample to the Russian system that cannot be tolerated by the Moscow kleptocracy.

But I don't say he's completely wrong: for example, access to the Black sea via Sevastopol is potentially jeopardized depending the the fervor of Ukraine's pro-western/anti-Russian disposition and nationalist sentiment. At least Mersheimer's model is better than 🤡Peter Zeihan🤡 who suggests Russia is afraid of being invaded via the Northern European plain...

And yes, I did read Mersheimer's June substack post and I think it's mostly still plausible (or too early to tell) with the exception of the NATO historiagraphy mentioned above.

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