Russia’s all out invasion of Ukraine has lasted over a year with Russian Forces occupying Crimea and half of the Donbas region since 2014. Moscow’s objectives to force Kyiv into capitulation and make it a landlocked nation have fallen through as both nations have suffered casualty figures not seen since the Iran-Iraq War.
The war has not been conducted as thoroughly as the Kremlin has expected it to be to say the least. One could argue it’s been quite disastrous as their objectives of demilitarization of Ukraine, regime change, and “denazification” have failed.
With a constant shakeup of command inside the Russian Ministry of Defense and Ukraine conducting stiff defensive operations that have exhausted Moscow’s combat power, there are parallels of how disastrous this invasion has been to prior wars in history. One of which is the Greco-Turkish War of 1919-1922, which has shown some of the greatest parallels to the underachieving ambitions of the Russian Federation.
The Greco-Turkish War
The Greco-Turkish War came in the aftermath of WWI. The Hellenic Kingdom, led by a faction by PM Venizelos, attempted the ‘Megali idea’ of uniting ancestral Greek homelands of Asia Minor with mainland Greece. Turkish forces, largely demilitarized in the Ottoman capitulation, were reorganized by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk to establish a Republic and expel Greek forces.
The war was embroiled in massacres between both sides, but ultimately led to the conclusion of the Greek Genocide, expulsion of the Hellenic Army, and most of the remaining Greek population in Turkey. Behind the scenes, the war was politicked by world powers and a diplomatic dispute between the National Schism in Greece that ultimately played a major role in the decreasing morale of their forces. Today, in Ukraine, Russia has been suffering from much of the same problems the Hellenic Kingdom faced from 1919 to 1922.
Massacres have rallied the local population
During the Greco-Turkish War, there were several massacres by Hellenic forces against the Turkish population. This played into the hands of the Kemalists as they became more popular and gathered more support from civilians, ultranationalists, and irregular militias. Athens had lost the heart and minds of the local Muslims, and this only costed the Anatolian Greek population later on.
Despite pretending that they care about the Ukrainian population and want to “save” them, RF have destroyed everything they have touched in the nation. Cities such as Bakhmut, Severodonetsk, Mariupol, and others are a wasteland. RF have committed massacres in Bucha, Irpin, and Izium, and have placed mass graves outside of Mariupol. These actions have only rallied Ukrainians to Kyiv to where localized polls have stated the majority of the country wants to continue fighting, even if nukes are used against them. The “brotherly” bond Russia envisioned has now been turned into a cycle of violence.
Overextension of forces and logistics
Despite having the largest invasion force in Europe since WWII, the Kremlin severely overestimated their military capabilities. Overextending their forces across the Dnipro River and committing a large column to encircle Kyiv has cost Russia tens of thousands of lives and countless equipment.
When Ukraine cut off RF supplies by taking out bridges during their offensive of Kherson, this left a logistical strain in which the MOD had no choice but to order a withdrawal to the other side of the river. In 1919, the Hellenic Army decided to push into Central Anatolia, rather than continue consolidating gains on the Aegean coastline. This overextended their forces and left them with a severe supply shortage, costing them key battles later in the war.
Key terrain and defense
During the ongoing invasion of Ukraine, one could argue that Putin has not been informed of the realities on his ground by his generals who are either too afraid of being sacked or refuse to take responsibility for their poor planning. As seen during the first few weeks of the war, RF stormed the country in the muddy season with few roads to reach Kyiv. The ZSU would take advantage of their columns and slowly pick them off through attrition to where Moscow was forced to change objectives throughout the rest of the war.
Ukraine’s defensive posture to remain calm and fortify positions, even when under siege has been critical in exhausting RF. This has been seen in the battles such as in Mariupol, Bakhmut, and Severodonetsk that have been pyrrhic at most for the Kremlin as the shortage of men and equipment played into Kyiv’s hands in fall of 2022.
In the Greco-Turkish War, a strong defense by the Kemalists at the Battle of Sakarya was a turning point in the war. Already overextended, the Greek army pushed into unfamiliar terrain and expended much of their combat power to where they eventually were exposed in their weaker lines of defense. In the fall of 2022, the ZSU would score a major victory by attacking the weaker lines of RF in Kharkiv, which saw a lightning liberation of the oblast and panic that led to partial mobilization in Russia.
Decreasing morale and internal conflicts
After the Battle of Sakarya, Kemalist forces became emboldened by the weakening defensive lines of the Greek military. Their counteroffensive would pick up in the Battle of Dumlupinar, which ultimately forced defensive lines of the Hellenic Army to collapse. Greek forces were highly unmotivated in 1922 with the National Schism playing a major role in the war with officers of the royalist faction replacing the more experienced ones under Venizelos, making it easier for Mustafa Kemal to break through.
The longer the War in Ukraine goes, the more the Kremlin is on edge. Kyiv’s lightning offensive in Kharkiv shocked Moscow so much, it immediately moved to annexation of occupied regions. Troop morale amongst RF has been low, with heavy criticism by Russian bloggers and commanders on the command structure.
These criticisms were due to failed objectives in the war against Defense Minister Shoigu and other Russian officers. Along with disastrous offensives, even with newly mobilized conscripts as seen in Vuhledar in which an entire elite brigade was wiped out. If Moscow continues to take massive casualties for minimal land and don’t reach any objectives that forces Kyiv to negotiate, it’s very well possible more infighting will continue and the hardliners will look to take more power.
Dwindling Allied support
During the height of the Greco-Turkish War, Ankara played a comprehensive strategy and had help from outside support that Athens could not keep up with. The Entente was a military alliance during the Great War but afterwards, they all had their own ambitions that often conflicted with each other.
Italy and the Kingdom of Greece had disputes over the Aegean isles, particularly the Dodecanese. Italy would support the Kemalists later in the war. The French, who originally fought against the Kemalists, made a deal to recognize their government, allowing Turkish forces to free up troops from Cilicia to combat against Greece. Russia was now under Soviet rule and they heavily armed the Kemalists to try and sway Turkey under their sphere of influence.
The British, whose parliament originally supported Greece to quell Kemal’s insurgency, now faced backlash at home from citizens who were tired of war. They gradually withdrew support and Athens now found themselves on their own, leading to the catastrophe and Great Fire of Smyrna and the decisive ending of the war for the Kemalists.
Putin, who envisioned a “multipolar” order to upend the West and Ukraine has formed a coalition of the unwilling. India’s PM told Russia that now is not the time for war. China has warned Moscow of the consequences if they use nukes, and Serbia, one of Russia’s closest allies since the 1800s has stated they refuse to recognize any Russian annexation of Ukrainian lands.
The few states that have supported Moscow are Iran and North Korea, in which the former, though arming Russia, will not recognize any annexation. The DPRK can only offer minimal support under a failing state and Cold War era stockpiles. Lukashenko has teetered over openly supporting the war to buy himself time as his citizens have become more progressive and condemn his authoritative rule.
In CTSO, Kazakhstan has openly condemned Russia’s invasion and warmongering and pro-Russian sentiments have slowly died in Armenia as the nation has felt abandoned by Moscow during their conflicts with Azerbaijan. CTSO’s fate remains in an hourglass as Central Asia and Armenia are now looking for alternatives from the Kremlin’s rogue actions.
What is the endgame?
The Greco-Turkish ended in a Turkish military victory and birth of the Republic of Turkey. Athens would suffer from internal conflicts which saw the PM and several cabinet members executed, along with the highly incompetent Royalists fleeing from the same potential fate. Suffering from economic woes, a refugee crisis, and unstable governments, the scars of the military defeat of the Hellenic Kingdom is still felt to this day.
The fate of the War in Ukraine remains ominous as Kyiv still needs heavy weapons to fully expel RF and Moscow lacks the capabilities it once had to force Zelensky to negotiate or capitulate. The war now comes down to who has more logistical capabilities to sustain their forces. As long as Kyiv continues to receive heavy weapons such as MLRS, tanks, and potentially jets, they could make a breakthrough.
Russia will look to continue pushing for years, hoping western support for Ukraine dies down, as Turkey did with the West abandoning Greece in 1922. This strategy could also backfire on the Kremlin as an ever decreasing demographic means they do not have the endless manpower they once had under Stalin. If defeats continue, Moscow could face a 1917 scenario as unmotivated troops with no clear objective are likely to protest their commanders and potentially mutiny.
*Julian McBride is a forensic anthropologist and independent journalist born in New York. He reports and documents the plight of people around the world who are affected by conflicts, rogue geopolitics, and war, and also tells the stories of war victims whose voices are never heard. Julian is the founder and director of the Reflections of War Initiative (ROW), an anthropological NGO which aims to tell the stories of the victims of war through art therapy. As a former Marine, he uses this technique not only to help heal PTSD but also to share people’s stories through art, which conveys “the message of the brutality of war better than most news organizations.”