“Just like in the First World War, we have reached the level of technology that puts us into a stalemate,” Ukrainian general Valerii Zaluzhnyi admitted late last year. “There will most likely be no deep and beautiful breakthrough.”
That blunt assessment from the Ukrainian commander in chief, made in a November interview with The Economist, prompted waves of enormous pessimism. Headlines around the world seized on the idea that the war had essentially ended. Ukraine had fought valiantly—and lost.
Politicians in the West, particularly Republicans in the United States Congress, declared that it was time to stop supplying Kyiv and push for major concessions to Moscow.
The general’s actual point, however, wasn’t quite so fatalistic. In an accompanying nine-page essay, published in the British magazine, Zaluzhnyi doesn’t use the word “stalemate.” Instead, he called the war “positional,” with both sides trading just tiny slivers of land. Critically, however, he said Ukraine can still win. But it will mean, he wrote, “searching for new and non-trivial approaches to break military parity with the enemy.”
Technological innovation, more modern equipment, and changes in strategy could still turn the tide of this war, Zaluzhnyi argued. He laid out five areas where progress could mean overcoming their Russian opponent: achieving air superiority, improving mine clearing, expanding counterbattery, recruiting more soldiers, and advancing electronic warfare.
To achieve those goals, he wrote, Ukraine needs a once-in-a-century technological breakthrough.
“The simple fact is that we see everything the enemy is doing and they see everything we are doing,” Zaluzhnyi writes. “In order for us to break this deadlock we need something new, like the gunpowder, which the Chinese invented and which we are still using to kill each other.”
In recent months, WIRED has spoken to a host of NATO leaders and military analysts, as well as Ukrainian officials, regarding the future of the war. The consensus is clear: There is no silver bullet Ukraine can develop that will win this war. But there is agreement that Ukraine can and must innovate if it hopes to overcome its better-resourced and dug-in enemy.
“The thing that will break the logjam will be the right combination of new ideas, new organizations, and new technologies,” Mick Ryan, a 35-year veteran of the Australian Army who writes extensively on the future of war, tells WIRED. “It’s really about how you combine that trinity of ideas, technology, and organizations into something new.”