“Ukraine’s Ongoing Conflict with Russia: A Year in Review” – Analysis and Updates

2023-12-30 07:21:00

(CNN) — A year ago, a resolute President Volodymyr Zelensky traveled directly from the Bakhmut battlefield to the United States to address Congress and meet with President Joe Biden. He was hailed as a hero: Ukraine’s determination to resist Russian aggression received strong bipartisan support in Washington.

A year later, the outlook is much bleaker. The long-awaited Ukrainian offensive in the south has barely made any progress. Russia appears to have resisted international sanctions, for now, and turned its economy into a war machine.

The Russian way of waging war, absorbing terrible losses of men and material but throwing even more into the fight, has weakened the tactical and technological advantage of the Ukrainian armyas his top general admitted in a candid essay last month.

The mood in Moscow seems grimly determined: the objectives of the “special military operation” will be achieved, and the fighting will continue until they are achieved.

As the long front line becomes increasingly calcified, the Kremlin senses growing skepticism among Kyiv’s Western supporters that Ukraine can regain the 17% of its territory still occupied by Russian forces.

Putin is enjoying a much more partisan atmosphere in Washington, where many members of the Republican Party question the purpose of sending Ukraine another $61 billion in aid, as the Biden administration has requested, believing that it will achieve little in the battlefield.

In his first year-end press conference since the conflict began, Putin said: “Ukraine produces almost nothing today, everything comes from the West, but the free stuff is going to end one day, and it seems that it is already running out.” .

At the same time, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban blocked a $55 billion EU financial aid package to Ukraine, prompting one German politician to say it was like having Putin himself sitting at the table. table.

The President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, is hugged by the President of the United States, Joe Biden, in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, on September 21, 2023. (Credit: Kevin Lamarque/Archyde.com)

Zelensky, who by his recent admission is tired, has an increasingly difficult job as Ukraine’s top salesman as events in the Middle East divert attention from his country as the center of the No. 1 international crisis.

On the first anniversary of the invasion, he predicted that “2023 will be the year of our victory.” He is unlikely to make the same optimistic forecast for next year.

In late December, Ukraine suffered the largest Russian airstrike since the start of the full-scale invasion. On Friday, Russia fired 158 drones and missiles — including hypersonic Kinzhals — at targets across Ukraine, killing at least 18 people and wounding dozens more. Zelensky said Russia used “almost every type of weapon in its arsenal” in the attacks.

Russia is not without vulnerabilities, but these are more long-term. The conflict has aggravated its demographic crisis due to emigration and losses on the battlefield. Nearly 750,000 people left Russia in 2022 and analysts predict an even larger number will leave in 2023.

The labor shortage is fueling rising wages and, therefore, inflation. Evading sanctions and maintaining industrial production comes at a price, as much of that production is now dedicated to replacing staggering battlefield losses, and the budget deficit soars accordingly.

The long-term prognosis for the Russian economy is bleak, and that may be Putin’s most important legacy.

But as economist John Maynard Keynes once said: “In the long run we are all dead.” In the short term, Putin seems impregnable. The re-election in March is a formality (the Kremlin has already recognized this). Contrast this with the United States, where a feverish year of campaigning could end with Donald Trump preparing for his second term. It is Kyiv’s nightmare and Moscow’s dream.

The deeply partisan atmosphere in Congress has scuttled the Biden administration’s call for more aid for Kyiv. Funds currently allocated for military equipment are almost exhausted. A Democratic senator, Chris Murphy, said crudely: “We are about to abandon Ukraine.”

The mantra in Western capitals regarding support for Ukraine has been “as long as it takes.” But this month, alongside Zelensky, Biden said the United States would support Ukraine “as long as we can.”

The battlefield becomes complicated

As Ukraine’s global indicators deteriorate, the battle fronts offer little joy.

The long-awaited Ukrainian counteroffensive launched in June was intended to demonstrate the superiority of NATO’s combined arms strategy, instilled in newly formed Ukrainian brigades in fields in Germany. But it was alien to Ukrainian military culture and was not reciprocated by a superiority in the skies.

What should have been a race south towards the Black Sea has turned into a quagmire in dense minefields, where Russian drones and aircraft attack Western armored vehicles.

Ukrainian units took at most 200 square kilometers of territory over six months. The goals of reaching the coast, Crimea, and dividing Russian forces in the south remained a distant dream.

With the fronts frozen, Kyiv’s intelligence agencies have turned to more spectacular attacks: the sinking of a Russian landing ship in Crimea this week and even the sabotage of railway lines to the Russian Far East. Success in the Black Sea has allowed relatively safe passage for merchant ships, even though Moscow abandoned a U.N.-brokered deal last summer.

However, despite their audacity, these operations will not alter the fundamental balance of the conflict.

Zaluzhny he put it bluntly: “The level of our current technological development has plunged both us and our enemies into a stupor.” The use of surveillance and attack drones deprives both sides of the element of surprise within the confines of the battlefield.

“The simple fact is that we see everything the enemy does, and they see everything we do.”

But Russia’s huge reserves of manpower and materiel (Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu boasted that he could muster 25 million men if necessary) mean they can continue to pummel the small Ukrainian army, making incremental gains at enormous cost.

This is what happened in Bakhmut last winter; The same may happen in the ruined town of Avdiivka in Donetsk in the coming weeks.

The pool of military recruits in Ukraine has been significantly reduced; Battlefield losses have deprived the army of tens of thousands of experienced soldiers and mid-ranking officers. “Sooner or later we will realize that we simply do not have enough people to fight,” Zaluzhny told The Economist in November.

The arrival of F-16 fighters in the spring will undoubtedly help the Ukrainian air force challenge Russian fighter jets and support its own ground forces, but they will not be a solution. Basic training is one thing, flying into Russian air defenses is another.

The same would happen even if the United States agreed to supply Ukraine with longer-range Army Tactical Missile Systems (ATACMS). (Storm Shadow missiles supplied by the United Kingdom have helped target the Russian rear.)

In any case, the paralysis around financing has blocked the supply of American weapons and Europe does not have the capacity to fill that gap.

Some prominent analysts conclude that the time has come for a reassessment.

“Ukraine and the West are on an unsustainable trajectory, characterized by a clear mismatch between ends and available means,” write Richard Haass and Charles Kupchan in Foreign Affairs.

Ukraine’s goal of reclaiming all of its territory is “out of reach,” they say bluntly. “Where we are seems, at best, an expensive dead end.”

They recommend that Ukraine move to a defensive posture in 2024 to stem losses, which would “shore up Western support by demonstrating that Kyiv has a feasible strategy aimed at achievable goals.”

The Russian military, which has generally proven inept in offensive operations, would have even more difficulty gaining ground.

For others, such a change would essentially reward aggression, allowing Russia to pause and regroup, with potentially dangerous consequences for other countries in its immediate vicinity. She would also send the wrong message about America’s commitment to other allies, such as Taiwan. And, politically, it is not a viable option in Kyiv.

Biden declared during Zelensky’s visit that “Putin is banking on the United States not delivering on its promises to Ukraine. We must prove him wrong.”

It smelled of desperation. Haass and Kupchan state that “Ukraine would do well to devote the resources it receives to its long-term security and prosperity rather than spending them on the battlefield for little benefit.”

There are certainly signs of tensions in Ukrainian society as the conflict approaches its second anniversary and the economy struggles to start growing again after shrinking by a third. The longer several million Ukrainians live elsewhere in Europe, the less likely they will return.

For now, Zelensky and his inner circle show no signs of letting up. Zelensky does not accept a truce or negotiations. “For us it would mean leaving this wound open for future generations,” he told TIME in November.

Instead, barring an unlikely collapse of morale on either side, the same cities and towns destroyed over the past two years will continue to be fought over in the years to come. Ukraine will have the means to survive, but not to win.

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