How can the war end?

Russian assault tanks burn at the entrance to the city of Kherson in the first days of the Russian invasion of February 2022. (Marienko Andrew/AP)

The war in Ukraine sparked by the Russian invasion enters its second year with no clear sign in sight that it’s going to end soon. Russia lost half of the territory it had conquered since February 24, 2022 and the difficulties it shows at the front to control a small city like Vuhledar or advance on the defenses of Bakhmut, They do not foresee new and forceful offensives. Still, with fresh troops and if China supplies them with new weapons, the Russian generals signaled that they would try again. a pincer movement from the northeast, entering the border near the city of Sumy – above the city of Kharkiv, the second largest in the country, one of the areas they had conquered and lost. A movement that would be very costly in all terms for the Kremlin, which is already having a record thousand casualties per day.

For their part, the Ukrainian forces are waiting to concentrate a force of about 100 Leopard 1 and 2 tanks, who begin to arrive from various European countries and launch an offensive in the south to recapture the Zaporizhzhia atomic power plant and take control of the city of Melitopol. Here the goal is cut the Russian supply line coming from the occupied Crimean peninsula.

Everything indicates that the war will consume all this 2023 and could exceed its second anniversary. Although it must be borne in mind that war predictions fail as much or more than weather forecasts. And that is the main coincidence of the analysts who took stock of what happened in this first year and gave signs of what could happen in the next 12 months. This was clarified by those who participated this week in the colloquium organized by the Belfer Center at Harvard Kennedy School. Fiona Hill, the former director of European and Russian Affairs at the National Security Council, said the United States and the West “are still trapped in a historical narrative about Ukraine created by Putin and blinding much of his people.” The Russian leader framed the conflict as an existential threat to his nation and went on to call it “The Third Great Patriotic War,” a reference to the Napoleonic invasions in the 1800s and the Nazi German invasions of the 1940s. “A great communication campaign would have to be carried out to make the Russians understand that what Putin tells them is a huge lie. If that battle is won, the war is won.”Hill added.

Ukrainian soldiers from the 80th Air Brigade fire a Howitzer D-30 on the outskirts of the city of Bakhmut. (REUTERS/Marko Djurica)
Ukrainian soldiers from the 80th Air Brigade fire a Howitzer D-30 on the outskirts of the city of Bakhmut. (REUTERS / Marko Djurica) (MARKO DJURICA /)

Alexandra Vacrouxexecutive director of the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies at harvard, believes that the economic situation must also be closely monitored to determine the course of the war. Both countries have suffered a major economic decline. 40% of Ukraine’s physical infrastructure has been destroyedwhile gross domestic product (GDP) fell 33%. The Russian Ministry of Finance reports that annual revenue fell 35% in 2022while spending increased 59%. “We have to fight much more in the economic sphere, in the sanctions. We have to work and disconnect Russia from its Chinese and Iranian allies,” Vacroux said.

Retired US Army Lieutenant General Mark Hertling, believes that the biggest challenge for the Ukrainian military will be to rapidly integrate all the different weapons systems that they are receiving from the Western allies. “Spring (between March and June) it will be a race between the Russian mobilization and the transformation of the Ukrainian army. Putin made an active decision to mobilize forces to the front lines in an attempt to regain ground and gain additional leverage to draw Ukraine into any future negotiations,” he explained. In the coming weeks, Hertling expects Russia to increase missile attacks and its air and naval forces to continue attacking Ukrainian energy infrastructure. “Russian forces are again concentrating on Belarus and could use its territory as an entry point for a new offensive in the north”he claimed.

And the former nuclear counterterrorism officer of the INC and now Principal Investigator at the Belfer Center, Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, took aim at the nuclear threat. “The biggest concern is that Putin finds himself cornered and understands that his army is no longer capable of recovering what he considers Russian territories. That is a condition where I think Vladimir Putin will use tactical nuclear weapons”, stated Mowatt-Larssen. “And that is what the United States has to think about. We have to have a plan to deter Putin from using his nuclear warheads.”.

Alla Nechyporenko, along with her neighbor, Tetiana Shonia, visit the grave of the former's husband and the latter's son, who died in the first year of the war, in a cemetery on the outskirts of Kyiv.  (REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko)
Alla Nechyporenko, along with her neighbor, Tetiana Shonia, visit the grave of the former’s husband and the latter’s son, who died in the first year of the war, in a cemetery on the outskirts of Kyiv. (REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko) (VALENTYN OGIRENKO/)

In other areas, there were also discussions about the angles that do not appear so visible when analyzing this war and its prospects. It happened in a series of small essays published by the British newspaper Guardian. Over there, Emma Ashfordresearcher of Stimson Center of Washington and author of “Oil, the State and War”, pointed out that the internal situation of the countries that are supporting Ukraine must be taken into account. “Public discontent in the United States and parts of Europe will increase as the war drags on., when the supply of advanced weapons and training to Ukraine takes time to produce effects on the battlefield, ”he says. “The growing discontent is reflected in polls among the American public opinion: 40% of Republicans believe the US is ‘doing too much’ in the conflict. The war is likely to become a political soccer ball in the early stages of the 2024 US presidential election campaign, especially for Republican presidential hopefuls. In short, time is likely not on Ukraine’s side, at least when it comes to the mismatch between political time horizons and military gains,” Ashford wrote.

The well-known historian Timothy Garton Ash of the Oxford University is more optimistic. “After spending a few weeks in Kyiv, I am very clear that this spring and this summer (between March and August) may be decisive for Ukrainian victory“, writes. “For the moment, Russia continues to have the strategic initiative in the east, while Ukraine is running dangerously low on ammunition for its post-Soviet weaponry. But a Ukrainian counter-offensive planned for this spring, with new brigades equipped and trained in the west, could turn things around”. And Garton Ash analyzes that “if the Ukrainian forces manage to advance south from the Zaporizhzhia region to the Azov Sea, they could split the Russian occupation forces in two and potentially threaten the occupied Crimea. Obviously, this option carries a greater risk, but also a greater opportunity to achieve peace. This, and not a long war in the east, is the best chance for Ukraine to put itself in a position to negotiate from force.”.

Ukrainian soldiers from the 17th Tank Brigade prepare their T-64 for combat outside the city of Bakhmut.  (REUTERS/Marko Djurica)
Ukrainian soldiers from the 17th Tank Brigade prepare their T-64 for combat outside the city of Bakhmut. (REUTERS/Marko Djurica) (MARKO DJURICA/)

The historian also places emphasis on the times of the actions. “As I have heard Ukrainian leaders repeatedly stress, both in kyiv and at the Munich Security Conference last weekend, speed is essential”, explains Garton Ash. “If Western military and economic support comes too slowly, time will play in Vladimir Putin’s favor. This is one of the few things the British government has done well of late. But it needs this sense of urgency, and a genuine commitment to Ukrainian victory, to be shared by both the United States and other major European powers. Pushing for increased support for a quick Ukrainian recapture of large parts of its territory is not just a moral or emotional argument. It is a strategic understanding that Ukrainian battlefield victories are the precondition for lasting peace”.

That seems to be the biggest coincidence among analysts: peace will be found on the battlefield. There will be no negotiating table as long as the current positions and claims of each side are maintained. Putin wants to keep at least the Donbas region and the Crimean peninsula. Zelensky has already clarified that he is not willing to cede even an inch of his country’s territory. But resolution on the battlefield will have to be quick. Time plays in Putin’s favor. Soon the internal wear and tear between the Americans and Europeans will begin. The allies will have to decide if and when they will deliver the necessary weapons for Ukraine to finish expelling the Russian invaders from its territory.

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