With upgraded weaponry on the way, Western resolve holding firm, and the Ukrainian army continuing to outmaneuver and outwit Russia’s flailing military, Ukraine’s promised “year of victory” is off to a good start.
If 2023 continues as it began, there is a good chance Ukraine will be able to fulfill President Volodymyr Zelensky’s New Year’s pledge to retake all of Ukraine by the end of the year — or at least enough territory to definitively end Russia’s threat, Western officials and analysts say.
But while Zelensky was rallying Ukrainians to expect victory this year, Russian President Vladimir Putin used his New Year’s speeches to prepare Russians for a drawn-out fight. Russian troops are digging into fortified defensive positions reinforced by at least 100,000 newly mobilized soldiers, and though it seems unlikely that Russia can seize more territory anytime soon, it will also be tougher for Ukraine to make advances in 2023 than it was last year, despite momentum from recent victories, military experts say.
If Kyiv cannot achieve significant breakthroughs against this entrenched, growing Russian force, there is a risk that the war will become a protracted conflict favoring Putin, said Elizabeth Shackelford of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. A $45 billion aid package approved by Congress will tide Ukraine over for the year, she said, but with U.S. presidential elections in 2024, the longer-term outlook is harder to predict.
“2023 is really the year,” Shackelford said. “If it doesn’t wrap in 2023, Putin will have a very big upper hand. As it is, Zelensky still has a shot because he still has very strong support.”
“After that,” she added, “all bets are off.” [Continue reading…]
For Putin, defeat is not an option. He cannot cede to Ukraine the four eastern provinces he has declared part of Russia. If he cannot be militarily successful this year, he must retain control of positions in eastern and southern Ukraine that provide future jumping-off points for renewed offensives to take the rest of Ukraine’s Black Sea coast, control the entire Donbas region and then move west. Eight years separated Russia’s seizure of Crimea and its invasion nearly a year ago. Count on Putin to be patient to achieve his destiny.
Meanwhile, although Ukraine’s response to the invasion has been heroic and its military has performed brilliantly, the country’s economy is in a shambles, millions of its people have fled, its infrastructure is being destroyed, and much of its mineral wealth, industrial capacity and considerable agricultural land are under Russian control. Ukraine’s military capability and economy are now dependent almost entirely on lifelines from the West — primarily, the United States. Absent another major Ukrainian breakthrough and success against Russian forces, Western pressures on Ukraine to negotiate a cease-fire will grow as months of military stalemate pass. Under current circumstances, any negotiated cease-fire would leave Russian forces in a strong position to resume their invasion whenever they are ready. That is unacceptable.
The only way to avoid such a scenario is for the United States and its allies to urgently provide Ukraine with a dramatic increase in military supplies and capability — sufficient to deter a renewed Russian offensive and to enable Ukraine to push back Russian forces in the east and south. Congress has provided enough money to pay for such reinforcement; what is needed now are decisions by the United States and its allies to provide the Ukrainians the additional military equipment they need — above all, mobile armor. The U.S. agreement Thursday to provide Bradley Fighting Vehicles is commendable, if overdue. Because there are serious logistical challenges associated with sending American Abrams heavy tanks, Germany and other allies should fill this need. NATO members also should provide the Ukrainians with longer-range missiles, advanced drones, significant ammunition stocks (including artillery shells), more reconnaissance and surveillance capability, and other equipment. These capabilities are needed in weeks, not months. [Continue reading…]