Winter is passing without a decision being made in Ukraine. Announced offensives did not take place. Still, people die. How will the war continue in 2023?
Offenses, battles, breakthroughs and the “Choice” – all this should bring the winter. Now the winter is over and none of that happened. After the fighting around Cherson and the Russian evacuation of the bridgehead on the west bank of the Dnieper, the Ukraine did not succeed in any large-scale action. The counter-offensives that have been invoked many times since the autumn have not yet taken place.
And Russia? Wasn’t there assurance that Putin would use an army of conscripts to try to repeat what he had failed to do the year before? About to take Kiev with 200,000 men. And – if you please – orientate yourself on the date of the robbery.
None of that happened. The war has turned into a bloody “little little” reminiscent of the First World War. After a stormy initial phase, the fronts in the west had gotten stuck. And the lines began to be fortified with an impenetrable system of trenches, bunkers, barbed wire and minefields until no more passage was possible. Just like today in the Donbass.
Nothing new in Ukraine
Since then, Kiev has occasionally succeeded in spectacular commando actions, otherwise the message is that the Russians are suffering very heavy losses, but only minor ones themselves. Putin’s troops, on the other hand, have been working on the small town of Bakhmut and its surroundings for months. There, the terrain advances are measured by rows of houses and not by provinces. In addition, they also build up pressure on other sections without achieving much. The Kremlin’s narrative is similar to Kiev’s, only with reversed roles. This time, Kiev’s encroachments are large and those of the Russian forces few.” Add to that the strategic air offensive, which is crippling infrastructure but hasn’t left Ukraine with lights and heaters and cities in the winter chill become uninhabitable.
What is behind this paralysis? Can the opponents no longer, or do they not want to? The answer is: both are true. In the first phase of the war, Russia had to learn that deep breakthroughs cannot force a decision in the largely sprawling region of Ukraine. When the enemy allows the attacking troops to pass, but establishes itself in towns and fortified positions and attacks the invaders’ rear lines from there. The Russians learned this lesson and, contrary to what was predicted, did not make the same mistake a second time.
Large amounts of weapons required
Kiev, on the other hand, was able to carry out the offensives at Kharkiv and Cherson with troops that were equipped with weapons supplied by the West, namely from Poland. But especially at Cherson, these units were heavily worn out. Kiev can only plan larger offensives if massive amounts of new material come into the country. Just as Valery Saluschnyj, head of the Ukrainian armed forces, demanded with the sentence “I need 300 main battle tanks, 600 to 700 infantry fighting vehicles and 500 howitzers”.
So far, these quantities have not even been promised, let alone arrived. Kiev can no longer rely on a stroke of luck like in the Kharkiv offensive. At that time, a series of test attacks managed to find a weak spot in the thinning Russian front. Fast, but rather small formations broke through and occupied towns in the rear of the Russian front. Almost in panic, the Russians evacuated their positions, leaving behind a lot of material but hardly any soldiers. The Russians should not fall for such a trick again.
Static vs mobile
Basically, the opponents have opposite agendas. Russia wants to force a largely stationary trench warfare and attrition war on Kiev. Here the blatant problems of the Russian army, for example in communication and coordination, are not as important as in a combat movement with rapidly changing situations. In return, the Russians want to benefit from their dominance in terms of firepower, manpower, artillery and air support.
At the same time, their missiles are wearing down Ukraine’s infrastructure. There was no real collapse of the power grid. At least it seems so, because the supply of the civilian population is working, albeit with interruptions. However, this was only possible because industry was deprived of power. From Moscow’s point of view, the associated production losses are more important than the question of whether only candles are burning in the apartments.
Who can stand the wear and tear longer?
Kiev cannot endure a static war forever. Allies will provide money and weapons, but will not replace lost soldiers. In order to avoid eternal attrition, Ukraine must seek salvation in surprising offensives. Where after a breakthrough, which is always associated with losses, easy conquests are then possible in the hinterland. And only an offensive has the chance of forming a pocket, with which Ukraine would finally get its hands on Russian prisoners on a large scale.
As long as there are no such large-scale operations, Russia will prevail with its static warfare. The Ukrainian forces are to be worn down by constant fighting in confined spaces – as if a hammer were bluntly but constantly beating down a wall.
Kiev needs to surprise the Russians, and repeating previous operations elsewhere is unlikely to do so. This can be done as part of a major summer offensive. It would also be conceivable to carry out a relief operation in the Bachmut area for a shorter period of time, which could overturn the two pincers of the Wagener mercenaries.
Because of the West’s reluctance to provide the materials and ammunition needed for an offensive, Ukraine has to wait for the big hit. The longer she waits, the more Putin can fortify the conquered territories and reinforce the front lines with newly levied troops. A decisive breakthrough becomes all the more challenging.
The war year 2023 will be easy to assess. It is still conceivable that Kiev will inflict a decisive defeat on the Russians, for example with an advance to the Black Sea. However, should the year go by without any major reconquests, it would be a clear victory for Putin. How come? Because for another year his troops could wear out the Ukrainian military, infrastructure and the whole society.
I have been working in the news industry for over 6 years, first as a reporter and now as an editor. I have covered politics extensively, and my work has appeared in major newspapers and online news outlets around the world. In addition to my writing, I also contribute regularly to 24 Hours World.