The first year of the Russia-Ukraine War is now just about behind us. Although few expected the conflict to last more than a few weeks, hopes for rapid, decisive Russian victory faded rapidly as offensives against Kyiv and Odesa sputtered and failed. Ukrainian hopes that the Russian army would rout and collapse as a result of its setbacks were similarly dashed, as a rapid mobilization helped backfill badly mauled Russian units across the front.
Analysts now think that the war may go on for a while, as the last months have offered no indication that either Russia or Ukraine (and Ukraine’s supporters in the West) are inclined to give up. At the same time, the conflict has settled into a decided rhythm.
What can we expect from the war’s second year?
NATO observers believe that the expected Russian spring offensive has already begun.
Russia is pushing forward on several linked axes of advance in the Donbas, enjoying more success in some places than in others.
The plodding offensive seems unlikely to create a major, exploitable breakthrough that would threaten Kyiv and drive Ukraine from the war. In many ways, the Russian military is materially deficient compared to a year ago, as much of its most advanced equipment and most experienced troops have been lost on the battlefield.
However, it is undoubtedly inflicting damage on the Ukrainian army, causing serious casualties and forcing the Ukrainians to use precious ammunition.
Prospects for Russia to expand the conflict beyond the front lines look grim. The recovery of Kherson probably eliminated any chance of a Russian offensive along the Black Sea coast. Russia’s missile offensive against Ukraine has inflicted damage but does not seem to have made an appreciable dent in Ukrainian morale.
Finally, the Russians do not appear ready to make operations out of Belarus a credible threat to Ukraine’s western and northern districts.
This first offensive will characterize the Ukrainian response.
Both Russian success and Russian failure can create opportunities for the Ukrainians, the latter in terms of counter-attacking vulnerable positions, and the latter through attriting the overall Russian force of troops, ammunition, and vehicles.
As the Russian offensive culminates, we can expect that the Ukrainian armed forces will be prepared to undertake operations designed to crack Russia’s front lines and retake some of the territory lost in the last year.
In contrast with the Russians, the Ukrainians will move forward with a more capable army than the one they fielded a year ago. Western transfers of weapons have undoubtedly improved the technological and material base of that army, although serious questions remain about training and about the integration of the multitude of Western weapons into a cohesive whole.
Russia’s defenses look more formidable now than even a few months ago, making a combined arms offensive a serious test of Ukrainian capabilities.
Further foreign intervention
Much of the rest of the conflict will depend on foreign intervention, but foreign intervention is contingent upon outcomes on the battlefield.
It is hard to say whether Ukrainian strength or Ukrainian vulnerability would have more of an impact on foreign assistance. If Russia’s offensive shows signs of success, Western capitals may feel compelled to rapidly ship additional weapons to Kyiv. If the Ukrainian counter-offensive recaptures substantial territory, it similarly could give President Volodomyr Zelenskyy grist for making an argument that Ukraine needs support to finish the job. The biggest debates will involve further tank transfers, long-range missile transfers, and of course the transfer of modern Western fighter aircraft.
But the attitude of the West is not the only issue. Now the question of Chinese intervention in the war has emerged, with US Secretary of State Tony Blinken warning China against supplying Russia with arms. Increased Chinese support for Russia would materially improve the prospects of the Russian war effort, although integrating such support into the battle would be complicated.
Similarly, Russia could more aggressively encourage the cooperation of Iran, North Korea, and Belarus, the last offering geographic opportunities and the former material support.
Negotiations to End Ukraine War?
Neither the Russian offensive nor the Ukrainian response are likely to win the war. The Russians are unlikely to capture Kyiv and destroy the Ukrainian government, and the Ukrainians are unlikely to destroy the Russian army or force it from the occupied territories. However, it is important to understand that there is less of a wall between the battlefield and the negotiating table than most believe.
Every seizure of territory and every destruction of a battalion tactical group represents a diplomatic overture. When Ukraine recaptured Snake Island, it meant that Kyiv would not have to win the strategic chunk of territory back at peace negotiations.
But does that mean traditional negotiations will happen this year? Probably not.
While the military situation will evolve over the course of the year, it does not seem likely at this point that either side will gain a decisive advantage that it can leverage at the negotiating table. Kyiv and Moscow may meet in order to demonstrate their “reasonableness” to global observers, but neither side seems prepared to make serious concessions.
Over the next year we will be watching a pair of colossal boxers throw punch and counter-punch at one another. The lumbering but powerful Russia will try to floor (or at least stagger) Ukraine with the first, and the smaller but quicker Ukraine will watch to see if Russia throws itself off balance. The outcomes on the battlefield will in turn help determine the nature and extent of foreign intervention in the war, and may eventually lay the foundations for a negotiated peace.
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Author Expertise and Experience
A 19FortyFive Contributing Editor, Dr. Robert Farley has taught security and diplomacy courses at the Patterson School since 2005. He received his BS from the University of Oregon in 1997, and his Ph. D. from the University of Washington in 2004. Dr. Farley is the author of Grounded: The Case for Abolishing the United States Air Force (University Press of Kentucky, 2014), the Battleship Book (Wildside, 2016), Patents for Power: Intellectual Property Law and the Diffusion of Military Technology (University of Chicago, 2020), and most recently Waging War with Gold: National Security and the Finance Domain Across the Ages (Lynne Rienner, 2023). He has contributed extensively to a number of journals and magazines, including the National Interest, the Diplomat: APAC, World Politics Review, and the American Prospect. Dr. Farley is also a founder and senior editor of Lawyers, Guns, and Money.
February 23, 2023 at 8:17 am
Second year will see end of conflict coming into sight or light at the end of the dug-by-biden-&-stoltenberg tunnel.
2023 will FINALLY see use of tactical nukes to blunt and destroy new german panzers and f-16s sent to eastern ukraine by the global fascismo bloc.
2023 will hash a repeat of saigon 1975 when american copters lifted its loyal lackeys from the capital to begin a new life in america.
Zelenskiyy will therefore be able to witness the 2024 contest and the 2025 grand inauguration.
February 23, 2023 at 10:11 am
It’s pretty sad to watch people like you unable to accept defeat for your imperialist fantasies and thus you resort to plees for use of nukes.
It is highly likely that Russia has been told that use of nukes in Ukraine, and any radioactive cloud that gets blown into NATO territory will be considered an act of war and trigger Article 5.
Speaking of Russia being defeated… This is now day 2 of Ukrainian strikes on Mariupol being widely reported. While it is possible in theory that they drove HIMARS within 10km of the front at Vuhledar, that’s a very unlikely risk. More plausible is the debut of Ukraine’s campaign with longer range missiles.
Having hit ammo depots, bases, and a shipyard in Mariupol in the last 2 days…it would be a logical conclusion that hitting the M14 highway is coming soon – if it hasnt happened already…and then Russia will know they have no safe passage to send supplies from Russia west across southern Ukraine into Kherson.
If Ukraine can expand and then sustain those strikes, the Russians are in real trouble in the south.
It’s possible the actual first use of longer range weapons was days earlier in Berdyansk. Perhaps it was just a proof of concept…But it was a one off, and only the fire after appeared in videos at the recreational center “Raisky Uholok”, which was repurposed and functioned as a Russian occupation army barracks.
Furthermore, the announced addition of JDAM-er to Ukraine’s arsenal, along with fitting them to Ukraine’s existing fleet of Soviet era planes the same way they did with HARMs, means that Ukraine will have soon another powerful weapon to soften up the fixed defenses Russia built on the way to Melitopol [among other uses]. Even the 500lb version of JDAM will do serious damage to those defenses.
The US appears to finally be giving Ukraine just the right mix of weapons and equipment to make a breakthrough in the summer when the mud hardens…without giving them something too escalatory like ATACMs.
It would be nice to hear the number of western tanks passing 250, but even 100 western tanks + 200 western IFVs on the way to Melitopol with precision fire support from JDAM-er, GLSDB, HIMARS, and HARMs to take out radars…is a winning combination on a strategic maneuver to cut Russia’s land bridge to Crimea, take back the ZNPP, and sweep across Kherson to liberate the left bank of the Dnipro as well as cut off the Crimean Canal at Nova Kakhovka.
Time will tell if they can make it happen.
Have a liberating day.
February 23, 2023 at 10:16 am
Ukraine should continue it’s fallback, if necessary, aggressive defense in Donbas, not to retake Donbas, but to bleed the Orc dry.
Once it’s clear the Russians are very pale, then it’s time to move west and spearhead an attack to the Sea of Azov to cut the land route to Crimea. From there it’s WEST again to clear the Kherson region and set up vast long range guided munitions to mercilessly pummel Crimea to dust and encourage Russian surrender.
The most critical target is any and all military targets in Sevastopol. The harbor must be neutered.
Once Crimea has been silenced, then it’s time to walk in and take it back.
Ukraine does have a route to win. Russia does not.
Regardless, I agree this will take “awhile” and depends on generous support from the west. Very generous.
Let’s agree to win this one. That’s first.
February 23, 2023 at 12:19 pm
Ah, Gary, happy days, you have something to write about.
Ukraine is inflicting damage in and around Mariupol.
What will it lead to… as I’ve stated many times… we’ll see.
In year two, sad to say it, the war is still on going.
What will happen?
Russia will demonstrate one way or the other whether it has the strategic resources, men & material, to end the war by attrition and/or significant offensives.
For Ukraine, the best result is a stalemate… that’s a loss for Russia… the Kremlin know this… that’s why, while attrition is working… it likely is not enough to render the Ukraine military ineffective… especially if Ukraine can strike behind the front in a consistent manner.
Putin has made a statement which implicitly confronts behind the front line strikes… to the extent Ukraine strikes into Russian territory… the Russian army will push Ukraine’s firing positions away from Russian territory.
That’s the test of these Mariupol strikes… can the strikes be kept up over time… does it spread to other areas and how does Russia counter this development.
A new wrinkle… to watch for.
February 23, 2023 at 12:40 pm
A balanced article and as usual some unbalanced comments. Russia has mobilized 700 thousand soldiers…an estimated 250 thousand front line combat troops.
Ukraine’s army has been decimated and unfortunately upwards of 200 thousand KIAs.
Now we have a serious talk of nuclear war. A peace plan must be found. No matter how much support the West provides Ukraine cannot win this war.
February 23, 2023 at 1:33 pm
Thanks Gary and Johnny….Good Posts.
February 23, 2023 at 3:21 pm
Gary Jacobs – You need to contribute to these articles as you appear to have more insight than the ‘professionals’
February 23, 2023 at 9:27 pm
Re: “…without giving them something too escalatory like ATACMs.” ~Gary Jacobs
One of the really cool things about ATACMS is they can be fired from HIMARS launchers. That’s a nice fit for sure. Range around 200 miles and extreme accuracy are nice features, too.
There’s only been less than 600 ATACMS fired in combat since 1991. That may be due to cost @about $1M per copy. That is pricey for sure. Several countries are purchasing ATACMS, but the numbers are low, like a total of 30 for the whole country.
GLCSDB units cost much less, @about $40K per unit. That seems to be the way to go without question. There is a good supply.
But, I see no reason Ukraine should not get a reasonable supply of ATACMS to take out very high value, critical targets within the lawful borders of Ukraine. Just make it a rule of any delivery agreement. That would negate, hopefully, the escalatory vibe.
February 24, 2023 at 1:20 am
I read this article looking for any insights. I almost didn’t find any. It was all mostly just obvious statements and little or no predictive qualities to it. I guess it is fine for the uninitiated, but pretty lite for anyone who is watching the situation closely. All the points in it were correct as far as they went.
That said, it did raise one point on what China is likely to do for Russia. I personally have counted China out as providing any real support. I still think this is the most likely. But it did make me wonder about how much China can provide on the down low. Can they provide enough to keep Russia going? Can they find a way to provide chips for Russian weapons? I think they will be very careful. They won’t want any new tanks captured on the battlefield with Chinese chips in them. Ammunition is the most likely way that China can and maybe is already helping. How well US and Europe can convince China to stay out of it is really a big question. The best way to do that is just behind the scenes let China know when we see them make deliveries.
As for the Russian trolls, why they think that nukes are a good idea is beyond me. Russia or any country should avoid using nukes unless they are willing to admit they have been defeated and know it. While this seems obvious to me, since they keep repeating it, maybe they just aren’t smart enough to figure it out and need someone a bit smarter than them to explain it to them. So here goes:
If nuclear war breaks out between two nuclear powers, it is the end of everyone. Full stop. There is no winning such a war. Putin is dead, Moscow is dead, Beijing is dead, and Washington is dead. This should be obvious to everyone. That is the reality of a strategic nuke war. I believe even these moronic Russian trolls are aware of this. But still they don’t link the connection to tactical nukes. So here it is. Once tactical nukes are used on the battlefield, the user will either be forced to always use them in any war or any war with the country will assume they will use them. Also any threatening moves by said country will be viewed as unacceptable and war would be close to inevitable for any infraction. This is because they have proven that they have no logical restraint and no self awareness. Let’s show it like this. When a normal person raises their arm, people might not think much of it, but if this person is known to fight, the raising of the arm is instantly seen as a threat. So if Russia uses tactical nukes they change from being a rational country to a huge threat. Any threat to another nuclear armed country or towards any country under the protection of such armed country and the reaction becomes shoot first because you may not be able to if you don’t. And then tactical nukes escalate to strategic nukes and everyone dies. So tactical nukes means war with everyone means escalation to strategic nukes means we all die. The risk of using tactical nukes is too high to conceive. Hopefully Russian military is smarter than these moron Russian trolls.
February 24, 2023 at 12:24 pm
The Russian trolls are not stupid. Most of them understand what you point out about everyone loosing a strategic nuclear war. So why would they say so anyway? well they are for the most part paid agents parroting talking points off the whiteboard in one of the many troll factories in Russia. The point is to spread fear of nuclear holocaust so that western nations will hesitate to provide more support for Ukraine.