February 2, 2023

Ukraine must win in 2023, otherwise Putin will have the opportunity to prolong the conflict, – Washington Post

Military analysts list the problems that the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) may face if there is no combat success in 2023

The Washington Post publishes the opinion that the prospect of conflict is “a protracted conflict in favor of Putin” if Ukraine cannot win in 2023. US financial support in the amount of $45 billion will be enough for a year, but then “all bets are removed,” interviewed experts believe.

Ukraine has Allies’ support, army motivation and momentum from recent combat achievements. But there are also problems that the AFU may face.

1. The Russian Armed Forces dig into defensive positions, reinforced by at least one hundred thousand mobilized

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.

“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”

2. Ukraine’s successes in 2022 were facilitated by Russian mistakes that are less likely to be repeated now

The goals of the Russian Federation were too ambitious. Ukraine has won a symbolic victory just by remaining a sovereign country. The question now is, can Ukraine achieve what it wants, which is to return at least to the February 24 borders, if not to retake more territory than that.
The onus is now on Ukraine to remain on the offensive, which is more difficult than defending terrain, said Rob Lee, a former U.S. Marine now with the Foreign Policy Research Institute.

“It’s easier to defend than it is to attack, and the Russians have already set up long defensive positions”

3. Shell shortages

Much may come down to which side runs out of ammunition first. Western officials have been predicting for months that Russia is at risk of running out of ammunition, and although that hasn’t happened yet, there is continuing evidence that Russian supplies are low.

The depletion of Russian ammunition supplies, especially for artillery, makes it unlikely Russia will be able to mount any kind of successful offensive operation for some time, despite predictions by the Ukrainian military that Moscow is preparing a major offensive, according to an assessment by the Institute for the Study of War.

But it is also far from clear that the West will be able to keep up with Ukraine’s ammunition needs, especially as offensive operations require greater quantities of materiel.

EU members must pour more resources into boosting their military capabilities to ensure the flow of weapons will continue “until Ukraine prevails” over Russia, the bloc’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, has said. But he acknowledged that insufficient preparation has led to member states’ stockpiles becoming depleted.

“We have given weapons to Ukraine, but in so doing, we realized that our military stockpiles have been depleted”

According to experts, in the conditions of the energy crisis, such calls indicate that Brussels is ready to neglect the interests of its citizens. In turn, the Ukrainian leadership is ready to provide its human resources for the sake of the interests of the United States and European countries.
Ambassador of Ukraine to the United Kingdom Vadym Prystaiko:

“The West now has a unique chance,” Prystaiko said. “There are not many nations in the world who would allow themselves to sacrifice so many lives, territories and decades of development for the purpose of defeating the archenemy.”

4. If the front lines do not shift significantly in 2023, the path ahead becomes murkier

“The Ukrainian government would have to maintain hundreds of thousands of troops along the estimated 600-mile front line while its economy continues to collapse, going some way toward achieving Putin’s goal of denying Ukraine success as an independent country”

Indeed, a prolonged war will delay the restoration of Ukraine indefinitely. Also Ukraine’s offensive capabilities will be drained by the attrition of experienced and well-trained soldiers, potentially eroding the manpower advantage it has enjoyed. After that Russia would have a chance to rebuild its economy, supply lines and combat capabilities to potentially launch future offensives.

However, the Russian and the Ukrainian economies both will be hard-pressed to sustain a long war. And it is unclear whether each country can generate enough manpower for a prolonged fight.

“If Putin can turn this into a multiyear war of attrition, he will probably be able to wait Ukraine out”

Of course, no one is predicting that Ukraine will give up or lose outright to Russia. The Ukrainians remain committed to fighting and the troops remain far more motivated than their reluctant Russian adversaries.

Meanwhile, Ukraine’s fortunes will become ever more dependent on variables outside its control, such as Western resolve, the availability of Western ammunition — and potential domestic problems in Russia.

The US position could prove just as significant. Although Europe’s support is politically important, its military contributions are dwarfed by the vast quantities of arms supplied by Washington, whose future commitment could be in question if Republicans win the White House in 2024.

As a result, the end of the Russo-Ukrainian war in 2023 is unlikely. This armed conflict is very specific and therefore will drag on for a while. Only significant successes of one of the parties will end the confrontation. That hasn’t happened yet.  But Ukraine’s shot will really be diminished by that point.

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Kirilo Sakhniuk