Emergency workers put out a fire after shelling on the Bakhmut front line in Ivanivsk, Ukraine, as the Russian-Ukrainian war continues on January 2, 2023.
Anadolu Agency | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images
When Russia invaded Ukraine a year ago, it shocked the world.
Although, in retrospect, it probably shouldn’t have – after all, Russia massed at least 100,000 troops along its border with Ukraine in the months leading up to the invasion, all the while claiming it had no plans to invade.
Moscow was also rebuffed by the West after presenting NATO with a list of demands that called for the military alliance to essentially scale back its activities in Eastern Europe and guarantee that Ukraine would never become a NATO member.
Needless to say, the Western military alliance refused to accede to Russia’s demands, and a few months later, on February 24, 2022, Russian troops invaded Ukraine from the north, east, and south of the country. It targeted the capital Kyiv, Kharkiv in the northeast, Donbass in the east and the southeast of the country, along territory stretching across Crimea, a peninsula Russia annexed in 2014.
While Russian forces managed to seize parts of Ukraine in the east and south, with the help of a pipeline offered by Russian-occupied Crimea, the over-ambitious scope and breadth of the invasion quickly got back to Moscow. In April, it was forced to withdraw its forces from the Kiev area, a retreat seen as a humiliating defeat for Russia.
A Ukrainian soldier from the 93rd Brigade stands near a pile of empty mortar containers in Bakhmut on February 15, 2023, amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Yasuyoshi Chiba | AFP | Getty Images
Ukraine scored further strategic victories last year when it launched successful and surprise counter-offensives around Kherson in the south and Kharkiv in the north, pushing Russian forces back deeper into the Donbass.
Since then, however, the conflict in eastern Ukraine has largely turned into a war of attrition, with fierce fighting continuing around the war hotspot Bakhmut, a city in Donetsk that Western analysts see as being slowly encircled by Russian forces determined to cut off Ukrainian territory. supply lines in the region.
War has probably also become more global, with Russian President Vladimir Putin repeatedly blaming the West for the conflict and frame the war as a battle for Russia’s survival. The West has pledged to support Ukraine as long as needed, pledging billions of dollars in military aid and weapons.
Weapons wanted, quick
As the war enters its second year, military analysts believe that Russia’s main objective remains the conquest of the Donbas region, which includes Donetsk and Luhansk (regions home to two self-proclaimed, pro-Russian “republics”). as it launches a new large-scale offensive using the several hundred thousand conscripts that Putin took last September.
The decisive factor will be how the offensive will proceed and how quickly and effectively Ukraine will be able to counter it, defense experts warn.
“Russia’s main strategic goal remains to destroy Ukraine, all of it,” Andriy Zagorodnyuk, Ukraine’s former defense minister, told CNBC ahead of the one-year anniversary.
“But since they can’t do that, they obviously have some limited goals, and the main one they’re going to sell internally is the conquest of Donbass, and they’re going to sell that as the completion of their main goal.” [if they succeed],” he noted.
“I don’t think they will be successful … but if they are, they will sell it as a big deal. There are a number of scenarios that could happen after that, depending on the state of their forces,” he noted. .
“If they’re badly damaged and worn down, they can say that’s it and then take a break to gather new forces, they can do some additional mobilization and some additional training. But if they’re not that damaged in the process, then they will succeed,” he added. then they can decide to just move somewhere else,” he said.
Experts say the worry is that heavy Western weapons promised to Ukraine just weeks ago could take months to arrive, when time is of the essence for Kiev.
“We need weapons and weapons and weapons, faster and faster and faster,” Oleksandr Musiyenko, a military expert and head of the Center for Military and Legal Studies in Kyiv, told CNBC.
“We need weapons to stop the Russian offensive. It could be artillery, it could be longer-range missiles … and we need more armored vehicles,” he noted. His sentiment was echoed by Zagorodnyuk, who said “out of obligation [of weapons] there shouldn’t be much time for delivery as time is very sensitive here.”
For Ukraine, the main concern is that delaying the award or delivery of weapons will translate into further potential losses on the battlefield. The fighting in the east of Ukraine has already been compared to the First World War, the fields are said to be littered with the corpses of soldiers and entire towns and villages have been destroyed.
Russia and Ukraine have only sporadically published data on their own war casualties – so we have to rely on estimates. Nevertheless, the number of casualties on both sides is considered significant.
The UK Ministry of Defense believes that Russian and private military contractor forces probably 175,000 to 200,000 casualties since the beginning of the invasion with approximately 40,000 to 60,000 killed. At the same time, Tuesday’s estimate by the head of the Norwegian army indicated that Ukraine has probably counted around 100,000 dead or wounded soldiers so far.
At least 8,000 non-combatants have been confirmed killed – with nearly 13,300 injured – since the start of the Russian invasion, according to the latest figures from the UN human rights office. The UN notes that the actual number is likely to be considerably higher, such is the chaotic nature of recording this data during wartime.
The question of fighters
In January, Ukraine’s Western allies agreed to provide battle tanks to Kiev after months of requests, but Kiev is expected to have to wait until late spring for the equipment (from Leopard 2s from Europe to the American M1 Abrams) arrive.
Ukraine has already asked its allies for fighter jets, a request that is likely to be an even higher order for NATO allies to meet because they fear they could be used for an offensive against Russian territory.
One former NATO official told CNBC that sooner or later Ukraine will need fighter jets.
“If we want the Ukrainians to go on the offensive and be able to push back against the Russians with all their heavy armor, at some point we have to think about giving them the ability to have tactical air superiority,” Jamie Shea, formerly deputy assistant secretary general for emerging security challenges in NATO and an international defense and security expert at the Chatham House think tank, he said.
“The law of war shows time and time again that air superiority is what counts. Air superiority is a prerequisite for armor to function effectively. So ultimately, if we want tanks and APCs [armored personnel carriers] in order to be able to fully operate, we will have to provide them with aircraft,” he said, adding that the West may not necessarily offer its latest F-16 fighter jets, but may offer Kiev other models of combat aircraft.
A Belgian F-16 jet fighter takes part in NATO’s “Steadfast Noon” air nuclear exercise at Kleine-Brogel Air Base in Belgium on October 18, 2022.
Kenzo Tribouillard | Afp | Getty Images
Asked if he believed Ukraine could prevail and win the war by the end of 2023, Shea said two things had to happen: Western weapons had to arrive quickly and Ukraine had to get planes. Western countries, however, have so far ruled out combat aircraft for Ukraine.
Western unity and China
While Western leaders are optimistic about Ukraine’s ability to win the war quickly (and would probably say nothing publicly to the contrary), analysts are less optimistic that a quick victory will happen in or for Ukraine.
“My fear is that this war is not going to end anytime soon, it may well drag on for years,” Jan Kallmorgen, CEO of Berlin Global Advisors, told CNBC on Thursday.
“Both sides are determined to win, Putin made that clear in his speech in Moscow. He sees the war as an existential issue for Russia … and is prepared to throw possibly millions more troops into the front,” Annette told CNBC. Weisbach in Berlin.
While the West has strongly supported Ukraine, Kallmorgen questioned whether that support could be final and what role China might play in the conflict.
“The end of the game, in my opinion, can only come when Putin sees that he cannot win this game and that he will come to the negotiating table. [But] there are two key questions – whether the unity of the West will be maintained and what the Chinese will do – will they take the role of a responsible stakeholder or side with Russia,” he asked.
China, an ally of Russia, has tried to avoid directly supporting Moscow and has previously offered to mediate between the two sides. However, Russia is persistently vying for China’s support ahead of President Xi Jinping’s expected visit to Moscow sometime this spring.
The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that the U.S. government is considering releasing intelligence that shows China is considering supplying arms to Russia. Although China’s Foreign Ministry dismissed the report, saying it was “just speculation and defamation of China,” Reuters reported.