A year has passed since the full-scale invasion of Ukraine by the russian federation. During this time, the war acquired a protracted and positional character. Ukraine successfully holds the defense and is preparing for a counteroffensive. Russia is also building up forces and attacking in several directions, but in recent months, it can only boast of capturing a few small settlements.
OstroV asked military and political experts about achievements of the russian federation within a year of full-scale aggression and what they see as the prospects for ending the war.
Reserve AFU colonel and military expert Serhiy Hrabsky
"During a full-scale war, russia "reached" the level where it should be, and took first place in the club of outcasted from the civilized world countries. The fact that it still controls the occupied territories of Ukraine is temporary. The russians sent a lot of people to death there, and after a year of war, they are barely able to control these territories. What’s next? Their resource base is objectively shrinking. Note that all their territorial "achievements" were obtained as a result of a surprise strike in the first months of a full-scale war. After that, all their territorial gains ceased and they mostly retreated. The russians cannot even hold the territories they seized in the first month after February 24, 2022. And it is only a matter of time before they leave or be destroyed in those areas that they still control".
At the same time, the military expert notes that russia did not refuse to seize the entire territory of Ukraine. But at present, it does not have such opportunities.
"This is influenced by the Ukrainian defense forces and the world community. Therefore, we see that the enemy is retreating. The attempts that they are now making, advancing in some directions, have no strategic significance from a military point of view. To advance 50 km in a year, losing dozens of thousands of their soldiers, this is not an offensive. This is a crime. President Biden’s visit to Kyiv drove russia beyond the outsider’s penalty zone. Nobody reckons with the russian federation anymore. They are agonizing, but the agony can continue for a long time, because the territory is large. But the russians are no longer able to turn the tide quickly. Can they concentrate forces and offer something new on the battlefield? There are such expectations, but based on what we see, I doubt it.
...The russians can no longer achieve anything on the battlefield. Can they seize Bakhmut? They can, but what happens next? This is similar to the situation at the end of June 2022, when the enemy seized Sievierodonetsk, suffered huge losses and stopped. Therefore, it is unlikely that they will have enough strength for a further offensive. But they, of course, can torment us".
Serhiy Hrabsky believes that the russians will not be able to offer anything qualitatively different on the battlefield.
"Can russia announce and carry out a new wave of mobilization? Yes, of course. Will they be able to organize the process of creating combat-ready units? Experience shows that the russians are not 100% capable of this. There is no doubt that they can continue launching their cannon fodder at us, but they will not be able to offer new approaches. All the stuff that we hear about possible deliveries of weapons from China and Iran testifies to a deep systemic crisis in the russian federation".
The military expert is cautious about the prospects for a Ukrainian counteroffensive.
"It depends on our actions today, on how exhausted the enemy will be in the Donetsk and Luhansk directions, where they are concentrating their efforts. It depends on how we can concentrate various types of weapons in quantitative and qualitative terms. One can fantasize a lot, but we don’t have a full picture. Based on what we see today, a Ukrainian counter-offensive is inevitable. The general situation at the front allows us to be optimistic about the future and the next few months".
At the same time, Serhiy Hrabsky does not share optimistic views about the end of the war in 2023.
"If someone thinks that the war will end this year, then these are unacceptable optimistic expectations. We need to prepare for serious trials and focus on the liberation of Ukraine".
Political expert, analyst Serhiy Harmash
"Over the past year, russia achieved the opposite of the goals that putin voiced. He spoke about demilitarization, but today Ukraine is armed more than ever. Denazification resulted in the fact that today, nationalist sentiments in Ukraine are more widespread than ever before. The security of the russian federation - NATO has only become closer and more united. Protection of the "people of Donbas" is not even worth mentioning. Almost all of russia’s goals have failed. Moreover, the kremlin got the opposite result. In addition, putin achieved the destruction of the pro-russian forces in Ukraine. If at the time of the start of a full-scale invasion, they had about 25% of electorate, nowadays it is practically zero".
Serhiy Harmash noted that decisions in the kremlin are still based on an inadequate assessment of the real situation in Ukraine.
"They still do not understand the real state of affairs in Ukraine. Even the fact that the russians continue to shell our energy infrastructure suggests that they are hoping for protests among Ukrainians who will demand an end to the war by any means. In my opinion, this indicates an inadequate assessment of the situation in Ukraine".
The analyst believes that now putin no longer hopes to conquer all of Ukraine. His calculation is to retake the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts and drag out the conflict as much as possible. "He hopes for Western resource fatigue".
"Putin wants to prolong the conflict. We are very dependent on the West both financially and militarily, and his position may change depending on the domestic political situation of our allies. For example, we do not know how the upcoming presidential election in the United States may end. Western support will definitely not stop, but it may slow down and weaken. In that case, the conflict may drag on, its conservation or some compromises that are already being developed will be possible. That is why putin is interested in prolonging the war".
Speaking about the post-war contours, Serhiy Harmash admitted that the West may consider the issue of Crimea as a kind of compromise.
"Unfortunately, I do not see West’s desire to destroy the putin regime. The West has an understanding of the future of Ukraine, but there is no understanding of the future of russia. This suggests that the West can theoretically agree to putin’s regime staying in power. And in order to stay in power, putin must get some compromises, he cannot just lose. One of these compromises could be the demilitarization of Crimea, when the russian troops leave it, but the jurisdiction will be either joint or russian. I think that we should not agree to such conditions, because they will eventually lead to war anyway. But everything will depend on the situation at the front and our resources".
According to the analyst, the active phase of the war could end next year, based on the pace of the Western weapons supplies.
"The West wants this war to end as soon as possible, because it incurs economic and political losses. The same Biden administration wants the war to end before the US 2024 election. But to what extent is the West ready to actually support the end of this war? We still don’t see a clear picture of fighter jets and long-range missiles. In order for us to liberate all our territories, we need a technological advantage over the russian army. And we don’t have it yet".
Reserve AFU colonel and military expert Roman Svitan
"Over this year, the russians have occupied almost the entire Luhansk oblast and part of the Donetsk oblast, have created a land corridor to Crimea, thus securing the peninsula from operational encirclement. We can say that they have fulfilled part of their tasks. But they have not abandoned the seizure of the entire territory of Ukraine. As long as the russian empire exists, it will try to expand its borders, and our country is their priority. Mechanisms can be different - both military and political. But seizing Ukraine is already the goal of their existence, and the abandoning of this goal will lead to disintegration of the empire itself".
At the same time, according to the military expert, the russians will not be able to expand their territorial "acquisitions" in the near future.
"In the next year, the russians will not be able to seize more Ukrainian territories. The russian army is not ready for large-scale offensive operations, their maximum is local operations. Russia can collect several waves of the mobilized soldiers. The first wave has already entered the territory of Ukraine, it will now be turned against our defenses. The next ones can be announced closer to summer and autumn. But they will not be larger, about 300 thousand people. But closer to summer, they will be able to provide the second wave with equipment. Therefore, I believe that we have time before the summer to push them back to the Ukrainian borders as much as possible, strengthen ourselves, wait for the second wave and defeat it. Then move forward again, overcome the third wave, and then gain a foothold on the borders as of 1991. But this requires a lot of effort both from our army and our international partners".
Roman Svitan also noted that a large-scale offensive by russian troops has been going on since the beginning of 2023, but its peak is expected at the end of February.
"The russian offensive began on January 7-8 with a movement towards Soledar. First there was a pinpoint movement (the so-called reconnaissance by fire) in the Orikhiv (Zaporizhzhia oblast), Vuhledar (Donetsk oblast), Kupiansk (Kharkiv oblast), Bilohorivka and Kreminna (Luhansk oblast) areas. This was a large-scale reconnaissance by fire before the increase in offensive operations, geography and scale of which are now increasing in arithmetic progression. Currently, the russians are carrying out offensive operations on a 200 km front - from Vuhledar to Kupiansk, deployed in regiments and divisions. At the end of February, we expect more russian troops come in, and that’s when the peak is expected. After that, there will be a plateau as they will be grinded against our defenses. It could take from a week to a month".
As for the Ukrainian counter-offensive, Roman Svitan predicts it for March. Before the end of this year, Ukraine may reach the borders as of 1991.
"The war will last until the russian empire ceases to exist, until it falls apart into several state entities, so this process can continue for another 10 years. But the hot phase of this war will end after our Armed Forces reach the borders as of 1991. With the current dynamics of Western arms supplies, we will be able to do it this year: we will reach Crimea before the summer and clear out the Donbas by the end of autumn. But this directly depends on the amount of weapons supplied and its range. The longer they do not provide fighter jets and long-range missiles, the longer the hot phase of the war will last".
"After Ukraine reaches the borders as of 1991, we need to make a decision on joining NATO, which will cover us with a nuclear umbrella from the collapsing russian empire, or we need to make a decision ourselves and create tactical nuclear weapons".
Military expert, AFU colonel Petro Chernik
"During 2022, the russians completed at least one military task: they created a land corridor to Crimea. But they failed to achieve the maximum goal, namely the elimination of Ukrainian statehood. And most importantly, the "moscow empire" embarked on the path of its final decline. However, I do not think that this will happen quickly. Ukraine, in turn, has become a reborn consolidated nation, and we finally have a unique historical chance since the time of Syiatoslav the Brave to break out of the Asian geopolitical influence".
He notes that russia has not yet refused to seize the entire territory of Ukraine.
"As long as russia exists in its current form, it will not accept the existence of an independent Ukraine. And in the short term, the russian leadership will do everything to conquer our country".
At the same time, Petro Chernik is cautious about forecasts regarding the end of the war. According to him, the prerequisites for this may develop by the end of spring or mid-summer.
"This war will end sooner or later, the only question is at what point and phase it will happen. Wars always end. Even the longest Hundred Years’ War lasted 116 years, but it ended. The geopolitical puzzle that needs solving is how to defeat russia without destroying this state, because the collapse of the russian federation is unacceptable for the Euro-Atlantic world and the Anglo-Saxons. A colossal amount of natural resources is concentrated in Siberia, and no one wants to give it to China, which already considers itself the world hegemon. It seems to me that everything will happen gradually, and currently, there is no doctrinal system for understanding what the world will look like after the victory of Ukraine.
Sooner or later, Ukraine needs to reach its 1991 borders, there can be no discussion here. The question is when this will happen and under what conditions. Crimea can only be retaken by military force, or our military fist will be so strong that the new elites that will appear in russia will come to the conclusion that it makes no sense to fight for the peninsula".
Military expert, ex-head of the press service of the General AFU Staff, colonel Vladyslav Selezniov
"During this time, russia has become a pariah country, has fallen into the cohort of the most notorious pariah countries (together with North Korea, Iran and Syria) and has lost its status as a key natural resources exporter to the European market. It has also become a country, whose military and political leadership is not trusted by any normal person in the world. In addition, russia has lost more than 145 thousand "cargo 200 russians", thousands of armored vehicles, hundreds of fighter jets and helicopters. But russia is quite adaptive in its perception of the current reality. When it runs out of modern weapons, it uses the long-term stored equipment from the 60-70s (T-62 tanks, Kh-22 missiles, etc.)".
According to him, the kremlin leadership dreams of continuing its aggressive policy towards Ukraine.
"They understand that if they back down or retreat, russian society will simply crush them. That systemic agreement that was in force in russia until recently, that they have the second best army in the world and it can easily reach the English Channel, doesn’t work anymore. The whole world sees that the russian army is an army of war criminals, marauders and rapists".
The military expert points out that Ukraine is paying a huge price in this war.
"Ukraine pays a huge price every day - these are the lives and health of our soldiers. Nevertheless, Ukraine is tempered in this cauldron of war: we are gaining new experience, military-technical assistance from our Western partners, we are working on creating such a powerful army that will be able not only to keep the defense against the overwhelming forces of putin’s army, but also to conduct a counteroffensive to de-occupy all Ukrainian territories".
According to him, the course of hostilities will directly depend on the resources of both the Ukrainian and the occupation army.
"I fully trust the opinion of Ben Hodges, the former Commanding General of US Army Europe, who said that Ukraine is able to liberate Crimea by the end of summer if it receives all the necessary weapons, including long-range ATACMS missiles, artillery and armored vehicles".
Vladyslav Selezniov believes that Ukraine will be able to reach the borders as of 1991 by the end of the year.
"I am sure that the opinion of Chief of the Defense Intelligence of Ukraine, Major General Kyrylo Budanov, who says that this year, it is quite possible to liberate the entire territory of Ukraine, is an absolutely real vision of the situation. But you need to understand that the war will not end with the liberation of the entire territory of Ukraine. We need to destroy the entire military potential of putin’s army, so that it would not be able to attack again".
Deputy Head of the SBU in 2014-2015, Reserve Major General Viktor Yahun
"Besides the fact that russia has backed itself into a corner from which there is no way out, it has not achieved anything else in a year of a full-scale war. The seized territories are not critically important to it. All the talk that these territories are being integrated into the russian federation are a bluff. In fact, there is a genocide of the Ukrainian population there. In addition, the russian economy is approaching collapse. I don’t think this will happen in the near future, but the fact that they will not be able to restore the economy for the next few decades is certain".
"At the same time, Ukraine is rapidly integrating into Europe and NATO. Yes, we have lost people and territories, our economy has deteriorated, but the prospects of Ukraine are much clearer. Even in the worst case scenarios, we have prospects for joining the EU and NATO. The West will enthusiastically help us rebuild the country and build new businesses".
The military expert does not believe in the prospects of russian front-line breakthroughs and large cities seizing.
"Now there is a stalemate. Ukraine is waiting for the delivery of the promised Western weapons, we are preparing our reserves and new brigades. The enemy is also preparing, but we have an advantage, because we see the future, we understand what we will get and how it will be delivered. The russians are in a completely different situation: they need to hold on to the already taken positions or move forward at least a little, using the mobilized "cannon fodder". I do not believe in any prospects for front-line breakthroughs and the capture of large cities".
According to him, the end of the war is not expected this year.
"It will last for another year for sure. We will not have the opportunities for ending the war until next year. In March 2024, presidential election will be held in russia, and we must prepare in order to enter into negotiations on our victory by this date. And this year, we will see our perspectives, what was liberated and where we stand in general".
Vladyslav Bulatchyk, OstroV