One Year of Russia-Ukraine War: Will the conflict end in 2023?


It’s been a year since Russian tanks rolled into Ukraine from the north, east, and south. President Vladimir Putin dubbed the invasion a “special military operation” aimed at “demilitarisation” and “denazification” of the country to protect ethnic Russians, prevent Kyiv’s NATO membership and keep it in Russia’s “sphere of influence”. Ukraine calls it a war and it’s a long-drawn one.

The conflict has killed thousands of civilians, including hundreds of children and many more troops on both sides. There’s no exact toll and the estimates are likely to be underestimated. Millions have lost their homes and fled their motherland and city after populated city has been reduced to rubble.

The Russia-Ukraine war has left the world divided and fueled fears that confrontation could slide into an open conflict between Russia and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which comprises the US, the UK and its allies. Two of the world’s most powerful countries – America and China – have picked their sides.

Also read: One year of Russia-Ukraine war: What has happened thus far, what could happen next

The US has sent billions of dollars of weapons and other military aid to Ukraine – $27.5 billion – since the beginning of the Joe Biden administration. If that wasn’t enough, on 20 February the US president made an unannounced trip to Kyiv. The message to Russia is clear that Washington will stick by Ukraine as long as it takes.

China had “maintained neutrality” in the conflict thus far. But its claims are fast-fading. Top Chinese diplomat Wang Yi visited Moscow and met with Putin on 22 February and now there are reports that Xi Jinping might be the next high-profile visitor.

The US said that it believes that China might supply “lethal aid” to Russia in the war. Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelenskyy predicted that if Beijing chose to ally with Moscow, it will bring world war.

Graphic: Pranay Bhardwaj

Putin remains defiant. He has suspended Russia’s participation in the New START treaty, the only remaining nuclear deal, with the US, and a day before the anniversary of his “special military operation”, he vowed to strengthen his country’s nuclear forces. It’s getting tenser and there seems to be no end in sight.

Which way will the war go from here? And will it end in 2023? We try to find the answers.

Is Russia planning a new offensive?

There are talks of a new offensive. NATO general secretary general told reporters last week that they feared new major Russian offensive in Ukraine has already started.

“We see no sign whatsoever that President Putin is preparing for peace… What we see is President Putin and Russia still wanting to control Ukraine,” he said. “We see how they are sending more troops, more weapons, more capabilities.”

There were also claims that Russia was amassing aircraft but they were dismissed by the UK defence ministry.

What’s happening on the ground right now?

Ukraine is expecting attacks ahead of the anniversary of the invasion. Its forces have repelled 90 Russian attacks in the northeast and east over the past 24 hours, the military has said.

Ukrainian military intelligence chief Kyrylo Budanov told a local news site that Russia was “planning a small missile strike on 23-24 February”.

Ukraine’s military also said on Thursday that Russia is intensifying hostilities in an attempt to deplete Ukrainian forces. The fiercest fighting remained around the eastern city of Bakhmut, Brig Gen Oleksiy Gromov said, reports Reuters.

Ukrainian servicemen take part in an exercise in the Kharkiv area, Ukraine on 23 February 2023, the day before the one-year mark since the war began. Kyiv says Russia is intensifying hostilities. AP

According to the UK’s ministry of defence, there is a “realistic possibility” that Russia is preparing for another offensive in the eastern Ukrainian town of Vuhledar.

The town in Donetsk Oblast has again experienced heavy shelling but Russia previously suffered “costly failed attacks” after trying to seize it in early February and late 2022, the MoD said. Colonel General Rustam Muradov, commander of Russia’s Eastern Group of forces, “is likely to be under intense pressure to improve results in Vuhledar after harsh criticism from the Russian nationalist community after previous setbacks,” the BBC reports on the update.

However, the defence ministry said that it’s unlikely Muradov has the striking force capable of achieving a breakthrough.

Also read: Wang Yi in Moscow: China, Russia won't be swayed by others

What about Ukraine?

It has one goal and that is to retake the Ukrainian territory occupied by Russian forces including Crimea which was annexed in 2014. Its efforts to secure arms from the West have been aimed at that.

While the Russian side might have more soldiers, it might be getting weaker. Ukraine has better resources at its disposal than it had last February, say experts.

Phillips O’Brien of Scotland’s St Andrews University told Guardian, “What has happened since 24 February is that Ukraine has got stronger and has acquired better systems and is about to get more… The Russians have been getting weaker.”

A woman collects wood for heating from a destroyed school where Russian forces were based in the retaken area of Izium, Ukraine last September. AP

So who will win? And when will the war end?

There are varying opinions with some experts asserting that 2023 is an important year for the war.

Whether the war will end in 2023 is not yet clear, but “it’s potentially a decisive year,” Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, former nuclear counterterrorism officer for the Central Investigation Agency (CIA) and now a senior fellow at the Belfer Center, an American research institute, told The Harvard Gazette.

An article in The Conversation says what happens in Ukraine in 2023 will be crucial. “For a start, it will reveal whether victory for either side is possible, or whether a ‘frozen’ conflict is more likely.”

Two Russian soldiers patrol the Mariupol drama theatre, bombed last March. AFP

According to Nikolay Mitrokhin, a historian with Germany’s Bremen University, no side will be victorious but the war might be over toward the end of the year.

“The war may be over by late 2023 or in 2024 because both sides will have exhausted their resources. The main reasons being that Ukraine and Russia both don’t have enough arms, ammo and servicemen to achieve what they aim for,” Mitrokhin told Al Jazeera.

However, he said that both sides will not be able to achieve their goals. Russia will find it difficult to occupy Donbas, the southeastern region, let alone take over Ukraine. Kyiv will not succeed in getting back Crimea, he opined.

The UK defence secretary Ben Wallace believes that the war could last another year. When asked on radio station LBC, if the conflict would go on for 12 months, he said, “I think it will. I think Russia has shown a complete disregard, not only for the lives of the people of Ukraine, but for its own soldiers.”

He said that more than 188,000 Russian soldiers are dead or injured as a result of “this catastrophic miscalculation and aggression by President Putin”.

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy listens to servicemen report close to the front line in Donetsk region, Ukraine last June. A year ago, with Russian forces bearing down on Ukraine’s capital, Western leaders feared for the life of Zelenskyy and the US offered him an escape route. Zelenskyy declined, declaring his intent to stay and defend Ukraine’s independence. Ukrainian Presidential Press Office/AP

But some experts say there is no end in sight yet and we should expect more of the same in the coming months. A diplomatic deal to end the conflict seems impossible now and Russia is not weakened.

Mikhail Alexseev, a political science professor at San Diego State University whose research is currently focused on the war in Ukraine, told NPR that the idea that Russia is simply running out of what it needs to wage war is mostly “wishful thinking”.

"Even if Russia lacks more advanced parts, it still has tremendous supplies of low-grade — and still very lethal — weaponry,” he added.

According to Samuel Charap, a senior political scientist at the Rand Corp, animosity between the two nations “could sustain this conflict for a long time”. He told NPR that it “could drag on indefinitely”.

With inputs from agencies

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One Year of Russia-Ukraine War: Will the conflict end in 2023?
One Year of Russia-Ukraine War: Will the conflict end in 2023?
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