The leadership of the Russian Federation underestimated all three components of war according to Clausewitz (the state leadership, the army, the people), because of being captive to colonial stereotypes. In Moscow’s vision, Ukraine’s leadership had to flee or hide, the Armed Forces had to disperse or join the aggressor, and the people had to sit in the outermost houses in fear, and even greet the “liberators” with flowers.
The Kremlin’s overestimation of its capabilities and underestimation of Ukrainian capabilities explains why the Russian invasion force in February 2022 was smaller than military science recommends, considering the area and population in the theater of war.
The significant results of the year were Ukraine’s successful offensive campaigns in the Kharkiv and Kherson regions, that made it possible to completely liberate the right bank of the Dnipro, to eliminate the Izyum offensive enclave, and to completely make impossible the offensive campaign planned by Russia to cut off Donbas, where a large group of the Ukrainian army is concentrated.
Russia used one of the two ultimate instruments (except for nuclear weapons) – starting so-called “partial” mobilization. However, this solution has led to a significant increase in tensions within the Russian Federation, and limited deployment of protest movements (especially noticeable manifestations in Dagestan). Instead, the reinforcement of combat units by mobilization did not lead to significant results in the form of freezing the front line.
The exhaustion of Russian reserves forced the Kremlin to resort to Iranian aid in the form of kamikaze drone supplies, which led to significant strikes on the Ukrainian energy system. However, drone supplies have quickly run out, and Tehran delays the delivery of further batches under pressure from the US (which supports anti-government protests in Iran).
The offensive phase of the Russian Federation started in December 2022-January 2023 in 7 directions from Zaporizhzhya (near Orikhiv) to the Kharkiv region (near Kreminna) has exhausted itself, despite the huge resources involved, and demonstrated insignificant results (first of all, the capture of Soledar).
An interstate war between Ukraine and Russia (which uses the logistical capabilities of Belarus), with the involvement of global forces.
The number of victims
According to the General Staff of Ukraine, the combat losses of Russian troops amount to over 150,000 people, while the Russian Federation government speaks about 6,000 people. According to Ukrainian data, about 23,000 units of Russian military equipment were damaged or captured. Of them, more than 8,000 were confirmed by photo and video recording. The number is three times bigger than the proven Ukrainian losses (nearly 2,500 pieces of equipment). The flagship of the Black Sea Fleet of the Russian Federation missile cruiser “Moskva” was sunk. The stocks of Russia’s modern missile weapons are being exhausted.
According to the data of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, the losses of Ukrainian troops are over 13,000 people.
Civilian casualties according to UN records for February 2023 estimated at 7,199 dead (including 438 children) and 11,756 wounded. However, many victims are still unaccounted for (especially in the temporarily occupied territories), and the true numbers may be several times higher. Only in Mariupol, according to the city authorities, more than 20,000 civilians died, the exact numbers are still difficult to establish.
There are several recorded facts of genocide – terrible crimes of aggression against civilians, murders and tortures in many towns and villages, particularly in Bucha, Gostomel, Makariv, and Borodyanka in Kyiv region, Izyum in the Kharkiv region. Also, the occupiers regularly take Ukrainian children en masse to the Russian Federation (16,226 kidnapped minors have already been identified).
Increasingly, the world has to pay attention to the “nuclear terrorism of Russia” – the occupation of one of the largest nuclear power plants in Europe, in the Zaporizhzhia region.
Negotiations between sides of the war
The negotiations have been put on hold because the Ukrainian side feels positive developments and does not want to accept capitulation demands, and the Kremlin waits for the results of the “battle for Donbas” and attacks on civilian infrastructure. But the Russian side shows a growing desire for negotiations to freeze territory gains, minimize losses, and get time to accumulate strength.
Goals of the parties
Russia planned to:
- Destroy the state subjectivity and independence of Ukraine in one of the ways: either through a change of power in Kyiv and gradual incorporation, similar to Belarus, or due to the transformation of Ukraine into a failed state, as in Libya or Syria.
- Make the Ukrainian state as militarily weak as possible, even after returning to Russia’s orbit, and destroy or weaken the Ukrainian Armed Forces as much as possible (“demilitarization”).
- Stop and reverse back the process of establishing Ukrainian identity, assimilate Ukrainians with Russians, and include Ukrainian people in the system of the so-called “Russian world” (which includes “denazification” of Ukraine, cleansing of Ukrainian patriotic forces, including the veterans of the Russian-Ukrainian war).
- To protect its puppet republics in Donbas, so-called “DNR” and “LNR” (this goal was announced as the main “legitimate” goal of the war).
- To obtain a land corridor to the occupied Crimea and Transnistria, to cut off Ukraine from the Azov and Black Sea, including new areas determined during the so-called “Russian spring” in 2014 into the “Russian Federation”.
- Regain the status of a superpower and strengthen its role in the world (Putin declared the impossibility of negotiating with NATO on equal terms and accused the North Atlantic Alliance of eastward expansion starting in 1997, also warning third parties against interference).
On other hand, right before the great war Ukraine wanted to achieve the following targets:
- Avoid the full-scale war, preserve the status quo, and avoid the fulfillment of the Minsk agreement
- To change the way how the West treats Ukraine from a neutral-indifferent to a Ukraine supporter (by appealing to the Budapest memorandum and trying to achieve a status of USA’s non-NATO ally; buying weapons from the USA, Great Britain, Canada, and the EU; pushing for real sanctions against and for stopping any cooperation with Russia, primarily in military, energy, and other areas, particularly preventing the launch of Nord Stream-2)
After the full-scale war started, to stop Russia’s advancement Ukraine was ready to sacrifice the non-controlled part of Donbas and discuss Crimea’s status (which was the position on Istambul negotiations in April).
The following goals emerged when the war progressed:
- To restore control over its territories as of February 24, 2022.
- To bring back all territories occupied by Russia including Donbas and Crimea; get reparation from Russia.
- To destroy the Russian empire to preserve a long-lasting peace.
- To get a deserved place in the international security and economy system (EU, NATO, and other organizations memberships, for example, the Baltic-Black Sea Axis with Great Britain).
Going forward, the next goals will be essential for Ukraine:
- To create its powerful defense system (armed forces development, including traditional units, special forces, and territorial defense as well as full militarization of the society, the establishment of a new military-industrial complex, etc.).
- To eliminate Russia’s “fifth column” and its instruments: Russian language, Moscow patriarchy, Russian history narratives, etc.
- To form Ukrainian national identity as the foundation of Ukraine’s nation-state.
- To prepare for living in a world without Russia: new global challenges coming after Russia’s defeat.
Russia’s failures reduced its status from a top-3 geopolitical player to a regional-level troublemaker. On April 26, 2022, at German Ramstein Air Base a coalition was formed to coordinate military help to Ukraine which was joined by NATO countries and other USA’s European allies: Sweden and Finland will join the alliance in the coming months. Also, there were representatives from the Far East (Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, and Japan) and the Middle East (Israel, Catar, and Jordan).
Another important factor is the “grain deal” that impacts the food security of many countries in Asia and Africa. No doubt, Russia will keep pressing the food issue trying to reach negotiations.
During the spring and summer of 2023, Ukraine and Russia will try to escalate the battlefield situation. It is the best opportunity for both to reach better positions because despite its military industry reanimation Russia will lack resources and the West (that helps Ukraine) will need more time to replenish its stocks. However, there is a possibility that after an armistice the Moscow regime will survive the crisis and repeat the aggression in a few years. To avoid these risks, we need to work more actively with decolonizing movements inside Russia.
As both sides lack resources, they need to preserve long-term diplomatic and military-political support:
- For Ukraine – from the US, Great Britain, Poland, and Baltic states.
- For Russia – to create a kind of anti-American coalition as Russia cannot produce enough equipment anymore (particularly, unmanned aerial vehicles and high-precision rockets).
Since the war goals significantly changed for both Ukraine and Russia, the war entered a prolonged phase that may last for a long time. Sides will conduct short advancing campaigns on particular sections of the front with long periods of trench war of attrition.
Ukraine needs to build power for the spring offensive. Only Russia’s military defeat and capitulation and the destruction of its imperial regime will guarantee long-term peace. Mere restoration of 1991 borders will lead to another war. Not finishing up with the enemy is going to be a fatal stratic mistake.
Russia will try to spread a thought both in the West and inside Ukraine that Ukraine is unable to win the war. It will try to provoke civil unrest in Ukraine using the worsening socio-economic situation.
The following will be main Russia’s psycho-informational operations aimed to weaken Ukraine’s society in the coming months:
- Spreading the narrative in Ukraine and over the world that Ukraine is unable to win.
- Provoking Ukrainians’ distrust in their government following the worsening socio-economic situation.
- Provoking political conflicts resulting in people’s distrust in Ukraine’s policymakers.
- Activating resistance against derussification processes in Ukraine to provoke civil unrest. Russia will use its agent networks to organize info campaigns.
- Igniting religious hostilities via Russia’s agents in Moscow patriarchy.
- Opposing mobilization and spreading the anti-government narratives.
- Using the theme of “good Russians” who in reality want to preserve the Russian empire (so-called “another Russia”, where Putin, not the Russian people, is the only one to blame for the military aggression and genocide against Ukraine).
Kyiv must facilitate national liberation movements of nations enslaved by Russia. We need to use the factor of Russia’s national plurality and convince our allies that it is possible to break Russia down into several dozens of states. Only their support will speed up Russia’s disintegration.
Yurii Syrotiuk, Director of the Non-Governmental Analytical Centre “Ukrainian Studies of Strategic Disquisitions”, member of the Ukrainian Parliament (7th), grenadier of the Fifth Separate Assault Regiment
Yurii Oliinyk, Research programs Director of the Non-Governmental Analytical Centre “Ukrainian Studies of Strategic Disquisitions”, Ph.D., Political Sciences
Oleksandr Chupak, economic program Director of the Non-Governmental Analytical Centre “Ukrainian Studies of Strategic Disquisitions”
Andriy Mokhnyk, People’s Deputy of Ukraine of the 7th convocation, Minister of Ecology and Natural Resouces of Ukraine in 2014