The Russian war of aggression against Ukraine will continue. The Ukrainians hope for military successes. Weapons deliveries could accelerate the course of the war.
This winter people in many places in Ukraine are experiencing extreme conditions. While the year 2022 ended in the familiar holiday mood in the rest of Europe, the Russian war of aggression continued with undiminished severity: On December 24, a Russian missile killed ten people in the center of the southern Ukrainian city of Cherson, which was liberated in the autumn. At the turn of the year, fighting at the front, especially in the Donbas, continued.
dr Brigitta Triebel and Tim B. Peters head the Ukraine office of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation
On the last day of the year, Russia launched 20 rocket and numerous drone attacks – on New Year’s Eve alone, Ukrainian air defenses shot down 45 objects. The horrors continue into the new year, as the attack on a residential area in Dnipro on January 14 dramatically killed at least 35 civilians. While the outside temperatures are regularly in the minus range, heating, water and electricity are repeatedly cut out by the hour due to the ongoing Russian air raids. These attacks on the civilian infrastructure have hardly any impact on the military situation at the front.
But the terrible consequences of the Russian war of aggression are exacerbated by the fact that the aggressor repeatedly disregards the basic rules of international humanitarian law. In connection with the statements from Moscow, which question Ukraine’s right to exist, this underscores the genocidal character of the Russian attack: only their own speed and technical skill in restoring the electricity and heat supply protects the Ukrainians from the worst. Otherwise countless people would be forced to flee further or would simply freeze to death.
Given the experience of Russian warfare, few in Ukraine doubt that the coming period will be tough. Politicians and the armed forces have long been prepared for new Russian offensives, and people have prepared for further deterioration in their living conditions. There is also little doubt that Russia is ready and capable of further escalations. Current warnings that Russia is buying new military equipment from Iran and reports that another hundred thousand Russians are about to be mobilized for the war are just a few indications that Russia is also planning 2023 as a year of war and will do everything possible to achieve military success.
Moscow has also transferred more troops and military material to Belarus in recent weeks. It is disputed whether there is a real threat from the north. However, the Russian side knows how to skilfully present its own activities in Ukraine’s neighboring country as a possible threat at any time. The Ukrainian population, especially in the capital, can thus continue to be kept under tension.
However, the Ukrainian willingness to continue defending itself militarily is unbroken. According to a December 2022 poll, 85 percent of respondents are in favor of not making any territorial concessions to Russia, even if this could make the war last longer. Even in the parts of the country particularly affected by the course of the front, in the south (82 percent) and in the currently hotly contested east (80 percent), this attitude, which is also represented by the Ukrainian government, has met with a high level of approval.
Although a general exhaustion can be seen in the country in view of the diverse burdens of war, this should not be misunderstood as defense fatigue. The explanation for this is obvious: From the Ukrainian perspective, all relevant agreements have been broken by the Russian neighbor in the past – from the Budapest Memorandum to the Minsk Agreements to the UN Charter’s ban on the use of force.
Against this background, it is hard to imagine how any document could guarantee a ceasefire or even lasting peace with Putin’s Russia. The sword of Damocles of renewed breach of word would permanently hang over any diplomatic compromise. So the question for many in Ukraine is: what would prevent Russia from striking again in a year or five years, when the Russian army may have recovered, learned from its mistakes and regrouped, in the event of a diplomatic solution?
The demand for diplomatic solutions, which is heard again and again in Germany, therefore often ignores one crucial question: What international guarantees would Ukraine receive that could effectively protect it from another attack? In view of the cautious course in the Chancellery and the skepticism about deliveries of heavy weapons found in surveys, a possible German obligation to provide assistance appears to be a long way off at the moment. Against this background, it is more than understandable that Ukraine continues to rely on its own military successes instead of giving in to abstract calls for negotiations.
The now promised deliveries of armored personnel carriers and reconnaissance tanks from France, the USA and Germany as well as main battle tanks from Great Britain are positive news in the young year. They will significantly strengthen Ukraine’s defense capability. However, the further course of the fighting in the coming weeks and months will largely depend on how quickly these and other weapons are used.
Despite the partners’ commitments to provide military, economic and humanitarian aid, the further development of the war is by no means foreseeable at this point in time. The fact that the time factor is of decisive importance in the current war situation can be made clear by the western-style tanks that have now been promised. Experts have long pointed out that earlier delivery would have been important for the Ukrainian counteroffensive.
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Further recaptures and fewer own losses in the northeast (Kharkiv region) and in the south (Kherson region) are considered at least likely if these weapons had been used earlier. On the other hand, there was a stalemate at the front, which gave the Russian side time to relocate additional forces to the Donbas and enlist more men for frontline service. This situation has only cost Ukraine more lives. The long hesitation about the tank deliveries is one reason why wait-and-see tones could be heard after the first positive reactions from the Ukraine.
From experience, people in Kyiv prefer to wait and see when the military technology will actually be delivered. On the other hand, the prognosis that the Ukrainians will continue to resist the Russian attack with all their might in the second year of the war is more reliable. Supporting them faster and more extensively could bring the country closer to a just peace.