Russia’s full-scale war against Ukraine has become protracted. The main question that worries Ukrainians today is whether it will end this year. There can be no exact answer to this question, since everything will depend on the situation on the battlefield, which changes almost every week.
Some experts and government officials predict a new large-scale offensive by russian troops and a war for years, others – a victory and a 2023 beach season in the de-occupied Crimea.
OstroV asked military experts about their expectations for the year ahead.
Deputy Head of the SBU in 2014-2015, Major General Victor Yahun
"I would like to believe that even if we don’t win in 2023, we will know for sure how much there is left to our victory. I’m not talking about the velvet season in Crimea in 2023, I don’t share such optimism. This is possible in case of some "black swan events" in moscow. Judging by the situation at the front and how we are advancing, the end of summer and the beginning of autumn will be decisive in terms of assessing events (where we stand, what we liberated and so on). Also, the world conjuncture will become clearer. I don't believe in sprinting, I think we will still have a marathon. And 2023 will show how long we will have to run".
Victor Yahun also explained the optimistic statements by some Ukrainian officials and the military that the war could end in 2023. According to him, these forecasts are not based on military analytics.
"They are hoping for some kind of "black swan event" in the kremlin, that something will happen to putin and there will be a change of power. I do not share such optimism".
The military expert emphasized that the end of the war lies not only in reaching the borders of 1991, but also in guarantees that russia will stop shelling the territory of Ukraine and will not attack again.
"Look at the situation in the liberated territories of the Sumy, Chernihiv and Kharkiv oblasts. They are under constant shelling from russia. Reaching the state border and the inability to ensure security for our citizens is a dubious victory. We need to create a security zone around our borders or sit at the negotiation table with the aggressor and determine how we will live on. Unfortunately, an ocean will not suddenly appear in the place of russia. There are two ways: either it will cease to exist as the russian federation and disintegrate into several states, or it will be under some kind of external control and will begin a long process of "treatment". But there is no point in negotiations with the aggressor before reaching the borders of 1991".
According to him, the Ukrainian people will not allow the conflict to be frozen and to negotiate with russia until all territories are liberated.
"This would be the last thing the Ukrainian authorities would do. Nowadays, the people are so determined that they will simply demolish the authorities. The Ukrainian society will not accept this option".
The expert also said that the russians are actively preparing for a new large-scale offensive in 2023.
"The russians are preparing for an offensive from several directions (including from the Belarusian territory), one of which will be the main one, the rest will be diverting. They are now calculating where it is better to attack from. This could be an offensive from the south to Zaporizhzhia in order to secure the Melitopol direction. They also have plans to concentrate troops and once again try to seize the Kharkiv oblast. In addition, they can accumulate their forces and seize Bakhmut after all. There are such plans, and we know about them. Nobody hides this, we are preparing. Another question is whether the russians will succeed. So they are preparing several options and hope that they will break through somewhere. This is a Soviet tactic, when several options are prepared so that at least one of them works. Let’s see what happens. This is not a World War II, everything is clearly visible and everyone understands what is really going on".
Military expert, Colonel of the AFU Petro Chernik
"There is a great hope that at the end of spring and the beginning of summer 2023, the russian federation will really begin to crumble, primarily in the military-technological aspect. Russia already cannot fully build the required number of missiles to strike Ukraine, because its modern military-industrial complex is 40% dependent on imported components. The most dangerous russian Kinzhal hypersonic missile consists of 130 imported elements, and there are many such examples. I want to believe that the unprecedented sanctions that have been imposed against russia will gradually stifle its military-industrial potential and economy, and the country will begin to skid so much that it will not have high-quality equipment to support its strike groups".
At the same time, he emphasizes that we will be totally safe only if russia breaks up into 15-20 states, loses its nuclear weapons, and Ukraine joins NATO.
"If this does not happen, then the military threat will remain in the event of our victory. As for the liberation of the occupied territories, I believe that it can happen in 2023. But I am not optimistic about the Crimea. This can happen in a part of Donbas, because we are demonstrating strategic dynamics, and as of now, Ukrainians are definitely more in control. Everything is much more complicated in the context of the Crimean peninsula. In my opinion, we will be able to get it back by military means or by the threat of a military invasion when our potential will be so powerful that it would be inappropriate to conduct a military operation, and the enemy will understand this. But I am not optimistic that this will happen in 2023. In my opinion, we will have prospects for the return of Crimea when russia and the putin regime will begin to crumble. I don’t believe in any diplomatic formulas".
Petro Chernik does not rule out a new large-scale offensive by the russian troops, but it will only delay the defeat of the russian federation.
"I will quote Cicero: the closer the collapse of the empire, the crazier its laws are. Can this happen? It is possible. The russians understand that they are losing, so they can make a "mongoose throw". Realizing that if putin loses, he could lose his life, they can resort to the craziest actions. In their death throes, they can do anything. Will it change the course of the war? In my opinion, no. If they had something up their sleeve, they would have already used it. Let me remind you that they have already used the entire existing range of weapons against us. They have nothing left, except for two things: weapons of mass destruction and a huge human resource. And the philosophy of fighting for Bakhmut indicates that they are ready to pay any price. From the point of view of common sense, a second strike from Belarus is unlikely, but it can happen. However, the most they can do is to delay their own catastrophe".
Reserve Colonel, military expert Roman Svitan
"If we have the necessary forces and means, we can reach the borders as of 1991 with the complete de-occupation of Crimea and Donbas by the end of spring 2023. After that, we will go on the defensive along the border between russia and Ukraine. We have the forces, the means are still insufficient, but there is hope for our Western partners. After reaching the borders of 1991, we will decide on guarantees of our security. This can be either joining NATO or security guarantees from the North Atlantic Alliance. In addition, I think that there will be strong sanctions pressure on russia with the imposition of secondary sanctions. After that, it will simply fall apart, but according to my forecasts, this will begin to happen in 2024".
According to Svitan, reaching the 1991 borders by the end of spring directly depends on whether the West will provide us with the necessary weapons.
"If we do not do this by then, we will have to fight at those borders where the AFU will end up by the end of spring. At that time, the russians will have about 300 000 contract soldiers, about which they are now talking and which will be ready by that time. We have a gap of several months when we can reach the borders of 1991. From a military point of view, this is possible. We have the forces, and our Western partners promise means. If the partners let us down, we will stop at the borders as of February 24, 2022 in the worst case scenario. These are my worst forecasts, and it will be very bad for us. We cannot go on the defensive without freeing all our territories, so we will advance. And it will be much more difficult when the russians have 300 000 more or less armed contract soldiers".
Roman Svitan also told about the new russian offensive, which he predicts for the end of spring.
"They will accumulate at least up to 300 000 contract soldiers. I don’t think that they can organize a large-scale offensive at the end of February, it will happen later. In my opinion, the offensive from Belarus is unrealistic and it makes no sense from a military point of view. To seize Kyiv, they need to gather several million people in tanks. But what would be the point? The war will not stop. But it is realistic to gather 300 000 soldiers and start offensive on the east to capture the entire territory of the Donetsk oblast. Without Bakhmut, Sloviansk and Kramatorsk, the Donetsk oblast is a dead land, it will not survive without water. It is simply impossible to live there without a water pipeline. But I believe that the russians have no chance to seize Bakhmut. The AFU and our partners are moving in the right direction".
The military expert notes that the complete victory of Ukraine will not be in reaching the borders of 1991, but in the collapse of the russian federation.
"We will fight with them until they fall apart. Chief of the Defence Intelligence Budanov has a map of the collapse of the russian federation in his office for good reason. This is how victory looks like".
In addition, Svitan predicts the continuation of such "surprises" as explosions at the russian airbase in Engels.
"This is just the beginning. These kinds of surprises will be bigger and farther. Our pilots will also begin to carry out missions over the territory of the russian federation, since there is no russian air defense".
Military expert, reserve Colonel of the AFU Serhiy Hrabsky
"We must prepare for serious challenges, and it is too early to say that we will be able to defeat russia in 2023. Russia is not yet weakened enough to capitulate. The situation looks like the war can only end with the victory of one of the parties. Neither we nor the russians see any opportunities for any "middle ground" agreements. I expect that in 2023, we will liberate as much as possible of our territories from the invaders. We will continue to strike, which will lead to the capitulation of the russian federation. But that all depends on many factors, including the level of international military-technical assistance (what kind of weapons and how many will be given to us), and an important factor will be how much we can unite in order to continue our fight. It would be very wrong to say that the war will end soon and that you can relax, especially against the backdrop of the 2022 victories".
Serhiy Hrabsky expressed doubts about the forecasts that Ukraine will be able to de-occupy all its territories in 2023 and reach the borders as of 1991.
"Look at the operations of the AFU. The liberation of the Kherson oblast took almost four months. If we are talking about the same pace of the offensive, then we can assume that in a year, we will be able to liberate most of the occupied territories. But I have doubts about the Donbas, especially the part, which has been under russian occupation since 2014. I am more optimistic about the de-occupation of Crimea in 2023. From a military point of view, Crimea is easier to liberate than Donbas, which actually borders the russian territory. It is more difficult to defend Crimea in the event of our active advance to the coast of the Sea of Azov. As for Donbas, its territory has been part of the zone of active armed conflict over the past few years, therefore, powerful systems of fortifications and defenses have been created there, which greatly complicate the process of liberation. The enemy has been improving the defense system in Donbas for eight years. In addition, it has the possibility of wider supplies from the territory of the russian federation. Moreover, Donbas is a highly urbanized territory, and it is extremely difficult to fight in such conditions. It’s a very costly process".
According to the military expert, there are all signs that russia is preparing a new full-scale offensive. But it is difficult to predict when it might happen.
"Do I admit that such an offensive could happen? Yes, of course. Russia has not abandoned its strategic goal of destroying Ukraine. Thus, it will do everything possible to raise enough troops and try to fulfill this strategic goal. There are facts that russia is making certain steps in this direction, including mobilization and accumulation of additional forces and means, constant pressure on Belarus in order to open additional directions of aggression against Ukraine and attempts to mobilize its economy. Therefore, without reference to specific dates, such an event is quite possible".
Military expert of the Ukrainian Institute for the Future Ivan Stupak
"I sincerely believe that the war will end in 2023. Its hottest phase at least. And the negotiation process can last for months. There may not be a peace treaty with the russian federation at all. There may be a situation similar to South and North Korea, which have been at war for 70 years. We cannot count on the fact that russia sincerely wants to sit at the negotiation table and normalize everything. A third of the russian budget for 2023 went to the military sphere. How can they negotiate when they are constantly sharpening their weapons? As for the de-occupation of Ukrainian territories, I believe that russia will eventually abandon Donbas, but it will not be as simple for Crimea. I do not yet share the optimism about the imminent de-occupation of the Crimean peninsula".
Ivan Stupak does not believe in a new large-scale offensive by russian troops. According to him, russia does not have enough technological resources for this.
"In February 2022, the russians advanced with an army that they had been preparing for more than 10 years. And this army lasted for only 3-4 months of active hostilities, after which it began to retreat. And when putin now talks about army reform, it sounds ridiculous, because you can’t reform the army in three months by simply throwing money at it. If people are used to stealing, they will continue to do it. Besides, in this case, it’s not the money that plays a key role, but the resources and technologies that they don’t have. We are winning now not due to the number of guns and missiles, but due to their accuracy. The russians can produce new tanks, but it will be equipment from the Brezhnev and Khrushchev times, without modern sights, night vision devices, signaling, etc. I do not believe that russia is capable of a military breakthrough, which will drastically change the course of the war in its favor. I am focusing on technologies that russia does not have access to".
The military expert believes that the turning point in the war came after the liberation of Kherson.
"The internal turning point occurred with the liberation of Kherson, the external one with the visit of Volodymyr Zelensky to the USA. I am sure that the American authorities changed their mind about the war and assistance to Ukraine. Our Western partners cannot afford to abandon Ukraine, since a lot of money has already been invested in it. A stalemate could have happened if the AFU had not yet liberated Kherson. If our troops were stuck there for a long time in battles, then I am sure that the Western partners would pressure Ukraine for negotiations under the pretext that we are not coping. But when we liberated Kherson, Western partners saw the horizons of the future, that the war could end and that Ukraine could de-occupy its territories".
Vladyslav Bulatchyk, OstroV