Ukraine war: what are the takeaways from 2023?

In contrast to 2022, the front lines in the Ukraine war barely shifted in 2023 and military operations appear to be deadlocked. Commentators discuss what conclusions can be drawn from the developments of the past year and what lies ahead in 2024.

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Nikolai Mitrochin (RU) /

Kharkiv could be the next target

In a Facebook post, political scientist Nikolai Mitrokhin sees the possibility of Russia opening up a new front north of Kharkiv:

“The justification for this is the shelling of Belgorod. But in reality, it is the realisation that Ukraine barely has enough resources to hold the existing front, and that these are not sufficient for another front - whereas Russia has successfully carried out a commercial mobilisation. Having encountered the prepared Ukrainian defences and reached the dead end Kupyansk (in the north-east of the Kharkiv region), it could try to approach the country's second-largest city from the north.”

LA.LV (LV) /

Putin is doing okay, the West is not

Writer and political advisor Jurģis Liepnieks comments on Putin's situation on LA.LV:

“Of course Putin cannot and will not open any more fronts until the Ukraine issue has been resolved. Because the situation is very satisfactory for him. ... He has the feeling that this war of evasions and delays works to his advantage and that he can endure it. The West can't. ... It's the West that can no longer supply weapons, the West that cannot provide financial aid due to all kinds of problems. It's the West that has domestic problems. It's Ukraine where the problems arise. Putin is dealing with his problems - the sanctions are not working, or at least they're not working the way we thought they would.”

Jutarnji list (HR) /

Mounting tensions

Plans to change the conscription rules are fuelling frustration in Ukraine, Jutarnji list comments:

“The proposal to amend the mobilisation law has become a trigger for venting the dissatisfaction with the current situation in Ukraine that has built up in recent months across Ukrainian society. All the frustrations have now come together: the disappointment regarding the high expectations fuelled by the government in the face of the Ukrainian army's unsuccessful offensive, bitterness over corruption, and general war-weariness. ... The tensions in society have escalated and now no one supports the law, not even the ruling party Servants of the People, even though they were the ones who drew it up.”

Népszava (HU) /

European cohesion is working

The EU has remained surprisingly united in this crisis situation, former economics minister István Csillag observes in Népszava:

“In the almost two years since the Russian aggression, the European governments have done surprisingly well, despite the growing internal divisions and the tension-inducing demagogy of the advancing populist movements. They have practically marginalised the pro-Russian and pro-Putin Orbán without destroying the system of cooperation within the EU.”

Birgün (TR) /

States win, peoples lose

Birgün refers to the assessment of the International Institute for Middle East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES):

“Interestingly, the comprehensive analysis suggests that three parties are currently the winners in Ukraine. ... Firstly, Ukraine itself, which has proven that it is capable of building a nation, even if it has lost territory. Secondly, Russia, which has not been defeated in its war against almost the entire world and Nato, but on the contrary has revitalised its image from the Soviet era. And thirdly, the US, which derives enormous economic, political and military benefits from this confrontation. ... The net losers are the peoples with their dead and a dark future.”

Jutarnji list (HR) /

Russia wants to wear out Ukraine

The conflict has become a war of attrition, Jutarnji list comments:

“Regardless of whether Putin says that Russia is 'taking the initiative', the war has obviously reached a stalemate. ... According to the BBC, neither Russia nor Ukraine have the strength to launch a decisive operation without having to use up a disproportionate amount of resources: equipment, ammunition and, above all, soldiers. In view of this situation, Moscow, as some Russian military analysts write, has opted for 'attrition tactics' against Ukraine in the belief that Russia has more resources - human, economic, military and political - and can thus force Ukraine to yield.”

Telegraf (UA) /

Shift the war to enemy territory

For Telegraf further attacks on the Russian border area are unavoidable:

“A war cannot be won if it is fought exclusively on one's own territory. ... Belgorod, like other Russian border towns, plays an important role as a logistical hub for Russian aggression in Ukraine. Therefore, strikes against it will continue. In the future, this city, as well as the entire Russian border area, must be demilitarised and become part of a security belt for Ukraine so that Moscow does not even think of repeating its aggression.”

Politiken (DK) /

Kyiv must scale back its war aims

A bitter year is coming to an end for Ukraine, Politiken summarises:

“Russia has more than three times as many inhabitants and has switched to war economy mode. The West is struggling to provide the necessary weapons and most observers are now anticipating a Russian offensive in the spring. ... Moreover, the US election is looming, and with it the danger that Trump will win and end support for Ukraine. None of this means that the war is lost. But it does make a military victory for Ukraine in which it recaptures all its territory hard to imagine. And it forces both Ukraine and the West to think about what a Ukrainian victory might look like.” (UA) /

Things are going swimmingly at sea

Ukraine has been successful in the Black Sea, stresses:

“The Ukrainian attacks on Sevastopol and Kerch have forced the Russian fleet to start relocating their bases to Novorossiysk. The western area of the Black Sea is effectively free of Russian presence. For months now, hardly any Kalibr cruise missiles have been fired at Ukraine from enemy missile ships and the grain corridor is functioning without the Kremlin's approval. ... In the air, too, the trend is changing. ... So while there is no reason for triumphant cheers, there is also no reason to despair.”

Libertatea (RO) /

Zelensky's style has lost its appeal

Libertatea examines the reasons for the drop in the president's poll ratings from 88 to 63 percent:

“The increasing war-weariness and ongoing hostilities are changing the way Ukrainians perceive political reality. It is not that they want peace with Russia at any price, as Russian propaganda tells us. Yet they wonder whether Zelensky's decisions are wise and will lead to victory. Zelensky is still trying to win over the public with his speeches, but he is no longer as effective as he was. His unique approach has made it into the political communication textbooks, but it looks like he will have to reinvent himself in the election year 2024.”

Echo (RU) /

A people subjected to war

Kirill Martynov, editor-in-chief of Novaya Gazeta Europe, observes fatal social changes in Russia in a Telegram post picked up by Echo:

“Initially, the war was seen as a great evil which would, however, be limited in time and space. ... The situation at the end of the second year of the war shows that this was an illusion. Russian society has changed forever. The ban on discussing reality and on calling the war by its name is forcing it to submit to the war in the most brutal and fascist way. The main dynamic is the formation of a 'guardian' class along the lines of the 'Islamic revolutionary guards' [in Iran]: between 10 and 15 million people who work for the war and to protect the dictatorship.”