The Frozen Conflict - What Does The Short-Term Future Hold For Ukraine?
On 24 June 1812, the French army led by General Napoleon Bonaparte crossed the Niemen River into the Russian capital. The daring invasion of Russia, which caused a dreadful fire in Moscow, was Napoleon's greatest failure. Two centuries later, during the same period, the German army of the Third Reich was raising its troops against the USSR in Operation Barbarossa. Both stories end similarly. The cold northern winter ended up being the enemy countries' greatest opponent.
Today, in the month of August 2022, we find that the Russian invasion of Ukraine at the hands of the oligarch Putin is a frozen conflict, metaphorically, and if it is not resolved in a few months, its meaning will become literal. Indeed, the winter season could have sweeping consequences for the course of the war, for a variety of reasons.
Ukraine, a Box of Surprises...
This is an advantage of which Putin is well aware. Both sides are currently not sufficiently prepared, logistically or strategically, to deliver a major blow that will twist the wheels in favour of one or the other. What has been touted as the world's second most powerful army now turns out to have shoddy wheels on its tanks and duct-taped Canon cameras on its drones. Moreover, Ukraine has beaten all odds by winning the battle of Kyiv and liberating Mykolaiv and Kharkiv.
Putin -and all experts- believed that this battle had already been won given the stark disparity in the two forces' warfighting prowess. Russia seized control of a large segment of Ukrainian land early in the conflict. The Ukrainian military would support Russia in toppling the Zelenskyy government, and Kyiv would be under Kremlin control in a matter of days.
However, this aim did not account for the work done since 2014 to strengthen the operational skills of Ukrainian forces who have been fighting in the Donbas for years. There has long been guerrilla warfare and resistance throughout the nation. It is a tenet of their national character. Additionally, the Ukrainian army is acquiring cutting-edge weapons from the West, mostly from NATO and the G7 group, and it’s superior in the face of the Russian infantry shortage.
Yet, despite all of this, Russian rule over the Donbas might occur in the next months, putting an end to the frozen conflict that has existed in the area for the past decade. This can lead to a scenario where Kyiv is suggested a truce and the start of negotiations. Despite its vows of support for Kyiv, this may persuade some Western countries to urge Kyiv to achieve a settlement since they are fatigued from a protracted conflict that is causing significant economic and political challenges.
Russia Forced to Change its Speech
Thus, it would be understandable that the only option left to the Russians was to lower their aspirations, stating that the Donbas had always been the only goal and that the attack on Kyiv was really a ruse. It is hard to retrieve from the traumas of the collapse of the Soviet empire and the catastrophic operations in Afghanistan or Chechnya. In the aftermath of such a terrible intervention, Putin must deliver a respectable triumph to his supporters. Retired Ambassador Hüseyin Diriöz, said, “the same way Russia annexed Crimea, a similar situation may occur in the Donbas. It is not known whether it will go beyond it, that is, it will come as far as the Black Sea border and isolate Ukraine from here. But if it does something like this, Russia will be unfairly treated in the world public opinion.”
Winter is Coming - What Will The West Do?
The overwhelming advantage of Putin's army and the result of this battle have therefore been questioned due to the back and forth between the two sides. But one thing is certain: traditionally, winter has favoured the Russian army, making Ukraine's near-term outlook extremely difficult. They have a limited amount of time before the season begins, which will restrict ground and aerial operations and result in significant political and economic upheavals for governments and civilians.
First, the prolongation of the war would give Russia a temporary window of opportunity that could put them back in an advantageous position, strengthening their armaments. This was fearfully expressed by Zelenskiy's chief presidential adviser, Andriy Yermak, who said: "It is very important for us not to enter into the winter. After winter, when the Russians will have more time to get a jog, it will certainly be more difficult". Thus, he appealed to the US, expressing his hope that he would receive sufficient weapons in time.
On the other hand, the weather will change and heating will be required despite Western sanctions. And this will put some countries' commitment to supporting Ukraine to the test. Putin is certain that Europe's substantial reliance on Russian gas will offer Moscow significant political sway over the next few months. Europe is attempting to diversify its supply while reducing demand, but for some EU nations, such as Germany and Italy, a decrease in supplies would be exceedingly difficult to withstand. The winter energy crisis of 2022 may join the list of recent catastrophes that have almost torn Europe asunder, according to the most recent issue of The Economist.
The ruthless legacy of families being separated, refugees' journeys, homes being lost, and now with the onset of the cold winter, the lack of energy resources of citizens caught in the horrors of battle is what matters most in each case, as in every war. Experts and policymakers must quickly seek answers to the global crisis with great urgency, as well as continue to prioritise the safety of Ukrainian civilians in institutions such as the UN.
Edited and Reviewed by Tanish Bagga.