As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine enters its ninth month, the outcome of the war remains uncertain
or several decades, nations around the world managed to avoid a major conflict. The last time the world saw a conflict of this nature was many decades ago, during World War II. However, the ‘peace’ was shattered with the outbreak of a war between Russia and Ukraine. The atrocities and suffering that resulted from World War II left a lasting impact on the global consciousness. It is deeply troubling therefore to see the emergence of another large-scale conflict.
The current hostilities between Russia and Ukraine began on February 24, when Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a major invasion of Ukraine. The scope of the assault, which Putin referred to as a “special military operation,” suggested that Moscow’s goals were to quickly seize Kyiv and occupy a large portion of the eastern part of the country. While the Russian army made initial gains in southern Ukraine, it was unable to take Kyiv. By late March, Russian forces were retreating in the north.
Moscow then stated its new objective: occupying the entire Donbas region, consisting of the oblasts of Luhansk and Donetsk. Around 35 percent of this area had already been occupied by Russian and Russian-backed forces in 2014 and 2015. After three months of fighting, Russian forces captured most of Luhansk but made little progress in Donetsk. In September, the Ukrainian army launched two counter offensives, one in the northeast that expelled Russian forces from Kharkiv oblast and another in the south that succeeded in driving Russian forces out of Kherson city and the surrounding region in November.
In recent weeks, Russia has faced difficulties in making territorial gains. Russian troops have retreated from strategic locations in the east and south of the country, including the city of Kherson. This has led some analysts to speculate that Russia’s initial objective of quickly gaining control of all or most of Ukraine may have been too ambitious. Russia is now focusing on maintaining control of the territory it has already seized rather than attempting to expand its presence.
While the Russian military has been unable to capture Kyiv or occupy a significant portion of the country, Ukrainian forces have made some progress in regaining territory in recent months. It is possible that the war will continue as a drawn-out conflict, with neither side able to achieve a decisive victory in the near term.
According to some analysts, this is exactly what Russia wants. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s strategy in the ongoing conflict with Ukraine is to wear down and outlast Ukrainian troops in order to weaken the allies’ confidence in Ukraine’s capabilities while also strengthening and training new forces. But Russia may have overestimated its ability. It now appears unlikely that Russian forces will achieve any decisive victories, as they have not made any significant breakthroughs in months of fighting.
The conflict has lasted longer than both the US government and the Kremlin had anticipated. Data from the Institute for the Study of War suggests that Russia has not gained more than 1,000 square miles in a single week since April, despite initial aggressive advances.
Both sides have suffered heavy losses, with the conflict taking a particularly heavy toll on civilian populations. Ukraine has been devastated by the fighting, with thousands of civilian and military deaths, widespread damage to infrastructure and a sharp contraction of its economy. Power outages were reported in cities across Ukraine, with Lviv reportedly experiencing a 90 percent outage due to the attacks. There were also explosions reported in Kharkiv and unconfirmed reports of drones being launched at Kyiv from Belarus.
The Kremlin has rejected the most recent peace plan, stating that any proposals to end the conflict must take into account “today’s realities” of the four Ukrainian regions that Russia has declared as part of its territory.
The Russian military has suffered heavy personnel and equipment losses, and economic sanctions imposed by the EU, the US and the UK have pushed the Russian economy into recession. The conflict has damaged Russia’s military and reputation, disrupted its economy and altered the geopolitical landscape in Europe. It has also made any near-term restoration of normal relations with the United States unlikely. The head of Gazprom, Alexei Miller, has stated that the Russian gas company had a challenging year as it seeks new markets following international sanctions over the Ukraine conflict.
The war extends to the social sphere as well. A Crimean human rights activist, Iryna Danilovich, has been sentenced to seven years in prison by a Moscow-appointed court in the Russian-annexed peninsula for carrying an explosive device. The trial has been described as “trumped up” and “illegal” by rights activists. Authorities in the Ukrainian city of Odesa have begun dismantling a monument to Catherine the Great, a move that has been met with protests from Russian officials. The monument has been a source of tension between the two countries, with Russia claiming that the statue is a symbol of the city’s Russian history. Tensions between Russia and the West have continued to escalate
Recently, Zelenskiy announced that Ukraine had secured the release of 1,456 prisoners of war since the start of the conflict in February. In his annual address to parliament, Zelenskiy presented a 10-point peace plan that includes the restoration of Ukraine’s territorial integrity, the withdrawal of Russian troops, the release of all prisoners, a tribunal for those responsible for the aggression and security guarantees for Ukraine.
The Kremlin has rejected the plan, stating that any proposals to end the conflict must take into account “today’s realities” of the four Ukrainian regions that Russia has declared as part of its territory. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has expressed confidence that Russia will achieve its goals in Ukraine through “perseverance” and “determination”.
Despite three months of setbacks on the battlefield, Moscow has shown no willingness to engage in serious negotiations to end the war. In September, Putin announced the annexation of Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia, and Kherson oblasts, even though Russian forces did not fully control those areas and continued to lose ground in the following weeks. To compensate for these losses, the Russian military increased missile attacks on Ukrainian cities, targeting in particular the electric power and central heating systems.
As of late November, President Volodymyr Zelensky and his government have demanded Russian withdrawal from all Ukrainian territory (including Crimea and Donbas), compensation and punishment for war crimes. While these demands are understandable, given the situation in Ukraine, they may be difficult to achieve. However, Kyiv remains confident that it can continue to regain territory as winter progresses.
While the outcome of the war is uncertain, it is clear that a sovereign and independent Ukrainian state will remain on the map of Europe. It is unclear whether the Ukrainian military will be able to drive the Russians out completely or push them back to their pre-invasion positions. Some military experts believe that this is possible. Others favour less optimistic projections. The US intelligence community has forecast that the fighting could become a war of attrition.
We can only hope that the parties involved will come to the negotiating table and find a way to resolve their differences peacefully. The cost of this war has already been far too high, and it is imperative that steps be taken to prevent it from being prolonged further. Diplomatic efforts to broker a peace treaty have repeatedly been unsuccessful, and the conflict has left a trail of death and destruction in its wake. It will take many years for the affected nations to recover.
It is heartbreaking to see the end of an era of global peace and cooperation. It is clear that peace is not something that can be taken for granted. It requires constant effort and vigilance to maintain, and it is up to each and every one of us to do our part to ensure that we can all live in a world free from conflict.
The writer is afreelance journalist and a master’s student at IBA Karachi