Ukraine: after six months of war, what to expect?


Six months after Russia invaded Ukraine, the conflict does not seem to be ending and is getting bogged down, according to experts. Fighting and deadly Russian strikes continue on a daily basis.

Can the war last for years? What are the capacities of the two countries to cope? Elements of an answer.

Analysts see no reason for it to stop. No compromise or peace talks are in sight either, given the extremely opposing positions.

"We are in a moment where the front is stabilizing. Even if the Russian army continues to attempt (limited) offensives, we see a loss of steam; Moscow is in a defensive position on a large part of the front and part of its rear in Ukraine," Dimitri Minic, researcher at the Russia/NEI Center of the French Institute of International Relations (IFRI), told AFP.

"It is possible that the Ukrainian army will launch a large-scale operation to recapture part of the Kherson region, or even the city of Kherson, in the short to medium term," he adds.

For Marie Dumoulin, director of the Wider Europe program of the think tank ECFR (European Council on Foreign Relations), "given that there is beginning to be a form of balance of power between the two parties, we are headed for a conflict that may be very long," she told AFP.

"We can think that this will last until at least 2023," according to her, noting that a presidential election is scheduled in both countries in 2024. "Will it play out and in what direction?".

The Russian political analyst Konstantin Kalachev estimates with AFP that this could last "for years".

"Russia lacks human resources, it is bogged down. But Ukraine also lacks the human resources to counterattack and does not have heavy offensive weapons.

The winter, with probably power and heating cuts, will be difficult for the Ukrainian society.

"The country is on the verge of defaulting on its debt; 40% of schools will not be able to open at the beginning of the school year; there are fuel shortages," Dumoulin said.

"The Ukrainians want to achieve at least tactical success by winter, because this will remotivate the troops and society and also justify the demands to Western partners," notes the expert.

Minic points out that the Ukrainian army has the advantage of a "supply of Western weapons and equipment that may be of the latest generation or superior to what the Russian army has, and the Ukrainians have the advantage of defending their territory and having a higher morale.

The researcher "does not think at all that the Ukrainian population is in a situation to swing to one side or the other, or to be exhausted by the war to the point of destabilizing the political power; it is united around the Ukrainian government.

On Sunday evening, President Volodymyr Zelensky said that "the absolute majority of our people have no doubt that we will achieve victory for Ukraine. "We are united, we have more confidence in ourselves now than we have had in many decades," he added.

"The Russian economy is not currently in crisis," Chris Weafer, founder of the consulting firm Macro-Advisory, told AFP. The government uses budgetary revenues from economic and industrial programs "to finance the military and provide social, employment and income support.

Marie Dumoulin notes that the impact of the sanctions "is beginning to be felt in certain sectors". "The Russian state has reserves; they have a financial cushion that allows them to smooth out the effects, but it won't last forever," she says. The effects of the contraction in activity could start to be felt strongly from the autumn.

"But I don't think Vladimir Putin is giving up his war just because economic activity has decreased," she believes.

Mr. Kalachev notes that the "reserves of patience" of the Russians "are much greater than those of the Europeans". "Russia hopes to win by attrition".

The most likely: that of "stalemate". "We can reasonably count on this scenario, according to Ms. Dumoulin, "with a progressive weariness that will settle on the Western side and that will not facilitate the support to Ukraine.

European countries have to deal with the discontent of their populations due to the explosion of energy and food prices.

"We are in a war of positions with a modest and slow Russian territorial conquest, and a fierce defense of a more resourceful and agile Ukrainian army," notes Minic.

For Ms. Dumoulin, "there will undoubtedly be a time when Putin will capitalize on this Western weariness and make overtures (...) and encourage Western leaders to put pressure on the Ukrainians to end the conflict on Russia's terms.

Even if this is the least likely scenario, we cannot exclude, according to her, the one "where the West continues to support Ukraine and that at some point the sort of balance that has been established between the Russian and Ukrainian forces on the ground is modified in favor of Ukraine.

For Dimitri Minic - who recalls the March demonstrations in Russia in opposition to the invasion of Ukraine - "what could aggravate the situation between the Russian power and what remains of the civil society is a declaration of war, martial law or general mobilization.

"This would be difficult to manage in big cities like Moscow or St. Petersburg, where the obsessive anti-Western rhetoric has less of a hold," he notes.

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