NIAS Europe Studies

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NIAS Europe Studies
The War in Ukraine: Four Issues to watch in 2023

  Padmashree Anandhan

Ukraine must get ready to brace for the damages, and the West should prepare for the long haul.

What happened?
Russia’s Ukraine invasion was aimed to prevent Kyiv from getting close to NATO and the EU. The prolonged war has only reversed the Russian goals and has put forward a security threat combined with an exhausting military expenditure for Russia. The protracted war has posed challenges for Russia in the movement of equipment, leadership, and shortage of personnel. To meet these challenges, Russia resorted to partial mobilization, and martial law, captured Soledar, and received drone support from Iran. The war has made Ukraine dependent on the West’s support in military, economic, and humanitarian domains, pushing it to become a constant demand for resources to counter Russia. Although the military and economic support has been slow-paced, the capacity of the Ukrainian forces to defend Russia, their adaptability to training exercises, and to operate west-made weapon systems began to fetch results. Since a successful counter-offensive in September 2022, except for the battle of Soledar, there has been no step back. From the advanced weapons support from the West, Ukraine has managed to push the frontlines to Donetsk and Luhansk from Kharkiv and Kherson.

The EU, NATO and the US initially did not expect Russia to continue the war. Due to high intensity of the war there was a gradual switch in the weapon support by the West. Shifting from the defence equipment, Soviet era weapon systems to high-capacity advanced military support to Ukraine from June 2022. When it did, they started supporting, starting with intelligence support, military aid, and later air defence vehicles and drone technologies. Simultaneously the range of goods and services under the sanctions broadened, and despite that Russia’s economy has been more stable than predicted. More than the military support, an unforeseen development is NATO’s help to Ukraine through its allies and its renewed focus on the Baltic and Nordic. This has made Russia rethink its war strategy and work on its foreign policy circumventing the US and Europe. Apart from the major actors in the Ukraine conflict, Germany, Turkey, Poland, Belarus, the UN, and IAEA have also played individual roles in mediating, refugee support, standing with Russia, and nuclear threat assessment. Such help has been crucial for targeted tasks and upholding humanitarian protection, but they fail to add to the resolution or deconstruction of the war.

Major Issues for 2023
The following four issues could be identified for the year.

1. A prolonged battle on the frontlines
The red line held by Russia begins from the borders of Luhansk, dividing through Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia, and the right bank of the Dnipro River in Kherson. Ukraine will have to continue its counter-offensive similar to Kharkiv, Kherson, Kramatorsk, Mykolayiv, and Odesa under two conditions. First, if the West delivers the promised battle tanks and scales up to fighter jets and advanced drones and Russia persists to face the limitations at the ground-level. In such a scenario, winning the city of Donetsk and pushing back Russia further inward from the Dnipro River can be expected in the next months. Retaking Luhansk, Mariupol, and Berdyansk in the far east will remain under the agenda and would be a long battle game for Ukraine. Second, Ukraine may consider negotiation over Luhansk, Mariupol, and Berdyansk to bring the war to a halt and prevent Russia from proceeding further. If not, Ukraine must get ready to brace for the damages, and the West should prepare for the long haul, where the primary focus should be off-the-ground strategies than on the ground to stand for the values it holds in the international order.

2. Increased support from the US, NATO, and Europe
Military support has fastened since September 2022; this can move faster in 2023. Increasing threat of Russia’s continuity in the war, the effect on international trade due to sanctions, and increasing energy prices will factor in their decision. Germany and the US will continue to be the lead actors in giving advanced military support. More third-party transfer authorizations, the NATO allies and the EU member states such as Poland, the UK, Canada, Belgium, Bulgaria, Slavic, and the Nordic can be expected to provide allinclusive support from ambulances, military logistics, protection equipment, and weapon support. The major challenge will be over delivering Abraham tanks, Leopard 2, or Patriot air defence system.

3. Gaps in the Russian military command and personnel expertise challenges
Russia was observed to be going on full-scale war reaching the western cities of Ukraine in the initial stage of the war, later slowed due to a shortage of soldiers. The failure of partial mobilization and the lag in training among the recruits have created new challenges for the Russian forces to carry out the command. To fill the shortage, the Wagner Group has been involved in recruiting prisoners from Russia to fight in the war. Apart from the on-ground challenges, in terms of intelligence, Putin switched the task of intelligence gathering from a unit in Ukraine to its military intelligence after repeated failures. Therefore, the government has not been able to execute its operation aligning with the plans as drafted in its military doctrine.

4. Energy challenges to Europe
The energy strategy of Europe to reduce the use of non-renewable energies had been in place even before the war. To meet the energy demands, new investments in energy infrastructure and measures to increase internal production were made to facilitate regional energy supply chains. Norway, Turkey, France, Belgium, and the Netherlands have become the forefront regional players in facilitating pipeline deals with Greece, Germany, and other Eastern European countries to replace the Russian energy supply gap. A major role has also been played by private companies such as Equinor and RWE in installations and production. Some of the promising projects for 2023 would be the Greece-Bulgaria pipeline, the Bulgaria-Turkey pipeline, Norway’s extensive operation in the North Sea, and the Germany-Norway hydrogen pipeline. At the regional level, the Renewable Energy Sources Act (RES Act), European Gas Demand Reduction Plan, and Offshore Wind Energy Act are expected to materialize in 2023. For immediate needs, the action taken by Europe at present to increase its energy storage may fulfil its 2023 consumption but would fall short large in its transition into renewable energies

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