The interception remains, but everyone seems to agree on one thing: “The war has become industrial, the stalemate will continue awaiting rearmament in 2025”
How the war in Ukraine will evolve in 2024, beyond the rhetoric of the parties and the evident tiredness of the soldiers of both factions but also of Kiev’s Western supporters? While waiting for the emergency meeting of the Security Council, requested by Ukraine after the recent Russian attacks which caused over 30 deaths and 150 injuries, the interception remains, but everyone seems to agree on one thing: “The trend of the war in 2024 “will be determined in Moscow, Kiev, Washington, Brussels, Beijing, Tehran and Pyongyang, more than in Avdiivka, Tokmak, Kramatorsk”, as summarized by Michael Clarke, former director general of the Royal United Services Institute, interviewed by the BBC together to Barbara Zanchetta, analyst in the War Studies department at King’s College London and Ben Hodges, former commander of American forces in Europe.
In recent months the front seems not to have moved. Kiev’s anticipated offensive was a failure. Even President Volodymir Zelensky admitted that there has not been the desired success on the ground. Russia continues to occupy 18 percent of Ukraine’s territory. Along almost the entire line there is a de facto armistice, confirming the tiredness of those involved on the front line in the field.
The war will continue to drag on in the coming months, anticipates Zanchetta. But she won’t be able to do it forever. “The only foreseeable future outcome is a negotiated solution which for the moment both sides continue to reject,” he adds. “The prospects for an end to the conflict remain negative. Compared to the end of last year, Vladimir Putin is stronger, stronger politically than militarily”, he underlines.
“The situation on the battlefield remains uncertain: recently the Ukrainian winter offensive seems to have stopped. But there has not been a Russian breakthrough either. More than ever, the outcome will depend on political decisions taken kilometers away from the center of the conflict, in Washington and Brussels”, adds Zanchetta, confirming Clarke’s words, recalling that “if the unity deployed by the West in 2022 continued in 2023, it is now starting to falter”, with the new American military aid package blocked in Congress and the EU held hostage by Hungary, the situation is actually more stable than it appears.
The start of negotiations on Ukraine’s admission by the EU “is more than just symbolic, implies continued support for Kiev. Ukraine’s future in the EU would be impossible with a full victory for Russia.” “Even in Washington, a complete reversal of policies is unlikely” in support of Kiev, not even with a possible victory for Donald Trump. “Although undoubtedly 2024 it will be difficult for Ukraine and the West”, specifies the analyst.
Clarke then points out that 2023 marked the return of industrial warfare, that is to say to a conflict that shapes significant parts, in some cases the entire economy of a country, on the priority production of components for war, and characterized by a clash between societies, with what happens at the front only a “symptom ” of this clash. As such, the course of the war in 2024 will be determined far from the battlefield.
Russia’s defense budget has tripled since 2021 and will absorb 30% of public spending next year. This will make the war in Ukraine “a longer and more traumatic undertaking than any Europe has experienced since the middle of the last century. The coming year will show whether Russia, and its suppliers Iran and North Korea – or the Ukraine – and its Western backers – are able and ready to comply with the voracious demands of industrial warfare,” he stresses.
It is not true that there is stalemate at the front. But that both sides are capable of fighting each other to a stalemate, with both seeking to take strategic initiative. In the coming months, Russian forces may try to push along the entire front line, “at least to take control of the entire Donbass”. Ukraine will in turn try to build on its success in regaining control of the Western Black Sea and launch other military surprises to throw the Russians off balance in some areas.
“But in summary, 2024 appears to be a year of consolidation for both Kiev and Moscow. Russia lacks the equipment and trained military to launch a strategic offensive until at least the spring of 2025 and Ukraine is dependent on Western financial and military aid to remain in the war next year while Kiev is also strengthening its inherent strength to create the conditions for a series of offensives in the future.”
Ben Hodges, former commander of American forces in Europe, points out that Russia lacks the decisive breakthrough capabilities to break the front line and will do what it can to maintain what it occupies now, using the time to strengthen its defenses by betting on weakening of Western determination to support Ukraine. But Ukraine will not stop. Her survival is at stake. And while the United States weakens its determination – even if it approves the aid package early next year – many European countries strengthen it.
So in the coming months Ukraine will be able to reconstitute units destroyed by months of fighting, will make its recruitment system more effective, will increase the production of ammunition and weapons, will improve its ability to operate against the electronic capabilities of the Russian forces of jamming, interception and localization. And by the summer Ukraine will be able to use F-16s for the first time. And Kiev’s forces will do everything possible to make it difficult for Russia to manage Crimea, in particular the navy and air force bases in Sevastopol and the logistics base in Dzankoy. “Ukraine does not have unlimited resources, especially artillery ammunition and long-range precision weapons. But Russian soldiers are worse off. The war is a test of will and logistical capacity. Russian logistics system is fragile and under continuous pressure from Ukraine”, he concludes.