Vladimir Putin’s three-day war against Ukraine is entering its second year. One thing is certain, 2023 will not be a year of peace. Those calling for negotiations between the two countries are wasting their breath. Neither side is ready for talks, and both sides still think they can win. Right now, Ukraine has momentum after two successful counterattacks late last year in Kharkiv and Kherson, but Russia is finalizing a large-scale mobilization of fresh troops.
As Russia digs deep into its stockpiles of older military hardware, it gets weaker. As Ukraine receives more advanced military hardware from the West, it gets stronger. The big question is whether Western military support for Ukraine is too-little-too-late or just in time to make 2023 a year of victory.
Russia is in the final stages of planning a major offensive operation to regain momentum. There is no doubt Ukraine has a few surprises up its sleeve too.
In the coming months, there are three places to watch:
- The first is the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine. Russia wants to take the areas of Donetsk and Luhansk provinces that remain out of its control. But the Ukrainians are not giving up without a fight. For months, intensive fighting has taken place around a small city called Bakhmut. After months of daily assaults and high casualties, the Ukrainians still hold the town. The situation remains perilous near Bakhmut.
One Ukrainian friend who was recently there told me he has never seen so many dead bodies in his life — “not even in a Hollywood film.” How long the Ukrainians can — or should — hold this town is anyone’s guess, but they are making the Russians pay dearly to capture it.
- The second is southern Ukraine. It is likely the Ukrainians will try pushing to the Sea of Azov from their front lines in the Zaporizhzhia region. The main objective will be capturing the city of Melitopol from the Russians. The countryside around Melitopol has been a hotbed of resistance activity for months. It is also within range of Ukraine’s ground-launch missile systems. Its capture would cut Russia’s land bridge to occupied Crimea in half and put Ukraine within striking distance of many military targets on the peninsula, making Russia’s defense of Crimea incredibly difficult.
- Finally, Ukraine’s northern border is worth watching. Russian troops have already attacked once from Belarus at the beginning of the war when they tried to capture the capital, Kyiv. By the end of March, the Ukrainians had pushed the Russians back across the border. But Russia has been deploying more troops back into Belarus in recent weeks.
Russia could try another attack on Kyiv or an attack from Belarus into western Ukraine to disrupt the crucial supply lines coming from Poland. Neither would likely succeed, but both would cause enough trouble for Ukraine that its forces would have to be diverted from other points along the front line.
Ukrainians are not asking for, nor do they want, US troops to help them fight Russia. All they ask for is the equipment, weapons, munitions and financial resources required to give them a fighting chance. With US assistance, Ukraine is dismantling the armed forces of one of America’s top international foes — and without a drop of American blood being spilled.
But more needs to be done. We need to start wanting the Ukrainians to win more than we just hope Russia will lose. In addition to the armored vehicles and tanks, it is time to give the Ukrainians longer-range missiles, fighter jets, armed drones, and an uninterrupted flow of munitions. We shouldn’t be scared of a Ukrainian victory.
As President Volodymyr Zelensky told Congress in December, US assistance to Ukraine is not charity. For Americans who believe in the principle of self-defense, respect for international borders, and the right of people to choose how and by whom they are governed, support for Ukraine in the face of Russian aggression is natural. With their eyes on Taiwan, the Chinese are also watching how we support Ukraine—or how we don’t.
Helping Ukraine might be expensive, but we cannot afford to fail. There is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to put Russia back into its box for a generation. Let’s not blow it.