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After two years of war… is Putin WINNING? Ukraine is losing territory and out of ammo, the world is focused on Israel, Russia’s economy is growing and US aid is drying up. On the second anniversary of invasion, a brutally honest assessment


When Russian tanks trundled across the Ukrainian border and warplanes screamed through the skies over Kyiv two years ago, many could scarcely believe what was happening.

Back then the prospect of a large-scale armed conflict in Europe seemed almost unthinkable. 

How could we, not yet 80 years removed from the end of a World War that exposed the most heinous and cruel depths of humanity, be so callous to allow the spectre of such violence to darken our door again?

Yet on the second anniversary of the day Vladimir Putin left an indelible mark on the ledger of European history, it seems the war – at least for those of us far away from the frontlines – is now simply an uncomfortable fact of life.

All too quickly, the public outrage over missile attacks on Ukrainian cities and blood-curdling images of mass civilian slaughter in defenceless villages began to recede.

People busy with the bustle of everyday life simply became accustomed to the horror while other conflicts captured the world’s attention – the violence precipitated by Hamas‘ ruthless October 7 attacks on Israel, and subsequent concern over a wider war in the Middle East distracting from the Ukrainian plight.

But as the conflict rumbles into its third year, the fight for Ukraine’s existence is reaching a critical juncture.

Two years after Vladimir Putin (pictured) ordered his forces to invade Ukraine, and after a series of embarrassing battlefield setbacks, the tide my be starting to turn in his favour. But is he actually winning?

Two years after Vladimir Putin (pictured) ordered his forces to invade Ukraine, and after a series of embarrassing battlefield setbacks, the tide my be starting to turn in his favour. But is he actually winning?

Ukraine has been beaten and battered by Russia's larger forces. Cities have been destroyed and many thousands killed. Yet despite the odds, Kyiv's armies remain defiant - albeit increasingly fatigued. Pictured: Ukrainian soldiers stand in front of a building destroyed by a Russian rocket in Donetsk Oblast, on January 26, 2024

Ukraine has been beaten and battered by Russia’s larger forces. Cities have been destroyed and many thousands killed. Yet despite the odds, Kyiv’s armies remain defiant – albeit increasingly fatigued. Pictured: Ukrainian soldiers stand in front of a building destroyed by a Russian rocket in Donetsk Oblast, on January 26, 2024

Ukraine's battle-weary defenders have not lost any resolve, but are relying on a slowing supply of weapons from the West to resist the seemingly endless waves of artillery fire - and cannon fodder - deployed by unflinching Russian commanders

Ukraine’s battle-weary defenders have not lost any resolve, but are relying on a slowing supply of weapons from the West to resist the seemingly endless waves of artillery fire – and cannon fodder – deployed by unflinching Russian commanders

The popularity of President Volodymyr Zelensky - once seemingly infallible - is waning amid rumours of political division and a shakeup in the upper echelons of Ukraine's armed forces. Yet he, too, remains defiant

The popularity of President Volodymyr Zelensky – once seemingly infallible – is waning amid rumours of political division and a shakeup in the upper echelons of Ukraine’s armed forces. Yet he, too, remains defiant

A stalemate has set in on the frontlines of the conflict, which have largely stagnated in the last 14 months. Moscow's forces control almost a fifth of Ukrainian territory - including the Crimea peninsula it annexed in 2014 - although Russia is starting to make steady gains, with Avdiivka falling in mid-February. Pictured: A map showing the front lines as of February 23, 2024

A stalemate has set in on the frontlines of the conflict, which have largely stagnated in the last 14 months. Moscow’s forces control almost a fifth of Ukrainian territory – including the Crimea peninsula it annexed in 2014 – although Russia is starting to make steady gains, with Avdiivka falling in mid-February. Pictured: A map showing the front lines as of February 23, 2024

Ukraine’s battle-weary defenders have not lost any resolve, but are relying on a slowing supply of weapons from the West to resist the seemingly endless waves of artillery fire – and cannon fodder – deployed by unflinching Russian commanders.

And the popularity of President Volodymyr Zelensky – once seemingly infallible – is waning amid rumours of political division and a shakeup in the upper echelons of Ukraine’s armed forces. 

Meanwhile in Russia, March’s presidential elections are undoubtedly a foregone conclusion with Putin set to consolidate his power even further and stay in power until at least 2030.

Despite two years of war that has seen more than 100,000 Russian lives wasted and hundreds of thousands more maimed, Levada Center polls suggest the President’s approval rating is soaring at 85 per cent. 

And, having forged beneficial economic, trade and even military ties with several emerging powers in the Global South resistant to Western influence, the Kremlin has – at least so far – managed to mitigate the impact of economic sanctions while keeping its frontline troops supplied with vital ammo.

And so now, two years to the day that Ukraine was forced into a battle for survival, MailOnline breaks down everything you need to know about the war – the state of the battlefield, the challenges facing both sides, how Putin is plotting Russia’s victory, and what the next year of conflict is likely to have in store.

Battlefield brief: Where are we now? 

After a turbulent and highly kinetic first year, 2023 saw the war descend into an attritional, grinding stalemate.

The much-vaunted Ukrainian counteroffensive of last summer had limited success, with Russian forces having established entrenched defensive lines in annexed territories.

Ukraine’s objective was to slice Moscow’s land bridge between the Russian mainland annexed Crimea by pushing its forces south to the Sea of Azov, thus splitting Russia’s occupied territory in half.

But it never achieved this, and – as such – the battlefield as it stands two years into the conflict has not changed dramatically for several months, with the 750-mile-long frontline having remained fairly static. 

But the relatively stable bird’s eye view of the theatre belies the brutal, bloody warfare that continues to rage at specific choke-points.

Huge numbers of soldiers have been chewed up and spat out of ‘meat grinders’ in several highly combative locations, of which the most violent is almost certainly the industrial hub of Avdiivka, close to the city of Donetsk.

After months of valiant defence, Ukraine‘s armed forces earlier this month pulled their weary and demoralised troops back from the town, allowing Russian forces to swarm in and secure it – albeit at the cost of tens of thousands of Russian lives. 

But relinquishing Avdiivka gives Kyiv’s troops the respite required to dig in deeper and hold their own defensive lines close to the town, suggesting Russian troops will have to fight hard to make and further inroads into Donetsk.

Similarly brutal combat was witnessed earlier in the year in Bakhmut, which Russia also eventually claimed in May after months of bloody urban combat compared with that seen in the First World War.

A Ukrainian soldier fires towards the Russian position on the frontlines in the direction of Avdiivka. The city was lost to Russia in the final days of the war's second year - the first major Russian victory since Moscow's forces captured Bakhmut last year

A Ukrainian soldier fires towards the Russian position on the frontlines in the direction of Avdiivka. The city was lost to Russia in the final days of the war’s second year – the first major Russian victory since Moscow’s forces captured Bakhmut last year

Ukrainian firefighters work to extinguish a fire at an oil depot in the country's Kursk region on February 15, 2024

Ukrainian firefighters work to extinguish a fire at an oil depot in the country’s Kursk region on February 15, 2024

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky lays a bouquet of flowers on the open coffin as he attends a memorial service for Dmytro Kotsiubailo, a Ukrainian serviceman known as 'Da Vinci' killed in combat on the frontline in Bakhmut, March 10 2023

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky lays a bouquet of flowers on the open coffin as he attends a memorial service for Dmytro Kotsiubailo, a Ukrainian serviceman known as ‘Da Vinci’ killed in combat on the frontline in Bakhmut, March 10 2023

In the estimation of several experts, 2023 saw both sides sacrifice considerable manpower, ammunition and equipment, for very little progress.

‘Last year’s winter offensive was very costly for Ukraine both in terms of lives and equipment but brought minimal gains. Russian attempts have not been more successful,’ RAND defence analyst Nicolas Jouan said.

‘Despite repeated assaults over the winter and considerable losses, some of the gains could be counted in metres, like in Mariinka.

‘Russia did recently manage to take Avdiivka. This is troubling for what it might say about Russia’s ability to simply throw men and materiel at Ukraine’s lines – but again, that success only came after heavy losses were suffered, and is not in itself a significant gain.

‘Meanwhile Ukraine, though defending strongly, is currently suffering supply constraints in critical areas – particularly artillery ammunition. 

‘The current situation seems overall to favour defensive positions – there is no obvious short-term solution for Ukraine to counterattack effectively,’ Jouan concluded.

RUSI associate fellow and modern war expert Samuel Cranny-Evans said of the frontline: ‘It’s now 1,200km-long approximately and in some areas, most recently Avdiivka, the Russians have concentrated a lot of personnel and firepower to grind down the Ukrainian defenders. 

‘It seems likely that the Ukrainians fell back onto prepared positions, so both sides are probably reasonably dug in at this point.’

Race against time 

With battle lines seemingly cemented and both sides now largely embedded in defensive positions, Ukrainian and Russian forces are now facing a new set of unique challenges. 

Several experts interviewed by MailOnline agreed that the race is now on to see who can overcome these challenges first, with the winner poised to take the ascendancy in the conflict.

Ukrainian gunner Vasyl Zozulia fires the gun, as soldiers of the Ukraine Armys 95th Brigade fire 105mm artillery shells from a British-made L119 howitzer at Russian positions in the Lyman direction on February 18, 2024

Ukrainian gunner Vasyl Zozulia fires the gun, as soldiers of the Ukraine Armys 95th Brigade fire 105mm artillery shells from a British-made L119 howitzer at Russian positions in the Lyman direction on February 18, 2024

Ukrainian gunner Vasyl Zozulia removes a smoking shell casing after firing a round towards Russian positions near Lyman

Ukrainian gunner Vasyl Zozulia removes a smoking shell casing after firing a round towards Russian positions near Lyman

The remains of a Russian platoon are seen after a highly effective Ukrainian HIMARS strike

The remains of a Russian platoon are seen after a highly effective Ukrainian HIMARS strike

Ukrainian forces destroy Russian armoured vehicles and troops in footage released by the 3rd Brigade of Operational Purpose 'Spartan' on Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Ukrainian forces destroy Russian armoured vehicles and troops in footage released by the 3rd Brigade of Operational Purpose ‘Spartan’ on Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Ukrainian servicemen assist their comrades not far from the frontline in the eastern Ukrainian region of Donbas

Ukrainian servicemen assist their comrades not far from the frontline in the eastern Ukrainian region of Donbas

A Ukrainian serviceman arrives severely wounded to the evacuation point after being removed from the Avdiivka battlefield on February 20, 2024. The city fell to Russia in the final days of the war's second year

A Ukrainian serviceman arrives severely wounded to the evacuation point after being removed from the Avdiivka battlefield on February 20, 2024. The city fell to Russia in the final days of the war’s second year

‘The biggest challenge facing Ukraine is the lack of ammunition for all of its systems, lack of electronic warfare to degrade Russian drones and the need for additional personnel so that it can rotate its forces out of the frontline,’ Cranny-Evans said. 

‘If these issues are not addressed, Ukraine will begin to lose more ground and possibly at a faster rate than it has so far. In a worst-case scenario, this could worsen very quickly and lead to a rapid decline in Ukraine’s position in the war.’

Ukrainian soldiers who spoke to reporters near the frontlines said while their motivation had not waned, they were experiencing difficulties holding off a larger and better-supplied enemy.

One commander in the 59th Brigade, who only gave his first name Hryhoriy, described relentless attacks from groups of five to seven Russian soldiers who would push forward up to 10 times a day in what he called ‘meat assaults’ – highly costly to the Russians but also a major threat to his troops.

‘When one or two defensive positions are fighting off these assaults all day, the guys get tired,’ Hryhoriy said as he and his exhausted men were afforded a brief rotation away from the frontlines near the Russian-occupied eastern city of Donetsk.

‘Weapons break, and if there is no possibility of bringing them more ammunition or changing their weapons, then you understand what this leads to.’

A new law aimed at mobilising 450-500,000 more Ukrainians is slowly making its way through parliament, but for some soldiers fighting now, significant reinforcements seem a distant hope.

But the Russians, who have managed to maintain pressure on Ukrainian forces through a combination of high artillery output and wave after wave of dispensable troops, also face a struggle to pile more men into the fight. 

Cranny-Evans said: ‘For the Russians the main challenge appears to be regenerating forces for an offensive drive after Avdiivka and all of the other attrition they have suffered. This includes replenishing armoured vehicles, howitzers, ammunition and personnel. 

‘If they are able to do this at a consistent rate throughout the year, they will be able to maintain offensive pressure.’

The military gear from wounded Ukrainian servicemen are piled at the evacuation point after they were evacuated from the Avdiivka battlefield as the Russian - Ukrainian war continues in Novoselivka Persha of Avdiivka, Ukraine on February 20, 2024

The military gear from wounded Ukrainian servicemen are piled at the evacuation point after they were evacuated from the Avdiivka battlefield as the Russian – Ukrainian war continues in Novoselivka Persha of Avdiivka, Ukraine on February 20, 2024

A Ukrainian serviceman from the 108th Brigade of Territorial Defence prepares a Ukraine-made multi-purpose drone Leleka-100 on a field near a frontline in the direction of Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine, 15 February 2024

A Ukrainian serviceman from the 108th Brigade of Territorial Defence prepares a Ukraine-made multi-purpose drone Leleka-100 on a field near a frontline in the direction of Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine, 15 February 2024

Ukrainian servicemen from the 108th Brigade of Territorial Defence prepare to fly a Ukraine-made multi-purpose drone Leleka-100 on a field near a frontline in the direction of Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine, 15 February 2024

Ukrainian servicemen from the 108th Brigade of Territorial Defence prepare to fly a Ukraine-made multi-purpose drone Leleka-100 on a field near a frontline in the direction of Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine, 15 February 2024

Retired Brigadier General and former US Defence attache to Moscow Kevin Ryan added: ‘It is feasible for Ukraine to regain certain parts of the territory that Russia has taken. 

‘But as Ukraine’s former Commander of the Armed Forces General Valery Zaluzhny wrote in January, breaking out of the positional trench warfare and mounting offensive operations will require the introduction of new technologies and capabilities which Ukraine presently does not have.

‘These include robotic mine clearing systems, additional drones, more precision strike weapons, and electronic warfare systems. Until these new capabilities are available, Zaluzhny foresees a continuation of the slow-moving positional fighting we see now… a “snailmate”!’

Drone warfare 

Drones in particular now constitute a vital part of Ukraine’s war effort. These unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are cheap to produce, can surveil enemy movements and drop ordinance with pinpoint accuracy.

Kyiv has overseen a boom in drone production and innovation and is developing advanced, long-range UAVs, while Moscow has more than matched its rival with huge investments of its own, allowed it to nullify Ukraine’s early advantage which – in part – gave it an advantage over the Russians in the early stages of the war.

On the Ukrainian side alone, more than 300,000 drones were ordered from producers last year and more than 100,000 sent to the front, digital minister Mykhailo Fedorov said.

President Zelensky has set a target for Ukraine to produce one million FPV drones this year in light of the battlefield advantages delivered by the technology.

Besides ramping up the production of drones, Jouan offered a more specific assessment of what the next steps may entail.

‘Ukraine will remain focused on seizing the strategic chokepoint of Tokmak (a city in Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia Oblast) to cut Russia’s frontline in two between the Eastern front bordering Russia and the Western sea-facing one. 

‘The main challenge for Ukraine is to sustain its offensive as it is short in ammunition and has fewer resources to conduct mechanised assaults while conditions on the ground in Robotyne, the bridgehead of Ukraine’s counteroffensive, are reportedly grinding.’

Ukrainian Defence Minister Rustem Umerov recently referred to Ukraine’s artillery ammunition deficit as ‘critical’ in a letter to the European Union, urging its national leaders to do more to bolster supplies.

His letter said Ukraine’s ‘absolute critical daily minimum requirement’ was 6,000 artillery shells, but his forces were able to fire just 2,000 a day.

But Jouan also surmised that Russia’s willingness to trade high casualties for little progress on the ground could prove to be a disastrous long-term strategy.  

‘For Russia, the main challenge is to keep sustaining assaults with asymmetric costs to prevent Ukraine’s advance and with only minimal gains as a reward,’ he said.

Growing war fatigue dampens early Ukrainian optimism

When Ukraine’s summer counteroffensive ground to a halt last year, it became clear that the complexion of the war had changed, and that fatigue was setting in.

Whereas 2022 saw Ukraine make huge galvanising gains, liberating vast swathes of the country from Russia’s control, the attempt to replicate that success a year later failed when Kyiv‘s forces were brought to a halt by Putin‘s entrenched defences.

Zelensky had long been urging the West to increase its support for Ukraine’s military efforts to ensure its counteroffensive was a success.

But while the US, UK and other NATO allies delivered main battle tanks, powerful missiles and stockpiles of ammunition, Kyiv’s request for fighter jets was spurned – with the West fearing further Russian escalation.

Ukraine put the failed counteroffensive in 2023 down to insufficient support from its allies, saying it needed more powerful weaponry to punch through the hundreds of miles of trenches and minefields laid by Russia in the east.

Since then, a stalemate has set in. Frontlines of the war have largely stagnated in the last 14 months and Moscow’s forces still control almost a fifth of Ukrainian territory – including the Crimea peninsula it annexed in 2014 – although Russia is starting to make steady gains, with Avdiivka falling in mid-February.

This has led to an increasing sense of war fatigue in both Ukraine and the West. 

A Ukrainian serviceman arrives severely wounded to the evacuation point after being removed from the Avdiivka battlefield as the Russian - Ukrainian war continues in Novoselivka Persha of Avdiivka, Ukraine on February 20, 2024

A Ukrainian serviceman arrives severely wounded to the evacuation point after being removed from the Avdiivka battlefield as the Russian – Ukrainian war continues in Novoselivka Persha of Avdiivka, Ukraine on February 20, 2024

Soviet monument to fallen soldier is seen by destroyed buildings in a village as the Russian - Ukrainian war continues in Novoselivka Persha of Avdiivka, Ukraine on February 20, 2024

Soviet monument to fallen soldier is seen by destroyed buildings in a village as the Russian – Ukrainian war continues in Novoselivka Persha of Avdiivka, Ukraine on February 20, 2024

After two years of resisting the full-scale invasion of the much larger neighbour, Ukraine’s troops are exhausted.

In the rain and snow along a sprawling frontline, many Ukrainian soldiers are experiencing a second winter at war – and their morale has taken a hit.

The stalemate has seen trench warfare return to Europe – 80 years after the end of the Second World War, with soldiers hunkered down in grim conditions on both sides. To make any advance, troops must storm the enemy trenches and engage in brutal close-quarters combat involving high-powered modern weaponry.

Any solder that does break cover risks a bloody death at the hands of enemy drones flying above, artillery, sniper fire or mines.

‘The guys are very tired. Morally, physically, they can’t take it anymore. Because after two years we still cannot see the end of the tunnel,’ said one soldier at a position near Kupiansk, an area where Russian troops have been on the offensive for months. 

Some analysts now fear Ukraine – with dwindling supplies of personnel and ammo – will struggle to make any further major gains without a game-changing addition to its military capabilities.

Now, with casualties mounting, its military depleted, financial aid stalled and divisions emerging – the the possibility of a Donald Trump presidency on the horizon – Ukrainians have greeted the second anniversary of the war with trepidation.

Many, including the country’s president, feel change is needed. 

‘The year 2024 can be successful for Ukraine only if we make effective changes in the basis of our defence, which is the Armed Forces of Ukraine,’ Zelensky said earlier this month, calling for ‘a different approach’.

Ukraine’s need for aid 

To ease the pressure on its front line troops and to continue resisting the Russian push from the east, Kyiv is in desperate need of more military aid.

Where this aid will come from remains unclear.

As US legislators hesitate over a new aid package and cracks emerge in Europe, Putin awaits a possible Donald Trump victory in this year’s US presidential election.

The Republican holdup on US military aid and Europe’s inability to ramp up weapons supplies fast enough is contributing to the sense of uncertainty and gloom in Kyiv.

Ukraine relies heavily on money and equipment from abroad to fund its war effort, but with $61 billion in US aid held up by political bickering in Washington, it is looking more exposed than at any time since the start of the invasion. 

What’s more, many have questioned what would happen to the US aid were Donald Trump to be elected president again in 2024.

While current President Joe Biden has been a staunch supporter for Ukraine, Trump’s Republican backers in Congress have been more reluctant to approve aid to Kyiv.

There are fears that Trump could cut off support to Ukraine altogether, and even pull the US back from the NATO military alliance in a further boost to Putin.

Ben Hodges, the former Commanding General of US Army Europe, went as far to tell MailOnline last month that European nations would be ‘sitting ducks’ if Trump was to be elected in November

US President Joe Biden (right) meets with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, December 12, 2023. Ukraine relies heavily on money and equipment from abroad to fund its war effort, but with $61 billion in US aid held up by political bickering in Washington, it is looking more exposed than ever

US President Joe Biden (right) meets with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, December 12, 2023. Ukraine relies heavily on money and equipment from abroad to fund its war effort, but with $61 billion in US aid held up by political bickering in Washington, it is looking more exposed than ever

While current President Joe Biden has been a staunch supporter for Ukraine, Trump's Republican backers in Congress have been more reluctant to approve aid to Kyiv. There are fears that Trump (pictured, February 22 in Nashville) could cut off support to Ukraine altogether, and even pull the US back from the NATO military alliance in a further boost to Putin

While current President Joe Biden has been a staunch supporter for Ukraine, Trump’s Republican backers in Congress have been more reluctant to approve aid to Kyiv. There are fears that Trump (pictured, February 22 in Nashville) could cut off support to Ukraine altogether, and even pull the US back from the NATO military alliance in a further boost to Putin

Europe meanwhile has unblocked its latest aid package of 50 billion euros – not without difficulty – but is way behind on pledges of ammunition delivery. Even with the boost in funds, questions remain over exactly where ammunition will come from, with Europe not possessing the necessary munitions factories.

Rows have broken out among EU states over the quantity of aid each nation is delivering, while many are torn between sending arms to Ukraine while also bolstering their own forces to meet NATO’s 2% GDP spending requirement.

These efforts come amid mounting fears that Putin could set his sights further West and soon attack a NATO nation, dragging the military alliance into the conflict. European leaders increasingly realise that if Putin is allowed to win in Ukraine, he could be tempted to test NATO’s defences, analysts say.

In January, French President Emmanuel Macron called on European countries to back Ukraine ‘over the long term’ and get ready in case Washington decides to pull the plug on aid. Germany, meanwhile, has also announced the construction of a new munitions factory.

But it will take time for the continent’s defence industry to step up ammunition production but the West could still turn things around, say analysts. On top of the US supply pause, the EU has conceded it will miss its target to supply a million shells to Ukraine by March by nearly half.

Artillery shells are already in short supply as a result of Western countries’ inability to keep up the pace of shipments for a drawn-out war. 

Meanwhile, far-right parties, which commentators fear would advocate a softer line against Russia, are on the rise in France and Germany and other EU nations, and – as in the US – there are ominous elections on the horizon in the European Union, with parties less sympathetic to Ukraine’s cause expected to do well in the summer.

Without assistance and with its own defence industry badly depleted, Ukraine will not be able to confront Russia, which has mobilised its economy for war.

Will 2024 finally bring Ukraine fighter jets?

Kyiv is counting heavily this year on deliveries of F-16 fighter jets which it has been requesting for months, which it hopes could shift momentum in its favour.

These should make up for a lack of artillery in stopping Russian assaults and supporting offensives.

Denmark, the Netherlands and Norway have all announced they will supply jets to Ukraine. 

However, Ukraine’s allies have long been cautious about supplying jets, fearing they could result in further escalation from Russia. Such weapons also require training.

It is also unclear how effective jets will be against entrenched Russian positions with powerful air defences.

While jets were used in the early days of the war, both sides proved adept at bringing aircraft out of the skies with modern weaponry – resulting in most of the war being fought on the ground.

Ukraine is also multiplying production of drones – a weapon that has become indispensable in this war.

At the same time, Kyiv is asking for more Western supplies to bolster its air defences against almost daily barrages of Russian missiles and drones.

Kyiv is counting heavily this year on deliveries of F-16 fighter jets (pictured, file photo) which it has been requesting for months, which it hopes could shift momentum in its favour

Kyiv is counting heavily this year on deliveries of F-16 fighter jets (pictured, file photo) which it has been requesting for months, which it hopes could shift momentum in its favour

US-made Patriot missile defence systems have been a game changer for Ukraine, helping it intercept large numbers of missiles and killer drones fired at its cities.

Kyiv has even used them to take down hypersonic Kinzhal missiles, an embarrassment for the Kremlin which had previously dubbed ‘invincible’.

Pleading last month for more Patriots, Zelensky said that without them, Ukraine would find it ‘impossible to survive’.

Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba has also said: ‘In 2024, the priority will be chasing Russia from the skies.

‘He who controls the skies will determine when and how the war will end.’

On the ground, Michael Kofman – a senior fellow and Russian military specialist at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a Washington-based think-tank, estimated that Russia’s artillery is currently firing at five times the rate of Ukraine’s.

‘Ukraine is not getting a sufficient amount of artillery ammunition to meet its minimum defensive needs, and this is not a sustainable situation moving forward,’ Kofman added.

Russia appears to be having no such problem thanks to North Korea, Iran, and the shift in its own economy to prop up its military.

Fatigue suits Putin 

All this adds to the growing sense of fatigue which, of course, suits the Kremlin.

While the winter of 2022 was humiliating for Putin, who failed to take Kyiv within days, he has now regrouped and appears reinvigorated by Ukraine’s unsuccessful counteroffensive, the prospect of Donald Trump returning to the White House in a November presidential election and the rise of the far-right in Europe. 

What’s more, following the October 7, 2023 Hamas terror attack on Israel, the West’s attention – particularly that of the US – has been split.

Meanwhile, Russia has withstood the initial shock of unprecedented Western sanctions and put its economy on a war footing, ramping up production and recruitment and jailing critics of the invasion. 

Putin has the support of allies such as Iran and North Korea delivering vast amounts of weaponry to his forces, and China continuing its trade with Russia.

Other more sympathetic states have also refused to join the West in imposing sanctions on Russia, or from condemning Moscow’s actions at the UN, allowing Moscow to weather the sanctions storm in the aftermath of Putin’s illegal invasion.

This has led to Putin growing in confidence. 

A Ukrainian soldiers walks through a snowy trench near of Kupiansk, Ukraine on February 22, 2024. In the rain and snow along a sprawling frontline, many Ukrainian soldiers are experiencing a second winter at war - and their morale has taken a hit

A Ukrainian soldiers walks through a snowy trench near of Kupiansk, Ukraine on February 22, 2024. In the rain and snow along a sprawling frontline, many Ukrainian soldiers are experiencing a second winter at war – and their morale has taken a hit

A Ukrainian serviceman takes cover in a trench during shelling next to a 105mm howitzer near the city of Bakhmut, on March 8, 2023, amid the Russian onslaught against the Ukrainian city in the early days of the war's second year

A Ukrainian serviceman takes cover in a trench during shelling next to a 105mm howitzer near the city of Bakhmut, on March 8, 2023, amid the Russian onslaught against the Ukrainian city in the early days of the war’s second year

‘It’s true to say that President Putin is confident that he can outlast the West and so it’s incumbent on us to show the resolve to prove him wrong,’ a senior official from a Western country told AFP news agency, asking not to be identified. 

Putin had made increasingly bullish statements, declaring in December that Ukraine ‘does not have a future’.

Analysts say only drastically ramped up Western support for Ukraine as it runs out of munitions can change the momentum.

‘It is a race by both sides to rebuild their offensive capacity,’ said Andrea Kendall-Taylor, senior fellow at Washington-based Center for New American Security (CNAS).

‘If the Western funding does not come through, if Russia gains some sort of advantage, then they have the possibility of making some more gains,’ she said.

‘The momentum has shifted.’

However, Russia is also facing several challenges of its own, according to one Western official who spoke on the condition of anonymity in the run-up to the war’s anniversary.

‘We do not believe Russia has given up on its maximalist goals of subjugating Ukraine’, the official said this week.

‘We do not believe that Russia has a meaningful plan beyond continuing to fight in the expectation that Russian manpower and equipment numbers will eventually tell.’

The official said ‘Russia’s domestic ammunition production capabilities are currently insufficient for meeting the needs of the Ukrainian conflict,’ adding that Western sanctions ‘are hitting the Russian military industrial complex hard’. This, they said, is ‘causing severe delays and increasing costs’ for Russia.

‘An inability to access Western components is severely undermining Russia’s production of new systems and repairs of old systems, with long-term consequences for the quality of weapons produced.

‘To illustrate the extreme challenges Russia is facing in obtaining sufficient equipment and material for its operations in Ukraine, Russia has been requisitioning military equipment originally intended for delivery to foreign partners.’

Kendall-Taylor added that if Ukraine can hold its lines in 2024, it could pressure Russia more in 2025 if new resources come through from the West.

‘From Putin’s perspective, 2024 is quite critical,’ she said.

How to win friends and influence people: Russia’s efforts to evade the bite of sanctions and drum up international support

In the West, Putin’s invasion of his sovereign neighbour was nothing other than the start of an illegal, imperialistic and downright cruel crusade to seize territory and erase the identity of the Ukrainian people.

Britain, the US, EU and other Western-aligned nations were horrified and acted accordingly, rolling out brutal sanctions regimes designed to cripple the Russian economy and committing untold billions of dollars of aid to Kyiv – largely in the form of ammunition and devastating military hardware.

But venture further and you will be hard-pressed to find another country that sympathises with the plight of the Ukrainians.

Most nations in the Global South are largely indifferent to the war, issuing bland statements calling for peace but doing nothing in practice to work against Moscow. 

And some have openly criticised the West for supporting Kyiv, aligning with the Kremlin’s narrative that it is not waging war on Ukraine, but instead is fighting for Russia’s very survival against the nefarious forces of a neo-colonial West and ever-expanding NATO. 

This is highly frustrating to Western leaders, as it serves as a stark reminder that much of the world does not buy into their narrative of an ‘evil, imperialist Russia’ out to conquer Ukraine.

But in more real terms, the support of several powerful allies is helping to prop up Russia’s economy, acting as a buffer to reduce the impact of the US and EU sanctions regimes, with some going as far as to provide the necessary hardware and ammunition to keep Moscow’s war machine grinding on. 

In spite of the stringent economic penalties levied against Russia by the West, last year the economy grew by 3.6 per cent – a stunning rebound following a 1.2 per cent decline in 2022 and one which completely confounded IMF predictions in April 2022 that Russia’s economy would nose dive 8.5 per cent in the first year of the war. 

Now Putin is sitting back with glee at the news that his nation’s projected economic growth of some 2.6 per cent this year – outstripping Britain, France and Germany. 

So how exactly is the Kremlin keeping Russia’s economy going strong and armouries stocked?  

Some countries have openly criticised the West for supporting Kyiv, aligning with the Kremlin's narrative that it is not waging war on Ukraine, but instead is fighting for Russia's very survival against the nefarious forces of a neo-colonial West and ever-expanding NATO

Some countries have openly criticised the West for supporting Kyiv, aligning with the Kremlin’s narrative that it is not waging war on Ukraine, but instead is fighting for Russia’s very survival against the nefarious forces of a neo-colonial West and ever-expanding NATO

The support of several powerful allies is helping to prop up Russia's economy, acting as a buffer to reduce the impact of the US and EU sanctions regimes (facilities of the Russian state-controlled oil company Rosneft are pictured)

The support of several powerful allies is helping to prop up Russia’s economy, acting as a buffer to reduce the impact of the US and EU sanctions regimes (facilities of the Russian state-controlled oil company Rosneft are pictured)

Energy hungry Beijing has been only too happy to hoover up surplus Russian oil and gas at a discount, something made possible only thanks to European powers who decided to wean themselves off Russia's resources following the outbreak of war in Ukraine (Nord Stream pipeline pictured)

Energy hungry Beijing has been only too happy to hoover up surplus Russian oil and gas at a discount, something made possible only thanks to European powers who decided to wean themselves off Russia’s resources following the outbreak of war in Ukraine (Nord Stream pipeline pictured)

A drone - believed to be an Iranian made Shahed 136 - approaches for an attack in Kyiv on October 17, 2022, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine

A drone – believed to be an Iranian made Shahed 136 – approaches for an attack in Kyiv on October 17, 2022, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine

China is of course the obvious ally that has dominated headlines, having declared a ‘no limits’ partnership days before the Russian President sent tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine in February 2022. 

It must be said that President Xi Jinping has been careful not to publicly endorse the war in Ukraine, and he is not thought to have provided any weapons to Russia to bolster its ‘special military operation’ – despite the high level of integration between Russian and Chinese military tech. 

But energy-hungry Beijing has been only too happy to hoover up surplus Russian oil and gas at a discount, something made possible thanks to European powers who decided to wean themselves off Russia’s resources following the outbreak of war in Ukraine.

In doing so, China is keeping money flowing into the Kremlin’s coffers, and has routinely criticised the West’s disavowing of the relationship between the two Eastern powers. 

In the meantime, Putin is also working hard to cultivate even stronger ties with other key countries – particularly in the Middle East amid the fallout of the Israel-Palestine conflict – which are keen to increase their economic, commercial and even military cooperation with the Kremlin.

The ruthless Islamic Republic of Iran – already a grave threat to the West and the powerful military backer of Hamas, Hezbollah and the Houthi rebels disrupting Red Sea shipping – is now among Russia’s closest allies

Moscow and Tehran are poised to sign a wide-ranging ‘strategic partnership’ of unprecedented scope and scale that would see them solidify their ever-growing ties in the realms of defence, security, energy and trade. 

Iran has been supplying Russia with countless Shahed drones used to devastating effect by Moscow’s troops in kamikaze attacks on Ukrainian population centres, and in turn is set to receive a fleet of Su-35 multirole fighter aircraft, attack helicopters and billions of dollars more in other military hardware. 

The Islamic Republic is also believed to have offered up huge stockpiles of artillery ammunition – a vital resource for Moscow’s troops as they continue their WWI-style pounding of Ukrainian trenches in the countryside of Donetsk and Luhansk. 

And US intelligence officials fear Tehran may even begin to deliver missiles to Moscow after a sanction restricting the export of missiles lapsed in October. 

Elsewhere, in a rare diplomatic visit abroad to the UAE and Saudi Arabia in December, Putin was greeted warmly by the leaders of the Gulf Arab states with a reception truly fit for a king. 

Bilateral trade between UAE and Russia surged by 68 per cent in 2022 as Dubai emerged as a new Russian business hub for sanctions-hit companies – so much so that Russian is becoming one of the most widely spoken languages there. 

Russian state nuclear company Rosatom is providing the technical expertise and uranium to power the UAE’s sole nuclear plant and is agreeing construction for another power plant in Saudi Arabia, Moscow’s oil-rich partner in OPEC+ which closely collaborates with the Kremlin to stabilise oil markets.

Chinese President Xi Jinping shakes hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2018 - they are seeking to further deepen the 'no-limits' partnership between their two countries

Chinese President Xi Jinping shakes hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2018 – they are seeking to further deepen the ‘no-limits’ partnership between their two countries

Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) greets Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi (R) during their meeting at the Grand Kremlin Palace, on December 7, 2023 in Moscow

Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) greets Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi (R) during their meeting at the Grand Kremlin Palace, on December 7, 2023 in Moscow

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, speaks to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during their meeting at Russia's Black Sea resort of Sochi, Russia, Monday, Sept. 4, 2023

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, speaks to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during their meeting at Russia’s Black Sea resort of Sochi, Russia, Monday, Sept. 4, 2023

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un

A Hwasong-18 intercontinental ballistic missile is launched during what North Korea says is a drill at an unknown location December 18, 2023

A Hwasong-18 intercontinental ballistic missile is launched during what North Korea says is a drill at an unknown location December 18, 2023

Even Turkey – despite being a member of NATO – has refused to join the West’s sanctions regime against Russia. 

Instead, it continues to satisfy roughly 40 per cent of its energy demand with Russian product and is also a key gas transit hub, funnelling Moscow’s natural resources through to the Balkans and eastern Europe, where one of the primary purchasers happens to be Hungary.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban is a Putin sympathiser and the only remaining NATO leader blocking Sweden’s accession to the alliance. 

Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan are also said to share a bond borne of their authoritarian disposition and have maintained direct lines of communication, stronger than those between the Turkish president and any of his liberal, democratic Western counterparts. 

Finally, North Korea, despite its near total isolation from the world stage, has also agreed to supplement Moscow with munitions. Reports suggest Pyongyang has sent an eye-watering one million shells.

A RUSI analysis of North Korea’s provision of munitions to Russia warned: ‘The impact will be felt much further than the battlefield in Ukraine. The sale of such quantities of munitions will fill the coffers of the cash-strapped regime in Pyongyang. 

‘North Korea may seek other assistance from Russia in return for its support, including the provision of missile and other advanced military technologies.’

Meanwhile, at home, Putin is making sure to tie up loose ends.

Last week saw the death in a grim Arctic prison of Alexei Navalny, one of the most prominent Russian opposition leaders, an anti-corruption campaigner and longtime thorne in Putin’s side, in what is widely believed to have been an assassination orchestrated by the Kremlin. 

Days after his death, Navalny’s family and lawyers were yet to have been granted access to his body with investigators extending the post-mortem process – something many commentators allege is to allow more time to cover up evidence of a murder.

Yulia Navalnaya, wife of the late Russian dissident Alexei Navalny, leaves the hall of the Foreign Affairs Council Room of the Europa Building following her speech in Brussels, 19 February 2024

Yulia Navalnaya, wife of the late Russian dissident Alexei Navalny, leaves the hall of the Foreign Affairs Council Room of the Europa Building following her speech in Brussels, 19 February 2024

FILE: Alexei Navalny looks at a camera while speaking from a prison via a video link, provided by the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service, during a court session in Petushki, Russia, Monday, Jan. 17, 2022

FILE: Alexei Navalny looks at a camera while speaking from a prison via a video link, provided by the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service, during a court session in Petushki, Russia, Monday, Jan. 17, 2022

His widow Yulia Navalnaya has declared she will take up her husband’s mantle in the fight against Putin, but she is based in Europe and destined for almost certain incarceration, and potentially death, should she return to her homeland. 

And earlier this month, the Russian President cracked down even harder on his citizens working to discredit Moscow’s ‘special military operation’, signing into effect a new law allowing authorities to seize property and assets of those found guilty of ‘disseminating fake news about Russia’s armed forces and state bodies, or committing crimes detrimental to national security’ – in other words, anyone brave enough to challenge the war in Ukraine. 

The result? January’s polls from the independent pollster Levada Center – widely seen as the most reliable source of public sentiment in Russia – suggest three-quarters of respondents support the ‘special military operation’. 

And, although roughly one in four respondents are said to have donated clothes and belongings to Ukrainian refugees, 40 per cent actively participated in raising money and collecting provisions to send to Russian soldiers on the frontlines.

Will Ukraine see peace in 2024? 

With there being no sign that the frontlines will shift in Ukraine’s favour any time soon, calls are growing in some corners for the country to consider a peace deal to bring an end to the conflict.

But even as Putin’s armies were banging on the gates of Kyiv two years ago, Ukraine insisted it would not cede any territory to Russia.

And as its forces swept to victory after victory in 2022, the country was hopeful it could push Moscow’s armies out of its borders entirely.

Zelensky has maintained Ukraine will accept no deal that involves the permanent Russian occupation of any Ukrainian land, including annexed Crimea and the Donbas.

However, the bright hope that Ukrainians felt in 2022 has since dimmed.

Thousands of civilians have been killed, particularly in the east of the country, while many thousands more are living under Russian occupation.

Meanwhile, around six million Ukrainians are living abroad as refugees, unable to return to their homes – many of which are either destroyed or behind enemy lines.

Kyiv’s armies are also depleted, with tens of thousands of men killed in battle.

Russian President Vladimir Putin observes a road map of Southern part of Russia, Black Sea and Eastern part of Ukraine during a presentation at a gas station on February 22 2024, in Kazan, Russia

Russian President Vladimir Putin observes a road map of Southern part of Russia, Black Sea and Eastern part of Ukraine during a presentation at a gas station on February 22 2024, in Kazan, Russia

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Commander of Ukraine's Ground Forces Col.-Gen. Oleksandr Syrski, right, look at a map during their visit to the front line city of Kupiansk, Kharkiv region, Ukraine, on November 30, 2023

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Commander of Ukraine’s Ground Forces Col.-Gen. Oleksandr Syrski, right, look at a map during their visit to the front line city of Kupiansk, Kharkiv region, Ukraine, on November 30, 2023

Despite this bleak picture, analysts have said there is little reason to believe that Ukraine would surrender to Russia.

While Putin may be gaining the upper hand, they say his initial goal of subjugating the whole of Ukraine remains unrealistic.

What’s more, Ukrainians do not trust Putin, accusing him of reneging on the Minsk agreement in 2015, which guaranteed Ukraine’s sovereignty.

Many fear that if Ukraine does agree a peace deal, it will only give Russia a chance to regroup and come back again stronger – learning from its mistakes from the past. 

Horrific stories have also come out of parts of Ukraine occupied by Russia, such as the torture and execution of civilians in places like Bucha and Mariupol.

Many would view a peace deal with Russia as a betrayal of those who have fought and died to protect their homeland, and of civilians who have no interest in being ruled by Moscow or a Russian-backed government.

For these reasons, analysts and diplomats say 2024 will be another year of war as Ukraine is determined to keep on fighting to recapture territory, while Putin will only be satisfied with Kyiv’s full surrender.

Cracks emerge in Ukrainian leadership 

After presenting a united front against Russia’s aggression to the world for so long, small cracks have begun to emerge in Kyiv.

Zelensky’s decision to part ways with popular army chief Valery Zaluzhny on February 8 2024 was seen as a sign of the first serious split within the leadership that had otherwise presented a united front for two years.

But the Ukrainian president has for a few months now been calling for unity, suggesting he was sensing a growing fatigue.

‘We need to pull ourselves together,’ the Ukrainian president said in one of his nightly video addresses in November. 

‘We cannot relax or allow ourselves to be divided by disputes or different priorities.’ 

This came after Zelensky publicly disagreed with Zaluzhny, who assessed that the war had reached a ‘stalemate’ and that fighting had become ‘positional’.

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky (roght) and Commander-in-Chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces Valeriy Zaluzhny (left) are seen visiting a training center to mark the 'Missile Forces and Artillery and the Engineering Troops' Day at an undisclosed location in Ukraine in this photo released on November 3. On February 8 2024, Zelensky sacked Zaluzhny

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky (roght) and Commander-in-Chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces Valeriy Zaluzhny (left) are seen visiting a training center to mark the ‘Missile Forces and Artillery and the Engineering Troops’ Day at an undisclosed location in Ukraine in this photo released on November 3. On February 8 2024, Zelensky sacked Zaluzhny

Speaking to The Economist, Zaluzhny said big technological breakthroughs would be needed to change the dynamic of the war and put Ukraine back on the front foot.

The public disagreement came as Zelensky first asserted his authority over the military by firing Viktor Khorenko, the head of the special forces – a sign of things to come. Zaluzhny soon followed.

There has also been some tension around Zelensky’s decision to rule out holding elections, which were set to be held in March 2024 were it not for the war.

Deferring elections until peacetime is not uncommon in times of war, however, and while he is not as popular as he was two years ago, Zelensky is still seen as a hero by many in Ukraine after he chose to stay in Kyiv in 2022 – even as Putin’s special forces closed in on Ukraine’s presidential palace with orders to assassinate him.

And while Zelensky may not always see eye-to-eye with Ukraine’s military leaders, they seem united in their determination to defeat Russia.

If there is to be any capitulation to Russia, it would require a dramatic shift in Zelensky’s position on the war – and possibly a change in leadership altogether.

Can Ukraine or Russia achieve victory? 

Another route to peace would be a victory for one of the two sides. 

But according to RUSI’s Cranny-Evans, the next year will likely see Putin’s forces fight to achieve a position that the Kremlin can sell as a victory in Russia.

‘It seems likely that Russia will try and reach a position that it feels is a victory over the next twelve months by continuing to take terrain and by attacking Ukrainian cities,’ he told MailOnline ahead of the war’s second anniversary. 

‘The immediate possibility may be control over all of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions [which Russia declared annexation over in 2022], at that point Russia may feel like it has reached the conditions it needs to declare victory.’

However, Cranny-Evans said, ‘all of this could be immediately invalidated if there is a sudden collapse in either force.

‘If Ukraine’s ammunition situation is not addressed, it will approach a situation where the fighting is very imbalanced, and it may begin to look more and more like an insurgent force facing off against a conventional force.’

Meanwhile, RAND’s defence analyst Nicolas Jouan described the prospect of Ukraine achieving its goal of expelling Russia’s forces from its territory as ‘remote’.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky records a video address in front of a sign reading 'Avdiivka is Ukraine' in the town of Avdiivka, Donetsk region, which was later overrun by Russia

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky records a video address in front of a sign reading ‘Avdiivka is Ukraine’ in the town of Avdiivka, Donetsk region, which was later overrun by Russia

A view of the Avdiivka Coke and Chemical Plant in the frontline town of Avdiivka on October 18, 2023

A view of the Avdiivka Coke and Chemical Plant in the frontline town of Avdiivka on October 18, 2023

A T-64 tank drives by in Novoselivka Persha after driving out of Avdiivka, Ukraine on December 4, 2023

A T-64 tank drives by in Novoselivka Persha after driving out of Avdiivka, Ukraine on December 4, 2023

Expanding on his earlier comment about Ukraine’s goal of seizing the town Tokmak, he said such a goal would be hugely costly for Kyiv.

‘Even if Tokmak could be taken and the Western front semi-isolated, its full capture would be immensely costly for Ukraine,’ he said.

This, he explained, ‘would largely rely on the ability of European countries and the US to supply ammunition and other equipment. The Eastern front seems even more remote as it has a direct access to Russia’s mainland and parts of the local population reportedly in favour of Russian presence anyway.’

But Russia’s hope of a total victory are also slim, he said. 

‘The ‘good’ news for Ukraine is that the prospects for Russia are not much better,’ he said, with Russia possessing ‘no obvious way to cement its position along the Dnipro river, let alone take Kyiv.’

Is there appetite for peace? 

With it seeming difficult for either side to achieve its ultimate goal, peace – and an end to the bloodshed – perhaps seems like the most favourable outcome. But with the situation on the battlefield being what it is, appetite for a deal seems low.

Ukraine and its allies say Russia is the aggressor in the conflict. Russia was the one to invade, and Russia is the one attacking Ukrainian civilians.

Any peace deal would mean Kyiv making concessions to Moscow – something Ukraine, as a sovereign nation, has no interest in doing.

As for Russia, Putin may have signalled in his interview with right-wing US talk show host Tucker Carlson that Russia was interested in negotiations. Without evidence, he even claimed then-British prime minister Boris Johnson scuppered a deal.

‘Wouldn’t it be better to negotiate with Russia?’ Putin told Carlson, urging the United States to discuss a deal that would allow Moscow to control 20 percent of Ukraine’s territory. ‘Sooner or later we’ll come to an agreement anyway.’

Relatives, friends and neighbours attend the funeral ceremony of 20-year-old Ukrainian soldier Andriy Truhan, who died during combat in Avdiyevka, as the war between Russia and Ukraine continues in Kyiv, Ukraine on February 23, 2024

Relatives, friends and neighbours attend the funeral ceremony of 20-year-old Ukrainian soldier Andriy Truhan, who died during combat in Avdiyevka, as the war between Russia and Ukraine continues in Kyiv, Ukraine on February 23, 2024

However, any deal favourable to Putin would be so much on Moscow’s own terms that Kyiv would not countenance such talks. 

Mykhailo Podoliak, an adviser to Zelensky, reiterated Kyiv’s long-held position that no negotiations were possible until Russia withdraws from occupied territories.

‘In any other case, negotiations are impossible,’ Podoliak told AFP.

A European diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, also ruled out any talks under the current circumstances.

‘Negotiations can only take place when Ukraine is in a position of strength on the ground,’ said the diplomat.

Fyodor Lukyanov, head of the Kremlin-linked Council on Foreign and Defense Policy think tank in Moscow, told AFP news agency: ‘I don’t see any negotiations taking place any time soon. There’s nothing they can negotiate about.’

However, Kevin Ryan told MailOnline that a long war suits neither side.

‘In a long war, the ability to raise more forces (mobilisation of manpower) becomes one of biggest challenges,’ he said. ‘Another new centre of gravity is the economy and its ability to fund and resource the war, and perhaps most important is the will of the people to support a war over a long time.

‘While tactics and weapons are important to battlefield success, a long war demands more from the combatants.’

On where he sees the war going in the coming years, Ryan said it was important to understand the conflict as now being fought on two fronts.

‘We could say that there are two wars going on right now, each with its own trends and endgames: a Russian war against Ukraine and a Russian war against the West. Each war feeds into and affects the other.

‘The war against Ukraine is a blood feud like that which unfolded in the Balkans in the 1990’s as Yugoslavia disintegrated.

‘Each side claims a culture and politics that threatens the other. The endgame is the exhaustion and killing of the other side. Despite the tremendous losses on both sides, we have not yet reached the point where one or both sides are ready to stop.’

‘The war against the West,’ he says, ‘is about territory and zones of influence. 

Young women walk past a billboard informing of Russia's upcoming March 2024 presidential election, in Saint Petersburg, Russia January 24, 2024. The billboard reads: "Russia. Putin. 2024"

Young women walk past a billboard informing of Russia’s upcoming March 2024 presidential election, in Saint Petersburg, Russia January 24, 2024. The billboard reads: ‘Russia. Putin. 2024’

People visit an area overlooking the Dnipro River and the city skyline in downtown Kyiv, on February 22, 2024, ahead of the second anniversary of Russia's invasion of Ukraine

People visit an area overlooking the Dnipro River and the city skyline in downtown Kyiv, on February 22, 2024, ahead of the second anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

‘Russia’s endgame is a modern-day Yalta-style buffer between Russia and the West. That buffer can be made of vassal states like Belarus, illegally annexed territories like Donetsk and Luhansk, neutral states, or wastelands like Eastern Ukraine.’

Pointing to the creation of a land bridge between Russia and Crimea and the occupation of lands bordering Russia, Ryan said Putin has accomplished significant goals over the two years, despite his overall goal of seizing Kyiv and imposing a Russian-backed government being a failure.

‘That war is largely decided,’ he said. ‘Russia’s war against the West and NATO is in its initial stages. The West so far has been relatively united in its opposition to Russia’s Yalta-style buffer demands.

‘Both sides are ramping up their militaries and preparing their populations for possible conflict,’ Ryan added. ‘It’s not yet clear whether this will evolve into a new Cold War or something much worse.’



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