Ukraine has a good chance to liberate all its territory – apart from Crimea – by the end of 2023, a military expert says.
Cities like Severodonetsk, Melitopol and even Mariupol could be liberated if Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s forces keep up their counteroffensive success, according to former military intelligence officer Philip Ingram.
As we approach the end of a year that has seen Vladimir Putin’s Russia invade its neighbour, causing untold destruction and bringing about the unprecedented return of war in Europe, Sky News looks at what could happen in Ukraine in 2023.
In the months since the February 24 invasion that saw Kremlin forces come within striking distance of Kyiv, Ukrainian defenders have reclaimed more than half of the land captured by Russia since the beginning of the war.
President Zelenskyy has insisted that his troops will eventually liberate all its territory, including areas in the Donbas and Crimea that have been occupied since 2014.
While experts remain split on whether that will ultimately be possible, Ukraine’s forces have demonstrated their mettle and determination again and again on the battlefield.
The early days of the war saw the historic defence of the port city of Mariupol, in which a small band of troops held out for 82 days against appalling odds – buying crucial time for defence forces elsewhere to regroup and obtain Western weapons.
More recently, stunning counterattacks in the east and south have sent Russian forces retreating from Kharkiv and Kherson.
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So what could happen next year?
Former intelligence officer Mr Ingram says it could all depend on what Ukraine does in the next few weeks as it seeks to advance again.
He told Sky News: “If their next counteroffensive is as successful as the two they have done already – and I see no reason why it shouldn’t be – there’s definitely a strong possibility that they have recaptured all the territory in mainland Ukraine by the end of the year.
“So I think 2023 will be a year of further Ukrainian counteroffensives and successes.
“I think at that point we will be discussing the potential of operations to recapture Crimea.”
Mr Ingram said further Ukrainian successes would lead to an increase in dissent within Russia, perhaps putting the rule of President Putin at risk.
He said the recapture of Mariupol in particular would have a huge psychological impact.
However not all experts agree on this future for Ukraine over the next 12 months.
Supplies of Western weapons ‘not a bottomless pit’
Retired Air Vice-Marshal Sean Bell argued that the West can only support Ukraine for so long, as weapons supplies dwindle and the resolve of some countries perhaps weakens amid high energy prices at home.
“When you look at the scale of the weapons that have been provided, there’s not a bottomless pit,” he told Sky News.
“It’s very difficult militarily to see the West being able to sustain Ukraine for more than a year.”
He said that while President Zelenskyy is publicly calling for the return of all territory, behind closed doors he may be talking “pragmatically” about the future.
“I think that’s where you have great statesmanship, because if winning is about securing more territory then, yes, Putin’s won.
“If Putin strategic aims are actually to halt the expansion of NATO, that has failed.
“If its aim is to restore Russia’s greatness, that has failed. If it’s to create a more powerful economy, that has failed.
“So depending on what metric we choose from a grand strategic perspective, it’s very difficult to see this invasion being anything other than abject failure.”
He said it could well be that a peace is ultimately brokered where President Zelenskyy blames the West for forcing his hand but privately accepts that it is the only way to stop further loss of life.