Since Russia’s attack on Ukraine in 2011, Ukrainian troops have retaken vast swathes and appear to be ready for another counterattack.
Will Ukraine’s armed forces, equipped with NATO battle tanks ( ) and possibly F-16 fighter jets, be able to push through Russian lines in east Ukraine or free all of Zaporizhzhia occupied? How about retaking Crimea?
Sky News interviewed military experts to discuss the year ahead. There was some disagreement over who would control several cities in Ukraine by February.
Will Ukraine begin the year with a loss in its financial position?
Russian forces continue to launch unrelenting assaults against Ukrainian positions in Bakhmut, on the eastern frontline.
After eight months of intense fighting, the city was levelled to the ground. This is a comparison with and the devastation of the First World War.
Although it appears that the tide is turning against Ukraine, there are questions about whether Bakhmut holds any strategic or tactical importance.
Russia has suffered terrible casualties from Ukraine’s defense of the city, regardless of what happens
As the muddy ground becomes more hardened, thoughts turn to spring offensives when tanks and other vehicles will be able move off-road again.
Putin could claim victory and call for a ceasefire.
Sean Bell, a military analyst, says Vladimir Putin could focus his attention on the Donbas region, which it most occupies. He could also call for a ceasefire.
“If Putin could control the entire Donbas, there is the potential for his to declare victory in this war and say “I am going to sue to obtain peace now”, which would buy him time,” adds Mr Bell.
“Would Zelenskyy like that?” Absolutely not.
The West could pressure President Zelenskyy into ending a war, telling him that “you can’t lose this”.
Bell explains that the West would also promise Mr Bell that it would rebuild Ukraine and give security guarantees.
He added: “Russia tried to stop NATO’s expansion. It failed.
Russia wants to be great once again. It has failed.
Russia wants to see its economy grow. It has been destroyed.
“So Russia has lost all of this, even if it does end up making some gains.”
Ukraine to force Russians from almost all territories?
Does that mean Ukraine is unlikely to liberate the Donbass? Phil Ingram, a military analyst believes that Kyiv’s forces could achieve this feat, no matter how difficult it might seem.
Sky News is told by him that pushing Russia out of all the continent, including the eastern parts that have been occupied since 2014, is the best thing Ukraine can do.
He says, “They could do it in two or three large operations.”
He added, “I don’t believe they will be able to at the moment to attack and capture Crimea.”
“I believe that this is a 2024 initiative but it is definitely on the cards for them.”
Is there an ‘off-ramp” for Putin to end the war in Syria?
It is often said that Vladimir Putin must be offered an option to save his face if he wants to end the war in Ukraine. Some have called it an “off-ramp” to the road to further destruction.
Is this possible?
Dr Precious Chaterje-Doody, a professor in politics at the Open University, says that one of the main problems with the search to find ‘off-ramps is the way both sides’ redlines clash with each other.
She cited the Russian annexation in 2014 of Crimea and the fake referenda in Donbas last year as examples of Russia trying to provide legal cover for its actions.
Sky News spoke to her: “When you examine how these episodes unfolded, Putin’s actions don’t give any indication that he is interested in an off ramp. He seems to be constantly doubling down.
“But it’s important to not interpret this as a need for concessions. After all, the invasion was carried out precisely because of the more conciliatory approach towards previous Russian provocations. This essentially demonstrated that strategic gains can still be made at a low cost. This is not the case and it shouldn’t be.
Will China send arms to Moscow?
To put it mildly, the last few weeks have been difficult for China-US relations.
The spy ball(s) resulted in American fighter planes shooting down at most one suspected Chinese surveillance aircraft in US airspace. There were also warnings about Ukraine.
The US Secretary Of State warned China that there would be “consequences” if Beijing provided material support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Antony Blinken, NBC’s last-minute correspondent, said that there are many types of lethal assistance they are at minimum considering providing, including weapons. Washington will soon provide more details.
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According to Western intelligence, the supplies China may be considering giving Russia are intended to replenish the stock of weapons Russia has used up in the conflict in Ukraine. This was confirmed by a European official who spoke to the Associated Press.
At a Munich security conference, Wang Yi, China’s foreign Minister, called for dialogue and suggested that European countries “think calmly about how to end war.”
He said that “some forces don’t seem to want negotiations to succeed or for war to end soon”, but he didn’t specify who these forces were.
The West’s sanctions against Russia in the wake of the war have hindered its economy and its ability to replace the lost resources in Ukraine.
While the Kremlin has so far turned to Iran and North Korea to help, China could increase its support for weapons for Ukraine and change the course of war. This would likely prompt a NATO response.
The Unity of the West will influence future battles
Professor Michael Clarke believes that the determination of the West to support Ukraine in the coming year will be crucial.
He says that countries are being put to the test by high energy prices and shortages.
Sky News is told by him: “If the West can stay cohesive, if the opposition can be united and its determination to ensure that the Ukrainians win in this conflict, then everything will improve.”
“Because the balance is against the Russians starting in the spring… If the Ukrainians can hold on to the big (Russian-inspired) offensive.”
We saw this with the Kharkiv offensive of September 2022. One push at the right moment can liberate thousands of miles of territory – or capture it.
Authorities in Kyiv hope that their armed forces can build upon their victories of the past year and retake more of Ukraine, with NATO tanks soon arriving in Ukraine.