The Russian army stabilizes the front lines during the winter while forming new battalions with freshly mobilized recruits. Meanwhile, in the United States, Republicans are blocking arms deliveries to Ukraine and European stocks are running out. The Russian military industry is deprived of semiconductors and specialized equipment, but produces enough armor and artillery pieces to equip the new battalions.
In the spring, the new Russian units attack, pushing back Ukrainians exhausted by several months of offensive. Belarus enters the conflict, fixing Ukrainian troops in the north. In the summer, Ukraine is on the defensive. The Russians take Kryvyi Rih, a key industrial city north of Kherson, then Sloviansk and Kramatorsk in Donetsk. Western countries are pushing Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to accept a Russian ceasefire proposal. In the months, even the years that followed, Russia rearmed by forced march before attempting a new assault on kyiv.
A more likely scenario. Russia is incapable of turning its hundreds of thousands of mobilized soldiers into effective fighters. The best trainers are at the front, the experienced officers are dead or at the front. If the recruits, organized into rudimentary light infantry units, are not sufficiently trained for the offensive, they can dig trenches and hold positions.
Withdrawn from the city of Kherson in November, Russia redeployed its 30,000 soldiers on the west bank of the Dnieper, leaving military equipment on the other. A triumph for Ukraine! But the Russians are in a stronger military position, the river protecting their left flank. The Ukrainian forces are slowed down and suffer heavy losses for each advance.
Unable to win the war on the ground, Putin tries to make it last in order to annihilate the Ukrainian economy, undermine the morale of the population by hitting civilian infrastructure and exhaust Western partners. Europe is struggling to supply its gas storage sites in 2023, causing power outages as winter sets in. Putin aims to hold out until the end of 2024, hoping that by then Donald Trump will return to the White House and end support for Ukraine. Risky bet: Russian opinion is turning around, the economy is contracting, Putin appears more and more vulnerable.
Most encouraging scenario, perhaps the most dangerous. kyiv maintains its momentum, capturing or killing large numbers of Russian soldiers in Kherson. The Russian lines in Luhansk collapsed, the Ukrainians recaptured Sievierodonetsk before continuing their advance to the east. Russian losses increase, new recruits refuse to fight. Western countries are supplying Ukraine with new anti-aircraft systems that negate the impact of the terror tactics carried out by the Russians, whose arsenal of precision missiles is rapidly diminishing.
Read alsoWar in Ukraine: can it end in 2023?
In the spring, the Ukrainian army opens a new front in Zaporijia. Five brigades broke through the Russian lines, denying Russia land access to Crimea and encircling Mariupol on the threshold of summer. The Ukrainians send their Himar rocket launchers south, targeting ports, bases and depots in Crimea under Russian occupation. Ukraine threatens to enter the peninsula. Vladimir Putin sends an ultimatum: stop or I resort to nuclear weapons. Victory is in sight. But also the dangers it brings with it.