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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

Russia's Next New Strategy: Try To Stall Until 2023

Russia's progress on the frontline has stalled. But without weapons promised by the West, Ukraine has not been able to carry out decisive counteroffensives. The West's indecisiveness risks the war being dragged out until next year — which is exactly what Putin wants.

Ukrainian soldiers in Donetsk in May 2022

Ukrainian soldiers patrolling the separatist region of Donetsk (Donbas) on May 17, 2022.

Volodymyr Horbulin and Valentin Badrak


KYIV — For about a month, the front line has remained almost unchanged. Russian troops have gone as far as they can.

Obviously, this situation annoys the Kremlin, forcing it to look for new, rather unconventional ways to replenish human reserves and worn-out weapons. But Moscow is also playing for time, believing that the onset of cold weather will play into its hands, as an impending energy crisis spreads through Europe.

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Moreover, Putin needs time to restore the Russian army’s ability to fight. For this very reason, a day after Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced a deliberate slowdown in the military campaign in Ukraine, purportedly to reduce civilian casualties, Putin issued a decree to increase the size of the Russian army.

The important overlooked point is that the increase in the number of Russian armed forces by 137,000 soldiers (up to 2.04 million people) is planned in 2023. That is, Putin is trying to regain the initiative he lost a month ago and shape what the war will look like in the future.

Belated support from the West

The White House was ready for such a course of events. Because the very next day, that is, on Aug. 26, the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden carefully “leaked” information to The Wall Street Journal about big plans to announce within a few weeks a long-term military mission to support Ukraine and even appoint a separate general responsible for military-technical assistance and training of the Ukrainian military.

However, despite the fact that global intentions have been announced, the content and pace of implementing such an ambitious task are still unknown. Meanwhile, this is precisely what will demonstrate the desire or unwillingness of Ukraine's partners to bring the war to a close by the end of 2022.

The fact that the Armed Forces of Ukraine are ready to liberate the south of Ukraine by the end of the year has been widely discussed by many politicians, including the openly militant British Prime Minister Boris Johnson during the NATO summit in Madrid.

It's been a month since Ukraine took back the momentum at the front

It looked logical and realistic: Due to their resilience, the Ukrainian military deserved qualitative changes in support with modern weapons. It's been a month since Ukraine took back the momentum at the front from Russia, but strategic advantages require other attributes.

There is still a high risk of a counteroffensive — the Armed Forces of Ukraine have not yet received powerful medium-range air defense systems. And it is likely its partners did not supply (at least in significant quantities) operational-tactical missiles, as well as attack drones and tanks.

Vladimir Putin in Sept. 2022

Putin attends a meeting on national tourism industry issues on Sept. 6.

Valery Sharifulin/TASS

Dragging on until spring

It is quite clear why the West is in no hurry to accelerate the development of events. The artificial energy crisis created by the Kremlin in Europe, Putin’s rather successful nuclear blackmail, and certain politicians' unwillingness to depose Putin made the idea of too much assistance to Ukraine seem unappealing.

The Biden administration, for reasons of political expediency, does not pay attention to an obvious fact that has been repeatedly confirmed by military experts. That is, if new, advanced weapons are not provided to Ukraine within two or three months before the cold weather, the war may drag on until spring, which is exactly what Putin wants.

And although things are going poorly for Putin, the resources of the Russian Federation will be quite enough to mobilize a certain number of people and find weapons — this already guarantees the continuation of a protracted, exhausting war. This probably could have been avoided if the West acted more decisively.

The future of the war

Recently, the well-known U.S. General Ben Hodges stressed that Ukraine needs long-range missiles and even more artillery in order to launch a major counteroffensive. He appealed to the fact that the Armed Forces of Ukraine do not have enough weapons to have a "decisive effect."

Among other things, the general provided a weighty argument, addressing the U.S. military and political establishment: After the attack on the air base in Saki, the Russians began to urgently leave Crimea and did not show any initiative to protect the “holy land” of the peninsula, which indicates a clear understanding that Crimea is not their land.

Hodges said that the duration of the war in Ukraine largely depends on whether the U.S. can fulfill promises, in particular to deliver the promised weapons. He also stated his belief that Russia can be pushed back to the Feb. 23 line by the end of the year.

The duration of the war in Ukraine largely depends on whether the U.S. can fulfill promises.

The process of rearming Ukraine requires time. Besides, some of it is already lost. So, the forecasts of Western experts about the beginning of the expulsion of Russian invaders from the occupied territories refer mainly to the first half of 2023. But the West's lack of conviction means a difficult and bloody future for Ukraine.

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

Wagner Group 2.0: Why Russia's Mercenary System Is Here To Stay

Many had predicted that the death last month of Wagner Group chief Yevgeny Prigozhin meant the demise of the mercenary outfit. Yet signs in recent days say the private military outfit is active again in Ukraine, a reminder of the Kremlin's interest in continuing a private fighting formula that has worked all around the world.

Photograph of a Wagner soldier in the city of Artyomovsk, holding a rifle.

Ukraine, Donetsk Region - March 24, 2023: A Wagner Group soldier guards an area in the city of Artyomovsk (Bakhmut).

Cameron Manley


“Let’s not forget that there is no Wagner Group anymore,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov had declared. “Such an organization, in our eyes, does not exist.”

The August 25 statement from came less than two days after the death of Yevgeny Prigozhin, leader of the infamous Russian mercenary outfit, as questions swirled about Wagner's fate after its crucial role in the war in Ukraine and other Russian military missions around the world.

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How could an independent military outfit survive after its charismatic founder's death? It seemed highly unlikely that President Vladimir Putin would allow the survival of a group after had launched a short-lived coup attempt in late June that most outside observers believe led to Prigozhin's private airplane being shot down by Russian forces on August 23.

"Wagner is over,” said the Kremlin critic and Russian political commentator Maksim Katz. “The group can’t keep going. There’s the possibility that they could continue in parts or with Defense Ministry contracts, but the group only worked with an unofficial agreement between Putin and Prigozhin.”

Yet barely a month later, and there are already multiple signs that the Wagner phoenix is rising from the ashes.

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