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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

Why It's Now Almost Impossible For Ukraine To Win The War

It’s hard to admit, but every day, the chance of a Ukrainian victory moves further away. Kyiv is running out of troops and equipment. The enemy is better prepared and has significant reinforcements at its disposal. It’s no surprise, then, that the talk among Western diplomats is of a truce.

Photo of a Ukrainian woman mourning her son in Irpin Cemetery

A Ukrainian woman mourning her son in Irpin Cemetery

Christoph B. Schiltz


At the start of the year, Ukraine seemed optimistic about its prospects in the terrible war of Russian aggression that has been inflicted on the country for almost a year now.

This year, military intelligence chief Kyrylo Budanov has said, would bring “peace and victory.” But how realistic is a Ukrainian victory?

It is almost impossible for Ukraine to emerge from this war as the victor. According to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s definition, victory would mean regaining all occupied territories, including Crimea. But as things stand – and above all, given the West’s half-hearted support – this is impossible. Around 18% of Ukrainian territory is currently occupied by Russia. In the future, unfortunately, this proportion may well rise rather than fall.

Reason 1: The debates of the last few weeks have made it clear that the U.S., Germany and other NATO members are more afraid of the war spreading to NATO territory than of the threat to Western security posed by Russia’s territorial gains in Ukraine. Western decision makers believe that supplying Ukraine with more effective, deadly and targeted weapons will increase the danger of the war spilling over. The West is suffering from a kind of self-deterrence, so it is only offering Ukraine enough support to keep it from having to capitulate straight away.

Crippled infrastructure, troop depletion

Reason 2: So far, Russia has destroyed between 60 and 70% of Ukraine’s critical infrastructure. It seems unlikely that the West will supply Kyiv with enough of the air defense weapons that it needs to stop this wave of Russian destruction, including the IRIS-T, NASAMS and Patriot weapons systems. In fact, the paltry weapons that the West has supplied so far will be seen as an open invitation to the Russian military, which – according to Erik Kristoffersen, head of the Norwegian Armed Forces – still has a huge arsenal of missiles and drones at its disposal.

Ukraine is becoming less and less able to repair its destroyed infrastructure. Equipment and materials that would usually come from Russia are running out. Energy shortages are making it harder and harder to keep the Ukrainian people supplied. And the Ukrainian armaments industry desperately needs electricity.

Ukraine is running out of soldiers.

Reason 3: the Russian army is combatting Western precision weapons with sheer numbers, and it has enough resources to fall back on. That is especially true when it comes to tanks. According to London thinktank the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), Russia could have over 4,000 operational tanks – a huge number, which not only poses a significant threat to Western Leopard tanks, but could also allow Russia to launch an offensive at any time.

Reason 4: As the war drags on, Ukraine is running out of soldiers. Depending on how you measure it, the current mobilization drive is at least the eighth wave, and men over 60 are being sent to the front. By contrast, Russia will soon call up 200,000 new conscripts, and there could even be up to a further 500,000 to come in summer. Moscow has around 30 million people who could potentially be called up.

Reason 5: Russia could emerge from this war not only as the military victor with territorial gains, but also as the political victor. According to the Vienna Institute for International Economic Studies (WIIW), Ukraine’s economic recovery could prove significantly more difficult than the National Council for the Recovery of Ukraine has predicted.

Joining NATO would be impossible for the foreseeable future after a truce or peace talks, and even the most generous timeline for joining the EU would take far longer than Kyiv currently hopes.

EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky at the first European Commission-Ukraine intergovernmental consultations summit in Kyiv

Sarsenov Daniiar/Ukrainian Presi/Planet Pix/ZUMA

Why is the West pushing for a truce?

And what is the current situation on the battlefield? While the West – embodied by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz – is proving slow to deliver on its promises to “do everything in our power to help Ukraine,” Kyiv is running out of time to end the stalemate and go on the offensive.

Russian troops are using this time to dig in, lay mines, strengthen their positions and send in fresh soldiers and equipment, so that they will be better equipped for both attack and defense. The promised battle tanks – Ukraine asked for 300 and is only getting around 130 – will not enable Ukraine to launch successful counter-attacks on Kreminna or Zaporizhzhia, in order to cut off supply lines to Russian troops in Crimea.

To launch a successful tank attack towards Crimea, Ukraine would also need short-range missiles with a greater range (ATACMS), more armored personnel carriers (100 have been promised, while Kyiv asked for 500–600), more artillery systems (70 promised, 500 requested) and fighter jets (none have been promised, while Kyiv asked for 180 F-16 jets).

Kyiv is running out of time – and the West is simply standing by and watching.

Kyiv is running out of time – and the West is simply standing by and watching. Europe and the U.S. are afraid of crossing the “red line” that Russian president Vladimir Putin has drawn, so they are doing nothing to disrupt Russian satellite communications, which would have a huge impact on Moscow’s offensive capabilities.

The international community is doing a lot to support Ukraine. But it is still not enough to allow Kyiv to regain the territory that rightfully belongs to it. We can only assume this is deliberate. Western diplomats are speaking more and more about fears of escalation, of democratic societies growing tired of war, and of their hopes that there will soon be a truce.

The current levels of Western engagement will naturally lead to a truce – although, of course, those in charge won’t admit it. The result will be a divided Ukraine.

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