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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

Why Zelensky Will Not Promise Victory In 2023

Will 2023 be the year of victory? A negotiated settlement? The beginning of the new year was a time for speeches in Kyiv and Moscow aimed at inspiring the respective nations 10 months since Russia’s bloody invasion. Yet, for one good reason, certain words were not spoken.

Ukrainian soldier climbing stairs from an underground shelter in Zaporizhia region, heading towards the entrance and the daylight

As 2023 begins in Ukraine, all are asking the same question: Is the war in going to end this year?

Anna Akage

-Analysis-

In Ukraine, New Year's was a sad and violent occasion: Kyiv, the capital, along with other cities, were subjected to drone attacks as the air-raid alarms barely stopped sounding in most parts of Ukraine throughout the would-be “holiday” weekend.

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Ukrainians couldn’t help noticing the contrast with other parts of the world, not just because people were ringing in the new year with celebrations, but more importantly because of the array of politicians, military experts and journalists making predictions for how the war will go in 2023.

The single question underlying all the others: Will the war in Ukraine end this year?


Some were looking for an answer in the traditional New Year greeting of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. The unlikely war-hero president offered yet another notable discourse, describing a war that has far-reaching global implications: “This is the year when Ukraine changed the world. And the world discovered Ukraine.”

Tale of two speeches

Many have already called his New Year's speech one of Zelensky’s strongest, a rallying cry for the nation to stay united and determined in its courage and steadfastness. “We fight and will continue to fight. For the sake of the main word: "victory."”

At the same time, it was also a careful speech.

Zelensky avoided promises or forecasts and stressed several times that no matter how long the war would last, Ukraine would fight to reunify all Ukrainian lands within the borders of 1991.

“We do not know for sure what the new year 2023 will bring us,” he concluded. “But are ready for anything.”

At the same time, Vladimir Putin also gave his New Year's greeting. After months of downplaying the war, Putin (like Zelensky) was nearly entirely focused on the fight against the enemy. And for those looking for signs of possible space for negotiation, it’s worthwhile to note that Putin was similarly uncompromising in his vows to fight to protect Russia and all of its original Russian territories.

Neither president is giving any ground, and neither is predicting victory in 2023.

Zelensky's New Year speech

Will Russia try to take Kyiv?

To better understand what’s to come in Ukraine this year, there was a frank interview of Andriy Chernyak, a representative of the General Intelligence Directorate of the Ukrainian Defense Ministry, published Monday in the Ukrainian RBK-Ukraine newspaper.

"According to estimates of Ukraine's military intelligence, the Russians will continue to try to conduct offensive operations next year. In none of the areas have they succeeded in achieving their goal,” he said. “They understand that they will lose, but they do not plan to end the war."

Chernyak said Ukrainian intelligence is sure that the Russians will try to hold the land corridor to Crimea and seize the entire Donetsk region.

"According to estimates of Ukraine's military intelligence, over the next four to five months, the Russian army could lose up to 70,000 more men,” he added. “And the leadership of the occupying country is ready for such losses."

The heaviest losses may be over the next three months, when indications say Putin may be planning to launch a counter-offensive to try to retake Kyiv. Valery Zaluzhny, the commander-in-chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, also warned last month about a repeat offensive on the capital.

Yet as 2023 begins, another related question is foremost on the mind of Chernyak: whether Belarus will join Russia’s war against Ukraine — either to join the assault on Kyiv or as a “diversionary” tactic.

"We are considering the possibility that they may come simultaneously from the north or the east,” concluded Chernyak. “Such actions of the enemy are assumed, and our troops are ready for that."

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