2023 Ukraine: Is the end of the Russian-Ukrainian war in sight?

The International Institute for Middle Eastern and Balkan Studies (IFIMES)[1] from Ljubljana, Slovenia, regularly analyzes events in the Middle East, the Balkans and around the world. IFIMES prepared an analysis on the occasion of one year since the Russian military invasion of Ukraine. We bring the most important and interesting parts of the extensive analysis titled: “2023 Ukraine: Is the end of the Russian-Ukrainian war in sight?” 

2023 Ukraine:


Is the end of the Russian-Ukrainian war in sight?


The Russian invasion of Ukraine began on February 24, 2022. A year after the start of the war, the mystery surrounding its course is more intense than ever. In the first six months of the war Russia had the initiative, and the key questions were when, where and what kind of success it would achieve in attacks on the 2,500 kilometer long frontline. In the next five months, Ukraine took the initiative, and analysts tried to predict the location and possibilities of future counterattacks. It is difficult to predict what might happen and who will advance. Both sides are preparing for new attacks and face increasing losses on the battlefield, while expecting new reinforcements in weapons and manpower.

Russian President Vladimir Putin believes that time is his best ally and that if he continues to destroy Ukraine's infrastructure and keeps what he has won on the battlefield, he may be able to create the conditions for an end to the war and emerge from it as a relative winner. On the other hand, Ukraine sees time as its enemy, where it must take advantage of the current weakness of Russian forces and the lack of weapons before the arrival of fresh Russian forces, which are mobilized on the battlefield, and before the pace of Russian military production increases. Ukraine is in a race against time, before the Western allies reduce their support for Kyiv for economic and/or strategic reasons, or even force Ukraine to make a partial peace with Russia in which the fate of its territories will be decided.

Western analysts are cautiously optimistic about the development of the situation in Ukraine. So far, the Ukrainians have achieved easy and symbolic victories at the expense of the exhausted Russian army. However, as Russia plans to continue waging war on shorter fronts with larger forces, it will be even more difficult to reclaim every meter of Ukrainian territory occupied by Russian forces. 

Changes in American politics

The US, as Ukraine's biggest ally and donor, is constantly adjusting its strategy for the Ukrainian war. U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said that the U.S. is committed to helping Ukraine liberate the territories it has lost since February 2022, and not necessarily to regain every centimeter of its occupied territory since 2014. Washington's goal is the survival of Ukraine as a state capable of defending itself militarily, being politically independent and economically prosperous. Therefore, it does not necessarily include the return of the areas difficult to return under Ukrainian control, such as the Donetsk region or the Crimean Peninsula.

Although these changes in US policy seem to contradict earlier policy, there is a logic to that policy towards war. The US does not want an endless war, because it turns Ukraine into a wasteland and is a burden on the West, economically, militarily and politically. Therefore, the US administration is seeking to help Ukraine increase pressure on Russian forces, and will send additional aid as a means of opening the way for negotiations, after the next round of fighting between the Russians and Ukrainians ends in the spring of 2023.

Russian extensive and decisive attacks before the arrival of Western military aid

Military analysts expect a major Russian attack in the spring to break the partial status quo on the fronts, before the promised Western military aid to Ukraine arrives in tanks and possibly planes. Russia used the winter period to reorganize its forces on the ground after the setbacks in Kherson and Kharkiv. Recruiting and sending hundreds of thousands of reservists to the front is the last step before a decisive major offensive. Analysts predict that the potential Russian attack will be on two fronts, in the east where Russia wants to occupy the entire Donetsk region, and in the south especially around the strategic city of Vuhledar. 

The Russian attack will be on several fronts, the goal is to maintain pressure on the Ukrainian forces, which are also preparing to launch a counterattack, in order not to leave them any freedom of action. There will not be a general attack on Ukraine, because Russian President Putin has certainly understood that he is no longer able to occupy the whole of Ukraine and overthrow the government in Kyiv; what is possible is that he will occupy the entire territory of the Luhansk and Donetsk regions.

Is the end of the Russian-Ukrainian war in sight in 2023

Uncertainty and preparations for the worst scenario, which is yet to come, are common to all analyses when talking about the prospects of the continuation of the war. Neither side in the conflict has the possibility of military victory and no one has yet managed to force the conflicting parties to sit down at the negotiating table.

What almost all analysts agree on when talking about the perspective of that war in 2023 is the big divergence in the vision of the conflicting parties regarding the end of the war. Russia, as the one who made the decision to start the war, has maximalist demands to stop the armed conflict.

The Russian conditions for stopping the war consist of the following basic demands:

● Amending the Ukrainian constitution, which would contain a provision on the renunciation of joining any military alliance.

● Recognition of the sovereignty and independence of the five regions of Crimea, Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporozhye, which joined Russia in 2014 and 2022 as constituent parts of the Russian Federation, and thus the recognition by official Kyiv of the new borders that are emerging between Russia and of Ukraine.

● The disarmament of Ukraine from heavy weapons and the elimination of "Nazism, nationalism and chauvinism" tendencies there.

● Constitutional renunciation of the possession and deployment of nuclear weapons and the prohibition of the presence of foreign military bases on its territory.

● Ensure that the Ukrainian side pays compensation "to all citizens of the Russian Federation, including five new regions, for loss of life, injuries, partial or total destruction of their homes, as well as critical infrastructure, starting from the end of February 2014."

● Kyiv to pay all debts and financial, commercial and economic loans borrowed from Russia since 1991 after the collapse of the Soviet Union. 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky presented the Ten-Point Peace Plan, which he discussed with US President Joseph Biden, among others, and calls on world leaders to hold a global peace summit based on that plan. Zelensky first announced his formula for peace at the G-20 summit in November 2022, and the plan consists of the following ten conditions[2]:

● Radiological and nuclear security with a focus on restoring security around Europe's largest nuclear power plant, the Zaporozhye nuclear power plant in Ukraine, which is currently under Russian control.

● Food security, including the protection and guarantee of Ukrainian grain exports to the world's poorest countries.

● Energy security, focusing on limiting the price of Russian energy resources, and helping Ukraine repair and restore its electricity infrastructure, about half of which has been damaged in Russian attacks.

● Release of all prisoners and deportees, including prisoners of war and children deported to Russia.

● The restoration of Ukraine's territorial integrity and its affirmation by Russia under the UN charter, in a clause that Zelensky said was "non-negotiable".

● Withdrawal of Russian forces, cessation of hostilities and restoration of borders between Ukraine and Russia.

● Justice, including the establishment of a special tribunal to hold war criminals from Russia accountable.

● Preventing the destruction of the natural environment and the need for environmental protection by focusing on demining and repairing water treatment facilities.

● Preventing the escalation of conflicts and building a security structure at the Euro-Atlantic level, including guarantees for Ukraine.

● Confirmation of the end of the war by the signing of the document by all interested parties.

Militarization of Germany in the shadow of the Nazi past

Historically speaking, Germany has played the role of the “sleeping” European giant. It has been reluctant to act as a regional leader, due to its Nazi past. Political analysts, analyzing the policy of German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, believe that it indicates that the Germans are looking for a greater global role in the future and a different role in the struggle for dominance in Europe after a long period of hesitation.

The historical moment when the Russians entered Ukraine can be described as the collapse of the Berlin Wall, because the Germans decided to turn into a European global pillar and it was no longer acceptable for them to hesitate in their attempt to dominate Europe.

In the immediate aftermath of the fall of the Berlin Wall, followed by the collapse of the Soviet Union, Germany turned into the country with the largest economy and demographics in Europe, but suffered many economic problems and challenges arising from the unification, leading The Economist to call it “The sick man of the euro” (1999)[3].

Despite these problems, Germany has become the dominant power in Europe, although it has always emphasized that it will remain a pacified power, relying in its foreign policy on values, which it believes to be unchangeable, such as avoiding the use of military force and supporting European regional integration, Western orientation and multilateral diplomacy. It has also confirmed that the regional role of a united Germany will only be a continuation of the approach established in West Germany after 1949.

Germany continued to play the role of a “sleeping” European giant, unwilling to act as a regional leader due to difficulties in overcoming its Nazi past, because it suffered from structural weaknesses in the sense of high dependence on exports, an increasingly aging population, in addition to a lack of labor force, and “relative” military weakness and unwillingness to increase military expenditures.

After Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU/EPP) came to power in 2005, Germany began to rise slowly and assume a leading role in Europe. In the decade following 2009 (the start of the euro crisis), the role Germany played in the Greek debt crisis and the intransigence with which it confronted the Greeks and called on them to “temporarily leave the EU, or else submit to its terms”, its influence and power became a reality at the expense of other EU member states, especially France, after the UK left the EU.

Due to the German historical complex, in order not to show dominance, Franco-German cooperation was a kind of modus vivendi in which “France needs Germany to hide its weakness, and Germany needs France to hide its strength” (The Economist 2011)[4].

After the Russian invasion of Ukraine, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced the decision to transform Germany into a militarily powerful nation, and the German parliament summarily approved the allocation of 100 billion euros for defense. Germany has committed to allocating 2% of GDP for military expenditures according to NATO requirements. This means that starting this year, Germany will spend around 85 billion euros per year on defense, which positions it in third place in the world after the USA (770 billion), China (254 billion) and ahead of Russia (61 billion). This decision represents a radical shift in German and Western policy, which has prevailed since the end of the Second World War and envisages limiting arming of Germany, as the country that pushed Europe into three major wars in less than a century (the war with France in 1870 and the First and Second World wars). This decision will have major repercussions for Europe and the world, as it changes the balance of power on the “Old Continent” and threatens to return it to the power politics that characterized its modern history.

With this new orientation, the idea of ​​Lebensraum (Living Space), which moved the Germans on the eve of World War II in order to expand and dominate their neighbors, has returned. Lebensraum is a theory, which says that the state is like a living organism; it has its own needs and requirements for life and must expand to meet the needs of its population, if its capabilities exceed its geographical space. This theory was put forward by the German geographer and ethnographer Friedrich Ratzel in his book “Politische Geography 1897”[5], and Adolf Hitler used it to justify German expansionist policy.

Germany's decision to send 88 Leopard tanks to Ukraine only inflamed the debate about the military status of a united Germany since its unification in 1990. Russian President Vladimir Putin compared Russia's operation in Ukraine to the fight against Nazi Germany, in a speech marking the 80th anniversary of the end of the bloodiest battle in World War II, the Battle of Stalingrad 1942.

Through the Ukrainian crisis, the US has achieved one of its most important strategic goals in Europe, which is the direct confrontation of Germany with Russia, so that it can devote itself to opposing another, more important threat in the Indo-Pacific region (China) 

Although it is practically impossible for Germany to threaten Europe militarily, Germany's historical path indicates that it will (economically and militarily) dominate Europe. This is a reality that cannot be ignored and can lead to resistance, which will cause problems within the EU. The question remains, what will be the reaction of France in these new circumstances?

The main question remains: What if there are developments such as economic stagnation (decline in industrial exports and reduced investment... etc.) due to the loss of Russian energy sources and the Russian market for German products? Will Germany return to the idea of ​​living space Lebensraum with sophisticated moves, at least?

America's Strategy: Escalating Conflict to End the War 

The war in Ukraine has entered a new phase in which the American strategy is undergoing radical changes. The fear of a nuclear war is decreasing, and the fear of a long-term war, which will exhaust all allies of Ukraine, is increasing. Therefore, the administration of US President Joseph Biden is increasing its support for Ukraine, hoping that a diplomatic solution to the crisis will later be reached, based on the strategy of “escalation for pacification”

The public position of the USA is that diplomacy is the only way to end the war once and for all. Until Russian President Putin changes his position, the best way to improve the prospects for a just and lasting peace is to continue to provide military support to Ukraine, while repeating the words “in accordance with the vision of the Ukrainian president, with the emphasis that the decision to end the war rests with Ukraine". But, U.S. officials are mulling over what the terms for ending the war might look like when the time comes, far from what President Biden says, that it is up to Ukrainian President Zelensky "to decide how he wants the war to end”. Biden's statements disregard the fact that without American support the Ukrainian army cannot withstand on the front lines and that the signal to stop the war comes from Washington and Moscow, not from Kyiv.

In early February 2023, the Swiss-German daily newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ) announced that CIA Director William Burns had secretly traveled to Moscow in January 2023 and that there was a peace proposal presented by the CIA Director on behalf of the White House, offering Russian President Vladimir Putin 20% of Ukrainian territory to end the war. The White House and the CIA responded to the news saying that the information was “completely false”.[6]

At the end of December 2022, the doyen of American diplomacy, Henry Kissinger[7] in an editorial written for the British magazine The Spectator, suggested that Ukraine should establish official ties with NATO, Russia should withdraw from the territory it has conquered since the start of the invasion, and the voice of the people should potentially decide the fate of the territory occupied by Moscow before the current war (Crimea 2014). “I have repeatedly expressed my support for the allied military effort to thwart Russia’s aggression in Ukraine,“ Kissinger wrote and emphasized, “but the time is approaching to build on the strategic changes which have already been accomplished and to integrate them into a new structure towards achieving peace through negotiation.”

In May 2022, Kissinger said the two sides should agree to a “line of demarcation” and a return to the “previous status quo”, essentially asking Ukraine to cede territory including the Crimean Peninsula and parts of the Donetsk region in exchange for peace, adding that the control of those territories will be decided after the cease-fire agreement.

Analysts believe that the American administration expects to reach a critical point in this war when the Russians and Ukrainians realize that there is no winner, and when the Russians are ready to negotiate and not escalate, as well as when the Ukrainians are ready to accept what is offered and possible, and not what they want or deserve. Then the end of the Russian-Ukrainian war will be in sight.

Ljubljana/Washington/Brussels/Kyiv, 15 February 2023                                                                            

[1] IFIMES - International Institute for Middle Eastern and Balkan Studies based in Ljubljana, Slovenia, has a special consultative status with the Economic and Social Council ECOSOC/UN since 2018.

[2] Proposals for peace by President of Ukraine at the G20 Summit, Bali, Indonesia 15-16.November 2022., link: www.president.gov.ua/en/news/ukrayina-zavzhdi-bula-liderom-mirotvorchih-zusil-yaksho-rosi-79141

[3] The Economist: The sick man of the euro, 03.06.1999., link:  www.economist.com/special/1999/06/03/the-sick-man-of-the-euro

[4] The Economist :Behind the smiles , The meaning of the Franco-German deal to salvage the euro Dec 5th 2011., link:  www.economist.com/charlemagne/2011/12/05/behind-the-smiles

[5] Friedrich Ratzel: An edition of Politische Geographie (1897), link: https://onlinebooks.library.upenn.edu/webbin/book/lookupid?key=ha100364821

[6] Joe Biden Offered Vladimir Putin 20 Percent of Ukraine to End War, link:  www.newsweek.com/joe-biden-vladimir-putin-ukraine-territory-end-war-nzz-report-1778526   

[7] Henry Kissinger: How to avoid another world war, link:  www.spectator.co.uk/article/the-push-for-peace/