Qualified optimism makes war-watchers root for underdogs. Ukraine is one, which has much going for it now. As Ukraine shows it can stand up to the Russian bully, expect it to turn the tide in its favour in 2023. At the end of it, Ukraine may blindside the globe by regaining its occupied territories. Or, get Russia to the negotiating table at least to hammer out a favourable peace deal. Either way, Russia loses the war.

Russian Morale at a Nadir

Sure, Ukraine has been proving it has the ability to upset Russia. As the Russian bully struggles to match Ukraine’s determination, it may not find it easy to occupy and take over Ukraine for good. Though Russia could cripple Ukraine’s utilities in impotent desperation, its forces may not come up to scratch for occupying Ukraine. The Ukraine war is sure to drag on at least until mid-2023.

As the war drags on, Russia will see every passing day bringing in major losses of men and machine. Already, the average Russian is growing weary of the war. Russians have begun questioning president Vladimir Putin over his nonsense. Russian forces too are growing worried over their rising losses. Russian morale is at a nadir today. In contrast, the Ukrainian forces have been displaying their steely resolve. In Kherson, for example. https://www.nytimes.com/2022/11/09/world/europe/ukraine-russia-kherson-retreat.html

The Russian Bully’s New Hopes

After Kherson, the Ukrainian forces did wear down Russia in the south and in Donbas. More wins may be in store in 2023. Sure, Ukraine has determined men on the warfront and dedicated generals in control rooms. Ukraine may regain its occupied territories in the east too. Elsewhere, Ukraine may make slow progress. Yet, enthused NATO nations will keep backing Ukraine with advanced arms and strategic intelligence.

The war will thus be a do-or-die challenge for Ukraine in 2023. America’s unqualified support may help Ukraine win in the end. However, the Russian bully may continue to hope America does not aid Ukraine for ever. Russia will be proved wrong. In negotiations too, America will not let Ukraine down. Angered, Russia may plug gas supplies. Europe will get around though. https://www.nytimes.com/2022/01/13/us/politics/nato-ukraine.html

Surprises from China and India

Pushed to the wall, Russia is sure to raise the nuclear cry. This will be just that, an empty cry. In a bid to muffle Russia, the West may stop treating Mr Putin with kid gloves and indulging him with geopolitical banters. The West is sure to demonstrate it means business. Expect the West to keep its arms tap turned on for Ukraine right through 2023. Crimea was a bad experience. The West learnt a valuable and unforgettable lesson. Crimea will not be repeated.

Worse, a sidelined Russia will find its ally China too refusing to stand by its side. With rising criticisms, India too will have a rethink on its support to Russia. As India exploits renewable energy options and taps alternative energy suppliers, this rethink will be bad news for Mr Putin. The Indian prime minister Narendra Modi rebuking Mr Putin on the war and the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation’s cold reception are harbingers. https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/09/16/kherson-ukraine-russia-war-putin/

Ukraine Brimming with Confidence

Not China alone, the rest of the globe too will rise up against the Russian bully. In the UN General Assembly’s October meet on Ukraine war, Russia got a foretaste: its members condemned Russia by a vote of 143-5. Unhappy, the rich 38-member Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) may review its ties with Russia soon. These blowback shocks portend Russia asking for a negotiated settlement. https://www.oecd.org/newsroom/russia-s-war-of-aggression-against-ukraine-continues-to-create-serious-headwinds-for-global-economy.html

A negotiated settlement will not be in the near term. Ukraine is not willing to stop fighting now, as it is brimming with confidence. Bolstered by its Kherson success and backed by non-stop inflows of advanced American arms, Ukraine is not eyeing at peace before taking back the territories it had lost since 2014. No ceasefire for now. Ukraine will fight on until it is sure it can decide alone when to negotiate with Russia.

Growing War Allergy at Home

As it has failed to take over Ukraine, Russia too does not want ceasefire right now. A ceasefire now means Russia accepting defeat, which an egoistic Russia does not want. Until Ukraine takes back all territories lost to Russia, the 2014-occupied Donbas and Crimea including, Ukraine will not cease fire either. With both the settlement and the ceasefire options out, Russia is girding itself and gathering its forces for a long excruciating war. https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/ukraines-zelenskiy-says-cease-fire-with-russia-without-reclaiming-lost-lands-2022-07-22/

Not surprising Mr Putin is in the process of preparing his people to face a prolonged conflict, despite growing war allergy at home. Will the West give Ukraine arms and ammunition for a long war? America did say it will back Ukraine with military supplies for as long as it takes. Ukraine too is saying it will fight for as long as it warrants. Sure, the war will be a drawn-out affair. Ukraine is prepared for it, America is standing by its side and Ukrainian resolve is rockier than ever.

Russia Cannot Leverage Further

Nevertheless, Ukraine’s resolve will be severely tested by blackouts in Europe. This may happen by end-March and make the next winter dreadful. Worse, gas storages cannot be refilled easily in spring. As Russian gas flows may stop in 2023, liquefied natural gas from the United States will be the sole go-to option. As Europe moves backwards, from gas to coal, the European energy system will run the risk of breaking down under stress. https://fortune.com/2022/03/03/russia-invasion-ukraine-usa-lng-energy-security-biden-putin-eu-sanctions-trade-policy-mike-sommers/

Willy-nilly, Russia will find it difficult to leverage its fossil fuel reserves to fund its illegal war in Ukraine. This will urge the Russian bully to continue weaponising its energy resources. By year end, expect Russia to lie scrambled and the global energy market left upended. Thus, not energy alone, the prices of products using energy too will head northwards. This holds the unpleasant prospect of global inflation not ending in 2023.

In Conclusion

Sure, miseries are coming in droves for Mr Putin. He is facing fury at home over his needless war which is wrecking the economy. At the end, domestic discontent may make Mr Putin rethink his restoring-the-Russian-pride pitch. As Russian oligarchs and elites too rise against Mr Putin, he may quit in 2023 after cutting his losses. A Chinese arm-shot here and a North Korean push there will not keep him propped up over the long haul. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=At3Q48GkA7Q

Yet, Mr Putin may soldier on. He may hope European unity breaks, Donald Trump returns and American senate votes down military aid to Ukraine. Sooner than later, Mr Putin will discover these are all pies in his sky. High time the Russian bully realised his reversals will not stop with Kherson. As his support base is evaporating, the Russian bully will be blindsided by more losses in 2023. That will be the year’s most crucial turnaround moment. The happiest and the saddest moment in Ukrainian history too.