The war in Ukraine: What happens next?

It is now more than eight months since the Russian tanks rolled across the Ukraine border in what Vladimir Putin continues to describe as a ‘special military operation’.

Putin clearly expected the invasion to be over quickly – as, you suspect, most people in the West did. But eight months on, here we are. Ukraine is fighting back, recapturing territory that has been occupied and most experts now think the war will last well into next year. So what is likely to happen? And what does it mean for us here in the West?

The first thing to stress is that the war will grind on. Ukraine wants its occupied territories back: Russia is determined to hang on to them – and to inflict further pain on Ukraine and (by extension) the West. Russia believes that the frozen ground in the winter may aid its tanks – but the US has just committed another tranche of money to Ukraine, with President Biden regularly pledging whatever support is needed. To date, the US has spent $16.8bn (£14.5bn) supporting Ukraine.

Winter will almost certainly prompt a further refugee crisis. President Zelenskyy made his much-heralded, “Without heat or without you” speech recently – but the reality is that being ‘without heat’ in the Ukrainian winter is going to be very, very difficult. The average temperature in Ukraine in February is between minus 1 Centigrade and minus 8. At the time of writing this article, 4.5m Ukrainians are reported to be without power, after a series of attacks Zelenskyy has described as ‘energy terrorism’. Do not be surprised if your news bulletins are once again showing queues at the Polish border.

In terms of military tactics, Russia is likely to continue doing what it has always done: try and pound its way remorselessly forward. The appointment of General Sergey Surovikin – nicknamed ‘General Armageddon’ – to lead the next phase of the conflict doesn’t suggest any change in this approach.

One very obvious worry is the impact of the conflict on the world’s food supply. A deal to allow exports of grain from Ukraine was agreed in the summer, but Russia has scrapped it following a recent drone attack on its Black Sea fleet. This prompted the Sunday Telegraph to predict, ‘Food prices to surge after Putin chokes grain supply.’

What about the rest of the world? October saw China order all its citizens to leave Ukraine. Does China know something about Russia’s future plans? We cannot say with any certainty. There’s also the question of the Middle East. Iran has been supplying arms and surveillance technology to Russia: the Saudi Crown Prince is mediating a big exchange of prisoners alongside Turkey.

The conflict clearly has the potential to escalate. Sooner or later, the West will have to decide if it wants Ukraine to win or simply hang on.

That is the view of some right-wing commentators in the US: that the President is doing enough to prolong the war, but not enough to win it.

The only certainty seems to be uncertainty – for the world’s food supply, for energy costs and for the bills we pay to heat our homes. And that, sadly, February 24th 2023 will be an unwelcome anniversary.

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