While much of the world celebrates Christmas and rings in a new year, Ukrainians will be marking the passing the grim milestone of having reached the 10-month mark in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“Russian missile strikes are hammering Ukrainian infrastructure, leaving civilians without heat, electricity and drinking water, amid freezing temperatures,” Rebekah Koffler, a former DIA intelligence officer and the author of “Putin’s Playbook: Russia’s Secret Plan to Defeat America,” told Fox News Digital. “Putin’s goal is to dislodge Ukrainians psychologically and abandon the fight.”
Koffler’s comments come as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is set to hit the 10-month mark and promises to spill over into 2023, a sort of stalemate many analysts failed to see coming when Russian forces crossed the border and spilled into Ukraine.
Expectations of a swift victory were likely shared by Russian President Vladimir Putin when he launched what he coined a “special military operation in Ukraine” on Feb. 24, a plan designed to bring a quick win that would usher in a new phase of Russian dominance in the region.
“Putin expected to subdue Ukraine within days, maximum weeks, force [Ukranian President Volodymyr] Zelenskyy to capitulate or flee and install a new government that is pro-Russian, or at minimum not pro-Western — a new regime that would abandon plans to join NATO,” Koffler said.
However, such a quick victory for Putin has failed to materialize, setting the stage for a continuation of the war into 2023. As the world waits to see how the war unfolds in the new year, here is a look back at some of the key moments of the conflict in 2022.
Russia builds up forces on its border with Ukraine
As the world celebrated the calendar flipping to 2022, Russia was continuing its months-long build up of forces in Ukraine. By January, military analysts in Ukraine were estimating that Russia had amassed a force of close to 100,000 troops on the border, having ended the year by pushing for a ban on Ukraine joining NATO, a proposal that was rejected by both Ukraine and members of the alliance.
Russian troops began spilling into allied Belarus, also on the border of Ukraine, to conduct military exercises. The continued build up sparked international condemnation from the West, with the U.S. sending $200 million in security assistance to Ukraine and President Biden warning of consequences for Russia in the event of an invasion.
“Russia will be held accountable if it invades,” Biden said in a January press conference.
However, Russia’s military buildup continued, reaching nearly 200,000 troops at Ukraine’s border as the eventual invasion neared.
“Russia accumulated, over the course of approximately two months, a build up of 190 000 troops, including military hardware, logistics, supplies,” Koffler said.
Initial invasion of Ukraine
On Feb. 21, Putin announced Russian recognition of two eastern Ukrainian breakaway regions in Ukraine, the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Luhansk People’s Republic. The move brought the first round of NATO sanctions against Russia and growing concern that an invasion of Ukraine was imminent.
Undeterred by Western threats, Putin launched his invasion of Ukraine three days later and sent in many of his troops on a mission for the “demilitarisation and denazification” of Ukraine.
Within minutes of Putin’s announced invasion, explosions could be heard in major Ukrainian cities such as Kyiv, Kharkiv and Odessa. Reports quickly circulated that Russian troops had landed in the crucial coastal city of Mariupol, while observers closely followed large units of Russian forces making a beeline for the capital.
Heavy fighting broke out across the country and eventually spilled into Kyiv, while the Russian air force continued its bombardment of major cities and key infrastructure across the country. Many analysts expected the outmatched Ukrainian military to quickly fold under the pressure, but the country’s resistance to the invasion proved more fierce than what had been predicted.
“Putin’s plan failed,” Koffler said. “Ukrainians displayed an unparalleled will to fight against a much more powerful opponent. Ukraine’s President Zelenskyy chose to stay and fight with his people instead of accepting the West’s offers to evacuate him. What was supposed to be a 5-7 day blitzkrieg turned into a 10-month-long bloodbath, with no end in sight.”
Billions worth of Western money and weapons continued to flow into Ukraine, giving their seemingly outmatched forces a chance to fend off the offensive. By April, Russian forces in the north began a retreat and reorganization of forces, while Ukraine maintained control of its capital.
“A charismatic Ukrainian leader was able to secure billions of dollars in Western security assistance, including sophisticated weaponry, that allowed Ukraine, not only to defend many of its positions but also to re-capture some of the territories occupied by the Russians,” Koffler said. “Ukrainian forces also benefited from superior training, real time intelligence, and other types of support provided by the U.S. and NATO.”
Putin’s new strategy
Having failed to quickly end the war, Russia reorganized its forces and shifted its focus to the southern and eastern portions of Ukraine. Ukrainian forces were put on the defensive across multiple fronts as the Russians secured key cities and infrastructure and amassed heavy forces with an eye towards maintaining an occupation of areas in Kherson and Donbas.
“Putin replaced multiple commanders and changed his strategy,” Koffler said. “He concentrated his forces on Eastern Ukraine, having annexed four regions – Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson – clearing doctrinal path to the employment of nuclear weapons, in the event that Russian forces were unable to prevail conventionally.”
Heavy fighting continued in the east and south throughout the spring and deep into the summer, while Putin shifted gears toward targeting critical infrastructure in a bid to weaken the will of Ukraine’s civilian population.
“Moscow also launched ‘Strategic Operation to Defeat Critical Infrastructure of the Adversary,’ a war fighting doctrine, developed on Putin’s orders a decade ago as part of the plan to restore control over post-Soviet states, which Russia views as part or its strategic security perimeter – Putin’s version of the Monroe Doctrine,” Koffler said.
Russia turned another Western adversary, Iran, to help sustain the new strategy, with the Kremlin purchasing hundreds of “kamikaze drones” and other unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) from Tehran that have been used to target Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure.
The cooperation in Ukraine has seemingly deepened ties between Iran and Russia, with Tehran going so far as to send military advisers to Crimea to train Russian forces on the use of the UAVs.
However, bolstered by continued U.S. and allied security assistance, Ukraine showed little sign that it was willing to give up on the regions, with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy vowing to retake the territories currently occupied by Russian forces, including the long-held Crimean Peninsula.
“Crimea is Ukrainian, and we will never give it up,” Zelenskyy said during an August address.
Ukrainian forces launch massive counteroffensive
Zelenskyy showed he intended to make good on that promise by the end of August, launching a Ukrainian counteroffensive that suddenly put Russian forces on the defensive for the first time in months.
Ukrainian forces attacked long-held Russian positions across the south and eastern regions of Ukraine with fierce flighting that eventually led to Ukraine regaining control of large areas it had lost in the months before.
“Zelenskyy mounted a blistering counter-offensive, in which Ukrainian forces recaptured approximately 5% of the 20% of Ukraine’s territory occupied by the Russians,” Koffler said.
The offensive also worked to reignite international support for Ukraine, ushering in a renewed round of security assistance to assist Ukrainian forces in maintaining the offensive.
“He continued to galvanize the West to help his country defeat the Russian occupiers,” Koffler said of the Ukrainian leader.
The Ukrainians had also once again dealt a large blow to Putin’s war plan, forcing the Russian leader to bring more new troops to the fight as heavy Russian casualties mounted.
“Putin drafted an additional 318,000 troops, having invoked a partial mobilization, the first since World War II,” Koffler said.
The offensive also forced Putin to admit that the conflict could be a protracted one, which would require the government to increase its funding for the effort.
“Putin publicly acknowledged that Russia is in it for the long haul, having raised Russia’s defense budget for 2023 to $84 billion, a 40% increase,” Koffler said. “Military age Russian men are fleeing by the thousands to escape mobilization.”
Meanwhile, crippling international sanctions proved to be an obstacle to Russia’s aims, limiting Putin’s ability to resupply his forces with gear and munitions while applying pressure on him politically.
“The West placed draconian sanctions on Russia, Russian businesses, oligarchs and even Putin’s family,” Koffler said. “The U.S. and European governments placed price caps on Russian oil, to hamper Putin’s ability to finance his war on Ukraine.”
The road ahead
As Zelenskyy made his historic trip to the White House to meet with Biden this week, the future of the war in Ukraine remains as uncertain as ever. While the Ukrainian leader appealed for greater assistance, the U.S. is seeking to balance its continued support with Ukraine while attempting to avoid risking further escalation with Putin.
“Putin feels cornered – he cannot accept defeat,” Koffler said. “It would mean not only loss of face for an arrogant West-bashing former spy operative, but most importantly, an anti-Russian neighbor, with which his country shares 1,400 miles border – which likely will host NATO forces, Russia’s top perceived adversary.”
Zelenskyy’s trip came as Biden announced an additional $1.8 billion in security assistance in Ukraine, which will for the first time will include Patriot missile systems Kyiv has long coveted. It also comes as Congress appears poised to sign off on an additional $45 billion in aid for Ukraine, a development Koffler believes will make it hard for Russia to achieve its war aims.
“Putin cannot win either so long as NATO continues to ramp up its supplies of long range missiles to Ukraine,” Koffler said. “He is probably mulling two options: 1) a protracted war of attrition – which suites his definition of victory because so long as there’s an active conflict in Ukraine, it cannot become part of NATO – Putin’s red line; 2) Russia’s escalate-to-de-escalate nuclear strategy to shock Ukraine into submission and to disorient the West, at least temporarily and abandon support for Kyiv.”
During Zelenskyy’s address to a joint meeting of Congress Wednesday, the Ukrainian leader stressed the importance of supporting Ukraine now, arguing that Russia’s aggression could eventually threaten NATO allies or even the U.S. homeland.
“The struggle will define in what world our children and grandchildren will live,” Zelenskyy said. “This battle cannot be frozen or postponed, it cannot be ignored hoping that [an] ocean or something else will provide protection.”
He also pointed to Russia’s renewed partnership with Iran, warning the two “terrorist” countries cooperation threatens the rest of the world.
“When Russia cannot reach our cities by its artillery, it tries to destroy them with missile attacks and allies in the genocidal policy with Iran,” Zelenskyy said. “Iran has become a critical threat to our infrastructure. The terrorists have found each other.”
As the war continues into 2023, Koffler does not see an end to the stalemate in sight, instead characterizing the war as a “frozen conflict.”
“There’s no military path to victory either by Ukraine or by Russia in this conflict.” Koffler said. “Ukraine cannot win because it doesn’t have nuclear weapons and Russia does.”
However, Koffler noted that despite Russia’s view that Ukraine is a critical buffer between itself and NATO, a path to victory for Russia will also remain elusive.
“Moscow cannot win this war, militarily so long as the U.S. and Europe continue to supply lethal military hardware to Ukraine,” Koffler said. “But if NATO deployed forces into the theater – the only way to defeat Russia, conventionally — Putin will authorize a tactical nuclear strike in Ukraine. Biden knows this, this is why he announced in the beginning of this was that the U.S. will not deploy troops to fight on Ukraine’s behalf.”
Koffler also expressed pessimism at the chances the sides could reach a diplomatic solution to end the conflict, arguing that the terms of such a solution would likely be unacceptable to both sides.
“This is rapidly turning into Afghanistan 2.0,” Koffler said. “My assessment is that 2-5 years from now, there will still be fighting on the ground in Ukraine. Even if some sort of a deal is brokered eventually — which I see no chance of right now — it will not bring ultimate peace because neither side trusts the other.
“The U.S. national security apparatus believes Putin would attack a NATO country if he is allowed to win in Ukraine— a nonsensical conclusion, given that the Russian military is failing to secure a clear military victory in Ukraine,” she continued. “And Putin will never trust Washington – he knows that its goal is to remove him from power and to orchestrate Russia’s collapse.”
However, Zelenskyy stressed the opposite in his speech, arguing that helping Ukraine achieve victory over Russia is a critical element to the defense of democracy around the world.
“Your money is not charity,” he said. “It’s an investment in the global security and democracy that we handle in the most responsible way.”