by Raffaele Crocco

625 days have passed since the Russian invasion of Ukraine. In the persistent and blunt silence of diplomacy, one wonders: is anyone winning this war that is destroying lives, resources, territory and hopes? When you read the reports of the intelligence services and the agencies, it jumps out at you that no, no one is winning. Both belligerents are losing this war.

Kyiv, for example: the situation appears difficult, in some ways rough. As you can read in the French newspaper Le Monde on the ground, the announced and very long military offensive has led to the recapture of about 400 square kilometres of territory, compared to the 100,000 square kilometres still in Russian hands. The army has shown incredible resilience, but is now in trouble. Recruiting new fighters is proving difficult, and weapons from Europe and the United States, essential to resist, arrive very late. Regaining lost ground appears to be a pipe dream and major problems are emerging. On the external front, Europe is beginning to split, with Slovakia announcing that it will no longer supply arms and Poland and Hungary distancing themselves. From the European chancelleries, the weariness of this war is becoming increasingly evident.

Domestically, President Zelensky faces a devastating economic crisis. Public debt is soaring, inflation is rising, and the national budget is facing a 27 billion euro deficit. At the same time, an institutional political crisis is looming: presidential elections are due in March 2024, and Zelensky has announced that he wants to postpone them. “This is not the time – he said – to organise elections. Now is the time for Ukrainians to think about protecting the state and not disintegrating into a thousand political disputes.” It was a statement that provoked negative reactions in Ukraine and among the President’s European allies.

If Kyiv cries, Moscow does not laugh. Russia now controls an infinitely larger territory than before. But it is de facto useless territory, inhabited by basically hostile peoples, with only one virtue: it directly connects Moscow to the Crimean peninsula. The price paid by the Kremlin has been very high in military terms, with hundreds of thousands of casualties and the weakening of the entire military machine. For British intelligence, Russia faces strategic choices about the use of resources and manpower. Moscow may be forced to deplete other borders militarily. An official document says: “Following last week’s reported losses of several Russian long-range surface-to-air missiles (SAMs), new analysis suggests that in order to maintain cover over Ukraine, Russia will most likely have to redeploy SAMs that normally protect distant parts of Russia. As they are positioned in strategic locations and along the Russian borders, their removal would weaken air defence in peripheral areas.”

The paper concludes by stating that “the redeployment of strategic air defence elements would further demonstrate how the conflict in Ukraine continues to stretch Russia’s defences and challenge its ability to maintain basic defences across the vast expanse of its territory.” Moreover, the war has confirmed that Russia is a second-rate power with a fragile economy and an over-reliance on fossil fuel exports. Indeed, this war is turning Moscow into a vassal of Beijing: if China decides to reduce its imports of Russian oil and gas, that would be the end of Moscow.

In short, no one is winning, at least on the ground, and certainly the thousands of civilians continue to lose, being massacred by bombs and rockets, having to endure another winter in the freezing cold, or being forced to flee and abandon their homes. They are the real protagonists of this protracted war that no one knows how to end.