by Raffaele Crocco

The question of victims, of dead, wounded or missing soldiers, of civilians killed, remains central. On this day, number 640 in the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine, the number of casualties remains a mystery. There are those who suggest, using statistics, that the total number of victims may have reached half a million, on both sides. A monstrous number.

The evidence that this may indeed be the case, that the war is destroying the lives and hopes of thousands of people, is the behaviour of the contenders. This week it was reported that Kyiv is on the verge of passing a new law on general military mobilisation. It would extend conscription to other sections of the population. According to Oleksandr Zavitnevych, chairman of the Committee on Security and National Defence, the law is now on its way to approval. According to observers, this is a clear sign of the difficulties in which Ukraine finds itself: on the one hand, it is engaged in a counter-offensive to regain lost territory, which has not yielded the desired results, and on the other, it is forced to defend itself on the southern front, in the Zaporizhzhya region. The new law was also supposed to provide for the recruitment of people convicted of various crimes, students who had been exempted due to their excellent university results, and finally Ukrainian citizens who had served in the military of other countries before obtaining Ukrainian citizenship. At the same time, the hunt for deserters intensified, with fines and prison sentences for those who refused to fight.

Russia is certainly no better off. As was to be expected, the replacement of combatants is also becoming a central issue for Moscow. Many observers report that the Kremlin has recently ordered a large number of certificates for the families of war and combat veterans: this would be a sign of increased casualties in recent weeks. Moscow is also reportedly considering the wider use of women in the armed forces, including in combat roles.

The war is destroying lives and resources. Military supplies remain crucial, especially for Kyiv, which is relying on Europe and the United States to help it resist militarily. The fear that the war in the Near East, in Gaza, will divert attention and supplies is real. Ukrainian President Zelensky has asked for reassurances, frightened by rumours of ‘possible ally fatigue’. For the moment, he has received them, in the form of concrete commitments. Nato Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg began by assuring him that ‘we have shown that the Allies continue to support him’. Denmark and Belgium announced the imminent delivery of F16s. Germany approved a billion-dollar aid package. Canada and the UK pledged resources. US Defence Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III, on the other hand, spoke of a new $200 million package for various weapons.

In short, the war continues. On the battlefield, fierce clashes are taking place around Avdiivka, an industrial centre in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine. This is where Russia launched a massive offensive in October to take the city. According to military analysts, Moscow is deploying thousands of men, tanks and vehicles. It has taken an extraordinary effort from Ukraine’s armed forces to repel the attack. More civilians have died this week as a result of Russian shelling in the country’s south-eastern regions. At the same time, the Ukrainian counter-offensive to regain lost territory appears to have ground to a halt, just as the cold and rain are once again making life difficult for everyone.

An increasingly dramatic situation. It is difficult to imagine a diplomatic solution in the near future, despite the great news of Putin’s words, spoken while attending a G20 summit in India. Russian President Putin said it was necessary to think about how to end the ‘tragedy’ of the conflict in Ukraine and that Russia had never refused to take part in peace talks with Kyiv. In his speech, Putin also used the word ‘war’ to define what is happening for the first time since February 2022, putting an end to the term ‘special operation’. His words were greeted with interest by China and other countries, and with sarcasm by European chancelleries. Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni told German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Berlin that Russia could easily show it was working for peace “by withdrawing its troops from the territory it has invaded”. An officially agreed position. But under the ashes of the official statements, many assert, Europe’s weariness with a war that seems to have no end is growing.

To learn more, read our Ukraine conflict factsheet