by Raffaele Crocco

Two days before the end of the year, 24 civilians were killed and hundreds injured in Russia. The next day, 50 Ukrainian civilians were killed. The carnage has not stopped. As 2023 has passed, the number of civilian casualties in the war between Russia and Kyiv has accelerated. The list is now long. Attacks are increasingly taking place on a large scale, even far from the front line.

Vladimir Putin’s rage at the snubs he has suffered is translating into death and destruction everywhere. After the Ukrainian attack on Belgorod on 30 December, he called for revenge: “They want to scare us, create insecurity in the Country. We will step up the attacks.” So the regions of Kyiv, Kharkiv, Kherson and Mykolaiv, were attacked with everything that could fly: Iranian Shahed drones, 100 missiles, including cruise missiles and Kinzhal ballistic and hypersonic missiles, launched by 6 Tu-95MS bombers and MiG-31k supersonic interceptors. In addition to the dead, 250,000 people were left without light or heating.

Week 97 of the Russian invasion of Ukraine shows us a picture we saw last year. Putin wants to use the cold and hunger of the harsh Ukrainian winter to break people’s resistance. Is he succeeding? It is difficult to measure the impact of Putin’s massive bombardment. The quality of Ukrainian air defences has certainly improved this year, forcing Moscow to sacrifice men and machines. But Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy recently admitted that after nearly 23 months of war, “many Ukrainians have lost their sense of existential threat.” Words that indicate a certain internal breakdown. 

Meanwhile, the military offensive to regain lost territory has essentially ground to a halt. The fighting has become a long war of attrition, with thousands of casualties on both sides. According to the British Ministry of Defence, Grant Shapps, if things continue as they are, Russia “will have lost around 500,000 people in the war next year.” A frightening figure, to which at least 350,000 Ukrainians must be added, according to estimates.

Signs point to a US strategy shift towards Zelenskyy. The White House is proposing a different approach that would push Ukraine towards a more defensive and consolidated stance, involving the construction of fortifications and the strengthening of its air defence capabilities. The aim is to consolidate Kyiv’s position in future negotiations, which, according to Washington, “remain the only way to end this war. We want to make sure that when that happens, Ukraine will come out ahead.”

According to the Institute for the Study of War in Washington, an attempt to distance Europe from Ukraine could be Putin’s response. How? By negotiating with some Countries and convincing others of the danger of direct – and military – confrontation with Moscow. It is no coincidence that the Russian President insists on saying that the war is no longer just with Kyiv, but has been transformed into Russia’s fight against the West, with all the dangers and pitfalls that may entail. It is a thesis that many Countries in the world seem ready to accept and share. Whether Europe will fall into this trap remains to be seen. So far, it seems not.

Several EU Countries have reaffirmed their pledges, particularly in the area of military aid, which remains important. For instance, Kyiv received a shipment of 780 tanks in just the first half of 2023. Britain, through prime minister Rishi Sunak, told Volodymyr Zelenskyy that the UK would “continue to stand firmly by Ukraine throughout 2024.” London is considering further military supplies. To date, Britain has pledged £4.6 billion in military spending to defend Ukraine against Russian invasion. It’s a huge amount, destined to be consumed in the vast crucible of war.