by Raffaele Crocco

Almost two years after the beginning of the war, diplomacy is still inactive. The only political activity of the warring parties is the international search for economic allies and arms suppliers. The rest is non-stop fighting. Amid the bombing and civilian deaths, almost the whole of Ukraine is without electricity these days: which means it is freezing. As well as the risk of bombing and having to flee their homes, civilians face the threat of cold and lack of services. So what happens at the front remains the focus of reflection and analysis.

Weapons lead the game. British intelligence claims that in the last few days, the war has gone through two distinct and simultaneous phases: on the one hand there is total static, on the other there are “very gradual and localised Russian advances in key areas.” Where? “In the north, near Kupiansk,” the report says, “Russian Western forces continue to conduct large-scale but inconclusive offensive operations. In northern Donetsk oblast, Ukraine has maintained a stable front line in the face of small-scale Russian attacks around Bakhmut.” Elsewhere, in central Donetsk, the town of Avdiivka remains contested. The report reminds us that the ongoing war is almost 10 years old, with deaths occurring here since 2014. “Russian forces,” the British analysts write, “consolidated their advances near Marinka in late December 2023, advancing towards the western edge of the city after nine years of fighting in the area.” Finally, they mention the southern front: “Russian airborne forces are likely to have achieved minimal success in clearing the Ukrainian beachhead on the left bank of the Dnipro around the village of Krynky.”

So a military victory for either side is unlikely. According to international analysts, Russia is undoubtedly more militarily active at this stage, but without decisive results. On the contrary, the American Institute for the Study of War believes that the Russian army is incapable of any significant territorial conquest or re-conquest. In a document submitted to the Government, the Institute explains that, particularly in the Kharkiv area, “a Russian incursion 15 kilometres deep and several hundred kilometres wide would be an enormous operational undertaking. It would require a much larger and better-resourced force than the Russian forces currently concentrated along the entire international border with Ukraine, particularly in the Belgorod region.”

In short, at this stage, Putin does not have the means to order a final offensive that could bring him a military victory. And this is a problem for the Kremlin leader on the eve of the Russian presidential elections in March. Victory at the ballot box seems assured, but a protracted war without concrete results risks boomeranging. For international observers, this poses a real danger that Putin will decide to take drastic measures to end the war. How? With tactical nuclear weapons or with a chemical or bacteriological attack. This would be a catastrophic choice. It would open the door to apocalyptic scenarios and pave the way for the possibility of the US and NATO entering the fray. That would make a global war very likely.