RIGA - Decisive events could take place in regards to the war started by Russia in Ukraine next year, but the possibility that hostilities will continue until 2024 cannot be ruled out, Latvian military and security experts told LETA.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky announced this week that his country's defense and security forces are preparing for 2023, which should be decisive in the war against Russia.
Raimonds Graube, the former commander of the Latvian National Armed Forces, believes that this winter and next spring will be very decisive. This is the time when the Ukrainians have the opportunity to maintain the initiative, but during this time the Russians can officially declare war and introduce a general mobilization, making what is happening in Ukraine a different kind of warfare.
Graube predicted that negotiations between the parties may begin next year, even though Ukraine may not have recovered all of its territories, such as Crimea.
"Military recovery of Crimea would be a very, very difficult military operation, given the geography of Crimea and Russia's attitude towards it in an ideological and constitutional sense. In my opinion, it is difficult to do, but if it is carried out, it can really create some preconditions for a nuclear conflict. I think that all sides understand this, and I would predict that there will be some kind of negotiations about Donetsk and Luhansk, because militarily they can be liberated much easier than Crimea," Graube stressed.
Former Minister of Defense Artis Pabriks (For Latvia's Development) expressed that he would like to believe that the next year will be quite decisive, when Russia's and Putin's hopes of obtaining Western concessions regarding support for Ukraine will be dashed.
"I think that this breaking point will not happen in the first half of the year, because at this time Putin is still hoping for a cold winter to help influence the war in his favor, the weakness of the West and the breakdown of the Ukrainians. If it doesn't happen like this, then we can hope for some changes in the summer," predicted Pabriks.
From a logical point of view, if the Ukrainians demonstrate sufficient capabilities, then Russia should change tactics, the former minister admitted. At the same time, it cannot be ruled out that Putin's authoritarian regime is acting illogically and, despite a breaking point in the war, the regime does not care and continues the war in some form.
Pabriks believes that as the war continues, Russia's capabilities should decline. "The first half of the year could create a turning point in favor of Ukraine, but there are several necessary preconditions to stop the war and bring the Russians to the negotiating table and allow the Ukrainians to regain sovereignty over all their territories. I don't see how the events in the battle field could turn in favor of Russia, even with Iranian support and maybe partial support from China," said Pabriks.
Pabriks is sure that Western aid to Ukraine will not decrease, but can only increase, taking into account that the capabilities of the Western defense industry will also increase.
It is difficult to say whether the Ukrainians will succeed in regaining wider Russian-occupied territories in the east of the country and Crimea next year, but Pabriks thinks that it will be determined by military and negotiation factors. He believes that Ukraine should recover Crimea. Maybe it won't happen in a quick military attack and in one day, but currently Zelensky and Ukrainian society cannot accept that Crimea is not returned to them, but the Western world has no argument why the Ukrainians should not demand the return of Crimea.
Pabriks did not deny that Russia will try to present Crimea as a sacred symbol that cannot be returned at any price, but the West and Ukraine must not "fall into a trap" in this matter.
Home Guard staff officer, Major Janis Slaidins said that it is difficult to say whether the next year will be militarily decisive, but there will certainly be some changes on the battlefield and in political negotiations.
Currently, there is no indication that cardinal changes are possible in the next three or four months, as it is observed that the Russians are preparing for the continuation of the war and are organizing the training of their forces in Belarus. The Russians need time, so to a large extent they are currently conducting defensive operations in order not to cede territory to Ukraine. If these territories are preserved, they may again serve as a springboard for a potential Russian attack in the future.
Although some Ukrainian military personnel have expressed an optimistic view on the possibilities of regaining Crimea in the next year, this is still a "dry statement", the major assessed.
The war will be decided by the soldiers and much will depend on the terrain, meteorological conditions and the supplies of the Western countries. Without sufficient help from Western countries, Ukraine will not be able to maintain high intensity combat. Also, political events in other parts of the world can introduce their own adjustments, for example, the activities of China and the development of the situation between Kosovo and Serbia, the expert pointed out.
Slaidins still sticks to his prediction, expressed to LETA in October, that Russia will officially declare war on Ukraine at some point, but it will depend on the situation at the front. A declaration of war would allow Russia to mobilize additional resources. Moreover, it is already evident that Russian propaganda is preparing the population for such a situation, and it is known that the propagandists do nothing without the Kremlin's instructions.
"On Russian television, it can already be seen that mobilization is being prepared and there are talks about ''a holy war - all for the front, all for victory". These are factors that show that the Russians are preparing for this kind of turning point," assessed Slaidins.
Former National Armed Forces commander Juris Dalbins is sure that the next year will be decisive, because it can be seen that the Russians are trying to concentrate their forces and find opportunities to end this war in their favor, but for Ukraine, victory is the only chance to preserve its independence.
"Currently, this is a period that is very important for how both sides will prepare their military resources and plan the next operations. I agree with what the Ukrainians said that the next year will be decisive for them, because they are not ready to lose," emphasized Dalbins.
If Ukrainians do not create opportunities to regain their territories, including Crimea, then overall victory in this war cannot be achieved. At the same time, it can be seen that Russia is not ready to back down from its ambitions and wants to keep these territories. "The West must do everything necessary for the Ukrainians to achieve their goals and win this war. Then this conflict would also end at the negotiating table like any other war," added Dalbins.
Dalbins, like Slaidins, called to also look at events in other parts of the world, namely Russia's "long hand" in Serbia, in order to divide the attention of the West and reduce support for Ukraine.
"Russia will carry out any intelligence and influence operations to divide the US, NATO and EU support for Ukraine. Taiwan should also be taken into account, because in this region it will be decided who will be the world's number one and two superpowers," Dalbins emphasized.
The commander of the 1st Riga Brigade of the Latvian Home Guard, Colonel Kaspars Pudans, doubts whether the war can be ended in the near future, even though Ukraine currently has much more initiative and advantages. At the same time, the Ukrainians have too much to recover, but successful operations like Kherson and Kharkiv may not be repeated because the Russian front is now shorter.
From the Russian side, it will be important how they will be able to mobilize resources, because everything has not yet been sent to the front. On the other hand, for the Ukrainian side, continuous support from the West will be important, but ammunition supplies will be decisive. Ammunition is also an important factor for the Russian side, which also expects support from its allies.
Pudans doesn't really believe in a military solution at the moment. If both sides continue to insist on their strategic goals, then there is no final solution in sight, and only if one side deviates from these goals can the war end with diplomatic solutions. If each side wants to continue to achieve these goals only through military means, then this war will continue.
Pudans drew attention to the fact that Russia has not yet carried out a comprehensive mobilization of personnel and industry. "They would have the resources, but the question is whether the Russians would be ready to go "all the way" only for targets in Ukraine, as this can weaken the resources for other imagined threats and risks," Pudans emphasized.
The recovery of wider territories, including Crimea, by military means will be difficult to implement in the near future, because the Russian side has prepared for it and will strengthen not only the front lines, but also the depth of the territories. "Now the front is smaller, the Ukrainians no longer have the advantages they had before, when they could impact the long Russian supply lines. First of all, Crimea should be reached, and the Ukrainians should occupy the left bank of the Dnieper, the rest of the Kherson region, and also the Zaporizhia region in order to have security for flanks. Secondly, what makes me doubt the ease of such an operation is the naval factor, that is, unfortunately, Ukraine does not have sufficient naval capacity," Pudans said.
The parliamentary secretary of the Ministry of the Interior, retired colonel Igors Rajevs (United List) stated that the next year could be decisive in the war, but he had read some theoretical research that the war could end next summer or in the summer of 2024 with a peace settlement. "Or there is another option that the war can continue for an infinite time, moving from the active phase to the one we saw from 2014 until February of this year," Rajevs emphasized.
In his view, the war can end with the victory of both Russia and Ukraine. In order for the Russians to win, they need significantly more forces, which means that Putin has to carry out a much wider mobilization, in which case the potential of military capabilities would be significantly tilted in favor of Russia. On the other hand, if Putin does not carry out a wider mobilization, but the West arms Ukraine with new and modern weapons in significantly larger quantities, in that case the potential of military capabilities will shift in favor of Ukraine and then Ukraine has a chance to win this war, the politician assessed.
"If the situation remains as it is now, then, unfortunately, we will most likely see a war for the whole next year and possibly even longer. In that case, it would end with an incomprehensible peace settlement, which would have the same unclear consequences as the Minsk agreement," Rajevs emphasized.
The recovery of wider territories, including Crimea, by military means is currently unlikely, as Ukraine does not have sufficient military capacity, Rajevs assessed, adding that - in order for the Ukrainians to win, more help of Western countries is needed. Not trickle-down aid, as before, but substantial arms supplies.
Rajevs noted that more complex weapon systems such as the Patriot require a longer training period, but there are other simpler weapon systems such as howitzers, tanks, combat vehicles that can be learned much faster.
"If nothing significantly changes, then we will see that the war will continue for at least a year or a year and a half, until both sides finally weaken their forces and then conclude some kind of peace settlement," Rajevs added.