Is the War in Ukraine over?

Military strategists, foreign policy experts, and Russian dissidents have analyzed the Russian invasion of Ukraine for Western audiences. How accurate are pundits who always introduce a slight slant to please a specific audience? Read between the lines, choose the best fit and two years of Putin’s “special military operation” looks like this…to me.

Initially, Russia sought to extend its borders to the Dnipro River, a natural dividing line, that would have incorporated Kyiv, Kharkiv, and possibly Odessa into the motherland.

The initial thrust brought a caravan of Russian tanks to the gates of Kyiv. Special forces entered Kyiv and Kharkiv to ascertain defensive strengths and civilian and military resistance to invasion. Moscow learned that the urban street-to-street fighting would be merciless. Unlike Mariupol, which is a heavily industrialized city with some Russian cultural artifacts, Kyiv and Kharkiv are associated with Russia’s cultural heritage and historical founding. Capturing the cities, as seen later from the fighting in Mariupol, would destroy the cities and inflict excessive casualties on both sides. Administrating the area would be difficult. The predicted number of casualties did not warrant the onslaught. Putin and his general staff took a step back and developed an alternative strategy — surround both cities, move in slowly, infiltrate, and hope that a starving and isolated population would eventually capitulate. Out in the open and facing deadly attacks, Russian soldiers died and began to surrender. Extending Russia to the Dnipro was not viable. The Russian forces retreated.

Technically, the Russians did not retreat; they realized an offensive was futile and stopped it at an incipient stage. Their forces vacated and moved to a strategic position — behind the lines of the Donbas battles and close to Russian territory. With the new strategy came a new goal — liberating the entire Donbas region, uniting southeastern Ukraine from Crimea to Zaporhizhia, and incorporating the Azov Sea coast from Rostov to Crimea. Most of those objectives had been accomplished before Ukraine started a counteroffensive that regained Kherson and halted the Russian advance in the south.

The Russian military built a defensive perimeter that allowed recapture of limited territory, stalled the Ukraine counteroffensive, caused heavy casualties to the Ukrainian military, and decisively injured the morale of Ukraine soldiers and civilian population.

Forming a defensive line requires more cooperation from military units than does starting an offensive. A stalled offense in one area may not affect an offensive in another area. Any weakness in the defenses affects the total defense. Prigozhin’s mercenary army’s offensive move and intent to occupy ground with troops rather than with mines endangered the defense line. Gen. Valery Gerasimov, Chief of the General Staff, acted decisively and removed the mercenary army from the battlefront.

With Ukraine weakened by its failed offense, Russia seized the offensive and made minor gains in the Donbass. Ukraine withdrew its forces from Avdivka and the Kremlin claimed control of the city. Its Defense Ministry said, “Capturing Avdivka would push the front line of the war farther from Donetsk city, making it more difficult for Ukraine to stage attempts to reclaim the regional capital.”

Summarizing the two years after Russian forces invaded Ukraine and we have:

(1)    Russia has almost accomplished the objectives of its secondary strategy.

(2)    Both nations realize that huge offensives to gain large territory are no longer feasible.

(3)    Sanctions against Russia have failed to stifle the economy or diminish Putin’s willingness to continue the war. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) forecasts Russia’s Gross domestic product to rise by 2.6 percent in 2024.

(4)    Ukraine’s ability to mount another offensive and regain territory is doubtful.

(5)    Civilian populations seem tired of the war and are operating as if there is no war.

The Future

The aggressive war with mass casualties has ended. The Russians want a little more of the Donetsk region and will extend their reach only if they know the battle will be successful and not incur excessive casualties. All is not quiet on the Eastern Front, but the war has a virtual armistice in which invisible lines are set by invisible contestants. Each side knows where it can walk without being challenged. Only the stubbornness of the leaders of the two nations prevents a formal armistice. Putin can claim victory and will remain President of Russia; not so, with President Volodymyr Zelensky. The war made Zelensky an internationally admired figure and brought attention to Ukraine. Zelensky has worn out his appearance, and without a war, he cannot lead. Expect his replacement in the near future.

The undeclared armistice will continue until the two nations realize that an undeclared armistice allows their soldiers and civilians to remain open to attack. Better to have a formal armistice and end hostilities. Several years later, a new Ukraine government will sense it is better to bite the bullet than face the bullet. The present battle lines will become territorial lines and Ukraine will pledge neutrality.

The nuclear threat will subside and the world will breathe easier until the next intrusion upon the free-loving people of the universe.

Dan Lieberman publishes commentaries on foreign policy, economics, and politics at  He is author of the non-fiction books A Third Party Can Succeed in America, Not until They Were Gone, Think Tanks of DC, The Artistry of a Dog, and a novel: The Victory (under a pen name, David L. McWellan). Read other articles by Dan.