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War aims

War aims

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As the war in Ukraine grinds on, the chance of peace still seems far away.

Today, will 2023 be a year of escalation, resolution or more deadlock for the war in Ukraine?

***

As the world celebrated the start of a new year, Vladimir Putin and Volodymyr Zelensky each had a message.  

For Vladimir Putin, it was a wartime rallying cry…

[Clip of Vladimir Putin in his New Year Address]

For Volodymyr Zelensky, it was a vow to be victorious…

[Clip of Volodymyr Zelensky in his New Year Address]

At the end of last year, the US military estimated the war had killed or injured nearly 250,000 in total, including 40,000 civilians. 

Next month it will be a year since the war began, so how have priorities shifted since then?

***

Let’s start with the aggressor…

[Clip of Vladimir Putin in his New Year Address]

That was Russian president Vladimir Putin giving his annual New Year’s address. Every year millions tune in to watch their leader, but this one was different. This was a wartime rallying cry to the Russian people.

Putin was filmed standing in front of men and women wearing military uniform, all staring steely-eyed into the camera. 

His speech was combative and the message was clear: Russia will be victorious against its enemies: Ukraine, the West and NATO.

[Clip of Vladimir Putin in his New Year Address]

Putin spoke for nine minutes – the longest address of his 22 years in power. He devoted almost all that time to the conflict in Ukraine. However, not once did he call it a war, from the start it’s only ever been officially referred to as a “special military operation.”

It was full of the usual Kremlin disinformation: Russian troops are liberating Ukrainians from neo-Nazis, Russia is simply “defending [it’s] people” and that the West is “cynically using Ukraine and its people to weaken and split Russia.”

From the outset, Putin hasn’t publicly wavered from his ultimate goal: to topple Ukraine’s democratically elected government and make the country part of Russia.

His speech contained no hint of compromise and promised “ultimate victory.”

[Clip of drone attack in Kyiv]

“Ukraine says Russia has used so called ‘suicide drones’ which explode on impact and cause devastation. The US says Iran has agreed to sell several hundred of them to Moscow.”

CBS News

Russia’s use of kamikaze drones supplied by Iran is a symbol of a growing alliance between the two countries, which could tip things in Russia’s favour.

Perhaps it’s no surprise that in his New Year’s address Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky vowed 2023 would be “the year of return” for Ukraine. 

Both the return of people – soldiers, prisoners and refugees back home to their families – and the return of land occupied by Russia since 2014. 

President Zelensky has made it clear that without the return of that land, there’ll be no ceasefire.

But his government will be concerned about “Ukraine fatigue”. As the cost of living starts to bite for many in the West, allies may begin to reassess their support for Ukraine.

So far the United States has paid the lion’s share, sending nearly $50 billion to Ukraine… and that demand for humanitarian, financial and military support is only going to continue.

“Zelensky has shown himself to be a really excellent war leader, he’s a great cheerleader as well but the question of what they can achieve militarily and they’ve shown in the last year how well they can do on the battlefield, now all that depends on NATO support and especially what they get from the US.”

BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme

And it’s a rocket system supplied by the Americans that’s given Ukraine momentum in the war.

***

Minutes after Putin delivered his New Year’s address, Ukraine struck a barracks in an area that’s been controlled by Russia since 2014.

“Two minutes after midnight on New Year’s Day on a city in the Russian control part of the Donetsk region. The missile targeted a building in Makiivka where it’s thought hundreds of recently mobilised troops were stationed alongside an ammunition dump.”

Channel 4 News

Russia, which doesn’t normally confirm battlefield casualties, says 63 soldiers died. 

Ukraine puts the figure closer to 400. But this was definitely one of the deadliest known incidents involving Russian conscripts since the conflict began and it was carried out using that US-supplied rocket system.

Whilst the winter has not brought the stalemate some had predicted, it’s expected that crunch time will come in spring.

“[Russian] preparations for a possible new offensive are underway, Avangard supersonic missiles are being mobilised and on Friday, Moscow announced the second test launch of its most destructive conventional weapon popularly nicknamed Satan.”

Al Jazeera

Russian authorities remain optimistic but there’s a disconnect between what’s coming out of the Kremlin and the reality on the ground. 

Putin has so far failed to achieve his initial war aims, but neither has he given up in the face of a ferocious Ukrainian resistance.

As Russia calls up more troops, it’s clear Vladimir Putin is preparing for a long war. 

Conditions for a ceasefire are unlikely to be met in 2023 as neither Volodymyr Zelensky or Vladimir Putin are likely to back down. And as the war grinds on it affected global: food prices, energy supplies and the health of the world economy.

This episode was written by Rebecca Moore and Imy Harper. It was mixed by Rebecca Moore.