Two Years Of Russia-Ukraine War: What Will Happen Next – Analysis


By He Jun

February 24, 2024, marked the second anniversary of the Russia-Ukraine war.

The war is still deadlocked, becoming one of the deadliest wars since the beginning of the 21st century. In terms of casualties, accurate data is difficult to count. According to data released by various parties, the number of direct deaths on both sides should exceed 100,000, and the total number of casualties may be between 800,000 and 1 million. Based on incomplete statistics, Russia controls about 17% of Ukraine’s territory. The war has displaced more than tens of millions of people in Ukraine, with as many as 6 million Ukrainians displaced abroad.

The economic losses caused by the war are enormous. According to Ukrainian estimates, this war has resulted in direct economic losses of up to USD 150 billion, equivalent to three-quarters of Ukraine’s GDP of USD 200 billion in 2021. If the collateral effects are considered, Ukraine’s economic losses and asset destruction could be astronomical. Russia has also suffered as well, with about USD 350 billion of its foreign exchange reserves frozen by the West’s sanctions. Due to thousands of economic sanctions from the West, Russia’s economy has become a semi-closed economy. The “denationization” effect may affect Russia’s future for a whole generation or two.

The war has destroyed many cities in Ukraine. Apart from the entire Crimea and most of the Donetsk region, many Ukrainian cities with populations of 500,000 such as Mariupol, 300,000 such as the North Donetsk-Luhansk urban agglomeration, 150,000 such as Melitopol, 75,000 such as Bakhmut, 130,000 such as Berdyans’k, and over 30,000 such as Avdiivka have been occupied by Russia or have become ruins.

As for the war itself, although Russia calls it a “special military operation”, there is no doubt that it is an aggressive war launched by Russia against the sovereign state of Ukraine. It is the second challenge posed by Russia to the world order formed after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the first being the forcible “recovery” of Crimea by Russia in 2014. From a geopolitical perspective, Russia has its reasons for launching this war. Due to the expansion of the U.S.-led NATO to the east after the end of the Cold War and the non-compliance with the Minsk agreements, Russian President Vladimir Putin feels that Russia’s geopolitical interests are under great threat. Therefore, he initiated this war to establish a non-NATO strategic buffer zone between Russia and the NATO bloc.

Once the war started, the situation became out of control. What was originally envisioned by Putin as a lightning-fast “special military operation” evolved into a protracted full-scale war between “Russia vs. Ukraine supported by Western countries”. It is now the largest-scale war with the highest casualties in Europe since World War II. The Russian military performed extremely poorly in this large-scale war, largely depleting the reputation established during World War II. Meanwhile, the Ukrainian army demonstrated resilient resistance in the early stages of the war and, with Western military assistance, withstood the attacks of hundreds of thousands of Russian troops.

However, if the war between major powers continues, it will consume national comprehensive strengths in long-term. Russia, with a population of 140 million, abundant energy resources, and a massive military-industrial complex, demonstrates much greater comprehensive strength than Ukraine, which has a population of over 40 million. Regarding this war, NATO adheres to the principle of not involving directly and only providing military assistance, while Ukraine essentially plays the role of a “war proxy” against Russia, although Ukrainians may not see it this way from their perspective of sovereignty. Looking at the war situation over the past two years, Western countries have clearly underestimated Russia’s resilience as a major power in war. So far, in the game where military casualties and military production capacity are the basic stakes, Russia has withstood the combined pressure from the Western world. After two years of war attrition, military aid from the entire West has begun to significantly slow down, with the risk of interruption. It is in this context that Ukraine failed in its resistance in Avdiivka, a military stronghold in eastern Ukraine, and had to withdraw from this strategic location.

The protracted war is changing Europeans’ attitudes, and pessimism is spreading in Europe. A survey conducted by the Berlin-based European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) found that only 10% of Europeans believe Ukraine will win the war, while 20% predict Russia’s victory. Nearly 40% of people believe that Ukraine must accept a “compromise settlement” and cannot reclaim all the territories occupied by Russia. The survey suggests that the EU must adopt a “fact-based” policy, distinguishing between a “peace negotiated” and a solution achieved on Russia’s terms.

As the war enters its third year with no end in sight, fatigue has become widespread in Western countries, and Europeans’ concerns are growing. The Russia-Ukraine war is increasingly viewed as an indefinite, endless “permanent war”. According to a report by the BBC, what is more frightening than death itself is the fatigue brought on by war. The BBC refers to this phenomenon as “Ukraine fatigue”, which refers to the gradual decrease in public sympathy and support for Ukraine among the partner countries that Kyiv relies on. On January 16, 2024, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy attended the annual meeting. It was reported that on that evening, Zelenskyy met with about 60 media leaders from around the world. After answering the last question, Zelensky left with a tired body. At this moment, as he passed through the room where dozens of global media leaders were sitting, the applause was sparse, and no one raised their phones anymore. The Russia-Ukraine war was an important topic at the 60th Munich Security Conference held from February 16 to 18, 2024. The theme was unusually designated as “Lose-Lose?” and the conference was filled with pessimism about the war.

The U.S., which provides the most support to Ukraine, is also facing an important variable. Due to the increasing possibility of Donald Trump returning to the White House, the U.S. may significantly change its policy towards NATO in the future, and may drastically reduce or even halt military aid to Ukraine. Once this situation occurs, its support given to Ukraine will be cut off, and the war will immediately become unsustainable. Although President Joe Biden has repeatedly stated that he will not stop aiding Ukraine under any circumstances, these political assurances will be null and void if he loses the election.

Yet, for the West, abandoning aid to Ukraine would be tantamount to admitting Russia’s victory, which is unacceptable for the U.S. and the entire Western world. This not only signifies a failure of the war and Western moral values but also poses a real geopolitical threat to European countries— the nuclear power Russia may once again pose a security threat to various European countries, and the nightmares of the Cold War may return. An article in The Atlantic recently stated, “by abandoning Ukraine in a fit of political incompetence, Americans will consent to the deaths of more Ukrainians and the further destruction of the country. We will convince millions of Europeans that we are untrustworthy. We will send a message to Russia and China too, reinforcing their frequently stated belief that the U.S. is a degenerate, dying power”. Such an outcome is unacceptable for the global interests and credibility of the U.S.

When will this war end? How will it end? All these remain unknown. Above the “nuclear equilibrium” baseline, as long as NATO does not directly intervene, based on the current situation, it will be difficult for significant changes to occur in the Russia-Ukraine war in the short term. Whether Western countries can continue to provide substantial military assistance to Ukraine, and the determination of the Ukrainian people in this war, all of these factors will affect the duration of the conflict. In the foreseeable future, both sides will face near-limit endurance, and whoever can persevere may gain more leverage in future negotiations.

Looking at the current situation, researchers at ANBOUND personally believe that negotiations may only come when both sides of the war feel they cannot sustain the conflict any longer. In the future, if negotiations occur, they are unlikely to entirely favor Ukraine’s conditions or Russia’s demands. For Ukraine, the present is an extremely difficult time. For Putin, he hopes to continue wearing down Western patience and determination through prolonged delay tactics. The biggest variable in the Russia-Ukraine war will be the outcome of the U.S. presidential election; if Trump wins, significant changes may occur in 2025. However, in 2024, it will still be a year of deadlock for both Russia and Ukraine, as well as for the West.

Final analysis conclusion:

The two-year-long Russia-Ukraine war is one of the great tragedies in human history. At least for the year 2024, there is no sign of an end to this tragedy, testing the confidence, national strength, and resilience of both sides in the conflict. Among the various influencing factors, the outcome of the U.S. presidential election may have a significant impact on the future of the war. Currently, whether it is Ukraine, Russia, the U.S., Europe, or even China, all are observing the progress and changes in the American domestic political landscape.

He Jun is a researcher at ANBOUND


Anbound Consulting (Anbound) is an independent Think Tank with the headquarter based in Beijing. Established in 1993, Anbound specializes in public policy research, and enjoys a professional reputation in the areas of strategic forecasting, policy solutions and risk analysis. Anbound's research findings are widely recognized and create a deep interest within public media, academics and experts who are also providing consulting service to the State Council of China.

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