The expansive frontline between Russia and Ukraine has barely moved in almost a year and the Israel- Hamas conflict is intensifying every day threatening to spill over into a broader regional conflict, shifting the world's attention from this contracted conflict.
So much so that Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky was recently forced to admit that the war in the Middle East is "taking away the focus" from the conflict in Ukraine. However, he is refusing to admit that Ukraine's war with Russia had reached a "stalemate."
Although in a recent interview Ukraine's commander-in-chief, General Valery Zaluzhny, told the Economist that the battlefield reminds him of the great conflict of a century ago. "Just like in the First World War, we have reached the level of technology that puts us into a stalemate."
"There will most likely be no deep and beautiful breakthrough," he added.
It is safe to assume that the war which is in its 89th week will extend into the upcoming year. With no end in sight to the conflict and the world's eyes moving away, questions like what happens to Ukraine now and have their allies abandoned them are being asked.
Honours even on the war front
Since the summer, Ukrainian forces have taken back only a sliver of land; Russia still controls nearly one-fifth of the country. The Ukrainians are on the defensive in some areas, such as around Avdviika and Vuhledar in Donetsk and near Kupyansk in Kharkiv, as Russia pours munitions and men into the battle.
"Four months should have been enough time for us to have reached Crimea, to have fought in Crimea, to return from Crimea and to have gone back in and out again," General Zaluzhny told the Economist.
Instead, it has been impossible to breach Russia's strong and well-entrenched defences. Even when dense minefields are breached, often at great cost, the Russians restore them quickly by remote minelaying.
Up until now, Ukraine has primarily depended on munitions stockpiles acquired from partner countries before 24 February 2022. However, these supplies are not infinite and are already running low. "The bottom of the barrel is now visible," noted NATO's most senior military official, Admiral Rob Bauer, in early October.
Although there are some indications of progress (such as ramping up production of its supplies) in addressing Ukraine's munitions supply problems, it will likely take several months before any significant breakthroughs are made.
Due to the intense artillery fire spanning the 850-kilometre front line of the war, it is highly unlikely that Ukraine's projected production will be able to meet its needs until the second half of 2024 or early 2025.
According to Oleksandr Kamysyhin, the minister for strategic industries of Ukraine, Ukraine is delivering locally produced munition to the battlefield but declined to disclose any specific figures when speaking to the global media. He further went on to claim artillery ammunition production has increased by 20 times in the last 10 months. However, without the original figures, these claims mean little.
The Ukrainian military has faced shell shortages for quite some time, and they have had to come up with improvised solutions repeatedly during the first 20 months of the war.
The recent offensive by Russia near Avdiivka in eastern Ukraine serves as a reminder that Putin maintains significant territorial ambitions in Ukraine that have yet to be realised. There is a possibility that he may attempt to capture additional territory in the upcoming months.
It is highly unlikely that purely defensive operations will be enough to satisfy the Russian premier. This is primarily because there is an election coming up in 2024 and, as a result, he will be eager to demonstrate his strength.
The Russian commanders do not seem to be worried about incurring heavy losses. Considering this, it is important to acknowledge the significant size of the Russian army and the continued advantage it holds in terms of overwhelming firepower.
From the start of Ukraine's counteroffensive, Ukrainian soldiers came under heavy fire from Russian helicopters. Russian jets attacked Ukrainian towns and positions with missiles from a safe distance. Russia's aerial superiority is rather evident.
The promised F-16s from the US must live up to the hype for Ukraine to level the playing field.
General Zaluzhny has acknowledged that the Russian military who have lost well over 100,000 men according to many estimates has learnt from their losses and adapted accordingly. It has improved logistics chains, factories are churning out new hardware and its electronic warfare capabilities have blunted Ukraine's edge in precision munitions.
The general believes that it would take a massive technological leap to break the deadlock.
However, BBC Russia reported a loss of at least 35,000 men in the Russian military since February 2022. According to the most conservative estimate, by the beginning of this month, Russia could have lost 72,650 people. This number does not include those who fought against Ukraine as part of the military units of the self-proclaimed DPR and LPR.
Unlike Ukraine, Russia is not expected to experience significant shortages of munitions in 2024. Putin has been diligently working for over a year to transition a significant portion of the Russian economy towards a state of preparedness for war. Although this process has not been flawless, it is yielding positive outcomes.
Russia's 2024 budget includes a significant increase in military spending, which, when combined with other measures, will ensure that Putin's troops have sufficient supplies for the upcoming year.
"Russia will maintain an advantage in armaments, equipment, rockets and ammunition for some time," Ukraine's Commander in Chief Zaluzhny admitted to The Economist.
Even though all of Russia's military gains have been slim and come at a heavy cost. They have Ukraine beat at the numbers game and don't rely so heavily on foreign aid.
Aid flow: Likely to slow down and go down
The EU has announced a new €50 billion multi-year support package to be delivered through 2027, which doubles total EU commitments. In addition, there have been important new multi-year commitments from individual European countries, in particular a four-year military support package of Germany worth €10.5 billion (2024–2027) and Norway's "Nansen Support Program" worth €6.6 billion over five years.
Additional multi-year packages were committed by Denmark, the UK, Switzerland, Sweden, Portugal and Lithuania.
The United States has provided Kyiv with more than $43 billion worth of security assistance since the beginning of the war.
US, the largest provider of military assistance to Ukraine, earlier this month announced a new $425 million military assistance package for Ukraine. The package features air defence, artillery munitions and anti-tank weapons and will be funded via the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative (USAI).
That means it will not immediately arrive on the battlefield, as the munitions need to be procured from the defence industry or partners, rather than drawn from American stockpiles. The package "exhausts the remaining USAI funds currently available to support Ukraine," said the Pentagon.
But is this enough?
In recent months, the people of Kyiv have been increasingly concerned as the matter of ongoing US military aid to Ukraine has become entangled in domestic American politics. The sentiment regarding the war is shifting in Ukraine's biggest ally United States, both in Congress and among the general public.
According to a new Gallup poll, 41% of Americans believe the US is doing too much to help Ukraine, up from 29% just five months ago. As the 2024 election approaches, that figure rises to 55% among Republicans, according to the poll.
The stalemate on Capitol Hill has also halted the flow of military aid to Ukraine. The Biden administration's efforts to link a year's worth of aid ($24 billion) to other funding priorities, such as aid to Israel, have met with stiff opposition from Republicans in Congress.
As the United States approaches an election year, there is growing concern among Ukrainians that the delivery of weapons from the United States may face potential delays or disruptions.
Republican Senator JD Vance, who has opposed additional aid to Ukraine, said Thursday, "This was always going to end with Russia controlling some Ukrainian territory and a negotiated settlement."
Speaking of his latest visit to Washington in September, Zelensky told TIME that some members of Congress "asked me straight up: 'If we don't give you the aid, what happens?' What happens is we will lose."
Zelensky and other Ukrainian officials have repeatedly warned that the volume and type of aid coming from Western allies, as well as what they see as damaging delays in its arrival, has allowed Ukraine to stay in the fight but not win.
The situation across the Atlantic appears to be more promising, as many of Ukraine's European partners seem prepared to increase arms shipments.
However, the European Union's vows to supply one million artillery shells to Ukraine by March are falling short, with countries supplying only 250,000 shells from stocks — a little more than one month of Ukraine's current rate of fire.
Robert Fico, a former prime minister with pro-Russian leanings, emerged victorious in the recent elections held in Slovakia. The election campaign in Poland has been fiercely contested, highlighting the strained relationship with Kyiv, which is one of Ukraine's strongest allies.
Germany is experiencing a surge in far-right opposition to assisting in Ukraine's war effort.
EU is planning to increase funding to Ukraine by €50 billion ($53.4 billion) before the end of the year to shore up Kyiv's depleted public finances. However, Hungary is against the plan which will require support from all members of the block. Their Prime Minister Viktor Orban has said Ukraine is "in no way ready" to join the bloc, signalling he will create a roadblock at EU's December talks.
The uncertainty surrounding weapons deliveries will significantly impact Ukraine's military strategy and may result in a more cautious approach as commanders strive to preserve their limited resources
Things are looking rather bleak for Ukraine as many believe support for Ukraine has already reached its peak and it is all downhill from here. Despite Zelensky putting a brave face in public, TIME quotes a Ukrainian president's aide as saying Zelensky feels "betrayed by his Western allies. They have left him with no means to win the war, only to survive it."