Subjugating Ukraine and reshaping European security architecture remains Russia’s strategic objective.
Russia believes time is on its side in the war as Ukraine and its partners are less prepared to sustain a drawn-out conflict.
Russia plans to mobilise additional resources to support its military action, continuing the war into 2023.
The invasion of Ukraine, which began in the early hours of 24 February 2022, is a continuation of Russia’s almost nine-year-old aggression against Ukraine. Russia’s strategic objective − to subjugate Ukraine and thereby decisively reshape European security architecture − has not changed over time.
Russia is ready to continue raising the stakes in Ukraine through further mobilisation or expanding terror tactics against the civilian population.
As with the covert invasion of 2014, Russia’s plan to subjugate Ukraine in early 2022 was based on false assumptions and biased intelligence: Ukrainians’ will to defend, the combat capabilities of the Armed Forces and the widespread Western support for Kyiv were completely unexpected for Russia. A lack of alternative courses of action also aggravated the situation for the Russian Armed Forces. This was probably due to unusually rigid operational security requirements, which meant the headquarters of some of the units of the Russian Armed Forces deployed close to the Ukrainian border were unaware of the imminent invasion and did not prepare appropriate plans for combat support and combat service support for the invasion. The Russian Armed Forces’ plan to occupy Kyiv, overthrow the Ukrainian government and take control of the territory proved unfeasible, at least within the expected timeframe and with the units available.
Russia was much more ambitious in 2013-14 than the Kremlin officially admitted. According to EFIS’ information, Russia planned for the occupation of 11 Ukrainian regions.
Since realising the impracticability of the initial course of action, Russia has decisively adjusted its plans twice to avoid defeat and try to regain the initiative: first, in March and April 2022, by withdrawing from northern Ukraine and focusing on invading eastern and southern Ukraine, and second, in September, when Russia announced mobilisation. Both actions exemplify Russia’s readiness to escalate and, if necessary, change its plans. Russia is ready to continue raising the stakes in Ukraine through further mobilisation or expanding terror tactics against the civilian population. Whilst the use of tactical nuclear weapons in Ukraine is unlikely due to international opposition and low military effectiveness, Russia continues to keep the “nuclear card” on the table as an instrument of anti-Western leverage to instil fear of war and to dissuade Western nations from helping Ukraine.
The continued readiness of Western countries to support Ukraine is, therefore, crucial to raise the cost of continuing the war for Russia.
Russia believes that time is on its side in the war in Ukraine – the Kremlin’s mobilised reserves are being trained, lost military equipment is being replaced by weaponry stored in the mobilisation depots, and, at the same time, Russia is systematically destroying Ukraine’s critical civilian infrastructure, hoping to break the Ukrainians’ will to defend. Russia probably plans to deploy its mobilised reserves at the end of their training in the first half of 2023 in a new offensive. Despite the losses suffered and problems in producing war materials and new weapon systems, Russia intends to continue its military action against Ukraine in 2023. To this end, the Kremlin plans to mobilise additional human and industrial resources to support the military action, looking for opportunities to source arms and ammunition from other countries, such as Iran, Belarus and North Korea.
Russia’s strategic objectives remain unchanged despite military defeats; the subjugation of Ukraine, the erosion of Western unity and the transformation of European security remain at the core of Russia’s geopolitical ambitions. The Russia-Ukraine war will continue in 2023, given that Russia has so far lacked sincere interest in peace talks, as these would not ensure the fulfilment of the Kremlin’s strategic objectives. While Putin still seems to believe that time will play in Russia’s favour and he will be able to “bomb” Ukraine to the negotiating table, reality will dawn on the Kremlin sooner or later. The continued readiness of Western countries to support Ukraine is, therefore, crucial to raise the cost of continuing the war for Russia.