1. The war will probably last at least a year, but it is essentially at a stalemate and its intensity is diminishing
Six months of war may have passed, but neither Ukraine nor Russia are ready to stop fighting, despite the losses they have suffered. Ukraine wants its occupied territories back, and Russia wants to continue inflicting suffering not only on its adversary but, by proxy, on the West as well. The Kremlin thinks winter will work to its advantage.
There have been no negotiations between the two sides since evidence emerged of massacres in Bucha, Irpin and elsewhere in the Russian-occupied territories north of Kyiv. But movement on the front lines has been minimal since the fall of Lysychansk in late June. Both sides struggle to gain momentum and look increasingly exhausted from the fight.
2. Ukraine has no means of effective conventional counterattack, while guerrilla raids are an optimistic way to precipitate a Russian collapse
Ukraine would like to retake Kherson, west of the Dnieper, but a senior administration official admitted privately that “we don’t have enough capacity to push them back.” Kyiv has shifted its strategy to mount long-range missile attacks and daring special forces raids on Russian bases deep behind the front lines.
Top presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said the aim was to ‘create chaos within the Russian forces’, but while this will blunt the effectiveness of the invader, it is unlikely to lead the invaders to collapse on themselves and to voluntarily concede Kherson, as some Ukrainian officials have hoped.
3. Russia still wants to fight its way out, but its focus will likely turn to retaining its gains and annexing Ukrainian territory
Russia has no new offensive plan other than to masse artillery, destroy towns and cities, and fight their way forward. It does so partly because it is effective, and partly to minimize casualties, having lost – by some Western estimates – 15,000 deaths so far. He continues to adopt this strategy around Bakhmut in the Donbass but progress is slow, in part because he has had to redeploy some forces to reinforce Kherson.
The Kremlin may not have achieved what it hoped for at the start of the war, but Russia now holds large swathes of Ukrainian territory to the east and south, and is actively talking about hold annexation referendums. With cooler weather fast approaching, he is likely to focus on consolidating what he has.
4. Winter will precipitate a new refugee crisis and create an opportunity for whoever can best prepare
Winter figures prominently in strategic thinking on both sides. Ukraine is already worried about humanitarian issues as there is no gas heating available for apartment buildings in Donetsk province and other frontline areas. A humanitarian official predicted that there would be a new wave of migration in winter, with perhaps up to 2 million people crossing the Polish border.
Russians see winter as an opportunity. Ukraine fears that Russia will target its energy grid, which would make its heating dilemma more acute, and could simply turn off the vast Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. Moscow also wants to prolong the West’s pain over energy costs and has every interest in increasing the pressure.
Spring, however, could be the time for a new attack – each side will want to replenish and prepare for what will likely be another fighting season.
5. The the west must decide whether it wants Ukraine to win or just hang on – and it must match humanitarian aid to the huge need
Ukraine would have been defeated without Western military aid. But at no time until now has the West provided enough artillery or other weapons, such as fighter, which would allow Kyiv to repel the invaders. Politicians speak of the need to force Russia to the pre-war borders but do not provide enough material to do so.
At the same time, Ukraine’s humanitarian needs are increasing. There is, for example, not enough money for reconstruction – and many houses northeast and northwest of Kyiv remain in ruins five months after the Russians left, often with desperate residents living in garages or temporary structures on site.
Internally displaced people often have to live in schools or kindergartens, temporary accommodations in which people find it difficult to stay for a long time. Ukraine has a budget deficit of $5bn (£4.2bn) a month due to war; aid and reconstruction will cost several times more.