The year 2023 presented multiple challenges for Ukraine. The upcoming year may bring no improvements

The year 2023 ended on a pessimistic note for Ukraine. Despite the Ukrainian counteroffensive, there were only minor results. Additionally, there were problems with Western aid, and more people began discussing internal issues in Kyiv. To add to the complicated situation, a massive night of shelling occurred on December 28-29. These factors have made Vladimir Putin feel increasingly confident, which he demonstrated at a recent large press conference in Moscow.

The Russian President has directed the economy toward a state of war. Although the war industry artificially inflates economic indicators, ample products are available on store shelves, and production has increased. Arms factories manufacture missiles and tanks, which are paid for by the state and then destroyed at the front. While this artificially inflates production statistics, the overall trend suggests an increase in production. Russian owners replaced Western companies, and the Chinese and Turks eagerly entered the market. Despite the lack of new technologies, the Kremlin brags about a significant increase in the number of cars produced. It is uncertain whether the Russians will take notice of the low-quality foundation on which this increase was calculated and the quality of the vehicles themselves. Many Russian soldiers are dying in large numbers on the front line. However, not many people seem to care about this issue, especially if they can buy new cars or refrigerators as compensation.

All polls conducted in Russia suggest that the Russians are likely to accept any solution proposed by Vladimir Putin, even if the numbers presented in the elections are not fully trusted. If Putin decides to end the war, it would be seen as a positive move by the public. Similarly, if he wants to destroy Kyiv and Lviv, the majority of the population would still accept it. The presidential elections are scheduled for March, and according to leaks from the Kremlin, Putin is 99.99 percent sure of his victory, winning about 80 percent of the vote.

In June last year, some signs of the regime weakening became apparent when the owner of the Wagner Group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, relocated with his fighters to Moscow. This move left Vladimir Putin in a state of fear. However, there was no mass support for the rebels, nor was there any defense for the President himself, indicating that Russian society is mainly apathetic and apolitical. Despite this, the Kremlin was satisfied. Their self-confidence returned in August when Yevgeny Prigozhin was killed in a plane crash.

The difficult charms of democracy

Volodymyr Zelensky is in a completely different situation. Ukraine is a democratic country, and its leaders must consider the public’s opinion. If they fail to do so, they risk being replaced in the next election. Furthermore, any attempt to manipulate the election process will likely lead to a popular uprising, as the Ukrainians have demonstrated in the past, such as in 2004 and during the events of 2013 and 2014.

The latest polls indicate that the Ukrainian government is facing a decline in public support. The sense of national unity that was evident in 2022 is slowly diminishing. While the unity was spurred by a real threat to the state’s existence, it also had positive outcomes, as Russian troops withdrew from Kyiv, the Kharkiv region, and Kherson. However, there have not been any such successes in 2023. Reports of disagreements between the President and the Commander-in-Chief, General Valery Zaluzhny, have further worsened the public mood.

The counteroffensive announced several months ago, faced a setback due to the presence of substantial minefields laid by the Russians. As a result, the territorial gains were minimal. However, the only success that can be considered significant is that the Russians were forced to withdraw a part of the Black Sea Fleet from Crimea to Novorossiysk.

It must be acknowledged that the Ukrainian military operations on the peninsula are often impressive – their strikes are precise and cause significant damage to the enemy. The most recent example of such an attack was the December 25-26 assault on the “Novocherkassk” ship in Feodosia. However, despite their impressive military tactics, regaining the territory the Russians seized remains the ultimate goal for Ukraine.

The expansion of air defense in Ukraine has been very successful. It is evident in the fact that Ukrainian forces can shoot down almost all the drones or missiles that Moscow sends to their territory. Additionally, there has been no recurrence of last year’s incident in which Russian forces destroyed Ukrainian energy infrastructure without any resistance.

The expansion of anti-aircraft defense would probably be impossible without Western help. However, there are increasing issues with obtaining this assistance. Kyiv has not received civilian or military funding from the European Union or the United States. It may lead to difficulties in making payments to the public sector. Moreover, in Brussels, Viktor Orbán, a friend of Vladimir Putin’s, is obstructing the aid. In October, both politicians met in Beijing. The Hungarian Prime Minister was the first Western leader to hold a conversation with Putin after Moscow’s full-scale aggression against Ukraine. However, during their meeting, the Prime Minister avoided discussing the war and instead referred to it as a “special military operation,” using the same language as Russian propaganda to describe the invasion.

The West quickly forgot about the massacre in Bucha and the suffering of millions of Ukrainians who had to flee their homes or lost their loved ones at the front. In October, the war between Hamas and Israel started, and pictures from the Gaza Strip replaced those from Ukraine. However, it is essential to remember that in December 2021, two months before the full-scale invasion, the Kremlin set conditions for NATO, demanding a return to the situation before the Alliance’s expansion to Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary in 1999. Therefore, saying “It’s not our war” in Warsaw, Prague, or Budapest seems ridiculous.

The European Union Summit on December 14th marked a significant decision to start accession negotiations with Ukraine and Moldova, which could provide some comfort. This decision carries even more importance when we recall that the Ukrainians fought for their country’s European integration ten years ago during the Revolution of Dignity on the Maidan in Kyiv.

Vladimir Putin is not pleased with Ukraine’s fast approach towards European Union membership. He would prefer that Ukraine remain a poor, post-Soviet republic within Moscow’s sphere of influence. However, European integration requires reforms, including the fight against corruption. Recently, there have been changes in the Minister of Defense position in Kyiv, which has led to the authorities finally taking decisive action against bribery and tender rigging cases.

We can only hope that 2024 will be better for Ukraine, but given the ongoing war, it’s difficult to predict the specific developments. Any scenario is possible.

Piotr Pogorzelski/

Translated by PEV

The opinions and thoughts expressed in the text reflect only the author's views.