In a development that appeared to go against the flow of political interactions, Russia shocked Ukraine with an intense missile attack at dawn on Thursday on the capital, Kyiv, hours before the end of 2022.
As daylight grew longer, it became apparent that the attack was broader than just Kyiv, leading observers to label it as one of the biggest bombing waves since the war began after it also hit Kharkiv, Odessa, Lviv, and Zhytomyr. Thursday’s airstrikes lasted approximately five hours. Ukrainian forces observed intense bursts of air and sea “cruise” missiles, totaling at least 70 missiles, as well as several drones directed at specific targets in Ukraine’s south.
That was a remarkable escalation on Russia’s part at a time when political debates were centering on the factors that might push parties to engage in a political settlement. Roughly contemporaneous with the raid, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov made public remarks rejecting the “peace formula” proposed by Ukrainian President Zelensky as the basis for negotiations. Moscow believes Kyiv is not yet ready for serious peace talks. According to Russia, Kyiv’s plan to oust Moscow from eastern Ukraine and the Crimean peninsula as targets for Ukrainian military action supported by the West is nothing more than a huge “illusion”. Zelensky’s peace formula, outlined during his recent trip to Washington, centers on Moscow’s complete withdrawal from the Donbass region, Zaporizhzhia, Kherson, and Crimea, its payment of compensation, and its recognition of international tribunals to which the leaders in the Kremlin will be subject.
Logically speaking, this is still an extremely high ceiling, even if we consider it a preliminary proposal to engage in a settlement that the involved parties, including primarily the West, are aware has not yet reached maturity.
Conversely, Moscow speaks of “today’s realities”, referring to the four regions that acceded to Russia following the referendums that were held last September. Furthermore, since the war’s inception, Moscow has made Ukrainian and international recognition of Russia’s final annexation of Crimea a requirement for ending military action. On top of that, Russia has also called for the Ukrainian constitution to be changed to include clauses prohibiting Ukraine from joining any military alliance, specifically NATO, and calling for a return to neutrality. This is extremely important to Moscow because it addresses a major justification for Russia to resort to military force.
With such a wide gulf still separating them, the two sides still have a long way to go before they can even begin talks, and any diplomatic solution seems like a long shot at best right now. Worse, the crisis brings the idea of sovereignty into sharper focus, which will inevitably widen the gap between the two sides.
Both sides hope that their efforts on the battlefield will yield the benefits they desire and cover the high costs they have incurred since the war began. All bets are on the table, including the continuation of the conflict. Ukrainians have been constantly pressing the West to remember how crucial it is to prevent a Russian victory. Russia, on the other hand, is observing the escalating suffering in the West as a result of the war’s repercussions and is retaliating by making life as difficult as possible for the average European, who is a pliable target. Now, if Western support dwindles, sovereignty may perish. On the other hand, the referendum results may be thrown into the wind if Moscow guarantees US-European recognition of the annexation of Crimea, which they may eventually agree to at the end of the war to avoid its consequences.
But it’s still unclear which side will be able to mastermind the design of the front lines and spheres of influence. In one way or another, all international parties are enmeshed in the current situation, and the United Nations has lost its ability to make decisions independently since the start of the conflict, at least in the eyes of Russia and other countries that are concerned with the final outcome.
The conflict in Ukraine could be on the verge of escalating into a major “winter battle” due to problems that have been brewing in the major European capitals for some time. Battlefields continue to be the only place where an impossible table can be set up. Russia will be forced to inflict even more pain and destruction on the Ukrainian people and their allies, which may explain the renewed focus on the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, and Odessa in particular. Kyiv has recently liberated some areas and made breakthroughs in others, but the resistance and counterattacks have not been enough to significantly alter the situation on the ground. Beyond these minor advances, Ukraine’s ambition is still limited to maintaining a feeble defense that may be vulnerable to missile intensification at any time, as what happened recently on Thursday. This is worrying because it exposes Kyiv, which has been largely secured, to attack. The attack on Thursday rendered 40 percent of Kyiv and 90 percent of Lviv without electricity. However, in order to prevent severe damage in the event that the Russian army was able to attack energy facilities, Odessa and Dnipropetrovsk resorted to voluntary cuts.
The majority of Thursday’s attack was carried out by Black Sea-based Russian ships and aircraft. Despite the information in his possession showing Moscow’s armament shortfall, Chief of the Defence Intelligence of Ukraine Kyrylo Budanov confirmed that Russia will continue to launch attacks on civilian infrastructure for as long as possible. According to reports from the United Kingdom, Russia is actively pursuing the acquisition of missile weapons from other countries. Whatever the veracity of these reports or the evidence supporting them, the great winter battle appears to have already begun.