Will there be a ceasefire in Ukraine this winter?
All sides are hinting at peace talks — but the obstacles may be too great
For us Europeans, Armistice Day has a certain edge this year. For the first time in many years on our home continent, soldiers lie huddled in their trenches, sheltering from the munitions rained down on one another in such vast quantities that both the United States and Russia have outsourced their production to their respective Korean allies. The risks of a global conflagration have not been greater in any of our lifetimes; the prospect of rationing of heat and electricity looms as the cold winds begin to whip in from the East. But in Ukraine itself, as the war smoulders towards its first anniversary, is there a prospect of a winter ceasefire?
The Ukraine war has so far vanquished even the most confident predictions. From its very first days until the ongoing, ignominious retreat from Kherson, the Russian army has singularly failed to translate its seeming advantages in manpower and materiel into battlefield success. Russian propagandists, once confident of victory, are now ranting on state TV about Putin’s failure to shoot his top commanders. With the imminent loss of Kherson, a city conquered almost without a fight in the war’s opening days, Russia will have lost the one Ukrainian provincial capital it managed to seize, formally absorbed into Putin’s Motherland just six weeks ago.
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No wonder the Russians are beginning to offer the prospect of a truce once again, with the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Maria Zakharova proposing peace talks “without preconditions” in “recognition of the current reality.” While Zelensky has restated his willingness to resume talks — though only once Russia has relinquished its hold of its remaining Ukrainian territory, a condition Putin is unlikely to accept — negotiations are once again no longer a dirty word.
Recent briefings from American diplomats strongly imply that Kyiv is being leaned on to show willingness to negotiate from a position of strength, with US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan’s recent trip to meet Zelensky framed as Washington “testing the waters a bit” to see if the prospect of talks could be realised. Sullivan’s recent resumption of communications with the Kremlin’s Security Council secretary Nikolai Patrushev — a product of Putin’s recent nuclear threats — perhaps indicates both sides’ willingness to compromise.
Certainly, the recent disclosure from the US chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, that each side has suffered around 100,000 casualties in the war so far — “a lot of human suffering” — has been framed as an opportunity to pause and reflect on the war’s outcome. As the New York Times notes:
But wars have a logic of their own, and rarely end when their participants want. The Russian retreat to fortified positions across the broad Dnieper river may dampen the prospect of any further Ukrainian offensives in the country’s south, but the accumulation of newly conscripted Russian forces and materiel in Belarus will cause Kyiv to rightly fear that any pause in hostilities will be used by Moscow to gather strength for a second northern offensive in the spring. On the other hand, given Russia’s lacklustre performance so far, there is little reason for Moscow to feel confident that its demoralised and poorly-equipped new conscript army will fare any better in 2023 than its best troops did this year.
As Russia continues to degrade the living standards of Ukraine’s home front through its long-range assaults on the country’s infrastructure, and both sides attempt to exhaust each other on frontlines made static by the coming winter, hope remains in short supply. Barring a Christmas miracle, the chances are that the year will end as it began, as both sides hammer the opposing troops in their frozen trenches, wagering that the punishment they can inflict will eventually outweigh the punishment they can bear.
Historical parallel playing out – Korean War cessation 53? Both sides are being gradually degraded. Zelensky has three victory requirements – full territory returns, reparations and war crime trials. Understandable after what his people have been through and would be justice for their bravery and ingenuity. But unrealistic. Putin can outlast him and the idea of an internal coup/replacement a pipe-dream. Putin’s Praetorian Guard is immense and too many on the pay-roll. Russia’s economy is gradually being degraded but Ukraine’s is much, much worse.
The West could end this tomorrow. Ukraine gets immediate NATO and accelerated EU membership and economic guarantees but Zelensky doesn’t get his three war aims. It is though a victory for the Ukranian people as it is what they have wanted for some time. And maybe a bigger victory. The border becomes another 38th parallel, and we help Ukraine become another South Korea with a new Marshall Aid package. Putin and his mafia are left degraded but not fully defeated. Only the Russian people can do that. But the world is changed, and for the better thanks to the valour of the Ukrainian people.
An extremely apposite comment with which I agree wholeheartedly.
The side that is winning rarely will agree to a ceasefire or talks. This will last at least till summer–barring the Russian front crumbling.
Since Ukraine outnumbers the Russian army, and is much better prepared for winter combat, look for attacks resembling the Soviet winter counter-offensive in 1941-42.
Ukrainians know their Soviet history well.
Latest on Kherson:
The Russians apparently changed into civilian clothes, and then hid among the civilians ferried to the eastern side of the Dnipro. The idea was that, if Ukraine hit any ferry, Putin could accuse Kyiv of a war crime.
I might add that:
1) Soldiers dressed as civilians is a war crime.
2) Using civilians as human shields is a war crime.
3) And, since many of the 80,000 civilians evacuated left against their will, ethnic cleansing is a war crime.
Just another day in Putin’s 3-day war…
Perhaps the ethnically Russian civilians in Kherson chose to cross the river. They may not have wanted to stay and face the reprisals meter out by the Ukrainians in Boucha. .
Rather mild, compared to what most people in Kherson have suffered the last eight months. At least their washing machines and racoons are safe.
Can we but hope that some semblance of sanity is returning to both adversaries in this futile conflict. Perhaps the Democrats, due to a modest but real defeat in the midterms, have finally come to realise that there is more to lose than gain by pursuing their current unrealistic objectives. And perhaps even mad Vlad can see that things are only going to get worse, so to cut his losses.
Whatever the localised rights and wrongs within Ukraine/Donbas/Crimea, it hardly merits a global depression and potentially World War 3 for the big geopolitical players.
Might do well to consult a map.
Retaking most of the temporarily occupied parts of Ukraine is hardly an “unrealistic objective.” The area in question is actually smaller than the area already liberated.
The Russian Army is finished as an offensive force, while its air force can no longer influence the battlefield. The only real question is whether or not the new, poorly trained “mobiks” can slow the Ukrainian offensive.
Sometimes one just has to face objective reality.
I wonder is there already an arrangement of sorts in place to faciliate Russia’s withdrawal from the right bank of the Dnieper river? Compared to the previous retreats around Balaklaya / Kupyansk / Izyum , this is very orderly so far…
I think the withdrawal is more to do with the Russians maybe learning their lesson from numerous previous failures and finally acting strategically in preserving much needed troops and equipment rather than due to any agreement.
My guess is the winter will lead to heavily fortified front lines which neither side will be able to dislodge, at which point a ceasefire will become much more likely
Given the low quality of the Russian conscripts, and the poor quality of their equipment, it’s doubtful they can hold the front everywhere.
They are outnumbered, and thus cannot rotate units out of the line. They will stay in the trenches until they die.
We won’t see trained new Russian troops at least until the spring. Even then it’s doubtful their training will match that of the Ukrainians. That’s not how the Russian army operates. The officers in their units train them, and they’ve just lost too many.
Looking at the map on TV, it seems to me that the Russians have consolidated their position in the East by retreating to the other side of the river. Zelensky calls it a success but I wonder.
Of course Russian citizens are fed propaganda but aren’t we too? That is war for you!
My expectations is it would be years and years of border skirmishes. No significant, lasting breakthroughs on either side. Just attrition.
The notion that winter weather prevents hostilities is not shared by many military experts. Currently, water-logged deep ground is hampering movement. Freezing weather, and with it solidifying ground, would make movement possible again. Winter weather has historically not stopped military action, from the Middle Ages to the Napoleonic Wars, WW I, or WW II.
What is the assessment that Russian troops are poorly equipped based on? I recall reports from the Ukrainian side complaining that the Russian side fires ten time the shells the Ukrainian army is able to, and Ukrainians die in their trenches without ever seeing a Russian soldier. So what is it?
“In war, truth is the first casualty.”
News from five months ago.
The Russian artillery advantage is gone, along with much of Russian transport and munitions. All thanks to HIMARS. Why do you think Putin has to now rely on 3rd-world nations for his munitions?
The four-months long Russian attack on Bakhmut is only designed to burnish Prigozhin’s image. It has no military significance. If he can take it, he’s much stronger politically. It would be the only Russian “success” in four months.
Since the average Ukrainian soldier and average Ukrainian unit is now much better equipped than their Russian counterpart, a winter campaign is almost certain.
Both sides remember the near collapse of German forces during the Russian winter counterattack of 1941-42.
Only Ukraine, however, has the wherewithal to do it.
The people dying in the war in Ukraine are real people, they are not pieces on a board game. A deal where Russia withdraws to the positions held on 23rd of February would be one which Putin cannot afford to ignore. It would also stop the people of the eastern Donbass and Crimea from being ethnically cleansed which would happen if these areas were reconquered by Ukraine. We should remember that Crimea has been Russian since the 18th century while it was only given to Ukraine in 1954.
I share your sentiments, but I fear too much has been broken in the meantime for a solution where the film is rewound to be feasible. Which just means more killing and suffering.
I suspect the number of nuclear strikes in this campaign will equal the number of poison gas attacks since WW2.
In both cases, leaders realized that costs far outweighed benefits.
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