On 24 February, 2022, Russia illegally invaded Ukraine. Now, nearly one year into the armed conflict, the future of both eastern European countries remains unclear. Far removed from their initial success in gaining territory early on in the war, the Russian government seems to be gradually losing to their much smaller–and supposedly weaker–neighbor.
Since we are approaching the one year anniversary of the bloody conflict that has claimed over two-hundred thousand lives, I feel it is important to report on recent key developments in Ukraine.
The first major-and arguably most important-recent development in the war is the Kherson counteroffensive. In late August/early September, once the Kharkov counteroffensive in the Northeast was successfully pulled off by Ukrainian forces, Russian forces scrambled under the pressure and further weakened. Following many more Ukrainian forces being deployed to the south near Kherson, Ukraine was finally ready to perform another counteroffensive.
Russian forces had captured the city of Kherson (a southeastern Ukrainian city) and the surrounding area extremely early on in the conflict, occupying with relative ease up until a few months ago. Throughout the months of October and early November, Ukrainian forces slowly closed on the faltering Russian forces, effectively surrounding them. On November 11th, Russian forces came to terms with reality and abruptly evacuated the city, escaping across the Dnipro river.
The Ukrainians had long been wanting to retake Kherson, as it was a strategic city located along the Dnipro river, a major river running through the Ukrainian heartland. The bombing of the Crimean bridge and other similar tactical acts further enabled Ukraine to finally liberate their fallen territory.
Another important development in the conflict is Belarus’s possible involvement in the war. Belarus is a small, eastern European country of nine million people that shares a long land border with both Ukraine and Russia.
Since the start of the war, the Belarusian government has staunchly supported the actions of Russia. It was one of only five countries to vote against the UN resolution respecting the territorial integrity of Ukraine. Belarus became a launch pad for Russian missiles and allowed Russian troops to move through its territory in order to invade Ukraine on multiple fronts.
Despite their allegiance, no actual Belarusian military forces have been deployed alongside Russian ones. However, this might be changing. Recent satellite information shows an increased buildup of Belarusian troops along Belarus’s southern border with Ukraine, suggesting the country just might be ready to enter the war with Ukraine. However, many analysts still view this as unlikely and say that the buildup of troops is a ruse to lure Ukrainian forces away from the real front in the far east.
Another reason why this scenario is largely viewed as unlikely is due to Belarus’s own internal problems. The autocratic, authoritarian regime in the country is increasingly being viewed with disdain by the population. Many geopolitical analysts argue that the military is the only entity keeping Belarus’s authoritarian government in power. If a large portion of that military were to be sent into another country to fight, the government might be toppled by pro-democracy forces.
One final major ongoing event is the situation in Bakhmut. Although the Russians have seemingly been losing the conflict, there might be, unfortunately, a Russian breakthrough in the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut.
In recent months, Ukraine has been, according to Russian claims, consistently losing small amounts of territory in and around Bakhmut. The validity of these claims is disputed. However, if the Russians do indeed manage to occupy Bakhmut, it could pose a serious threat to the possible Ukrainian victory.
The fate of Ukraine and Russia are both unclear. Now that winter has arrived, the frontlines have significantly stalled. However, once the snow melts and the conflict resumes to its full extent, we will all be closely watching. All we can do as observers is speculate and wish for a Ukrainian victory, hoping that democracy prevails over autocracy.