The war was to be over within days, according to most analysts: a swift offensive, a government on the run, and victory declared.
Instead, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine lasted three months and is still counting.
During this period, tens of thousands of people died, including many Russian soldiers and officers, millions fled their homes, and major Ukrainian cities were reduced to a shadow.
Three months later, few know better how it will all end.
“Unfortunately, the conflict is likely to be here for many years to come, although the intensity of the fighting may diminish when Russia feels it has achieved enough to claim some sort of victory at home,” Mats said. Engström, a visiting fellow at the European European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR), told Euronews.
An endless war
Very early on, the Russian offensive got bogged down in the outskirts of kyiv. A month later, Russia eventually withdrew its forces from around kyiv to focus on the industrial region of Donbass, which Moscow-backed separatists and Ukraine have been fighting over since 2014.
Russia indeed succeeded in seizing significant swaths of territory around the Crimean peninsula and gaining full control of the key port of Mariupol last week after a months-long siege, thus cutting Ukraine off from the Sea of Azov.
Yet Russia has so far failed to achieve a clear outcome that would allow the Kremlin to claim victory or take control of large parts of Ukraine and establish a puppet government.
Some see a Russian military uncertain of next steps.
“Russian leaders are urging the military command to show at least some gains, and they have nothing to do but keep sending more troops into the carnage,” said Mykola Sunhurovskyi, a military expert at the think tank. Razumkov based in Kyiv. Tank.
The Kremlin still seems to harbor a more ambitious goal of cutting off Ukraine from the Black Sea coast to the Romanian border, a move that would also give Moscow a land corridor to Moldovan breakaway region of Transnistriawhere Russian troops are stationed.
But Russia seems to know that this objective is currently not achievable with the limited forces at its disposal.
“I think they’re realizing more and more that they can’t necessarily do it all, certainly not all at once,” said Justin Crump, a former British tank commander who runs strategic consultancy Sibylline. .
Instead, Moscow’s losses forced it to rely increasingly on hastily patched units in the Donbass that could only make small gains, he said. “It’s a steady downshift in gear to smaller goals that Russia can actually achieve.”
Two senior Russian officials appeared to acknowledge this week that progress has been slower than expected.
Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev said he is “not chasing deadlines”, and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said the pace was deliberate to allow civilians to flee, even if the forces repeatedly hit civilian targets.
Many in Ukraine and the West believed Putin would inject resources into the Donbass to secure a decisive triumph on Victory Day on May 9, when Moscow celebrates its defeat against Nazi Germany in World War II. Russia has falsely characterized the war as a campaign to “denazify” Ukraine – a country with a democratically elected Jewish president who wants closer ties with the West.
Rather than a massive campaign, however, the Kremlin opted for tactical mini-offensives, aiming to regularly try to surround Ukrainian forces.
An uncertain future
Fighting continues to be fierce in the Donbass region. Yet elsewhere, much of the rest of the country is trying to return to some semblance of normalcy.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has remained in kyiv and defiantly as Western weapons continue to flow into the country, meaning the war could drag on for months or even years.
ECFR’s Mats Engström says it’s hard to know where the war will go from here.
“There is certainly a possibility of some sort of coup against Putin given the severity of the war, leading to a Russian withdrawal. On the other hand, the threat of the use of nuclear weapons is already on the table. Although unlikely, it cannot be ruled out,” he said.
In the end, no one knows what will happen, or whether we will be back in the same place in three months or even three years.