The domestic political situation will change depending on how events unfold in the theater of military operations
The Russian invasion of Ukraine was the defining event of 2022 not only for our country, but also for Europe and global security in general. Therefore, the key question for politicians, businessmen, and ordinary citizens is whether the war will end in 2023. Both the trends of economic development and domestic political life, as well as the international situation, will depend on this.
Unfortunately, there is no clear and unambiguous answer yet. But some outlines of the further course of events have already been outlined, so it is possible to determine probable political scenarios for the future.
Let us first consider the contingencies for the end of the war which are the least probable. For example, #1: a Russian military victory.
Putin failed to achieve this result even in the first weeks of the war, when it seemed he had every opportunity to do so. But over time, hostilities have shown that the Russian Federation is noticeably weakening and gradually leaving the occupied territories in Ukraine. In addition, Kyiv relies on the military-technical and economic support of its international partners. Yes, Moscow has large natural and considerable economic and human resources, so the Kremlin has enough money for the war. This is enough for its continuation, but not for victory. The heroic resistance of the Ukrainian people and the successful actions of the Ukrainian Armed Forces destroyed this possibility.
The second of these scenarios is a peace treaty between Russia and Ukraine.
After Russia annexed four temporarily occupied Ukrainian regions, even the theoretical possibility of any compromise disappeared. The Kremlin is unlikely to agree to the return of at least some of the annexed territories to Ukraine, and for Ukrainians it is unacceptable to abandon even part of the regions seized by Russia.
On the part of individual countries and international organizations, various peace plans to end the war between Russia and Ukraine may periodically appear, but in the belligerents themselves, they will meet with a critical reaction.
The third scenario is the emergence of a direct military conflict between Russia and NATO, including the risk of a global nuclear war. According to most experts, this is still unlikely (due to its lethality), but the option of further development of the current war is still possible.
The West is clearly trying to avoid this fatal scenario. But what can we expect from Putin, who is inexorably on the path of escalation? Is he ready to take desperate steps in the face of the threat of defeat? And will criminal orders be carried out in Russia which could destroy the country itself, and with it most of the world? There are no clear answers to these questions. But in the short term, this scenario seems unlikely, as Putin will try to achieve his goals by means of a conventional war.
From a dead end to the most optimistic
The most controversial (and, in fact, a dead end scenario) is the freezing of the war. That is, the emergence of an equilibrium of both sides’ war fighting capacities, the stabilization of the front line, and the transition of hostilities to a positional phase for a sufficiently long period (about a year, and maybe longer). The maximum that is possible under this scenario is a technical and procedural agreement on a ceasefire (at the level of the military leadership of the opposing sides). The option of "freezing the war" could also be used in the event of extremely critical problems for Ukraine’s energy system, respectively, in the face of huge humanitarian risks for our country’s large cities.
This scenario does not provide for a full-fledged peace, but rather an indefinite and unstable pause before a new war. At the same time, as the experience of the war in Donbas has shown, a ceasefire agreement can be violated from time to time.
Such a scenario would be possible under the following conditions: Russia adapts for long war, but does not have the ability to defeat Ukraine; The West continues to provide Kyiv with moderate (but smaller in volume) military-technical and economic support, the minimum necessary to deter Russian aggression, but insufficient for offensive operations and the liberation of the occupied territories; and international partners push the leadership of Ukraine to a ceasefire agreement.
The realization of this scenario will inevitably provoke criticism both in Ukraine and in Russia, which will also lead to their instability. In Ukraine, an internal political confrontation may arise between those who support continuing the war and those who support at least a temporary cessation of hostilities and mass bombardment of large cities. The discussion may also affect the Zelenskyy Administration, as this scenario is unlikely to have a positive impact on their approval ratings. Depending on these trends and the situation at the front, the problem of extending martial law in Ukraine will be decided. A more likely scenario for the unfolding of events is the continuation of martial law and the postponement of the date of the parliamentary elections to 2024, after the presidential elections.
This scenario is unlikely in the immediate future. But if the war drags on for a long period (at least until the fall of 2023), its chances will grow.
The most optimistic scenario for Ukraine is the complete liberation of the occupied territories. This will be possible with a combination of the following factors: a qualitative strengthening of the military potential of Ukraine with the help of international partners, which will create a significant advantage over the Russian army and allow the Ukrainian Armed Forces to carry out successful offensive operations; and the emergence of an acute internal political crisis in the Russian Federation as a result of severe military defeats and the aggravation of internal socio-economic and political problems.
The end of the war in this case will occur either as a result of the Armed Forces marching to the Ukrainian-Russian border of 1991 and the actual cessation of hostilities, or by signing (by representatives of the Ukrainian Armed Forces) an agreement on the cessation of hostilities along the 1991 Ukrainian-Russian border.
The implementation of this scenario will significantly strengthen Ukraine's foreign policy position. In particular, it is highly likely that negotiations on Ukraine's accession to the EU will begin, and favorable conditions will appear for considering Ukraine's application for NATO membership.
With this unfolding of events, a high level of support for President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and his political power can be expected. If the war ends in autumn, then martial law will be procedurally ended in November or December 2023. And then first the presidential elections will be held (in the spring of 2024), followed (in the autumn of 2024) by parliamentary elections, which is in the interests of the presidential team. Under such conditions, there will be significant changes in the party system of Ukraine, in particular, the emergence of new political forces, as well as the rebranding of the ruling party with a significant renewal of its leadership and staff. The composition of the government may also be updated.
The lines of February 24
A moderately optimistic scenario - a "combat draw" - a gradual (stage-by-stage) liberation of most of the occupied territories, with the exception of Crimea and, possibly, part of the Donbas. In short, this means the Ukrainian military reaching the approximate borders of February 24, 2022.
This scenario may become possible under the following conditions: sufficiently successful offensive actions by the Ukrainian Armed Forces; relatively stable military-technical and economic support for Ukraine from our international partners; the military-political and economic weakening of Russia, but without the emergence of a systemic internal crisis; stabilization of the front line on the administrative border with Crimea and, possibly, in the Donbas. In this case, hostilities may end after some time with a technical agreement on a temporary (but not definite in time) ceasefire. The issue of the liberation of the Crimea will move to the diplomatic plane.
This scenario may also work as a result of the position of our international partners, who will be afraid of the risk of Russia using tactical nuclear weapons in the event of an offensive by Ukrainian troops in Crimea. If there is a tangible demand in Ukrainian society to end the war even without the liberation of Crimea, it will also contribute to this scenario.
The internal political situation in Ukraine under such conditions will unfold unevenly. There will be criticism about the incomplete liberation of all the occupied territories. At the same time, there will be satisfaction from the liberation of the territories that Ukraine controlled until February 24, 2022. The issue of extending martial law will be decided depending on the situation at the front, as well as the domestic political situation. Parliamentary elections are highly likely to be post-poned to 2024 and will take place after the presidential elections.
Thus, the likelihood that the war against the Russian invaders could end in 2023 is quite high, but still not absolute. The specifics of how the war ends will be determined by the effectiveness of the combat operations of each of the warring parties, by how much the support provided by Ukraine’s international partners meets its needs, as well as by the development of the internal political situation in Russia.