What to expect from Russia and Putin in the Ukraine War in 2023
On Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin declared that Russia intends to end hostilities in Ukraine. Don’t buy it, Putin is all spin and the war is almost certain to continue. And as the war drags on, Putin’s hand will be continue to be felt across Ukraine — and quite possibly the world.
By now Putin realizes that Ukraine is not about to capitulate. To the contrary, Zelensky is securing a steady stream of Western weaponry and 100 Ukrainian soldiers are in Oklahoma training to use the Patriot missile defense system. Along with Germany and France, the US is also sending 50 Bradley Fighting Vehicles to hunt down Russian T-90 tanks. Rightfully emboldened, Kyiv plans to launch another counter-offensive, striking “deeper and deeper” into Russia, according Ukraine’s military intelligence chief Kyrylo Budanov who promised the “hottest” fighting in March.
Russia is responding accordingly. In December, Defense Minister Shoigu announced plans to beef up Russia’s military from 1 to 1.5 million, with 315,000 additional soldiers and another half-a million conscripts added towards that goal. And last week Putin switched commanders again, tasking the chief of the military general staff, Valeriy Gerasimov, to lead combat operations in Ukraine. Gerasimov’s deputy: Sergei Surovikin, AKA “General Armageddon.”
This is a clear sign of more to come. A close ally of Putin’s, 67 year-old Gerasimov was a field commander in Chechnya from 1998 to 2003. On Putin’s orders, he “cleaned” – aka destroyed – its capital, Grozny, in 2000, killing tens of thousands in the process. Gerasimov is also the author of a special “total warfare” doctrine integrating conventional, asymmetric, and guerrilla tactics.
Nonetheless, on Christmas Day, Putin announced that Russia is ready to negotiate an “acceptable solution” to the war. This was another lie. Days later, Russian missiles began hammering Ukraine for a week. On January 5th, Putin called for a temporary ceasefire in observation of Orthodox Christmas from January 6 to January 7th, another spin. Despite the ceasefire, Russia continued to pummel Ukraine with missile and drone strikes. Putin is not interested in settling for peace. He views this conflict as existential and considers Ukraine as part of Russia’s strategic buffer against NATO. Any talk from Moscow about a cease fire is pure deception.
Along with conventional warfare, Russia’s cyber offensives are certain to increase. In 2022, Russia conducted 1,655 cyber attacks on Ukraine, according to senior Ukrainian official Yuriy Schygol. Russia first began with a massive salvo against key Ukrainian networks, which crippled critical Ukrainian infrastructure, knocking out heat, electricity, and drinking water. The suffering has been so severe that there’s been talk of declaring cyber attacks as a war crime.
The scope and scale of Russian cyber strikes will almost certainly broaden, likely targeting US and European networks. Because Russia can and already has: Although unintentional, Moscow’s cyber strike on the Viasat satellite network last May disrupted communications across Europe. The next time Moscow could easily attack on purpose.
Putin has the world’s most formidable cyber pros at his disposal. And the more cornered he feels, the more likely he is to use them. Non-governmental Russian hackers have already penetrated most US federal government agencies — including the White House and Pentagon — as well as US critical infrastructure, including nuclear facilities. On Monday, Russian cybercriminal group Killnet, claimed to have hacked US Internal Revenue Service databases, exfiltrating 198 million lines of data, including user logins and passwords. In October, KillNet struck the websites of multiple U.S. airports and while the incidents did not affect air traffic control, Putin was signaling to Washington that Russia can easily do so.
Meanwhile, Russians have seized upon Joe Biden’s current classified documents scandal, amplifying the incident across every major Russian newspaper. The TASS state news agency also put out an editorial assessing the gravity of the US President’s “crimes” and forecasted consequences. One Russian expert expressed hope that Republicans would think twice before giving Biden more funding for Ukraine, while another estimated that Biden’s “reputation will suffer”.
The immediate goal of this propaganda campaign is to sow doubt among Ukrainians about US continued support for its war effort. Russia also hopes to weaken the Biden Presidency and demonstrate the potential divisiveness of democracy.
As the Ukraine conflict nears the one year mark, Putin will do whatever he can to keep the war going. Because as long as Ukraine is involved in combat operations, it cannot meet requirements for joining NATO. That is Putin’s true definition of victory. It is why more bloodshed is expected in 2023.
Rebekah Koffler is the president of Doctrine & Strategy Consulting, a former DIA intelligence officer, and the author of “Putin’s Playbook: Russia’s Secret Plan to Defeat America.” Twitter: @Rebekah0132