Why the war in Ukraine goes on, despite expert forecasts

February 24, 2023

Russia's big war against Ukraine goes on for a year now. There were plenty of detailed predictions, when it would start, even two years ago, especially in the US media. Now, analysts differ on when the Russian invasion will come to an end.

There is a wide variety in this issue: from "two or three weeks" to "several years" of war. Why does a large-scale and well-documented armed conflict remain "terra incognita" for many military experts? And why does it ruin many stereotypes about the wars of the past?

Negative expectations in the West

It should be noted that the war in Ukraine from the very start shattered most forecasts of Western experts. Before the invasion, they rested on the huge disparity in armaments and the strength of the Russian and Ukrainian armed forces. For example, in aircraft and tanks, the advantage of the Russians was approximately ten to one. Also, the Russian Federation greatly outnumbered Ukraine in ships and long-range missiles. So, it is not surprising that in the first days of the invasion, many Western analysts were not optimistic about the ability of the AFU to repel the Russian attack, especially from four directions at a time.

"There are several key reasons why so many analysts were convinced that the war would be over within weeks or months," Natia Seskuria, an expert at the London-based Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), told BBC News Ukraine.

"Firstly, many underestimated the will of the Ukrainian people to fight and defend their country, such strong resilience of society and resistance came as a surprise. There were also serious assumptions that Zelenskyy and his government would succumb to pressure."

Secondly, Seskuria notes, there were false expectations about the capabilities of the Russian army.

Due to the many reforms that Moscow has started in the defence sector since 2008, there were misconceptions about the "invincibility of the Russian army". This prompted analysts to speculate that Russia would win the war, possibly by blitzkrieg and without resistance.

Thirdly, Ukraine was not expected to get strong support from the West, especially countries such as Germany. 

"I think it came as a surprise even to Putin," the RUSI analyst says. 

Optimism in Ukraine

However, the first weeks of the "fog of war" yielded to the idea that Ukraine was quite successfully holding back the onslaught of Russian troops. The main thing is that the aggressor did not manage to surround or seize the capital — Kyiv.

Against the background of reports of numerous defeats of Russian columns in the north of Ukraine and heavy losses of the Russian military, think tanks reversed their opinion and began foretelling a victory for Kyiv, not Moscow. Ukrainian officials and military experts showed the greatest optimism. In the spring of 2022 the famous expression-meme of the former Presidential Office’s adviser Oleksiy Arestovych about "two or three weeks" appeared. So much time, he said, would be needed to end the conflict.

However, a few months later, Arestovych explained that he meant the end of the "Russian operation near Kyiv", not the war as such.

However, he was not alone in the Ukrainian media space to speak about a quick end to the war. For example, at the beginning of March, 2022, in a BBC commentary, the former Deputy Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, General Ihor Romanenko, said that the war could last "a few months more".

"I believe it may last from several weeks to several months. Depending on how the situation will develop."

Now — at the end of February 2023 — he says that he meant the end of hostilities in the north of Ukraine. He explains to the BBC that even then he saw the futility of Russian attacks in that direction.

Now, General Romanenko is talking about the readiness of Russia for a long war, its huge resource base and plans to throw another 150-200 thousand military reserves into battle.

"I have to admit, it was my and not only my miscalculation," Oleksiy Melnyk, a former military pilot and the current director of foreign policy and international security programmes at Razumkov Centre, admits talking to the BBC.

In March 2022, he expected that due to heavy losses, the Russian leadership would begin negotiations on the withdrawal of troops from Ukraine soon.

"I was wrong about how insensitive the Russian population was to the losses. I admit my miscalculation."

According to the estimates of the US authorities, during the year of the war, Russia lost about 200,000 soldiers killed and wounded, the Ukrainian General Staff says about almost 150,000 Russians killed.

Oleksiy Melnyk calls such indifference of the Russian population to the huge number of dead "an absolute phenomenon".

Internal discontent in Russia

It turns out that the hope for anti-war protests in Russia was wrong? Oleksiy Melnyk urges not to reject this factor completely.

Even such huge one-time losses as the deaths of hundreds of mobilized Russians at a wartime location in Makiivka (Donetsk region) on the 1st of January did not lead to a rebellion of relatives, but there are some preconditions for public activity in the future, he believes. 

The Razumkov Centre analyst draws attention to local precedents in some Russian regions, where angry conscripts record videos and demand not to be sent to the front. Such cases are usually recorded in national republics, such as Tatarstan.

"They are not yet anti-war protests, but a manifestation of discontent, of internal tension," the expert says.

Potentially, such manifestations of discontent can develop into mass protests. However, these will not be anti-war, but rather anti-government actions, Melnyk notes.

Another factor that can speed up the war end is material. In Russian belligerent Telegram channels and social networks, reports about non-payment of financial allowance to mobilized military personnel are circulated now. They caused a wave of discontent. 

The conflict between the "Wagner" Private Military Company and the Russian Defence Ministry is also mounting. The PMC head Yevgeny Prigozhin has already accused the Russian military leadership of reluctance to provide ammunition to his mercenaries. "I don't blame anyone and I don't want to prove anything to anyone, I'm just saying: leave your whims, your principles and give me ammunition," the Russian businessman close to Putin demands.

These internal differences work to weaken Russia. But that country still has sufficient military capabilities for a long war, as well as the human resources for mobilization.

The main danger is that the war still remains an "existential issue" for Russian President Putin, all analysts note. 

"Putin no longer makes rational decisions — Natia Seskuria says. — He is increasingly desperate not to lose. That is why he is ready to throw everything at the military effort. For this reason, it is difficult to predict the future course of events from a rational point of view."

When will it end, anyway?

Despite the unpredictable nature of the war, many are still trying to guess the date of its end. For example, back in September 2022, the former commander of the US Army in Europe, General Ben Hodges, in an interview with the BBC predicted a retreat of the Russian Federation from the occupied territories by the end of last year.

"This war will end when the last Russian soldier crosses that big bridge across the Kerch Strait. I believe that Ukrainian forces have the potential to push Russian forces back to the line on February 23 by the end of this year. I think it's really possible. It will be difficult, but I think it is quite possible."

His hopes did not come true, but General Hodges is already making a new bold prediction: the Ukrainian army can liberate occupied Crimea by the end of summer, and end the war this year. 

Retired Ukrainian general Ihor Romanenko also views 2023 as the possible last year of this conflict. But he notes that there are several conditions for this. 

"It is possible if (Western) equipment is provided timely and in the appropriate amount. But the West is always late. All the time during this war."

Oleksiy Melnyk, the Razumkov Centre analyst, says that the "decisive period" of the war is beginning now.

"Spring is coming, when both sides will try to make their offensive or counteroffensive. And it is absolutely obvious that the scale of escalation will be unprecedented."

The "trajectory" of the further course of the war will be clear from how these offensives/counteroffensives end, the analyst says. The Russian president, in his opinion, will do everything to "freeze the conflict". And this does not suit Ukraine.

Ukraine’s leader Volodymyr Zelenskyy recently reiterated this. In an interview with the Italian publication Il Mondo, he said that Kyiv is determined to end the war "quickly" and not to prolong the conflict. 

"We are preparing for a fast-moving war that will end in a victory. It is very important not to freeze this conflict, as was the case in 2014," Zelenskyy said.

According to him, Ukraine’s victory should happen this year. 

Oleg Chernysh, BBC News Ukraine 



Oleksiy Melnyk

Co-Director, Foreign Relations and International Security Programmes, Coordinator of International Projects

Born in 1962 in Khmelnytsty Rgn


Royal College of Defence Studies, London, UK (2007)

Air Field Operations Officer School, Biloxy, MS, US (2001)

Squadron Officer School, Montgomery, AL, US (1994)

Defence Language Institute, San Antonio, TX, US (1994)

Chernihiv Higher Military Air Force Academy, Ukraine (1984)


1980 – 2001 — Air Force Active Service (Cadet, Instructor Pilot, Flight Commander, Squadron Commander, Deputy Air Force Base Commander, Participant of two UN peacekeeping operations, Lt.Colonel (Ret)

2001 – 2004 — Razumkov Centre

2004 – 2005 — State Company Ukroboronservice

2005 – 2008 — Ministry of Defence of Ukraine, Head Organisational and Analytical Division — First Assistant to Minister of Defence

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