On 26 January 2024, the House of Lords will debate the following motion tabled by the government:

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon to move that this House takes note of the situation in Ukraine.

Lord Ahmad is a minister of state at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.

1. The current state of the conflict

1.1 The stalled Ukrainian counteroffensive?

The Ukrainian military’s counteroffensive, launched in June 2023 in the south and east of the country against occupying Russian forces, has ostensibly made less progress than Ukraine or its western allies may have hoped.[1] The current state of the conflict is illustrated in the map below, showing little movement of the frontlines of the conflict in recent months.

Figure 1. Maps showing the progress of the war in Ukraine since February 2022

Image shows four maps of Ukraine showing how military control has changed since February 2022.

Source: BBC News, ‘Ukraine in maps: Tracking the war with Russia’, 20 December 2023; and Institute for the Study of War.

There are arguably several reasons for this relative stasis. Key among them has been the level of defensive fortifications that Russian forces have been able to put in place which have successfully blunted Ukrainian offensive moves, particularly Ukrainian attempts to sever the ‘land bridge’ between Russian-occupied Crimea in the south and other territories under Russian control in the east. Observers have characterised Russia’s defensive line as the largest and most fortified in Europe since the second world war.[2] Russian forces have also laid dense layers of anti-personnel and anti-vehicle mines in front of many of their defensive positions.

Some critics have also suggested that Ukrainian forces missed an opportunity by distributing attacks along a long front line rather than focussing on particular areas of potential Russian weakness such as around the city of Zaporizhzhia. Instead, reportedly contrary to advice from western allies, Ukrainian forces opted to minimize the risk of heavy losses from a concentrated counterattack by simultaneously launched offensives across multiple axes.[3]

Related to both issues are the ongoing problems of weapons and ammunition supply to Ukrainian forces. The US Congressional Research Service notes that Ukraine has nearly exhausted its supplies of Soviet-era and Russian artillery and rocket ammunition, making the Ukrainian military “almost totally reliant” on western assistance for artillery and rocket artillery systems and ammunition.[4] Ukrainian officials have particularly emphasised a need for long-range rocket and artillery systems to counter Russia’s quantitative advantages in long-range fire. Ukraine also faces challenges in deploying new personnel, including the need for immediate reinforcements creating pressure to deploy troops with only basic training. A lack of trained staff officers has also reportedly led in some cases to tactical operations being coordinated and managed by higher-level command staff, leading to centralised and slower decision making.[5]

The issue of armament and supply is further examined below in the context of recent domestic/internal challenges to US and European efforts to continue the supply of funding and defence materiel to Ukraine, and Ukraine’s own ability to manufacture defence equipment and ammunition.

Ukrainian forces have made some gains, however. Despite fierce fighting, Ukrainian troops continue to occupy a foothold on the Russian-occupied left bank of the Dnipro river.[6] Fighting has been particularly intense around the village of Krynky, about 30km (19 miles) from the city of Kherson, as illustrated in the map below:


Figure 2. Ukrainian territorial gains on the east side of the Dnipro River

Image shows map of the Dnipro River and Kherson and changes in military control.

Source: BBC News, ‘Ukraine in maps: Tracking the war with Russia’, 20 December 2023; and Institute for the Study of War.In December, the Ukrainian General Staff said that its troops had continued ground operations on the left bank and were maintaining positions there from where they were striking at Russian forces. Ukrainian soldiers have described the conditions endured by those on the front line as “hell”, however, describing the difficulties of resupply and from coming under constant Russian attack.[7]

Russian forces in the east have also made confirmed advances northeast of Kupiansk, north of Bakhmut, and south west of Avdiivka, a strategically important town on the front line in eastern Ukraine.[8]

1.2 Ukrainian progress in the Black Sea

An area where Ukraine has perhaps made more significant gains is in the battle for control of the Black Sea. Writing for the Atlantic Council, Oleksiy Goncharenko, a Ukrainian MP, notes that the battle for the strategically and economically important waters around Ukraine escalated in 2023 and he contends that Ukraine has forced a significant withdrawal on Russian forces:

While international attention has focused on the largely static front lines of the Russian invasion in southern and eastern Ukraine, Russia’s Black Sea Fleet has been pushed out of the north-western Black Sea, with most Russian warships retreating in recent months from their traditional home port of Sevastopol in Russian-occupied Crimea.

This success has proven possible thanks to a combination of daring Ukrainian commando raids and surgical strikes against Russian air defences, logistical hubs, and shipping. Ukraine has used innovative new naval drones and western-supplied missiles to damage or destroy a growing list of Russian vessels and hit key targets including the headquarters of the Russian Black Sea Fleet. Satellite footage and international media reports in early October 2023 confirmed that the bulk of the Russian Black Sea Fleet had been withdrawn from Crimea to the relative safety of Russian ports.[9]

Goncharenko contends that, whilst it is too early for Ukraine to declare victory in the ‘Battle of the Black Sea’, the successes achieved in the past year are “arguably no less significant in terms of their impact on the wider war than the liberation of Kharkiv region and Kherson in the final months of 2022”. He adds that, in addition to forcing Putin’s fleet to retreat, Ukraine’s attacks on Russian-occupied Crimea have also significantly weakened the logistical networks that are essential for the resupply of the Russian army in southern Ukraine.

As a result of these moves, Ukraine has been able to ease some of the pressure created by the blockade of the country’s Black Sea ports, exacerbated following Russia’s withdrawal from the UN-negotiated Black Sea grain deal in summer 2023 which had allowed some shipments to sail in and out of the country. Ukraine has now established a unilateral humanitarian maritime corridor for merchant vessels, utilising a route which avoids international waters, hugging the coasts of NATO member states Romania and Bulgaria to reach Turkey.[10] By early December 2023, Goncharenko notes that more than 200 ships had made use of this new route, carrying over seven million tons of grains, metals, and other cargo.

However, Goncharenko cautions that Ukraine needs additional air defence systems to guard Ukrainian port infrastructure and territorial waters, and that gaining affordable maritime insurance remains a significant obstacle in consolidating these gains.

1.3 Ongoing Russian missile and drone attacks, and Ukrainian response

Russian airstrikes and drone attacks on Ukraine have escalated significantly in recent weeks. On 2 January 2024, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Russia had launched 500 missiles and drones against Ukraine in just the previous five days.[11] The BBC reports that this led to at least 32 deaths in Kyiv alone, 30 of them in one attack on 29 December when Russia launched one of the largest ever aerial attacks of the war. Russian tactics have also changed, with drone attacks being directly followed by missile strikes—also using different types of missiles simultaneously—in an apparent effort to overwhelm Ukrainian air defences.

It is not clear how long Russia can keep carrying out these large-scale strikes. BBC News highlighted analysis carried out by Ukrainian media which suggests the attack on 29 December cost $1.273bn (£1.01bn), whilst Forbes magazine reports that the attack on 2 January cost an extra $620mn (£491mn).[12] Analysis published in Le Monde quotes Ukrainian officials who said Russia still has around 1,000 ballistic or cruise missiles in its stockpile, and is able to make around 100 more per month.[13] Russia’s ability to manufacture arms and munitions despite international sanctions, and the support it has received from countries such as Iran and North Korea, is discussed in section 2.2 below.

Ukrainian forces have also been launching targeted strikes of their own, however, including against targets over the border in Russia. In particular, missile strikes on the city of Belgorod have reportedly led to partial evacuations as Russian authorities move people further away from the border.[14] Ukraine air defences also appear, despite initial expectations, to have been successful in stifling the power of the Russian air force. Further, though definitive casualty figures are hard to obtain, Russian losses appear to have so far outstripped those of the Ukraine military.[15] However, these losses may not have impaired Russia’s combat capabilities. The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) notes that a senior Ukrainian intelligence official has confirmed that Russian forces can generate forces at a rate equal to Russian monthly personnel losses.[16] The ISW suggest this is consistent with their own assessment that Russian forces are able to conduct routine operational level rotations in Ukraine.

1.4 A potential Russian offensive?

The ISW has reported claims from Russian sources that Russian forces are preparing to launch a new offensive in the coming weeks once the ground freezes in eastern and southern Ukraine.[17] The institute cites Russian literary critic and alternative historian Sergey Pereslegin who claimed on 12 January that Russian forces will launch a large-scale offensive effort in Ukraine sometime between 12 January and 2 February, after the ground freezes and likely after Ukrainian forces grow “exhausted” of defending their positions in Avdiivka and east (left) bank Kherson Oblast.[18]

The ISW’s own assessment is that freezing temperatures in Ukraine are likely currently constraining operations along the front but as the ground freezes in the coming weeks this will likely create more favourable terrain for mechanised manoeuvre warfare. Regardless of winter weather and terrain conditions, the ISW suggests that Russian forces will likely try to sustain or intensify localised offensive operations throughout eastern Ukraine to seize and retain the initiative. However, the ISW contends that Russian forces are unlikely to achieve operationally significant breakthroughs.[19] The ISW also notes that Russian forces are likely to continue to experiment and adapt their missile and drone strike packages against Ukraine in an effort to penetrate Ukrainian air defences.

Other analysts are similarly sceptical of Russia’s ability to launch a significant offensive soon. Michael Clarke, a former director general of the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), argues that “Russia lacks the equipment and trained manpower to launch a strategic offensive until spring 2025, at the earliest”.[20]

2. Areas of particular concern as the war continues

2.1 Ukraine’s supply of weapons and ammunition

As noted above, Ukrainian forces continue to experience significant shortages in weapons and ammunition. The US Congressional Research Service notes that Ukraine’s domestic defence industry produces a wide variety of weapons but has been unable to meet the country’s full wartime demands. In addition, Russian forces have targeted Ukraine’s domestic defence industry, affecting its ability to produce and maintain equipment.[21]

Ukraine has received significant amounts of international military support. However, there are questions whether Ukraine has enough of the right types of equipment to deliver significant battlefield gains. Writing for the Atlantic Council, the former dean of the NATO Defence College, Richard D Hooker Jr, observes:

Western aid has played a major role in keeping Ukraine in the fight, but some context is important when assessing this impact. The US has allocated over $100bn for Ukraine since the war began. Importantly, however, conscious policy decisions have denied Ukraine some key capabilities essential to battlefield success. Despite urgent appeals, the US has withheld F-16 aircraft and pressured allies to do the same, forcing Ukraine to contest the air domain with drones and older air defence systems while denying its ground forces the air interdiction and close air support vital in high intensity conflicts. Outnumbered 10 to one in combat aircraft, the Ukrainian air force can contribute little on the battlefield, though a limited transfer of older Polish and Slovak fighter jets has helped to offset combat losses.

Long range fires in the form of the tracked Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS) and wheeled High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS), together with very long ranged and highly accurate Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) munitions have been supplied, but in relatively small quantities. Despite an inventory of hundreds of M1-series main battle tanks kept in storage, the US has delivered only 31 tanks to Ukraine, almost two years into the conflict.[22]

Hooker does note the UK contribution of military equipment (discussed in greater detail in section 3 below) but contends that “[f]or the most part, the rest [of supportive nations] have followed the US lead in helping Ukraine to resist further Russian territorial gains but have denied Ukraine the means to achieve decisive success in reclaiming occupied territory”.[23]

Sustained efforts are being made to increase Ukraine’s defence industrial capacity, which was one of the key aims of the G7 summit in July 2023.[24] The ISW states that Ukraine is “dramatically expanding” its ability to satisfy its military requirements with significantly reduced foreign military assistance over time.[25] It notes that Ukraine is pursuing three primary lines of effort to achieve this goal: increasing its domestic defence industrial base; building bilateral and multilateral partnerships with European states; and pursuing industrial joint ventures with the United States and other international enterprises to coproduce defence materials in Ukraine and elsewhere. The ISW notes that Ukraine will require considerable western military assistance for several years, and its ability to reduce its dependence on such assistance “depends in part on whether it can liberate strategically vital areas currently occupied by Russian forces, among other factors”. However, the ISW contends that Ukraine and its western partners are executing a “realistic plan” to create a sustainable basis for Ukraine to be able to defend itself over the long term with dramatically reduced foreign military assistance.

2.2 Delays to international funding packages for Ukraine

At the same time as supportive governments provide assistance for Ukraine to become more self-sufficient, however, key funding packages for Ukraine have been delayed or brought into question. In the United States, a funding package worth $110bn for Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan remains stalled in the US Congress after significant disagreement between Democrats and Republicans over the money. Democrats are generally supportive with US President Joe Biden (and notable US intelligence and defence officials) calling for the package to be approved without delay, with the White House suggesting that existing funding packages were “running out”.[26]

However, congressional Republicans reportedly want reform to the way undocumented migrants claiming political asylum are processed by the US government before they will agree to the deal.[27] The disagreement comes amid signs of waning US public support for Ukraine, and the US role in providing support and equipment to the Ukrainian military, amongst Republican voters in particular. Of those surveyed in a recent opinion poll, 62% of Republican voters said the US was doing “too much” to support Ukraine, up from 50% in a previous poll.[28] The potential consequences of a Republican victory in this year’s US presidential elections for Ukraine is discussed in section 4 below.

The European Union has also faced internal disagreement over its bid to provide further funding to Ukraine. In December 2023, Hungary blocked a funding package for Ukraine worth €50bn–€17bn in grants and €33bn in non-budget loans.[29] The move came shortly after EU leaders agreed to begin accession talks as part of Ukraine’s bid to join the EU. Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán opposes Ukraine’s membership of the EU but did not veto the move, instead reportedly absenting himself from the discussion temporarily.

EU leaders are set to meet again on 1 February 2024 to discuss the funding package amongst other issues. According to news reports, Hungarian officials have offered a partial compromise on the funding deal by suggesting it is broken up into annual funding envelopes, worth approximately €12.5bn each, which would need to be approved through unanimity each year.[30]

However, providing funding in such a manner would arguably run counter to the funding facility’s aim to provide long-term, predictable assistance. There are also concerns that providing Hungary (or any other EU nation state) with an effective power of veto each year would leave the funding package contingent on continued dealmaking and allow recalcitrant states to force concessions on the wider bloc.[31] Should EU leaders fail to reach an agreement, Politico reports that European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has indicated that a backup plan is being prepared so that willing EU states can continue supplying funding to Ukraine without a contribution from Hungary.

At the same time, bilateral assistance from individual member states to Ukraine is continuing. France’s new foreign minister Stéphane Séjourné visited Ukraine on 13 January 2024, reportedly discussing a range of subjects with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky including the joint production of drones, artillery and further strengthening of air defence.[32]

At the meeting of the G7 in December 2023, leaders of those nations also reiterated their commitment to supporting Ukraine:

We are determined to support an independent, democratic Ukraine within its internationally recognised borders. We continue to support Ukraine in further developing President Zelenskyy’s Peace Formula. As stated in the Joint Declaration of Support for Ukraine on 12 July 2023, we are formalising our enduring support to Ukraine through specific, bilateral, long-term security commitments and arrangements.[33]

The G7 statement also discusses the ongoing commitment to sanctions, to limit exposure and reliance on Russian energy, and to provide humanitarian and critical energy assistance to Ukraine.

Similarly, at the meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Council on 10 January 2024 further pledges of military support for Ukraine were made, including air defences. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said:

NATO strongly condemns Russian missile and drone attacks on Ukrainian civilians, including with weapons from North Korea and Iran. For a second year in a row, Putin is trying to wear down Ukraine with mass strikes, but he will not succeed. Russia’s campaign of cruelty only strengthens Ukraine’s resolve. As Moscow intensifies its strikes on Ukrainian cities and civilians, NATO allies are boosting Ukraine’s air defences. We will continue to stand by the brave Ukrainians as they push back against Russia’s war of aggression.[34]

2.3 Russian’s weapons capacity: Domestic production and cooperation with Iran and North Korea

Despite international sanctions, Russia is ramping up the production of weapons and ammunition to prosecute its war in Ukraine. In November 2023, Russian President Vladimir Putin approved a significant increase in military spending that will see around 30% of fiscal expenditure directed towards the armed forces in 2024. Reuters notes that spending on defence and security combined is set to reach around 40% of all budget expenditure next year.[35] These commitments mean that Russian spending on defence is set to increase by almost 70% in 2024 from 2023.

At the same time, Russia has reportedly received significant international assistance, particularly from Iran and North Korea. Iran has been active in supplying Russia with drone technology in particular, and Sky News reports may have developed a new drone (the Shahed-107) with capabilities to seek out high-value battlefield targets such as British and American multiple-launch rocket systems used by Ukrainian forces.[36] Ukrainian officials have previously accused Iran of supplying Russia with significant quantities of one-way attack drones known as the Shahed-131 and Shahed-136, dubbed as ‘suicide drones’ because they fly into targets and explode on impact. Iran may also be close to providing Moscow with surface-to-surface missiles.[37]

At the same time, there was a notable deepening of ties between North Korea and Russia in 2023. Alongside high-profile visits—including North Korean President Kim Jong Un travelling to Russia by secure train to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in September 2023[38]—intelligence sources suggest that North Korea is now supplying Russia with weapons and ammunition in direct contravention of international sanctions.[39] These include UN sanctions on the sale of North Korean weaponry which Russia itself had previously supported.[40] Such weaponry is particularly helpful according to some experts because of its compatibility with Russian weapon systems.[41]

In October 2023, RUSI outlined the potential consequences of these closer ties for the war in Ukraine:

Having prepared for a massive conventional war with South Korea for decades, North Korea’s supplying of significant quantities of munitions to Moscow will have profound consequences for the war in Ukraine. For the Russians, a major North Korean supply line will alleviate shortages of munitions for what has proven to be an ordinance-hungry conflict and enable the Russian armed forces to feed their frontline troops as they try to repel a Ukrainian counteroffensive. Ukraine and its supporters will also have to contend with this new reality, potentially escalating their support by providing additional quantities of weapons and munitions to Ukraine’s defenders.[42]

These fears now appear to be becoming reality. According to US intelligence sources, Russia has already used ballistic missiles and launchers supplied by North Korea in Ukraine.[43] In a press briefing on 4 January 2024, US National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby said:

Our information indicates that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea recently provided Russia with ballistic missile launchers and several [dozen] ballistic missiles.

On 30 of December 2023, Russian forces launched at least one of these North Korean ballistic missiles into Ukraine. This missile appears to have landed in an open field in the Zaporizhzhia region.

And on 2 January, Russia launched multiple North Korean ballistic missiles into Ukraine, including as part of its overnight aerial attack. We’re still assessing the impacts of these additional missiles.[44]

A joint statement issued by the foreign ministers of several nations, including UK Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton, condemned the use of these weapons and voiced concern over the wider security implications:

We condemn in the strongest possible terms the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s (DPRK) export and Russia’s procurement of DPRK ballistic missiles, as well as Russia’s use of these missiles against Ukraine on 30 December 2023, and 2 January 2024. The transfer of these weapons increases the suffering of the Ukrainian people, supports Russia’s war of aggression, and undermines the global non-proliferation regime. Russia’s use of DPRK ballistic missiles in Ukraine also provides valuable technical and military insights to the DPRK. We are deeply concerned about the security implications that this cooperation has in Europe, on the Korean Peninsula, across the Indo-Pacific region, and around the world.[45]

2.4 Other notable developments

On 3 January 2024, Ukraine and Russia exchanged hundreds of prisoners of war, in what was referred to by Ukrainian officials as the biggest swap of the war.[46] Ukraine said 230 prisoners—including serving members of the armed forces and border guards—had been freed from Russian captivity. In exchange, 248 Russians were released by Ukraine in the deal, mediated by the United Arab Emirates.

On 4 January 2024, Russian President Vladimir Putin also signed a citizenship decree expediting Russian citizenship to foreigners and stateless people.[47] This will reportedly make it easier for Russian citizenship to be conferred on Ukrainian children moved to Russia. In March 2023, the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for President Putin over Russia’s policy of forced child deportations.

3. Latest from the UK government on Ukraine

The UK continues to be a prominent supporter of Ukraine in terms of both funding and military equipment. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak visited Kyiv in January 2024, pledging £2.5bn of military aid to Ukraine over the coming year, an increase of £200mn on the previous two years.[48]

A press release accompanying the announcement said this support would include significant amounts of drone technology:

The funding will help to leverage the best of UK military expertise and defence production to ensure Ukraine’s victory on the battlefield, including in critical areas like long-range missiles, air defence, artillery ammunition and maritime security.

Of the £2.5bn, at least £200mn will be spent on a major push to rapidly procure and produce thousands of military drones for Ukraine, including surveillance, long-range strike and sea drones. The technology will give Ukraine cutting edge, battle-tested capabilities to defend their citizens and target the invading Russian forces on land and sea.

This will be the largest delivery of drones to Ukraine from any nation. Most of the drones are expected to be manufactured in the UK, and the Ministry of Defence will work with international partners to significantly scale up the number of drones provided for Ukraine’s defence.[49]

At the same time, Ukraine and the UK signed a new security agreement.[50] The agreement contains measures in a range of areas including defence and military cooperation, non-military security, political cooperation, fiscal support, recovery and reconstruction, humanitarian cooperation, and reforms in Ukraine.

The agreement also includes a part on cooperation in case of future armed attacks. According to the agreement, in the event of future Russian armed attack against Ukraine, participants will consult within 24 hours to determine the measures needed to counter or deter the aggression. In those circumstances, the UK would provide Ukraine with security assistance, modern military equipment, and economic assistance.[51] The agreement is valid for 10 years, and if Ukraine joins NATO sooner, the participants will decide on its future status.

Speaking about the agreement, Rishi Sunak said it would provide the support Ukraine needed for the long-term:

The UK is already one of Ukraine’s closest partners, because we recognise their security is our security. Today we are going further—increasing our military aid, delivering thousands of cutting-edge drones, and signing a historic new security agreement to provide Ukraine with the assurances it needs for the long term.[52]

The UK has also been involved in several other partnership initiatives with Ukraine. On cybersecurity, the foreign ministries of Canada, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, The Netherlands, Poland, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States formally agreed the ‘Tallinn Mechanism’ on 20 December 2023.[53] This aims to coordinate and facilitate civilian cyber capacity building to help Ukraine “uphold its fundamental right to self-defence in cyber space” in the wake of Russian cyberattacks, and address longer-term cyber resilience needs. The UK’s primary delivery agent of cyber capacity building in Ukraine is the CSSF [Conflict, Stability and Security Fund] UK-Ukraine Cyber Programme, which the government states has delivered over £10mn to bolster Ukraine’s cyber defences since Russia’s full-scale invasion in February 2022.

In addition, following the foreign secretary’s visit to Ukraine in November 2023, the UK government and UK defence industry conducted their first trade mission to Ukraine in December 2023.[54] At COP28, G7+ countries and Ukraine also launched the Clean Energy Partnership, to support the sustainable recovery and reconstruction of Ukraine.[55] In addition, in December 2023 the UK announced further support for Ukraine’s efforts to bring war criminals to justice, including a £3.7mn package to support the documentation, investigation, and prosecution of war crimes committed in Ukraine.[56]

The UK and its international allies continue to maintain sanction regimes against Russia and Russian individuals. As of 15 January 2024:

  • 1,681 individuals and 269 entities are subject to UK sanctions under the Russia regime.[57]
  • Almost 1,950 individuals and entities are subject to EU sanctions against Russia, including secondary sanctions.[58]
  • The UK has targeted 129 oligarchs with a combined net worth of over £145bn.[59]

For further details on the sanctions regime, see House of Commons Library, ‘Sanctions against Russia’, 19 December 2023.

4. How could the war develop from here?

4.1 Russia playing the long game?

At the present time, the war appears to be in a relative stalemate with neither side able to achieve a significant battlefield advantage. Perhaps in part because of this stasis, neither side also appears willing to enter negotiations to find a peaceable settlement. In fact, Tim Willasey-Wilsey writes that, having endured a “torrid year, which included the Wagner mutiny and being forced to relocate the Black Sea Fleet from Crimea”, Russian President Putin may now be increasingly focused on making significant territorial gains and delivering on the invasion’s “original goals”, likely including regime change in Kyiv.[60]

Several factors play into this analysis. The first is the potential for war fatigue on the part of both Ukraine and supportive nations. Richard D Hooker Jr has voiced fears that Ukraine, far smaller in population and resources than Russia, cannot endure large scale war indefinitely.[61] He argues that, in time, Ukrainian morale and national resolve will almost inevitably “degrade”, as will international support for the war.

Michael O’Hanlon et al at Brookings write that domestic tensions in Ukraine have begun to surface after a long period of cohesion:

After more than 600 days of remarkable unity and resolve against Russia’s aggression, criticism of Zelenskyy and his government is beginning to show. Rumoured strains between the political and military leadership came out into the open recently after military chief Valeriy Zaluzhny criticized the stalling counteroffensive in an interview. The government’s refusal to hold national elections in wartime remains a source of tension (though even most opposition politicians acknowledge that the country’s constitution disallows elections during times of martial law).

Moreover, doubts over the effectiveness of the counteroffensive and corruption issues within supply and recruiting commands are creating issues for maintaining the size and strength of Ukraine’s military. The country’s ability to export grain—key not only to its economy but to feeding the world—has been severely hampered by the war and the end of the Black Sea grain initiative, which allowed ships carrying Ukrainian grain to travel safely, and by Russian seizure and/or aerial bombardment of Ukraine’s ports and grain storage facilities.[62]

O’Hanlon et al do note the success Ukraine has had in developing the new maritime trade corridor, however, and that, in the words of the International Monetary Fund, “the Ukrainian economy continues to show remarkable resilience”. The economy is growing, inflation has reduced, and the foreign exchange market has stabilised.

There are also concerns that President Putin is willing to prolong the war so that the Russian cause may benefit from significant geopolitical events, notably the US presidential election. Former US President Donald Trump, the likely Republican nominee, has repeatedly questioned aid to Ukraine and refused to commit to supporting Kyiv.[63] Consequently, several analysts have voiced fears that a Republican victory in November’s election could have significant consequences for US support to Ukraine.[64] Others, however, such as Barbara Zanchetta at Department of War Studies at King’s College London, have pointed out that President Trump did not withdraw the US from NATO despite his “theatrics” and so these fears may be overblown.[65]

For commentators such as Richard D Hooker Jr, 2024 will most likely see a ‘frozen conflict’ akin to the situation in Georgia and Moldova. However, Hooker argues in Ukraine’s case this will mean “Russian forces occupying the sovereign territory of a neighbouring state on a much larger and more dangerous scale”.[66] Indeed, in this circumstance, he argues that “Russia is unlikely to lick its wounds and slumber” and “instead, any pause in the invasion of Ukraine would allow the Russian military to refit and retrain”.

Ben Hodges, a former commanding general of the United States army in Europe, offers a more optimistic analysis. He agrees that Russia will do what it can to hold on to what it currently occupies, using the time to strengthen its defences while it hopes for the west to lose the will to continue supporting Ukraine. However, he argues that Ukraine will not stop, knowing it is in a fight for its survival, and given the US is likely to eventually pass the aid package that was delayed in Congress in December 2023, he anticipates Ukraine will do the following in the coming months as it prepares to regain the initiative:

  • reconstitute units which have been worn down from months of fighting, which will be necessary for a renewed offensive
  • improve the recruiting system within Ukraine to maximise available manpower
  • increase production of ammunition and weapons
  • improve its ability to operate against strong Russian electronic warfare capabilities—jamming, intercepting, locating.[67]

He adds that by early summer Ukraine will be able to use US-made F16 fighter jets for the first time, which it hopes will improve its ability to counter Russian aircraft and strengthen its own air defences.

Hodges also argues that Ukraine is likely to focus on Russia’s occupation of Crimea:

The most strategically important part of Ukraine that remains occupied by Russia is Crimea, which is what we call the “decisive terrain”.

Ukraine will do all it can to keep pressure on the Russians there to make it untenable for the Russian navy in Sevastopol, the handful of air force bases there and their logistics base at Dzankoy.

They have already proven the concept. With just three UK-provided Storm Shadow cruise missiles, they have forced the commander of the Black Sea Fleet to withdraw a third of his fleet from Sevastopol.[68]

Hodges acknowledges that the Ukrainian military does not have unlimited resources, especially artillery ammunition and long-range precision weapons. However, he argues that “Russian soldiers are in worse shape”. He adds:

War is a test of will, and a test of logistics. The Russian logistics system is fragile and under continuous pressure from Ukraine.[69]

4.2 How should those supportive to Ukraine respond in 2024?

The UK and other European nations are reportedly mindful of the need to support Ukraine in the event of a second Trump presidency and subsequent withdrawal of US funds. On 31 December 2023, the Times reported a ‘senior Whitehall source’ who said that Britain and other European countries were “cranking through the gears” trying to ensure they can help Ukraine win its war against Russia without the US should Donald Trump win a second term.[70] Politico has also reported that the EU—in part over worries about a Trump victory and the issues with Hungary approving funds for Ukraine—is “now looking to fund Ukrainian assistance from outside the EU budget, either through national contributions or debt guarantees from member countries”.[71]

However, many commentators have urged a ramping up of support for Ukraine without delay. Richard D Hooker Jr writes:

[A positive] outcome is still possible and can be achieved without wrecking western defence budgets, alliance cohesion, or domestic politics. However, time is running out. Ukraine remains defiant but its forces have been mauled and are increasingly suffering from ammunition shortages. A policy reversal by western leaders in early 2024 could see Ukraine equipped with the capabilities it needs to win the war by the end of the year. Above all, that means artillery ammunition, long range fires, air power, and assault breaching equipment.[72]

Similarly, Tim Willasey-Wilsey argues that Europe needs to decide if it is willing to support Ukraine militarily:

Firstly, Europe needs to work out whether it could continue to support Ukraine militarily if US assistance were to end. If so, it needs to start three-shift working in its ammunition factories starting soon. For example, Thales in Belfast which manufactures the highly successful Swedish NLAW anti-tank missile should be working a 24/7 week. 155mm artillery shells need to be churned out in bulk across all of Europe. This level of effort would require emergency budgets and would inevitably impact domestic spending on hitherto untouchable social programmes. Europe needs to work out now whether it can replicate the US logistics chain which has been so effective in getting munitions to eastern Ukraine.[73]

He also argues that Europe needs to “get serious” about three key issues:

Is it going to seize the £300bn of Russian assets in the west or not? Is it going to close the gaping loopholes on purchasing Russian energy products on the secondary market? And is it not time to suspend all Russian visas to Europe?[74]

Tim Willasey-Wilsey also argues that Ukraine’s EU membership needs to be fast-tracked, noting that Ukraine cannot join NATO while the fighting is still continuing.

Michael Clarke, a former director general of the Royal United Services Institute, agrees that the military course of the war in 2024 “will be determined in Moscow, Kyiv, Washington, Brussels, Beijing, Tehran and Pyongyang more than in Avdiivka, Tokmak, Kramatorsk or any of the devastated battlefields along the frontlines”.[75]

For Barbara Zanchetta at the Department of War Studies at King’s College London, while it is likely that the war will continue throughout 2024, “it cannot drag on indefinitely”. She argues the war will eventually lead to a negotiated settlement:

With western hesitancy bolstering Russia, and in the absence of either a coup or a health-related issue leading to Putin’s demise, the only foreseeable outcome will be a negotiated settlement that for now both sides continue to refuse.[76]

5. Read more

Photo by Max Kukurudziak on Unsplash.


  1. Reuters, ‘Four factors that stalled Ukraine’s counteroffensive, 21 December 2023. Return to text
  2. Reuters, ‘Four factors that stalled Ukraine’s counteroffensive’, 21 December 2023. Return to text
  3. As above. Return to text
  4. US Congressional Research Service, ‘Ukrainian military performance and outlook’, 1 December 2023. Return to text
  5. As above. Return to text
  6. Newsweek, ‘Russians bemoan Ukraine’s Dnieper left-bank foothold in Kherson: “A joke”’, 10 January 2024. Return to text
  7. BBC News, ‘Ukraine war: Soldier tells BBC of front-line “hell”’, 4 December 2023. Return to text
  8. BBC News, ‘Ukraine in maps: Tracking the war with Russia’, 20 December 2023. Return to text
  9. Oleksiy Goncharenko, ‘2023 review: Ukraine scores key victories in the battle of the Black Sea’, Atlantic Council, 5 December 2023. Return to text
  10. Politico, ‘Ukraine defies Russian attacks to continue Black Sea exports’, 9 November 2023. Return to text
  11. BBC News, ‘Ukraine war: What Russia’s escalating air attacks mean’, 3 January 2024. Return to text
  12. As above; Forbes, ‘Russia spent about $620mn on shelling Ukraine on 2 January Forbes estimates’, 2 January 2024. Return to text
  13. Le Monde, ‘War in Ukraine: The new Russian winter campaign’, 3 January 2024. Return to text
  14. BBC News, ‘Ukraine war: Some residents leave Belgorod after deadly attacks’, 6 January 2024. Return to text
  15. Richard D Hooker Jr, ‘2024 preview: The west must decide if it wants Ukraine to win’, Atlantic Council, 17 December 2023. Return to text
  16. Institute for the Study of War, ‘Russian offensive campaign assessment’, 15 January 2024. Return to text
  17. As above. Return to text
  18. Pereslegin himself claimed that Russians should be more concerned about Russia launching its offensive at the wrong time or making the same “mistakes” that Ukraine made during its 2023 counteroffensive than of a renewed Ukrainian offensive effort in 2024. Pereslegin also expressed concern that Russia does not have enough manpower to conduct the large-scale offensive effort he is anticipating. Return to text
  19. As above. Return to text
  20. BBC News, ‘Ukraine war: Three ways the conflict could go in 2024’, 29 December 2023. Return to text
  21. US Congressional Research Service, ‘Ukrainian military performance and outlook’, 1 December 2023. Return to text
  22. Richard D Hooker Jr, ‘2024 preview: The west must decide if it wants Ukraine to win’, Atlantic Council, 17 December 2023. Return to text
  23. As above. Return to text
  24. HM Government, ‘Joint declaration of support for Ukraine’, 12 July 2023. Return to text
  25. Institute for the Study of War, ‘Ukraine’s long-term path to success: Jumpstarting a self-sufficient defence industrial base with US and EU support’, 14 January 2024. Return to text
  26. Guardian, ‘US ‘out of money’ for Ukraine: Six things to know about the aid standoff’, 4 December 2023. Return to text
  27. BBC News, ‘Aid stalemate leaves Zelensky with little to show from US trip’, 13 December 2023. Return to text
  28. BBC News, ‘Why are some Republicans opposing more aid for Ukraine?’, 7 December 2023. Return to text
  29. BBC News, ‘Hungary blocks €50bn of EU funding for Ukraine’, 15 December 2023. Return to text
  30. Politico, ‘Orbán’s Ukraine compromise would allow him to hold EU to ransom every year’, 9 January 2024. Return to text
  31. As above. Return to text
  32. Le Monde, ‘On visit to Kyiv, France’s new foreign minister assures Ukraine remains a “priority”’, 15 January 2024. Return to text
  33. HM Government, ‘G7 leaders’ statement: 6 December 2023’, 6 December 2023. Return to text
  34. NATO, ‘NATO-Ukraine Council meets, allies pledge further air defences’, 10 January 2024. Return to text
  35. Reuters, ‘Putin approves big military spending hikes for Russia’s budget’, 27 November 2023. Return to text
  36. Sky News, ‘“Explosive” new attack drone developed by Iran for Russia’s war in Ukraine’, 10 January 2024. Return to text
  37. As above. Return to text
  38. BBC News, ‘Kim Jong Un-Putin talks: What do the optics tell us?’, 15 September 2023. Return to text
  39. Royal United Services Institute, ‘The Orient Express: North Korea’s clandestine supply route to Russia’, 16 October 2023. Return to text
  40. BBC News, ‘Putin and Kim: Friends in need (of ammunition)’, 12 September 2023. Return to text
  41. As above. Return to text
  42. Royal United Services Institute, ‘The Orient Express: North Korea’s clandestine supply route to Russia’, 16 October 2023. Return to text
  43. BBC News, ‘Ukraine war: US says Russia using North Korea ballistic missiles’, 5 January 2024. Return to text
  44. White House, ‘Press briefing by Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and NSC Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby’, 4 January 2024. Return to text
  45. Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, ‘Joint statement on DPRK-Russia ballistic missile transfers’, 12 January 2024. Return to text
  46. BBC News, ‘Ukraine and Russia in “biggest prisoner swap” so far’, 3 January 2024. Return to text
  47. BBC News, ‘Ukraine-Russia war: Putin citizenship decree violates children’s rights, Ukraine says’, 6 January 2024. Return to text
  48. HM Government, ‘PM in Kyiv: UK support will not falter’, 12 January 2024. Return to text
  49. As above. Return to text
  50. HM Government, ‘UK-Ukraine agreement on security cooperation’, January 2024. Return to text
  51. Official Website of Ukraine, ‘Ukraine and the UK signed the agreement on security cooperation’, 12 January 2024. Return to text
  52. HM Government, ‘PM in Kyiv: UK support will not falter’, 12 January 2024. Return to text
  53. Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, ‘UK and partners form the Tallinn Mechanism for cyber security’, 20 December 2023. Return to text
  54. HM Government, ‘First UK trade mission to Kyiv boosts defence cooperation’, 18 December 2023; BBC News, ‘David Cameron makes first official visit to Ukraine’, 16 November 2023. Return to text
  55. Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, ‘Clean Energy Partnership: G7+ and Ukraine joint statement’, 4 December 2023. Return to text
  56. Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and Home Office, ‘UK announces further support for Ukraine’s efforts to bring war criminals to justice’, 10 December 2023. Return to text
  57. HM Treasury, ‘Consolidated list of financial sanctions targets in the UK: Russia’, 15 January 2024. Return to text
  58. European Council, ‘EU restrictive measures against Russia over Ukraine (since 2014)’, accessed 15 January 2024. Return to text
  59. Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, ‘UK announces new sanctions in response to Russian sham elections in Ukraine’, 29 September 2023. Return to text
  60. Tim Willasey-Wilsey, ‘What lies ahead for the war in Ukraine in 2024?’, King’s College London, 2 January 2024; and Guardian, ‘Putin says no peace until Russia’s goals in Ukraine achieved’, 14 December 2023. Return to text
  61. Richard D Hooker Jr, ‘2024 preview: The west must decide if it wants Ukraine to win’, Atlantic Council, 17 December 2023. Return to text
  62. Michael O’Hanlon et al, ‘What to watch in Ukraine in 2024’, Brookings, 20 December 2023. Return to text
  63. BBC News, ‘Why are some Republicans opposing more aid for Ukraine?’, 7 December 2023. Return to text
  64. Washington Post, ‘Ukraine and its supporters need to prepare for a return of Trump’, 5 December 2023. Return to text
  65. BBC News, ‘Ukraine war: Three ways the conflict could go in 2024’, 29 December 2023. Return to text
  66. Richard D Hooker Jr, ‘2024 preview: The west must decide if it wants Ukraine to win’, Atlantic Council, 17 December 2023. Return to text
  67. BBC News, ‘Ukraine war: Three ways the conflict could go in 2024’, 29 December 2023. Return to text
  68. As above. Return to text
  69. As above. Return to text
  70. Times (£), ‘Europe aims to ramp up weapons to help Ukraine defeat Russia’, 31 December 2023. Return to text
  71. Politico, ‘How Europe can start Trump-proofing’, 11 January 2024. Return to text
  72. Richard D Hooker Jr, ‘2024 preview: The west must decide if it wants Ukraine to win’, Atlantic Council, 17 December 2023. Return to text
  73. Tim Willasey-Wilsey, ‘What lies ahead for the War in Ukraine in 2024?’, King’s College London, 2 January 2024. Return to text
  74. As above. Return to text
  75. BBC News, ‘Ukraine war: Three ways the conflict could go in 2024’, 29 December 2023. Return to text
  76. BBC News, ‘Ukraine war: Three ways the conflict could go in 2024’, 29 December 2023. Return to text