Russia-Ukraine War: Frontline Stagnant, Peace Prospects Dim As War Enters Third Year

Men stand and sit on a tank, a Ukrainian flag waves in the background.

Image courtesy of Politico

By Patrick D. Lewis

February 20, 2024, marked two years since Russian troops were ordered to invade Ukraine by Russian President Vladimir Putin. 

As the war enters its third year, over 10,500 civilians have been confirmed dead and nearly 20,000 more injured, according to the United Nations. Military casualties are much harder to reckon. A project recording names of Ukrainian soldiers whose families have received confirmation of their death says it has confirmed over 49,000 Ukrainian Armed Forces deaths; Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says the number is closer to 31,000, while the US Government estimates it may be over twice that many. 

Russian figures are even harder to calculate. A recent BBC News Russia report says they have confirmed the names of over 46,000 Russian soldiers killed in action and believe over 90,000 have died in total, with an additional 23,000 deaths among independent groups fighting on Russia’s side, such as separatist militias from the Donbas region of Ukraine. US officials, according to the New York Times, believe that over 350,000 Russian soldiers have been killed and injured.

On the battlefield, the frontlines have remained largely unchanged for months. Russian forces have been touting a winter offensive that has accomplished little, if anything, other than more casualties. The highly-publicized Russian capture of the town of Avdiivka is the first success either side has had on the ground for nine months. Ukrainian forces had been defending the city of 32,000 for months but withdrew to avoid being surrounded after they ran short of ammunition and other critical supplies. Putin hailed the victory as one of great importance, and analysts believe it is a necessary step towards full Russian control of the Donetsk region in southeastern Ukraine.

Meanwhile, US President Joe Biden pointed to the collapse of Avdiivka as a result of House Republicans’ refusal to pass a bill to fund aid packages for Ukraine. Over $60 billion in Ukraine funds have been held back by Congress amid a larger fight over funding for stronger US-Mexico border enforcement, foreign aid money, and government spending. 

The last US aid package for Ukraine was approved on December 27, 2023. No more aid has officially been sent since, although some reports suggest the US military may be using arms dealers and other roundabout methods as workarounds to get weapons and ammunition to Ukraine without congressional approval. 

As the frontlines remain as they have been for months and US aid has dropped to a trickle or stopped entirely, pressure is mounting on Ukraine to come to the negotiating table. Turkish President Recip Erdogan, one of a handful of European leaders friendly to Putin, offered to negotiate between the warring countries, something which Zelenskyy has declined. Zelenskyy has been adamant that his country will continue fighting until Russian forces are completely withdrawn from Ukraine, while Putin’s administration has hinted at a willingness to negotiate. 

Ukraine also expressed disdain for comments made on a radio show by Pope Francis last week, in which the Holy Father said Ukraine should “have the courage of the white flag.” A Vatican spokesperson later said that the Pope was referring to peace negotiation rather than surrender. 

Ukraine’s foreign minister said, “Our flag is a yellow and blue one. This is the flag by which we live, die, and prevail. We shall never raise any other flags.”

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