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Ukraine-Russia war: Expert predictions on where conflict will go next

As the war reaches its second anniversary, it's still unclear how it will eventually come to an end.

So, what are we likely to see over the next 12 months? We've been speaking to experts to get their predictions.

'Russia will target these areas next'

Security and defence analyst Professor Michael Clarke says...

Ukraine may well lose more of the territory it has been defending during the rest of this year, but it will be working hard to build up its strength for 2025 and to convince the Western powers that it can prevail against Russia's invasion eventually.

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On the ground, Russia will try to take Kramatorsk and Slovyansk, which would effectively give it the whole of the Donbas region.

At sea, the Ukrainians will try to make the most of the pressure they can put on Crimea through their increasing success in the western part of the Black Sea.

In the air, Russia is making the most of its natural numerical advantage, but Kyiv will be hoping it can turn the air war to hold Russian aircraft further away from its frontline areas.

But most important of all will be the competition for war production between the two sides.

Russia can certainly out-produce Ukraine on its own.

Ukraine can manufacture many good and innovative war stocks but it can only match Russian production levels with the full backing of the Western powers.

This will be the most important - and the most uncertain - front in this war for the coming year.

'Ukraine likely to lose rest of Donbas'

Security and conflict expert Dr Huseyn Aliyev says...

Kyiv will suffer "more serious territorial losses" over the next 12 months, he says.

Reflecting on the recent fall of Avdiivka, he explained a lack of tactical reserves and ammunition - problems the Ukrainians faced during the "botched" defence of Bakhmut in 2023 - were continuing to cause issues.

"As things stand, Ukraine is highly dependent on foreign supplies of ammunition and weapons as two years into the conflict domestic mass production of ammunition is still lagging behind, even when it comes to basic munitions, such as landmines or mortar rounds," he said.

In comparison, Russia has become fast and efficient at "institutional adaptation and learning", Dr Aliyev added.

"All procrastinations on Ukraine's part are likely to lead to more serious territorial losses," he said, warning a lack of domestically made artillery shells and drones could have dire consequences.

"Unless Ukraine engages in construction of defence fortified positions and ramps up domestic production of ammunition, as well as improves mobilization and recruitment, it is likely to lose the rest of Donbas region this year as well as some territories in the south," he said.

'Defeat of Kyiv government could look feasible by end of year'

International affairs editor Dominic Waghorn says...

Both sides in this war are now engaged in what America calls a "hold and build" strategy.

Unable to achieve a breakthrough, Russia and Ukraine are hoping to hold the line while they strengthen their forces.

This is expected to last all year, unless the West chooses to give Ukraine a decisive qualitative edge something it has been too timid and cautious to do so far throughout this conflict.

Without far more substantial support for Ukraine by the end of this period of consolidation, Russia is likely to have the upper hand.

NATO countries have far more economic and military power taken together but they have chosen individually not to share enough of that to give Ukraine the wherewithal to expel the invaders.

Ukraine has been given enough to continue the war, not to win it. There are now doubts over whether it will be sent enough even to stand its ground.

Russia's leader Vladimir Putin knows his survival depends on not losing the war so he is predictably taking all steps to avoid that eventuality.

He is militarising the economy and taking precautions to avoid the inevitable fallout from soaring casualty figures.

He has barred one anti-war rival from running in the upcoming presidential elections and it seems now killed the most prominent critic of his invasion of Ukraine, Alexei Navalny.

Russia has run rings around Western sanctions.

Ed Conway's revealing research is the latest case in point.

And he has enlisted the support of North Korea and it seems more vicariously China in securing supplies of ammunition and weapons that far outweigh the munitions being sent by all of Ukraine's Western backers put together.

There is also still doubt over the strength of military and financial support America is prepared to send Ukraine.

Mr Putin's formidable misinformation machine has sown doubt in the minds of many in the West about the rights and wrongs of the war and the chances of victory.

He has found useful conduits for his falsehoods and half truths, wittingly or not, in the likes of American propagandist Tucker Carlson.

Ukraine has scored some successes at sea sinking a number of Russian warships, but is yielding territory in the ground war, if only incrementally.

But the direction of travel against Ukraine is likely to continue.

If the West chooses not to step up its support to counter the might of Russia's war economy and the support of its allies, a tipping point is likely to be reached towards the end of the year when the defeat of the Kyiv government might start looking feasible.

The West may then learn how sincere Vladimir Putin is when he insists he will not attack NATO countries next, with all that could entail for global security.

'Russian casualties will get increasingly worse'

Former senior military intelligence and security officer Philip Ingram says...

Casualties will remain huge for both sides, but they will get "increasingly worse" for Russia as the West bolsters Ukraine's defences.

"Russia is relying on North Korea and Iran, that does not bode well; the Western defence industrial base, its ammunition manufacturers are finally waking up," he said.

Meanwhile, he said Ukraine has been delivering a "masterclass in strategic manoeuvre" with Special Operations Executive (SOE) operations across occupied territories and into Russia.

This has included assassinations, railway derailments, factories and oil refineries blowing up, as well as military headquarters, airfields and logistic dumps targeted by long-range weapons and the Russian Black Sea Fleet rendered impotent, Mr Ingram explained.

"These combined with resurgent Western supplies will allow Ukraine to regain a multidimensional initiative", he said.

But will it bring a quick end to the war? Mr Ingram said it is "highly unlikely, unless there is a major change in Moscow".

"We will be talking about the Russia-Ukraine war in another 730 days, I believe," he added.

"However, in another 730 days Russia will be significantly weakened, it simply can't afford much more, whereas in the West, affordability is merely a political decision as the price for Ukraine losing is significantly greater.

"It is that that will ensure continued Western support no matter what election outcomes unfold."

'Third year of war could prove more difficult for Zelenskyy'

Military analyst Sean Bell says...

The key to Ukraine's fortunes lie with Vladimir Putin, and 2024 could prove to be a very difficult year.

"Although Western political support for President Zelenskyy appears relatively robust, translating that rhetoric into a steady supply of battle-winning weapons is proving increasingly difficult," he adds.

"Western war chests are depleted, and without weapons and ammunition, Ukraine's prospects are bleak."

However, he points out Russia will face the same challenge and will try to cultivate links with North Korea and Iran to augment its own defence industrial base, funded by growing oil revenues.

"The presidential elections could prove crucial," he says.

"A change of administration in the USA could herald a reduction in financial and military support for Ukraine this coming year.

"Even with massive support in 2023, Ukraine was unable to break through Russian lines. Any reduction of support could be critical.

"And, with Russia's presidential elections behind him, Putin could feel emboldened to 'double-down' on his special military operation in Ukraine.

"Year two of this conflict started with a sense of optimism for the coming Ukrainian spring offensive.

"However, without a determined, coherent and credible western strategy to provide Ukraine with the weapons and ammunition it needs to prevail, this could prove a much more difficult year for President Zelenskyy."

'West cannot afford to miscalculate in 2024'

Researcher Jaroslava Barbieri says...

2024 will be the year the West plays a vital role.

While she predicts Russia will keep hold of material and manpower advantages, she believes the EU and NATO will "seriously commit" to improving Ukraine's defence capabilities.

In 2022 the West underestimated Ukraine's ability to fight. In 2023 the West underestimated Russia's ability to recover from its military setbacks and sustain a long-term war," she said.

"The policy of drip-feeding weapons into Ukraine reflected Western governments' illusion that supporting Ukraine's victory could mean something other than inflicting a decisive defeat on Russia.

"2024 is the year when the West cannot afford to miscalculate again."

"The future of the war hinges on the West coming to terms with the reality that it's an existential war not only for Ukraine, but the West as a whole."

In her view, the best case scenario will see Donald Trump staying out of the White House and Western powers drawing up a coherent plan on how to use Russia's frozen assets to Ukraine's advantage.

In turn, Ukraine will boost mobilisation, hold defensive lines and build up its air defences.

She said Kyiv would then increase drone attacks, especially in Crimea, and acquire long-range precision strike capabilities to hit deep behind enemy lines.

"Together, these factors will allow Ukraine to rebuild its capacity to conduct large-scale offensive operations in 2025," she said.

However, a worst case scenario would see the "return of American isolationism and European political paralysis".

"Facing severe shell shortages, Ukrainian soldiers would be forced to scale back military operations," she explained.

"Ukraine's inability to replenish its battlefield manpower would exacerbate brewing tensions inside Ukrainian society.

"The Kremlin would continue to exploit any sign of Western hesitation to push the narrative that Ukraine cannot win this war and that negotiating a deal on Moscow's terms is the only option.

"In turn, this could possibly lead to a new wave of Ukrainian refugees."

'Key US support well in the balance'

Our US correspondent Mark Stone says...

The war in the Middle East has somewhat overshadowed an almighty and long-running row in Washington about funding for Ukraine.

As Sky News' own eyewitness reporting has revealed, the Ukrainian military is close to running out of weapons and ammunition.

On the ground in eastern Ukraine, Vladimir Putin has the upper hand.

European foreign ministers meeting here in New York aren't even trying to argue otherwise.

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In Washington, a small but influential group of Trumpian politicians representing doubting constituents across the country are blocking a bill to send another huge tranche of weapons to Ukraine.

There is absolutely no guarantee that they will allow it to pass.

It's striking that European foreign ministers who are at the UN to mark the anniversary are focusing their messaging on America, not Russia.

With quite blunt language, they are calling for America to step up and continue to support Ukraine.

"It is in the interests of the American people," the foreign ministers of Britain, Germany and Poland said at an event on 5th Avenue this morning.

It's a message that isn't landing in America yet.

The "America first/security begins at home" message, and confusion over the merits of funding a far-away war, run deep across many parts of America.

And remember - the prospects for the Ukraine war could shift even more profoundly should Donald Trump be elected in November.

We are approaching a moment in this long war where fortunes could shift profoundly.