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What's ahead for the war in Ukraine in 2023

ELISSA NADWORNY, HOST:

It's been quite a year in Ukraine, and the worst of winter is still ahead. To talk more about what could come next and the challenges that 2023 could bring, we turn to Melinda Haring, the outgoing deputy director of the Atlantic Council's Eurasia Center, who's helped guide my reporting in Ukraine. Melinda Haring, thanks for being with us.

MELINDA HARING: Pleasure to be with you.

NADWORNY: As we mentioned this morning, Russia launched a large air attack, firing cruise missiles and explosive drones on several cities in Ukraine. What do you think this says about what's to come this winter?

HARING: What we see is what we get, so Vladimir Putin doesn't have much game left in terms of his military ability in Ukraine. His supply lines are exhausted. His men are exhausted. He's trying desperately to defend the land that he's taken. So I think we're going to see more of the cowardly strategy that we've seen since October, and that strategy is to attack humanitarian sites and try to freeze Ukrainians out of Ukraine and force a massive refugee crisis in Europe.

NADWORNY: So when you say freeze out of Ukraine, you mean hitting critical infrastructure like heat and power?

HARING: Exactly, and water as well. He wants to make life so miserable for Ukrainians that they basically throw their hands in the air and leave.

NADWORNY: The U.S. has been considering expanding its support for the war in Ukraine. Just this month, the Pentagon announced it's expanding training for the Ukrainian military. There's talks of sending more Western weapons. What does Ukraine need? What's the U.S. calculation in what support they're willing to offer?

HARING: So the U.S. keeps getting better and better in terms of its military response. The U.S. deserves huge and good strong marks for sending a large amount of defensive weapons, but it's not enough. Ukraine keeps begging for long-range missiles, and the White House has refused to give that so far because they're really afraid of escalation. And the kind of tanks that we could provide are not the tanks that the Ukrainians need, but it would potentially unlock the Germans to sending the tanks that the Ukrainians do need. So the Germans keep saying, we're not going to send tanks until the U.S. does. So the U.S. not only gives the largest number of weapons, it also sets the tone.

So we are the undisputed leader in terms of weapons giving to Ukraine. So if we're willing to send planes or we're willing to send ATACMS, we're willing to send long-range missiles, it's going to encourage others that are hesitant or reticent to send more weapons. It will encourage them to do the same.

NADWORNY: Melinda, I wonder, as we approach 2023, what is going to happen with this war as it enters its second year?

HARING: Unfortunately, the war is going to continue for a long time. No one expects this war to be over, you know, within a matter of weeks or months. Vladimir Putin is determined to win in Ukraine, and he bet his entire legacy, his, you know, more than 20-year legacy on destroying Ukraine. You know, one of the big questions I get into, one of the big debates I get into is how much longer can Russia continue to lob missiles? How many more missiles does it have? So experts who count missiles say somewhere between 3 to 5 barrages, but the point is it can buy more. It can certainly buy more, and it can continue to strike Ukraine's critical infrastructure. When you talk to experts in Ukraine about how much longer their grid can withstand this pressure, they will tell you very honestly, we don't know.

So I'm definitely watching the critical infrastructure question. This question is, you know, relevant until about March, and then the temperatures will start to warm up. But I think another big theme to watch is what happens on Capitol Hill. So there was a lot of anxiety that support for Ukraine would dry up in the United States. And thankfully, that's not true, and I don't expect support for Ukraine to change very much on Capitol Hill in terms of weapons. Where I'm worried, though, is budget support, and this is the billions of dollars that Washington has provided to keep the Ukrainian state afloat. So that's something I'm definitely watching. And, you know, the longer this goes on - this conflict is 5000 miles away. And President Biden has done a lot well, but he has not explained to Americans why this conflict matters and why we should continue to sacrifice for Ukrainians. So I certainly hope that President Biden will make that bigger rhetorical explanation in the new year.

NADWORNY: That was Melinda Haring. She's the outgoing deputy director of the Atlantic Council's Eurasia Center. Thanks, Melinda.

HARING: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.