The former commander of the UK Joint Forces Command warned that Ukraine could be defeated by Russia in 2024. General Sir Richard Barons told the BBC that hthere is a “serious risk” that Ukraine will lose the war this year, “because it can start to feel like it can’t win. And if it comes to that, why would people want to fight and die, just to defend the unjustified?” he emphasized.

Of course, Ukraine is not yet at that point. But its forces are running out, in ammunition, troops and air defense. Its much-heralded counteroffensive last year failed to drive the Russians from the territory they had seized, and now Moscow is preparing a summer offensive.

So what will this pressure look like and what will its likely strategic goals be?

“The form of the Russian attack that is going to come is pretty clear,” Barons said.

“We see Russia striking, significantly superior in artillery, ammunition and manpower enhanced by the use of new weapons,” he noted.

These include the FAB glide bomb, a 1.5-tonne guided bomb, which consists of high explosives and wreaks havoc on Ukrainian defences.

“At some point this summer we expect to see a major Russian offensive,” says the general, and continues: “And if that happens, there is a risk that Russian forces will penetrate Ukraine’s defenses and then exploit areas where the Ukrainian armed forces have not they can stop them” said the general.

The question is however where the attack will take place. Last year, the Russians knew exactly where Ukraine was likely to attack – from the direction of Zaporizhia south to the Sea of ​​Azov. They planned accordingly and successfully blocked the Ukrainian advance.

Now, Russia is massing its troops and keeping its plans secret.

“One of the challenges facing Ukrainians,” Dr. Jack Watling, senior research fellow on land warfare at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) think tank, “is that the Russians can choose where to commit their forces. This is a very long front line and the Ukrainians must be able to defend it in its entirety.”

Which, of course, they can’t do.

“The Ukrainian army will lose ground. The question is, how much and which population centers will be affected,” said the researcher.

It is quite possible that the General Staff of the Russian armed forces has not yet decided exactly where to attack.


“Kharkov is definitely vulnerable,” Watling said.

As Ukraine’s second city, located perilously close to the Russian border, Kharkiv is a tempting target for Moscow. Currently, the city is hit by Russian missiles on a daily basis, leaving Ukraine unable to develop sufficient air defenses to repel the deadly mix of drones, cruise missiles and ballistic missiles.

“I think the offensive this year will have as its first objective the disengagement from Donbas,” adds General Barons, “and their eyes will be on Kharkiv, which is about 29 kilometers from the Russian border.”

Could Ukraine still function as a viable entity if Kharkiv fell? Yes, analysts say, but it would be a huge blow to both its morale and its economy.


The region of eastern Ukraine, known collectively as Donbas, has been at war since 2014, when Moscow-backed Russian-speaking regions declared themselves independent “people’s democracies”. In 2022, Russia illegally annexed the two regions or provinces of Donbas, Donetsk and Luhansk. It is where most of the ground fighting has taken place over the past 18 months.

Ukraine has, controversially, expended enormous efforts, both in manpower and resources, trying to hold first the city of Bakhmut and then Avdiyivka. However, she lost both, as well as some of her best troops, in the effort. Kiev countered that this caused disproportionately high losses to the Russians. While this is true, Moscow has many more troops to send into battle than Ukraine.

The commander of US forces in Europe, General Christopher Cavoli, has warned that unless the US sends significantly more weapons and ammunition to Ukraine, then its forces will be outnumbered on the battlefield by ten to one. The tactics, leadership and equipment of the Russian military may be inferior to that of Ukraine, but it is outnumbered. Experts estimate that he will continue to push Ukrainian forces westward, capturing one village after another.


The southern Ukrainian city of more than 700,000 inhabitants (in peacetime) is dangerously close to Russian front lines. It is also the capital of a district of the same name that was illegally annexed by Russia, but nevertheless the city still lives free.

However, the formidable defenses Russia built south of Zaporizhia last year in anticipation of a Ukrainian attack would now make a Russian advance from there difficult. The so-called Surovikin Line, which consists of triple layers of defense, is interspersed with the largest, most densely populated minefield in the world. Russia could partially dismantle it, but its preparations could probably be detected.

Russia’s strategic goal this year may not even be territorial. He may simply want to crush Ukraine’s fighting spirit and convince its Western backers that this war is a lost cause.

Dr. Jack Watling believes that the Russian objective is “to try to create a sense of hopelessness”.

“This n [ρωσική] attack will not decisively end the conflict, no matter how it turns out for either side,” he said.

General Barons is also wary that, despite the dire situation Ukraine now finds itself in, Russia will attempt a decisive advance.

“I think the most likely outcome is that Russia will have scored victories but not been able to break through the Ukrainian defenses. He will not have forces big enough or good enough to reach the river [Ντνίπρο]… but the war will have turned in Russia’s favor.”

One thing is certain. Russian President Vladimir Putin has no intention of abandoning the war with Ukraine. It’s like a poker player betting all his chips on a win. He reckons the West will not supply Ukraine with sufficient means to defend itself. And despite the NATO summits, conferences and sensational speeches, there’s a chance he’s right.