Difficult months are ahead for Ukraine: a lack of weapons and the threat of a spring offensive by Russia make victory seem increasingly unlikely. But there was such a false assumption before.

A brutal war has been raging in Ukraine for almost a year. Three weeks before the anniversary of the invasion on February 24, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy once again prepared the Ukrainians for difficult times. “The situation is getting tougher and harder,” he said, warning of an imminent spring offensive by Russia.

In fact, things are not looking good for Ukraine: Russia is reporting the capture of towns around Bakhmut, Russian troops are advancing further and further. On the Ukrainian side, on the other hand, there has been no ground gain for a long time. Experts even doubt whether this will ever happen again: “I fear that Ukraine may not be able to win back its entire territory in this war,” Christoph Heusgen, head of the Munich Security Conference, told “Stern”.

He’s not alone in that. Media reports about a lack of ammunition and soldiers on the part of Ukraine are increasing. Added to this is the imminent spring offensive that Russia is currently preparing to prepare. On the anniversary of the Russian invasion on February 24, Putin wants to show successes, Zelenskyj said. The promised tanks from the West are not likely to roll over Ukrainian territory until the fall and are therefore no help yet. The impression quickly arises that the fight for Ukraine is hopeless.

It wasn’t all that long ago that the opposite happened: at the beginning of winter things were looking bad for the Russians. “The mobilization went badly, there were daily reports of demotivated soldiers and obsolete weapons and vehicles,” recalls military expert Gustav Gressel from the Berlin think tank European Council on Foreign Relations. At that time, too, the false impression was created that the war was almost over. “The Ukrainian victory seemed to be just around the corner,” says Gressel ntv.de. “Now you can see that it’s not that easy after all, and the mood is turning to the opposite again: Russia is winning, everything is hopeless.” But it’s not as simple as that.

Wars are dynamic, says the Ukrainian journalist Denis Trubetskoy ntv.de. When Ukrainian soldiers recaptured the Kharkiv region in a counter-offensive in September last year, everyone was surprised. Within a few days, the Ukrainian army had liberated more than 6,000 square kilometers and 300 settlements with a total population of around 150,000 people in the Kharkiv region. Such a surprise offensive could happen again, according to Trubetskoy, who writes for several German media, including ntv.de. “You just don’t know, because Kyiv wants to keep it secret.”

But many of the headlines about alleged weaknesses in Ukraine are factually wrong, says Trubetskoy. Reports that, for example, men over the age of 60 are sent to the front are not true. At most, Ukraine could mobilize seven million people, but a little less than a million have been drafted so far. Although Russia could mobilize three times as many people, theoretically up to 25 million, this is almost impossible to do in practice, according to the journalist.

Russia’s past waves of mobilization have not been without problems, with officers recently acknowledging mistakes after men were sent into the war who should never have been drafted. Among them are injured and older men. Trubetskoy estimates that Russia could mobilize about 200,000-300,000 men every two to three months. Russia has an advantage if the war drags on for a very long time – because then the country has more resources from which it can continue to draw.

According to estimates, Russia should also have 4,000 tanks at its disposal. The 140 Leopard tanks promised to Ukraine, on the other hand, look old. But Trubetskoy has serious doubts that so many Russian tanks would really be operational in the end. “Russia is not a wonderland.” It is true that the country is vastly superior to Ukraine in terms of the number of weapons it has. But the quality of Western weapons makes up the difference, he argues. At least a little – because one disadvantage remains: Ukraine still gets too few weapons to be able to defend its territory effectively.

“We lost a lot of time in pointless debates about tanks and are losing even more time about fighter jets and artillery,” says military expert Gressel. There are also shortcomings in the procurement and production of ammunition, especially in Germany. Nevertheless, Defense Minister Boris Pistorius has done a good job so far and is setting the right priorities, praises Gressel.

The head of the Munich Security Conference, Christoph Heusgen, criticized the federal government for its hasty rejection of weapons demands from Ukraine. “We’re constantly ruling out something that we’re willing to do in the end. That makes us unbelievable. This rush to say no should finally stop, it’s harmful,” says Heusgen.

He also warns against Putin’s tactic of continuing the war until support in Europe and the US dwindles. “He hopes that people will spend too much, that energy prices will be too high, and that they will want to spend the money on something else,” says Heusgen in RTL Nachtjournal. However, in his opinion, Putin underestimates both Ukraine and Europe in terms of their resilience. The Germans would see how much the Ukrainians are suffering. “I think politicians also underestimate the resilience of German citizens.”

Heusgen advocates the delivery of fighter jets to Ukraine, which Chancellor Olaf Scholz has vehemently rejected. “If we give Ukraine weapons, whether it’s helmets, tanks or planes, we support them in accordance with international law. International law clearly states that an attacked country can defend itself and that country can be supported,” he told RTL. The quality or quantity of the weapons supplied does not change that.

“From the Ukrainian point of view, very bitter, extremely difficult months are coming, because tanks from the West will only be available in the summer, but the Russian attack power is already increasing,” warns military expert Gressel. The current situation in Ukraine is not hopeless, but the West must deliver much more weapons much faster. “All these omissions cost a lot of lives.” It remains to be seen whether things will improve quickly enough.