War in Ukraine | Putin remains completely opaque about his intentions

(Paris) With the city of Lysytchansk fallen, the question arises as to the next targets in Ukraine for Russian forces, whose admittedly slow advance is now regular with a large reinforcement of artillery.

Posted at 7:25am

Didier LAURAS
Media Agency France

Lock down the Donbass, move forward, negotiate for territorial gains and divide the West: Barring a military reversal, Russian President Vladimir Putin has several cards to play but remains completely opaque as to his intentions.

“All options are open,” sums up Pierre Razoux, the academic director of the Mediterranean Foundation for Strategic Studies (FMES).

“Anything is possible,” confirms Alexander Grinberg, an analyst at the Jerusalem Institute for Security and Strategy (JISS). “Will the Russians stop and get a great victory or do they have plans” in the south of the country?

Never give up

No one seems able to stop the Russians from fully controlling Donbass, which has been partially held by pro-Russian separatists since 2014, although pockets of resistance remain.

Opposite the twin cities of Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk, which fell one after the other, lie tempting targets for Moscow.

“Russia can hope to take Sloviansk and Kramatorsk and their surroundings,” said Pierre Grasser, associate researcher at Sorbonne University’s Sirice Laboratory. “With Sloviansk, the Russian armed forces will hope to find – for those who stayed – a fairly friendly population.”

But the Russian armed forces showed early in the war that they could not afford to go too deep. “Their steamroller works well near their borders, logistics centers and air bases. The more they move away from it, the more complicated it becomes,” notes Pierre Razoux.

Lock down the Black Sea

The Russians quickly took Kherson in the south in the first days of the war, but the situation on the Black Sea shores has not stabilized.

“The war in the south – and the liberation of Ukrainian ports from Russian control – is a front of much greater strategic importance” than Donbass, said Mick Ryan, a retired Australian general.

Control of the coast would give Moscow territorial continuity with Crimea, annexed in 2014, and access to Ukrainian Black Sea ports.

But “Ukraine’s counterattacks in the south put the Russians in a dilemma. Do they maintain the offensive in the east or significantly reinforce the south? “Adds the senior officer.

Destination Kharkiv

Kharkiv, the country’s second largest city (northeast), not far from the Russian border, remained under Ukrainian control and could be a target for Putin, according to Pierre Razoux.

“In the event of a Ukrainian collapse and complete isolation of Kharkiv, the Russians could force the Ukrainians to make a choice between making an effort to defend Kharkiv or easing the pressure south, towards Kherson.”

A dilemma that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is aware of.

“He needs to deploy his units in a way that avoids a major breakthrough in the summer months, lest the Russians cut the Ukrainian forces in two and encircle the Kharkiv Great Pocket,” adds the researcher.

A struggle for supremacy in this city of around 1.4 million people would inevitably be destructive and the siege could last “a year”, the expert said.

Share the west

With every military advance, Vladimir Putin drives a wedge into Western solidarity. Because Kyiv, Washington, Paris, London or Warsaw do not see the conflict in the same way.

“Russia’s goal is to continue to wear down Ukraine’s armed forces until political support for Ukraine wanes in the West,” argues Colin Clarke, research director at the Soufan Center, a New York think tank.

However, Kyiv is receiving significant Western military aid, but it is neither fast nor large enough. “Ukrainians understand that the West cannot provide all the heavy weapons they need,” Alexander Grinberg recalls.

And each week of war increases the pressure on Western public opinion against the backdrop of inflation and the energy crisis. “The Americans can say to the Ukrainians: ‘You can’t go on,'” recalls the Israeli.

open negotiations

The Russian advance should not make us forget its cost in the form of sanctions, human casualties, and the destruction of equipment. According to analysts, Putin therefore has several reasons for wanting to end the war.

At the end of June, the Kremlin opened up the possibility of negotiations. “We have to order […] Ukrainian soldiers must lay down their arms and all conditions imposed by Russia must be implemented. Then everything will be over in one day,” said Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

In fact, the Kremlin’s strongman could declare his goals accomplished and internally justify a lull in the war.

“Putin will eventually be forced to negotiate, his eyes were bigger than his stomach,” assures Colin Clarke.

He will find himself facing a divided front even within the Ukrainian political class.

Because even if Zelensky was tempted to let go of Donbass in order to buy peace, “his right wing and his generals reject any compromise with Russia,” stresses Pierre Razoux. “You can tolerate frozen conflicts, but not defeats.”

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