Before launching his attack on Ukraine on February 24, Vladimir Putin had a very clear scenario in mind: the invasion was to be ended in a few days. Today, after three months of conflict, it is difficult to say with certainty how the war could end.
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What paths can the conflict take in light of the current situation of forces, goals and difficulties? What are the most likely? For franceinfo, many specialists have considered different scenarios.
Ukraine repels the attack with Western support and wins the war
This is the scenario that Kyiv supporters dreamed of. Recently, NATO gave hope: the Ukrainian army was able to retake Kharkiv, the second city in the country, in the northeast. She herself launched a counterattack in the direction of Izyum, southeast of Kharkiv. The Russian army continues to make tactical mistakes, such as crossing the Donets River which resulted in the destruction of at least 73 tanks, according to the Associated Press of Ukraine’s military. It can also lack vital forces, as its soldiers reach the end of their military service.
But for Ukraine, what really constitutes a victory? Is it enough to return to the situation before February 24? apparently not: “We hope that Crimea will become part of Ukraine ”Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told Wall Street Magazine* May 3rd. On the authority of Ukraine’s Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar, citing financial times* The goal is The complete cleansing of our country and the establishment of sovereignty [ukrainienne] within its borders which includes Crimea and eastern Donbass provinces, the Ukrainian territories controlled by Russia and pro-Russian separatists respectively since 2014.
However, recovering these lands would be very difficult from a military point of view. “These lands have been in conflict for eight years, the separatists and Russian soldiers know the terrain, and have had time to consolidate their positions”, explains to franceinfo Christine Duguin Clément, researcher associated with the Head of “Risks” of the Expert Research Laboratory of the Paris-Sorbonne Business School. Therefore, the Ukrainian counterattack could prove very costly in terms of human lives and materials – which is one of the reasons why Ukraine continues to demand increased and sustained military support.
Russia is winning the war by suffocating Ukraine’s “economic” and military
For its part, Moscow continues to advance in several areas, such as around Severodonetsk, in the Donbass. It reproduces the siege strategy successfully used in other cities against Mariupol (constant bombing and disruption of Ukrainian supply), and continues to strike at Ukrainian strategic points (ammunition stocks, railways, electric power stations). The Russian military has also learned the lessons of its failure in Kyiv: by withdrawing into its territory, it avoids stretching its supply chains too far, making them less vulnerable.
The knockout punch can come from the wallet. At the same time, Russia is pursuing a strategy‘economic suffocation’ Ukraine, on the authority of Carol Grimaud Potter, Lecturer in the Political Geography of Russia at Paul Valery University in Montpellier.
“The economic centers of Ukraine are located in the east and on the coast of the Black Sea, which is controlled or reserved by Russia, including the port of Odessa.”Carol Grimaud Potter is a lecturer in Russian geopolitics at Paul Valery University in Montpellier
Lots of elements that indicate that Ukraine could eventually give up. This scenario can be accelerated by easing Western support, “A decisive factor in the resistance of Ukraine” According to Matthew Polig, Research Associate in the Chatham House Research Center’s Russia and Eurasia Program. The economic costs of the war may deter the United States and Europe from continuing their financial and military support. The first cracks have already appeared in European unity: Hungary is against imposing tougher sanctions on Russian oil, fearing that it will run out of energy.
But this scenario also has flaws in the eyes of analysts, who point to the resistance of Ukrainian forces on the ground. “Russia does not have the means to carry out extensive operations in the long term”asserts Matteo Poleg, who states that the Russian forces failed to capture the city of Kyiv.
The war began, and neither side won.
This explains why the perspective mentioned most often is the perspective of perpetual conflict. “The lines can be settled around the territorial boundaries of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions”thinks Mathieu Poleg.
“It will not be a ‘frozen conflict’: there will be tactical moves, breakthroughs and defenses on each side. But the situation may go on for ten, twenty or thirty years, as long as Moscow does not get enough space to present it as a victory.”Matthew Poleg, Research Associate at Chatham House Research Center
The opposite of blitzkrieg Which Vladimir Putin had hoped for on February 24. But the Kremlin is used to protracted wars. Carol Grimaud-Potter compares the war in Afghanistan from 1979 to 1989: “At that time, the Soviet Union had goals that were too large in comparison with the number of its forces, had not foreseen the scale of the resistance, and had not succeeded in preventing international support.”
But Moscow does not have the means to stay forever either. International sanctions threaten to destroy its economy, and the cost of the war is increasing day by day, both humanitarian and economic: Russia has spent more than $300 million per day on its army, according to the Russian Defense Ministry. Moscow Times*.
Peace negotiations finally succeed
That is why Ukraine, like Russia, can decide to find a way out through negotiations. For now, the chances are slim: talks have been stalled since May 17. Moscow indicates a ‘Total lack of will’ From Kyiv, Ukraine accuses Russia of staying in “stereotyped thinking”. Nevertheless, Volodymyr Zelensky continues to issue positive signals: “There are things that we can only achieve at the negotiating table.”The Ukrainian president said on the Ukrainian ICTV channel. But in the eyes of the researchers interviewed, as long as the dynamics of the war can be favorable for how, negotiations are unlikely to succeed: “Ukraine currently has the possibility of reclaiming the land, even if it is in small steps, and it is eager to recover the occupied territories”Kristen Dugoin Kleiman explains.
“A ceasefire can be just a pause while waiting for the right moment to re-launch an attack.”Christine Dugoin Clement, Research Associate at the Paris-Sorbonne Business School
from his side, ‘Moscow is captive to her speech’thinks Mathieu Poleg. “Russia has been selling its people a ‘three-day war’ and complete military supremacy. It cannot admit that things are not going well. Essentially, its overall goal remains to completely subjugate Ukraine.” “There is little chance that Russia will return Crimea to Ukraine”adds Christine Dugoin-Kleiman, who is nonetheless one of Kyiv’s targets.
With these contradictory opinions, “We will likely go through a period of alternating ceasefires, unsuccessful negotiations and renewed fighting.”By Carol Grimaud Potter. “What the Donbass has been going through since 2014 that we haven’t managed to get out of.”
Russia spreads conflict to neighboring countries
Protracted conflict is a greater risk of slipping. The spread of conflict to neighboring countries cannot be ruled out.And Emmanuel Macron said May 19. The fall of a Russian missile on NATO territory and the implementation of nuclear threats.By chance, bored, or discouraged… We must imagine the widest possible scenarios so that we do not find ourselves unanswered in the face of the fait accompli.Matthew Polig.
But in the eyes of specialists, a nuclear escalation is still unlikely. “It would threaten the stability of the very regime, which is the main objective of Vladimir Putin’s regime.”researcher says. In response to the NATO membership measures launched by Finland and Sweden, the Russian Foreign Minister simply stated that this would not happen “Not much difference”According to Reuters *. Limited reaction compared to previous threats that “It suggests, if not pacification, at least a reflection of Russian rhetoric”According to Carol Grimaud Potter. for researcher “The population will not understand why it will be necessary to open other fronts, and Russia does not have the means for this.”
Regime change is coming to Moscow
Russian people can revolt against Vladimir Putin? This man cannot stay in power.As Joe Biden said, noting that this scenario was under consideration by Ukraine’s allies.
Indeed, in Russia, ‘Anti-war sentiment is on the rise’Carol Grimaud Potter says: Even pro-Russian bloggers criticized the fiasco of the Donets River. Between that and the weight of economic sanctions, we can see that Russian society is cracking.” Recently, a former colonel highlighted the difficulties of the attack on Russian state television, reportedly Express (paid item).
But few are those who truly believe in the scenario of an internal revolution. “Any attempt to denounce war is punishable by imprisonment.”, remembers Carol Grimaud Potter. Regardless of penalties: “The Russian leadership is not interested in the welfare of its people”Judge Matteo Poleg, whose ruling elites will take years to change. Whatever comes after Vladimir Putin will not necessarily be better., he is referring to. One of the many unknowns in a dispute whose outcome remains uncertain.
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