What can Ukraine realistically achieve with its upcoming offensive?
Will the West continue a war that is unwinnable for Ukraine or will the upcoming battle be merely a way of moving the frontline to prepare for a truce or ceasefire in the later part of this year?
The three areas that Ukraine is most focused on are Donbas, Crimea and the landbridge between the two regions. What would be Ukraine’s priority, given its limited resources? And where could they expect to make the most progress?
It would take a long time and a lot of money to free the Donbas, which is located on the border between Russia.
Even if Russian troops were expelled, there are still many natives who sympathise with Russia (especially in the east, near the border). This would provide fertile soil for an insurgency that could last for years.
The Crimea was annexed in 1783 by Russia and only transferred to Ukraine in 1954, a “county”, of the Soviet Union, by Khrushchev.
Most Western analysts think that liberating Crimea would be very difficult.
The land bridge is the only option. The land bridge is the only option.
Even if the operation were a huge success, the Ukrainian forces would be left drained, with dangerously low ammunition and weapons levels, and vulnerable.
Putin has repeatedly claimed that his invasion of Ukraine was a “special operation” with limited goals. The Donbas is a crucial “buffer zone”, between Russia and a potential Eastern flank of NATO, and it remains a top priority for Putin.
The land bridge is important but not essential for Russia, as it would be hard to defend. It is likely to be a distraction from the Ukrainian military offensive while Putin concentrates on his main objectives.
The stage is now set for an offensive summer, where both sides are focused on their own objectives. Both sides will be tired, out of ammunition and desperate for a break by the end of summer.
After securing (most) of the Donbas, Russia can claim victory. At least for a domestic audience. He has achieved the main objective of his special military operations.
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The international community, despite its public support for a war that is unwinnable, will not risk perpetuating it.
Any ceasefire or peace agreement will include security guarantees, and NATO has already made it clear that it will do everything it can to facilitate Ukrainian accession to the alliance.
In addition, Ukraine must rebuild its critical national infrastructure. For this, it will heavily rely on foreign investment. This could be a very appealing palliative.
The war, which Russia and Ukraine will both struggle to win – continues to rumble. Expect more diplomatic pressure on Russia to reach a negotiated settlement, despite its implications.