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Russia’s war Against Ukraine is About to get a lot More Difficult for Vladimir Putin

While Ukraine has struggled to maintain vital supplies, Russia has lost all momentum and is pushing for a timeout just as things are set to dramatically change, writes Paul Niland. Here’s what will happen next

Russian President Vladimir Putin, pictured above at the Kremlin in 2022, is signalling he wants to pause the war in Ukraine, as the shape of the conflict is set to dramatically change. Photo: Kremlin Pool / Alamy

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In recent weeks there have been a slew of articles bemoaning Ukraine’s situation amid the Russian invasion, with some designed to dissuade its partners from providing further military support. If the argument is that further fighting is futile, why would weapons supplies continue? But, that is a position that only assists the aggressor.

Life on the frontlines is undeniably grim, but it is not because Russia is an immovable force, it is because Ukraine is being denied the aid it needs to continue fighting the war Russia unleashed on them in February 2022, reverse the subsequent occupation of Ukrainian land, and end the horrors of that occupation.

To better understand what is really taking place, and possible scenarios for the future, it is useful to look at the signals emanating from Russia. In recent days, the usurper of the presidency in Belarus, Aleksander Lukashenko, went to Moscow to meet Vladimir Putin. After their 4-hour meeting, Lukashenko insisted repeatedly to members of the press: “It’s time for Ukraine to negotiate.”

Ukrainian soldiers, seen above during a patrol near Snihurivka in January 2023, are set to receive a huge cache of weapons via the US. Photo: imageBROKER.COM, CHBH & CO. KG / Alamy

Bearing in mind that the starting point, as far as Russia is concerned, is that they are keeping the lands that they took by force in 2022 on top of those that they took in 2014, what Putin is signalling, via his Belarussian lapdog, is that he wants a timeout. He knows several things are coming that will significantly change the war ahead.

Due to a lack of artillery shells and other ammunition, Russia seized the ruins of the town of Avdiivka after Ukraine withdrew to new defensive lines. While the press made much of the fall of Avdiivka, for context, this was a town of less than 32,500 residents – the equivalent of Redhill in Surrey. Hardly an accomplishment for what was once believed to be the second-best army in the world.

Russia’s next war aim, according to reports, is even more modest. Before the Russian celebrations of “Victory Day” on May 9, Putin’s generals ordered their forces to take the town of Chasiv Yar in the Donetsk Oblast – population 12,500.

While Ukraine’s ability to fight has been hampered by an artificial ammunition shortage in part related to politicking in the United States, Russia’s ability to fight has been almost exhausted. Yet, their tactics haven’t changed. Russia advances by destroying what is in front of them through carpet shelling, leaving depopulated ruins that are neither worth defending nor capturing, but Ukraine has stayed behind in the remnants of what were once people’s homes to inflict maximum casualties to the waves of infantry Russia sends forward to “conquer”. It has been the same everywhere since the tide of this war turned, it was the same in Bakhmut, Soledar and Avdiivka. Chasiv Yar will be no different.

The Hallmark of Russian Occupation – Torture

Paul Niland argues that those calling for a negotiated peace in Ukraine fundamentally misunderstand how Russian torture, rape, and other war crimes make such a peace impossible

Russia has to fight this way, because they know no other way. Those waves have resulted in catastrophic human losses, but what replaces those losses is not more soldiers, it is poorly trained recruits, or prisoners hoping to make it to 6 months so Putin will pardon their crimes. As the average weighting of the Russian army has moved from trained soldiers to freshly-recruited newbies, Russia has grown less effective, and the only way to halt that trend is for Russia to get a break. For that reason, Lukashenko got his instructions to tell Ukraine to negotiate.

Such demands come with a projection of strength, but anyone who understands what is happening in the brutality of the fights across Ukrainian lands knows the reality is something quite different.

One of the reasons why the war is about to change in Ukraine’s favour is the arrival of the F-16 fighter jets. Though they are not being supplied, yet, in the volumes that Ukraine would like, 55 modern fighter jets with – according to Norway, one of the donor countries – enhanced long-range strike capabilities will certainly add to Ukraine’s competitive edge.

‘The ‘Crimea Dilemma’? There is No Dilemma’

Many appear to believe it would be reasonable to offer the peninsula as some sort of final settlement of the war in Ukraine to Russia – why? asks Paul Niland

Another reason why things are set to get worse for the occupying forces is that, after months of delays, it looks like the essential military aid package from the United States will happen. The US is the only country in the world that holds the kind of stockpiles of weapons and ammunition that Ukraine needs to win. Those stockpiles can’t be released until Congress approves the $61 billion budget.

The European Union has also sent a strong signal of long-term support, with the €50 billion 4-year Ukraine Facility programme. Ukraine’s partners have made it clear to the Kremlin that they are firm in their support, and determined to ensure Ukraine withstands Russia’s attack.

Of late, Ukraine has managed to hold the frontlines thanks to initiatives led by the Czech Republic and Estonia to source shells from world markets for the coming months, which is likely the time needed for the US to resume deliveries. More significantly for the course of the war, Ukraine has been focused on operations to shape the battlefield for the next stages of the war – the seas and the skies.

Staggering onto Bakhmut: Russia’s Culmination Point

While Russia’s winter offensive crawls onward at a tremendous cost in blood and armaments, Paul Niland assesses the strategic position as a Ukrainian counter-offensive looms

As stated repeatedly, the war ends when Ukraine has regained control over all of her sovereign territory and so the ultimate goal is the liberation of Crimea. To that end, Ukraine has focused on destroying Russian naval power in the Black Sea, which mostly surrounds the occupied peninsula. The control of the skies, essential for the F-16s to operate effectively, has been facilitated by Ukraine blinding Russia by downing their A-50 spy planes and by recent significant strikes against Russian land-based radar systems inside of Russia.

The biggest challenge to both Ukraine’s ongoing ability to fight as well as the ability of Ukrainians to carry on living in their country is Russia’s resumed attacks against power generation facilities. Protecting that critical infrastructure, as well as the lives of innocent civilians, is why the request for air defence systems has become the biggest priority for Ukraine. Allies should provide them in as great a quantity as possible, and do so immediately.

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While Ukraine’s fight has been made substantially more difficult due to a lack of ammunition, Russia’s ability to take further territory has noticeably diminished. Bakhmut was home to 73,000 people, Avdiivka 32,500, and Chasiv Yar just 12,500. The trend is plain to see. And now, with advanced air capabilities and a massive military aid package due, Ukraine is getting significantly stronger and the effects of the shaping operations are about to become very apparent.


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