Where is the war in Ukraine going?

After almost six months of destruction and terror in Ukraine, as a result of an aggression planned and designed by Putin, we still have no certainty about the final, inalienable objectives that need to be achieved by the Kremlin in order to stop the military offensive.

“How far” and “until when” are the main unknowns at this time of the conflict. The informative attention on the evolution of the conflict has decreased and most of the unspecialized “analysts” have abandoned the mantra maintained since the first days about the loss of the war by Russia. Confusing wishes with realities is not very professional. Therefore, it is time for the military and their explanations about the strategies used, as well as the apparent objectives of conquest.

An image showing the destruction in the Ukrainian city of Odessa due to the war.
The Focal Project / Flickr, CC BY-NC

The Donbas and the borders

It seems clear that total control of Donbas is a priority. Regardless of the indiscriminate attacks on other cities outside the central focus of the conflict –such as kyiv or Odessa–, the policy of devastating to rebuild, repopulate and integrate these territories into Russia –directly or indirectly– is firm and determined. The mandatory evacuation decreed by Zelensky from the areas not yet controlled by Russian troops in Donetsk anticipates a Ukrainian military resistance in a devastated region. The population no longer has a gas supply and this heralds an unbearable winter scenario.

Starting from a potential control of the two oblasts of Donbas, will Russia stop the aggression to ensure control of what has already been conquered?

They are regions rich in industrial raw materials and geostrategically essential for the Kremlin (Sea of ​​Azov and outlet to the Black Sea) that could be territorially expanded towards the Dnieper River. This would establish a new lime similar to what was already done in Moldova thirty years ago with the Dniester River and the secessionist enclave of Transnistria. The military conflict developed between the months of March and July 1992 ended up consolidating a State of fact pro-Russian that remains today. The holding of self-determination referendums –completely illegal– in the two Donbas oblasts would sanction the final status (independence or union with Russia, like Crimea).

A much more ambitious geopolitical possibility, but with an enormous military cost for Moscow, would be the expansion of operations to Odessa to connect the entire east-south corridor of Ukraine – with Crimea – and short-circuit the kyiv outlet to the sea. In this way, Russia would control all the borders of its neighbor, including the north with the collaborationist Lukashenko and the west partially, from the aforementioned Transnistria with the Russian XIV Army established there. It would be the consolidation of the old Novorrósiya project.

international reaction

Beyond the analysis of the various possibilities being considered – which could vary depending on the success or failure of the military operations – it seems that Putin is making some partial progress on his international agenda. At the moment, the EU sanctions are not offering the expected results. Rather, it seems that Brussels and Berlin are paying for their historical lack of foresight by buffering Moscow’s extreme energy dependency.

Far from taking notice fifteen years ago of Putin’s intervention at the 2007 Munich Security Conference and the subsequent military intervention in Georgia, Germany activated Nord Stream 2. However, Russia has indeed been looking for new markets for its gas. for years, especially with China.

The EU has just given the green light to the candidacies of the three republics with which it maintains association agreements in the post-Soviet space (Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia) and which have secessionist disputes supported and/or created by the interventionist foreign policy of the Kremlin in what you consider to be your vital sphere of interest. In other words, their territorial integrity is broken and they maintain territories under Russian control.

The internal dissensions between States can be accentuated within the EU. Orbán’s reluctant Hungary – which maintains good relations with Putin – may be joined by new states such as Italy after the next elections following the fall of Mario Draghi. The shadow of the connections between Moscow and far-right populisms in Europe seem evident.

As a warning, Russia’s promotional video that invites people to move to its territory (cheap energy, pretty women, sanctions-proof economy, hospitality, fertile land, Christianity, respect for values ​​and cultures) warns in these terms : “winter is coming (winter is coming)”, remembering Game of Thrones.

the future scenario

There is not much more to add, although it seems that the war of attrition and time –for the moment– play in favor of Putin. His reference to Peter the Great and his long war conflicts are recurrent, which is not at all reassuring.

The resilience of Europe’s democratic societies is going to be tested by the consequences of the economic crisis and the energy deficit. Meanwhile, Russian society is subject to tight control in which disagreements with the regime are persecuted.

A potential chronification of the conflict –or else the conversion into a new frozen conflict– without reaching a political-diplomatic solution, which at this moment seems highly unlikely, could turn Ukraine into a semi-failed state, or into the new EU Cyprus.

Putin’s regime does not offer internal political-social fissures, for the moment. Converted into the scourge of the West, he tries, however, to lead a frontal opposition to the liberal international order, and he is not alone. China could be the alternative lever trying to curb the aggression if, as it seems, a major global recession were triggered and trade was badly affected – which is Beijing’s main concern. It does not seem like the best time to light the fuse of new potential conflicts, such as the one in Taiwan.

This emerging “multiplex” order with the appearance of new actors, not only state actors, begins to weave new alliances of interest (Turkey between NATO and the EU and Russia, or the EU itself and the United States with the regimes of Arabia, Qatar or the Emirates, or the recent meeting in Tehran between Putin, Erdogan and Khamenei). For its part, the Kremlin is trying to pick up the baton from the former Soviet Union in some African states as an alternative to the West. The Agreement with Ukraine to be able to export cereals from Odessa is sold by Putin in a humanitarian key.

The pulse will be sustained in time until Putin decides to press the button of stop, or new factors appear on the scene that –for the moment– are not visible. Meanwhile, the victim is Ukraine. The defense of its national identity is strengthened, breaking the historical ties with Russia, but at a terrible cost in lives, as well as in territorial and material losses.

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