Russia is advancing in its war of aggression in Ukraine. After the eastern Ukrainian city of Lysychansk was taken, President Vladimir Putin has several options for continuing his invasion. Five scenarios at a glance.
The fall of the eastern Ukrainian city of Lysychansk raises the question of the next steps for Russian troops in Ukraine. Seal off the Donbass, advance further, negotiate and thus secure what has been won or split the West? Russian President Vladimir Putin has many options, but his goals remain unclear.
Nobody seems to be able to stop the Russian troops from getting complete control of the Donbass. Pierre Grasser of the Sorbonne University’s International Relations department believes Russia could next try to take the cities of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk.
However, Russian troops have shown their inability to advance too far against the enemy. The Russian “steam roller works well near its borders, its logistics centers and its air bases,” says Pierre Razoux of the Mediterranean Foundation for Strategic Studies. “The further they get away from them, the more complicated it gets.”
The Russian army quickly captured the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson early in the war. But the situation on the shores of the Black Sea is not stable. Australian military expert Mick Ryan believes that the war in the south and the “liberation of Ukrainian ports from Russian influence” are of “very great strategic importance”.
Controlling the coast would give Moscow contiguous territory with Crimea, annexed in 2014, as well as access to Ukrainian Black Sea ports. But “Ukraine’s counterattacks in the south pose a dilemma for the Russians. Are they maintaining the offensive in the east or are they strengthening the south?” Ryan asks.
Kharkiv in north-eastern Ukraine is the country’s second largest city. A stone’s throw from the border with Russia, Kharkiv is still under Ukrainian control and could be Putin’s next target, according to academic Razoux.
In the event of a “Ukrainian incursion”, Moscow could therefore force the Ukrainian troops to decide whether to defend Kharkiv or retreat south towards Kherson. A battle for the city of Kharkiv, which has a population of around 1.4 million, would undoubtedly be devastating, and according to Razoux, a siege could last a year.
With every further military success, Putin drives the wedge deeper into Western solidarity. Colin Clarke of New York’s Soufan Center said Russia’s goal is to “continue to crush Ukrainian troops” and wait for “political support for Ukraine in the West to wane.”
Kyiv depends on Western military aid. But according to Alexander Grinberg of the Jerusalem Institute for Security and Strategy, Ukrainians are aware “that the West cannot provide all the heavy weapons they need.” Each additional week of war increases the pressure on Western public opinion regarding inflation and the energy crisis. According to Grinberg, one day the US could simply tell the Ukrainians: “You can’t go on.”
Russian advances should not forget the costs: sanctions, lives and the destruction of material. According to analysts, Putin has many reasons for wanting to end the war. At the end of June, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov declared that the Ukrainian soldiers only had to lay down their arms and fulfill the demands made by Russia. “Then it will all be over in one day.”
But even if Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy were tempted to trade Donbass for peace, according to Razoux, his right-wing party and generals reject “any compromise with Russia”. “You can tolerate a frozen conflict, but not defeat.”
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