Plan B’? What Russia is planning next in Ukraine

Russia appears to have abandoned the original goal of its invasion of Ukraine, to capture Kyiv and overthrow the Ukrainian government, but continues to attack in the east and south.

Even under this Plan “B,” enforced by Ukrainian resistance and military setbacks, Moscow has several objectives that risk prolonging the conflict and causing more death and destruction.

Here, AFP looks at five goals Russia has for the next phase of the war against Ukraine, almost a month and a half into the conflict.

Even with full control over the media after a series of draconian measures, President Vladimir Putin will want to report success on May 9, when Russia marks its victory over Nazi Germany in World War II.

“Putin is obsessed with symbolic dates and history, so he badly needs a victory picture before May 9,” said Alexander Grinberg, an analyst at the Jerusalem Institute for Security and Strategy (JISS).

Sergei Karaganov, honorary chairman of Moscow’s Foreign and Defense Policy Council and former Kremlin adviser, said Russia “can’t afford to ‘lose’ so we need some kind of victory.”

“The stakes of the Russian elite are very high – for them it is an existential war,” he told the British weekly The New Statesman.

While Russian forces appear to be moving away from Kyiv and other northern regions, Russia is making no such move near the southeastern city of Mariupol, which has been under siege for weeks despite international outcry.

The seizure of Mariupol would be a crucial step for Russia in realizing its apparent goal of controlling the territory connecting Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula, occupied by Moscow in 2014, with Russia.

“I expect intense fighting until the final withdrawal of the (Ukrainian) resistance from Mariupol,” Grinberg said.

To the north lie the two pro-Moscow separatist Donbass regions of Donetsk and Lugansk, so capturing the city would give Moscow control of part of eastern Ukraine’s territory.

With Mariupol, Russian forces could “push north to conquer the rest of Donbass and have continuous control over southern Ukraine and the coast of the Sea of ​​Azov,” said Pierre Razoux, academic director of the Mediterranean Foundation for Strategic Studies AFP .

The breakaway regions of Donetsk and Lugansk – which Russia recognized as independent in February – did not control the full extent of these two territories within Ukraine.

Moscow has insisted that its renegade rulers should have full administrative powers, and their total control appears to be a key war aim.

“The war is far from over and may yet show Russia the way if the Russian military can launch a successful operation in eastern Ukraine,” said analysts at the Institute for the Study of War (ISW).

Russia launched strikes in Odessa’s western port over the weekend and Western sources have never ruled out an amphibious assault on the city, although that seems less likely.

“If a ceasefire is imposed on the ‘keep what you have’ principle, Russia could retain its control over several new parts of Ukraine,” said Ivan U. Klyszcz, a doctoral student in international relations at the University of Tartu. Estonia.

The invasion has proved enormously costly for Russia, both in terms of human casualties and the destruction of military equipment in the face of Ukrainian resistance, which has been far tougher than the Kremlin anticipated.

Military analysts have noted that Russia’s spring service began on April 1, and while Moscow insists conscripts will not be sent to Ukraine, the new recruits could go into combat once they’ve signed contracts and trained.

“The war is far from over… More offensives are ahead,” said Gustav Gressel, a senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR), adding that personnel are the scarce “most important resource” for Moscow.

But analysts also say that a long war of attrition would also be dangerous for Russia, given the successes of Ukrainian guerrilla tactics in recent weeks.

“If this eventually turns into a protracted war of attrition, Ukraine appears to be in a more favorable position overall,” said Michael Kofman, director of the Russia studies program at the US Center for Naval Analyzes.

The longer the war drags on, the more the Kremlin is expected to press ahead with one of its pet tactics of dividing the West between those states most intent on cracking down on Moscow and those with more conciliatory stances.

Putin was quick to congratulate one of his closest allies within the EU, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, on Monday after his party won elections in which he served for the fourth time.

A possible harbinger of future tensions, US President Joe Biden said Putin should not remain in power, but French President Emmanuel Macron countered that such rhetoric was unhelpful.

Macron said on Monday that the EU would consider further sanctions against Russia’s oil and coal industries, but made no mention of natural gas, on which Europe remains heavily dependent.

“The aim of the game is also to divide public opinion,” said Razoux. Plan B’? What Russia is planning next in Ukraine

Russell Falcon

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