However, respected military commentators believe that Russia’s forces are now so degraded that it is unlikely they can go much further into Donbas-they appear unable to push back further the Ukrainian defensive lines.
With the Ukrainian army boosted by deliveries of increasingly effective weapons systems, what will happen next?
A subliminal message: the need to turn to negotiation?
We cannot yet jump to conclusions over a war that appears, on the face of it, to be falling out of Russia’s favor. But in light of the May 9 speech, three hypotheses are worth considering:
Firstly, that Putin may, to some degree, be "bluffing." As we have previously mentioned, it is possible that the lack of significant announcements in the speech could be followed in coming days by announcements or acts that mark a significant raising of the stakes.
Secondly, Putin is aware that, at least so far, his mission has largely failed. However, he is prepared to play a long-term game, and will continue to count on the support of the "global South," as well as China, against a West whose decadence he condemned in his speech. In both of these scenarios, the war in Ukraine could last a long time. Putin is prepared to continue as long as necessary in order to secure his control of Donbas, Mariaupol, and the long corridor to Crimea.
Finally, we cannot rule out the possibility that Moscow’s leader is preparing the Russian people- as well as himself-for potentially requiring a negotiated settlement. Putin will still give his military the chance to decisively change the situation on the ground. However, if they fail, and Russia is unable to build up a more substantial offensive capability, he may be forced to propose a ceasefire-while claiming victory, of course. With his back to the wall, he may then have some interest in genuine negotiations-in contrast to the sham talks that have taken place so far.
If this final hypothesis is correct, some of Putin’s words could have had another meaning. In his speech, he recalled "Russia's constant efforts to establish a security system in Europe" and the "proposals for security assurances" that he put forward at the beginning of the crisis. Above all, he repeatedly referred to Donbas as the main issue and theater of the war, not the rest of Ukraine. Might it be that Putin was messaging, perhaps subliminally, the parameters of a potential negotiated settlement?
Copyright: Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV / AFP
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