Why Zelensky could defeat Putin this year

As the Kremlin attempts to take full control of the smoldering ruins of the port city of Mariupol, Russian forces now face the growing prospect of defeat as they seek to conquer all of Ukraine’s eastern Donbas because their weakened forces lack the upper hand. of work for significant progress.

As modern Western weaponry bolsters Ukraine’s fighting power, Vladimir Putin faces a critical decision about whether to send more troops and equipment to bolster his dramatically weakened invasion force.

While Russia’s forces are unlikely to be defeated quickly, even if a major deployment of new troops does not materialize, the stage for the four-week-long Battle for Donbas continues.

Sir Lawrence Freedman, a distinguished historian of 20th-century military and political strategy, says he now believes it is “realistic” that a turning point could come in August, leading to a Ukrainian victory by the end of the year.

“They (Ukrainian forces) have seen the trouble the Russians have gotten into by launching offensives and are trying to weaken the forces at the front by pushing them,” he says.

“They have indicated that they will start a big offensive in the next few weeks and I guess once that resumes, the process could become very dynamic. But there is a lot of ground to give up and offenses are much more difficult than defensive operations.”

Putin’s tanks crossed the border with Ukraine on February 24 in an unsuccessful attempt to capture the capital, kyiv. On April 19, Moscow withdrew to focus on a “second phase” aimed at capturing the south and all of Donbas, part of which has been in the hands of Kremlin-backed separatists since 2014.

While Russia has retained its land corridor in southern Ukraine, it was hampered by Ukrainian troops who withstood massive shelling for 82 days at the Mariupol steel mill before ending their resistance this week.

Meanwhile, Putin’s forces pressed against Ukraine’s fortified and battle-hardened positions in the east, while attempting to isolate them in a massive encirclement by advancing south from the Ukrainian city of Izium.

About a third of Donbas was in the hands of Russian-backed separatists before the invasion. Moscow now controls about 90 percent of the Lugansk region, but has failed to make significant headway toward the key cities of Sloviansk and Donetsk’s Kramatorsk in extending control over the entire region.

Freeman estimates that total Russian casualties, including dead, wounded, missing and prisoners of war in Ukraine, could be anywhere from 40,000 to 50,000 soldiers.

“It’s kind of a testament to the Russian stoicism and discipline that still continues despite losses and setbacks,” Freedman says. “But at some point he will have serious problems, especially if he fights against the Ukrainian counteroffensive. Armies can be quite fragile, so they appear to be fine and then all of a sudden they break.”

Russian soldiers play with a bear at the zoo in the now-occupied city of Mariupol.

Russian soldiers play with a bear at the zoo in the now-occupied city of Mariupol. Credit:access point

Mikhail Khodaryonok, a retired Russian colonel and military commentator, broke ranks earlier this week, telling state television that there was no good outcome for Russia in the war.

A massive mobilization, he argued, would not give Russia an immediate battlefield advantage, as it would take months to train recruits before they could be sent into action.

“We need to see a million well-armed Ukrainian soldiers as a reality in the coming months,” he said. “We have to keep in mind that the situation for us will frankly get worse.”

A Kremlin spokesman said in response that “everything is going according to plan…there is no doubt that all goals will be achieved.”

Russia has made no significant progress in the Donetsk region after weeks of heavy bombardment.

Russia has made no significant progress in the Donetsk region after weeks of heavy bombardment. Credit:access point

So Donbas has become Putin’s prize that will likely define the course of his war. If his forces cannot make a rapid advance, it is hard to see where Putin could find any bargaining chips for the future.

Michael Clarke, a visiting professor of war studies at King’s College London, said Putin’s last hope before being forced to recruit in large numbers was to conjure a quick victory. He is not sure that there will be a clear winner in the war for some time.

“If it fails, mobilization can hardly be avoided, and then we should expect Russia to pour more resources into the war, well beyond the end of this year,” he said.

He said that if this happened, Western powers were likely to move into the “gray area” between aid and direct involvement in Ukraine.

Clarke believes Ukraine’s survival will be a major test of European and Western nerves.

“Putin will not lose gracefully. Most likely, he will try to place Ukraine’s failure in the context of a larger European struggle, between a wounded and paranoid superpower and the rest of us,” he says.

“The success of Ukraine in the Donbas will be welcome. But unless he turns the Russian military and security elite against Putin, he will also fuel the next phase of this war.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin, seen here watching the Victory Day military parade in Moscow, would be dangerous if humiliated, says French President Emmanuel Macron.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, seen here watching the Victory Day military parade in Moscow, would be dangerous if humiliated, says French President Emmanuel Macron. Credit:access point

Clarke says that if Putin is denied a quick victory in Donbas, then he cannot forever blame the military and their security chiefs for not doing the impossible.

“Your only survival mechanism will eventually be to turn on him,” he said.

While European leaders have publicly pledged their support for Ukraine, many also fear a new set of problems that could create a “humiliation” for Russia, as French President Emmanuel Macron called it.

Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi have pushed last week for further discussions on a peace deal, which could be a “face-saving” resolution for Putin, even if it costs Ukraine some money. territory.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said his country cannot agree to a deal with Moscow that would allow Russian troops to remain in occupied territory. He has promised to expel Russian troops from Ukrainian territory.

Freedman says Zelensky would likely accept an offer on separatist-occupied territory on February 23, the day before the invasion. The Ukrainian president should be prepared to negotiate on the rest, simply to save his country more suffering.

“We don’t know the extent of Ukraine’s military losses, they haven’t been as great as the Russian ones, but bad enough, and the civilian losses have been horrendous.”


Zelensky argues that any concessions to Moscow in the territory, including Crimea, would open the door to future Russian incursions into its territory.

“We will not help Putin save face by paying with our territory. That would be unfair,” he said in an interview with Italy’s RAI public broadcaster.

“We want the Russian army to leave our land, we are not on Russian soil.”

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