Reviews | The Ukrainian war is about to enter a dangerous new phase

In trying to explain recent improvements in Russian military operations in Ukraine, some Ukrainian officials have started saying, “All the stupid Russians are dead.” It’s a backhanded compliment, which means the Russians have finally found a more effective way to wage this war since their first incompetent performance that left thousands dead.

Precisely because the war in Ukraine seems to have settled into a crushing war of attrition – with Russia remaining largely in the background and only shelling and bombing Ukrainian cities to the east, turning them to rubble and then slowly advancing – you might think the worst of this conflict is over.

You would be wrong.

I believe that the war in Ukraine is about to enter a new phase, based on this fact: many Russian soldiers and generals may be dead, but Ukraine’s staunch NATO allies are tired. This war has already contributed to a huge spike in the prices of natural gas, petrol and food in Europe – and if it continues into winter, many families in the European Union may have to choose between heating and Eat.

Accordingly, I believe that the new phase of the war is what I call Vladimir Putin’s “winter strategy” versus NATO’s “summer strategy”.

It is clear that Putin is prepared to keep pushing forward in Ukraine, in the hope that soaring energy and food price inflation in Europe will eventually fracture the alliance of the NATO. His bet appears to be this: if average temperatures in Europe are colder than normal, and if average global oil and gas supplies are tighter than normal, and if average prices are higher than normal, and if blackouts due to energy shortages become widespread, there is a good chance that European members of NATO will begin to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to conclude a deal with Russia – any deal – to stop the fighting.

So Putin must surely be saying to his own exhausted troops and generals, “Just take me on Christmas. Winter is our friend.

It’s not a crazy strategy. As Jim Tankersley of The Times reported last week: “White House officials fear that a new round of European sanctions aimed at curbing the flow of Russian oil by the end of the year could push skyrocketing energy prices, slamming already beleaguered consumers and plunging the United States and other economies into a severe contraction.This chain of events could exacerbate what is already a serious food crisis plaguing the countries of the whole world.

NATO and EU efforts to curb Russian oil exports to Europe, the article adds, “could push oil prices to $200 a barrel or more, translating into the that Americans would pay $7 a gallon for gasoline.” Gasoline at $9-10 a gallon is already not uncommon in Europe, where natural gas prices have risen “about 700%,” Bloomberg reported, “since the start of last year, pushing the continent on the brink of recession”.

Meanwhile, NATO, US and Ukrainian officials are surely saying to themselves, “Yes, winter is our enemy. But summer and fall can be our friends – IF we can inflict real harm on Putin’s weary army now, then, at a minimum, he will agree to a ceasefire.

This is not a crazy strategy either. Putin may be making gains in eastern Ukraine, but at a very high price. Numerous military analyzes suggest that Russia suffered, at a minimum, 15,000 soldiers killed in less than five months – a staggering figure – and probably double that number wounded. More than 1,000 Russian tanks and artillery pieces were turned into scrap metal.

American officials tell me that Putin does not have enough troops right now to try to break out of eastern Ukraine and seize the port of Odessa in order to leave Ukraine landlocked and strangle its economy.

As The Times’ Neil MacFarquhar reported over the weekend, Putin desperately needs more forces just to maintain the recent momentum in the east and is already undertaking a “stealth mobilization” to bring more men to the front.” without resorting to a politically risky national project”. To fill the labor gap, the Kremlin relies on a combination of poor ethnic minorities, Ukrainians from breakaway territories, mercenaries and militarized units of the National Guard” and promising large cash incentives to volunteers.

Putin is reluctant to enlist more men because it would make it seem like what he told his people was just a “special military operation” in Ukraine that was not only much bigger, but also much worse.

NATO clearly hopes that the Ukrainian army can use the new M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HIMARS, which the United States has transferred to Kyiv, to inflict far more death and destruction on Russian forces. in Ukraine during summer and autumn. If so, Putin’s advances could not only stagnate, but even lose ground, and the Russian president could feel compelled to agree to a ceasefire, a large prisoner exchange, humanitarian evacuations and better terms for Ukrainian food exports – all of which would help dampen inflation and hopefully reduce pressure from Ukraine’s European allies to break any deal with Putin.

There is no indication that Putin is ready to reach a definitive peace agreement, but it may be possible to push him to this type of ceasefire, which could relieve the energy and oil markets. feed.

So, for all these reasons, I would say that the war in Ukraine is about to enter its most dangerous phase since the Russian invasion in February: Putin’s winter strategy meets NATO’s summer strategy.

No wonder a Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister, Iryna Vereshchuk, called on residents of Russian-controlled territories in the south to quickly evacuate so the Russians could not use them as human shields during the counter-attack. planned Ukrainian offensive. “You have to find a way to leave, because our armed forces are coming to take care of themselves,” she said. “There will be a massive fight.”

Alas, it’s unclear what Putin might do if his forces were again pinned down or lost ground. This could make him more receptive to a ceasefire. It could also force him into a national mobilization to bring more troops into battle.

There is only one thing of which I am certain: this war in Ukraine will not end. really fine – as long as Putin is in power in Moscow. This is not a call to overthrow it. It’s up to the Russians to decide. It’s just an observation that this has always been Putin’s war. He personally conceived, planned, directed and justified it. It is impossible for him to imagine Russia as a great power without Ukraine. So while it’s possible to force Putin into a ceasefire, I doubt it’s more than temporary.

In short: this war in Ukraine is so far from above that I can’t even see above.


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