Can Vladimir Putin still win the war? Just a month after the start of the Russian offensive in Ukraine on February 24, the situation is undoubtedly more difficult than he had imagined. But what price is he still willing to pay to achieve his goals? Can he still consider a diplomatic way out? What are the options on the table at this point?
The military objectives of the war have hardly changed since the beginning: achieve “neutrality” and “demilitarization” of Ukraine, in other words, non-integration of this former Soviet republic into NATO. The Kremlin, on the other hand, is no longer necessarily betting on the overthrow of Volodymyr Zelensky. “The original plan, which was probably a blitzkrieg to take control of Kiev very quickly and overthrow the Ukrainian government, did not work.”notes Marie Dumoulin, expert at the European Council on International Relations (ECFR).
The Russian offensive meets an unexpected Ukrainian resistance, which complicates the deal for the Kremlin’s master. “Putin is still betting that it does not hold that he will end up imposing himself on the masses, regardless of the resistance on the ground,” he said.
believes Frédéric Charillon, professor of international relations at Clermont Auvergne University and author of “Wars of Influence”.
To win the war, at what cost?
“The question is not so much what he wants, but how and at what price”, adds Tatiana Stanovaya, researcher at the Carnegie Moscow Center. “It will take time, will cause more drama, but he is convinced that he has no choice and that he is invested in a historic mission”, namely to restore Russian influence.
If the Ukrainian army, captured in the eastern part of the country, collapses, Moscow will potentially take control of a country of about 40 million people. But Russia also risks being in a state of rebellion. “We will have to hold the ground. Remain master of a territory under harassment from an uprising,” Frédéric Charillon points out.
Some also fear a military escalation from Russia, from the use of chemical weapons to attacks on Western convoys bringing military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine.
“It is most likely that Putin will redouble his efforts and move to a dirty war strategy to increase the human cost to the Ukrainians and force them to capitulate.” point Marie Dumoulin.
Which exit doors?
If the situation persists or remains uncertain, Vladimir Putin can also save face by wrestling Kiev political concessions and cashing in territorial gains. “The key to Putin is strength, pressure and victory. He can not retire without getting some trophies. “, analyzes Abbas Gallyamov, an independent Russian political analyst. “He needs an agreement on Ukraine’s neutrality. (…) He also wants recognition (of the annexation) of Crimea and (of the independence) of the pro-Russian breakaway republics of Lugansk and Donetsk,” he believes.
And if Ukraine does not accede to such demands, Russia will still be able to claim territorial gains in the eastern part of the country with a main goal, ensure continuity between the Donbass, the port of Mariupol on the Azov Sea and Crimea to the south. “It is not excluded that the Russians then try to push the offensive to Odessa to take control of the entire Ukrainian coastline on the Black Sea,” says Marie Dumoulin.
The longer the war lasts, “with no prospect of a quick solution”, the more tensions are likely to worsen until “the collapse of the Kremlin’s power system”, the French Institute for International Relations (Ifri) estimates in a note analysis. Some players in the system, oligarchs, heads of security services, could be tempted to say “stop” to Vladimir Putinor even reverse it, some analysts will believe.
“At the moment I do not see any sign of this in the Russian elite”, however, temper Tatiana Stanovaya. “Although part of this elite is shocked by the war, they are not politically ready to stand up to it,” she says.