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Four scenarios for the future of the war in Ukraine

After six months, the front lines in Ukraine appear to have consolidated. Russian and Ukrainian troop movements in recent weeks signal a war of attrition scenario – with a lot of violence, but few changes of positions on the battlefield. Analysts consulted by War Games outlined scenarios of how the coming months of war may unfold.

According to the UN, at least 5,600 civilians died in the conflict and 7,900 were injured. The estimate is considered an underestimate, as official bodies did not have access to most cities under Russian rule and bodies continue to be found in the regions from which Russia withdrew.

Military casualties are being disclosed amid to an information warfare context. Therefore, they must be analyzed with caution. Ukraine said it had lost 9,000 fighters since 24 in February, but the number could be much higher. Russia said 1,300 of its soldiers died, but British intelligence analysts estimate the approximate real number to be 25 1,000.

According to retired Brazilian general Rui Yutaka Matsuda, former military commander of the Planalto, the deaths of 9,000 men on the Ukrainian side and about 25 a thousand on the Russian side are in accordance with a proportion of the theory of war: for each defender, three fighters of the invading force are needed to make the attack viable.

Thus, it is possible to say that the war in Ukraine has already resulted in the loss of at least 40 thousand lives and the flight of 6.6 million Ukrainian refugees. for European countries.

Among the economic consequences of the war, Western analysts estimate a loss within Ukraine alone of more than US$ 113 billion (R$ 1986 billion).

In Europe, the reduction in the supply of Russian gas (which was responsible for 40% consumption before the war) contributes to a scenario in which natural gas is ten times more expensive than it was a decade ago – which is already aggravating the post-Covid global energy crisis and should lead to a large increase in energy bills in the coming years. months in the European Union.

The war also destabilized the price of oil and led the United States to resort to placing its strategic reserves on the market. It has also led to a shortage of fertilizers and a worldwide rise in inflation – which could lead the world’s largest economies to a scenario of stagnation.

In the diplomatic field, Switzerland abandoned its historical neutrality by seizing reserves Russian finance. Finland and Sweden are getting closer and closer to joining NATO (the western military alliance). Germany has decided to rearm itself after decades of scarcity of military investments and Poland is buying a modern arsenal to face a possible Russian invasion.

On the other side of the spectrum, Moscow has been maneuvering to deepen each partnerships with countries such as China, North Korea and Iran.

In this context, the world arms race, which had resumed in 2018, begins to point towards the reality of the Cold War of the last century.

These events take place against the background of an attempt by Russia to challenge the hegemonic world order led by the United States – in which the war in Ukraine is the most violent and evident action.

However, the possibility of the war in Ukraine triggering the Third World War seems much more distant than it appeared at the beginning of the conflict.

So, what might happen during the next few months on the Ukrainian battlefields?

Analysts polled by column J War makers said that the unpredictability of the war and the fact that we do not know Russia’s ultimate goals make it difficult to predict outcomes for the conflict.

Even so, they helped establish more likely scenarios for the next one. semester of the conflict. See below:

War of attrition and Russian economic offensive in winter

This is the most likely scenario. According to Matsuda, both Moscow and Kyiv have the capacity to sustain the conflict for a long period of time.

Russia’s economy has not collapsed because of Western-imposed sanctions and the country has Sufficient reserves of weapons and fighters to maintain the current pace of war.

Ukraine, in turn, has strong support from the West, which guarantees the country a continuous flow of weapons and financial resources. .

According to retired colonel Flávio Morgado, professor at the Army Command and General Staff School (Eceme) and at the Meira Mattos Institute, instead of focusing on conquering more territory, Russia should try to discourage Washington and its allies. “Russia wants to attack Ukraine’s center of gravity, which is the support of the West.”

For this, the Russian offensive must focus on the economic field. Moscow must continue to reduce the supply of hydrocarbons to Europe, especially natural gas, to force an ever-increasing rise in energy prices and inflation on the continent.

“Russia must continue to struggle slowly a war of attrition until the winter of Europe arrives. There will be renewals in contracts for electricity prices and heating gas tariffs for consumers. They will be more expensive, which will worsen the mood of public opinion”, said risk analyst Nelson Ricardo Fernandes Silva, from consultancy ARP Risk.

In Great Britain, for example, people begin to organize themselves not to pay the electricity bills. According to Fernandes Silva, it is possible that the population’s discontent with the inflation and unemployment resulting from this scenario cause the fall of European rulers who have been supporting Ukraine in the war.

Thus, according to Morgado, it is possible that economic difficulties will cause European support for Ukraine to fall. Support for the war would then come practically only from the United States.

The US$ 40 billion (R$ 273 billions) promised by Washington to Kyiv represent only 10 % of the US defense budget. The country has been boosting its economy by selling weapons to Ukraine and shale gas to the European market, but finds itself in the midst of an inflationary crisis.

Within Ukraine, the inability of troops to retake territories and economic deterioration resulting from the conflict may also begin to undermine popular support for President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Russia, for its part, seems to be betting that economic pressure on Western countries will force Ukraine to surrender. However, a more likely scenario is that, even with an eventual decrease in Western aid, Ukraine will continue to fight – even if it has to transform the conflict into an irregular war, based on the actions of partisans and guerrillas. And this type of conflict can last for years or decades.

Ukrainian counteroffensive in the south

Ukraine continues to bet on a counteroffensive that could result in the resumption of at least part of the territory occupied by Russia in the oblast (province) of Kherson, in the south of the country. It is the only major city captured by Russia west of the Dnipro River, which divides the country in half. The geographic obstacle of the river makes it difficult for Moscow to send reinforcements and supplies to its troops in Kherson.

The counteroffensive was announced by Zelensky in 113 July. Large numbers of Ukrainian troops were concentrated in the nearby town of Mykolaiv and Ukrainian artillery shelled the bridges over the Dnipro River. However, despite intense fighting, Ukrainian troops have so far been unable to enter the city of Kherson.

The reason for this may be the sending of around 20 one thousand troops of Russian reinforcements to the region. Another interpretation is that the announcement of the counteroffensive was a diversionary action, for Russia to be forced to withdraw troops from its offensive in Donbas to defend its conquered areas in the south of the country.

If it materialized, taking Kherson would renew the spirits of Ukrainian troops. It would also attest to Western countries that the economic sacrifice they are submitting to is worth it.

According to Morgado, for this to happen, Ukraine needs to acquire military superiority – and it does not depend only on the arms shipments from the West. Battlefield superiority results from a combination of good military leadership, effective maneuvers in the theater of operations, adequate quantity and type of weapons available, and number of properly trained and armed combatants.

According to According to him, the secrecy of military actions in Ukraine makes it difficult to assess, for the time being, the quality of Ukrainian generals and their ability to carry out decisive maneuvers on the battlefield.

He cited as an example the ability of the German army to carry out maneuvers with the so-called blitzkrieg at the beginning of the Second World War. Even with a smaller number of armored vehicles in relation to the allied forces, the Germans managed to bypass and disable the enemy’s defense lines, mainly in France.

Regarding weapons and equipment, the Ukrainians must receive no just the right amount, but also weapons of more modern generations, which can subdue those of the Russian forces. Examples are the US Himars rocket launchers, which have allowed Ukraine to destroy munitions depots at Russian command posts behind the front lines.

Furthermore, the Ukrainian military also needs to are trained to use these weapons, otherwise they will not make a significant difference on the battlefield.

The United States alone has already announced the direct shipment of around US$9 billion worth of weapons, which were in your inventories. In parallel, European nations are handing over artillery and armor from their own arsenals. Private companies hired by Washington are traveling the world with the aim of buying weapons that the Ukrainians are capable of operating.

The rush of Ukraine and the West to acquire military superiority over Russia is based on a suspicion: the Kremlin is preparing to hold plebiscites in September to annex conquered territories in Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, Donetsk and Luhansk.

Analysts are divided on Russia’s intention to formalize territory annexations. On the one hand, this would allow Moscow to better defend the region. This is because, once the area becomes Russian territory, the government of Vladimir Putin could resort to national military doctrine to “legitimately” use tactical nuclear weapons (from one-tenth to one-fifth of the force of the Hiroshima bomb). for the defense of the new regions of the country.

From another angle, the formal annexation may pose problems for Russia in maintaining stability in its new territory. Ukrainian partisans have already demonstrated that they have the capacity to launch effective guerrilla actions against the Russian administration, especially in Melitopol and Crimea.

New Russian offensive

A series of partisan attacks on bases and weapons depots and assassinations of Moscow officials in occupied territory have made Russian opinion leaders and media outlets increase pressure on the Kremlin. They preach retaliation by intensifying the war in Ukraine. But the government of Vladimir Putin so far has not guided its actions based on public opinion in the country.

In the last week, however, Putin determined an increase of 137 1,000 fighters to the Russian Armed Forces – whose total number should soon rise to 1, million troops.

It is unclear whether the equivalent number of fighters will be sent to the front lines in Ukraine. Russia mobilized for the war between 200 a thousand and 300 a thousand soldiers.

There are there are still rumors that after the destruction of aircraft at a base in Crimea, Russia is sending hundreds of planes and helicopters to be used in the Ukraine war. This information comes amid a Kremlin initiative to buy around 1,000 Iranian drones, capable of flying for more than 16 hours at a time and launch missiles against Ukrainian artillery units.

In theory, these air reinforcements eos could nullify the momentary advantage gained by Ukraine – generated by the use of at least 10 US Himars rocket launchers in the field

To combat them, the US has announced that it will send Nasams-type anti-aircraft batteries to Ukraine – which can shoot down missiles, drones and aircraft at a distance of 30 to 50 kilometers.

Thus, one of the hypotheses of scenario is that, with reinforcements, Russia continues to advance on Donetsk, in the east of the country, or even attack the Ukrainian troops that intended to launch a counteroffensive from Mykolaiv.

Analysts differ, however on Russia’s possible intentions to advance towards Odesa – to seize the entire Ukrainian coastline and deprive the country of an outlet to the sea. In theory, unable to export its agricultural production by sea, Ukraine would walk towards becoming a failed state.

According to Fernandes Silva, the Russian navy could approach the port of Odesa by the same route established by the UN to offload grain production in Ukraine and lessen the possibility of a world food crisis. “Russia can study the route of the freighters in order to avoid sea mines and land troops in Odesa”, he said.

Matsuda said that he believes that isolating Ukraine from an outlet to the sea does not seem to be among Russia’s main objectives at the moment. According to him, the Kremlin has more interest in undermining Western support for Ukraine than conquering more territory or destabilizing the enemy’s agricultural production.

Nevertheless, any maneuver to invade more Ukrainian territory depends on the arrival of reinforcements for what Russia calls a “special military operation”. Russian troops currently on the ground appear not to be able to advance further than they have already reached.

Nuclear disaster at the Zaporizhzia plant

Also the hypothesis of a major nuclear accident at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in the city of Enerhodar cannot be ruled out. The biggest nuclear power plant in Europe was conquered by the Russians on February 4 and keeps two of its six reactors in operation. When operating normally, it is responsible for generating 19% of the energy consumed in Ukraine.

The complex’s reactors are designed to withstand an accidental impact from missiles, rockets or artillery shells that have been used by both Russia and Ukraine so far in the war.

However, the fear is that the war environment and the pressure on the technicians who operate the plant generates a series of cascading failures that lead to a radioactivity leak of large proportions.

Last week, a fire caused by a bombing of unknown authorship momentarily disconnected the power plant from Ukraine’s power grid. The event did not generate the cascade failure but scared both the local population and nuclear energy experts.

This is because nuclear power plants of the Zaporizhzia model need an external power supply independent of their own electrical production. . It powers a system of water pumps that continuously cool nuclear reactors (in use or off) and spent nuclear fuel storage pools. If this system fails, reactor meltdowns or fires in the used material pools may occur.

Such scenarios were avoided in the last week with the replacement of the main power grid with electricity generated in a thermoelectric plant. located nearby.

But if the measure had failed and other safety systems – such as diesel generators – did not work, catastrophe could have occurred. Experts say it would not be as serious as the nuclear accidents at Chernobyl (1986), in northern Ukraine, or Fukushima (2011), in Japan. .

But the release of radiation could kill civilians and combatants around the plant in a matter of hours or days. Containment and cleanup crews would find it difficult to reach the site and, once there, could be exposed to deadly levels of radiation.

A cloud of radiation could form and reach not only other parts of Ukraine. , but also from Russia and European countries. It could render agricultural production in several countries useless and generate negative health consequences for entire populations.

In parallel, an accident of these proportions has the potential to significantly increase the number of war refugees, which is already over the 6.6 million.

Such an accident would hardly end the war. It would make the theater of operations even more complex and could lead to an escalation of proportions in the conflict.

Scenarios that lost strength

From the beginning war, military analysts have been speculating about a range of possible scenarios. Many of them did not materialize – because the war is more in the realm of uncertainty than an exact science.

One of them was the direct conflict between Russia and NATO forces. However, the Kremlin, Washington and their allies were cautious and took steps to reduce that possibility. Today, few analysts are betting that this scenario could occur and cause the war to spread across Europe.

The mobilization of Russian forces equipped with nuclear weapons at the beginning of the conflict led analysts and public opinion to fear the breaking the so-called nuclear taboo. The use of a tactical nuclear weapon, in theory, could trigger World War III and, in an extreme scenario, the mutual destruction of Russia and the West.

The initial mobilization of Russia’s nuclear forces in February is understood today as a message from the Kremlin to NATO not to enter the conflict directly.

To minimize the risks, the West began to disclose that, if Russia detonated a nuclear weapon with low potential for destruction, NATO’s response would be through a full-scale attack, but with conventional rather than nuclear forces. But this scenario seems quite remote in the current conjuncture of the war.

Another hypothesis was that Putin determined national mobilization, marking an escalation of the so-called “special military operation” to an absolute war. This would require mass conscription of Russian civilians – which could diminish the government’s popularity even in an autocratic regime.

According to Matsuda, if the war ended now – which is unlikely – both the West and Russia could claim different kinds of victories.

Washington and its allies could argue that formerly neutral countries like Sweden and Finland have aligned themselves with the West. The US could say that after years of neglect, Europe has re-allocated adequate resources to feed NATO.

Moscow could argue that it freed ethnic Russians from the pro-Western Ukrainian government and that, in conquering 24% of Ukraine’s territory, pushed NATO further away from its borders.

Only Ukraine would be the loser at the moment. Although it maintained the autonomy of its government, it lost important territories and a priceless amount of lives.

“I believe that it is not possible to predict exactly how this will end. Not even the rulers involved must know for sure. This war is like a game of poker, where most of the cards run under the table”, said General Matsuda.

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