On Monday, during the celebrations of Victory Day in WWII in Russia, we will reach another turning point in the war in Ukraine. President Vladimir Putin must claim some kind of victory on the battlefield. But what will he do next? Will you declare a preliminary victory and negotiate peace? Will you keep the scenario on the battlefield unchanged? Will it increase the war effort to take all of Ukraine and even eventually take the conflict to other countries?
The most feared possibility is that he will use a nuclear weapon to try to end the conflict. But would he be able to do that?
These are some of the questions that military and political analysts have been trying to answer in recent days. Two news items released in the last week, about the performance of US intelligence in Ukraine, could greatly influence Putin’s calculations.
Leaks of information to the press revealed that information provided by the US about Russian combat units helped the Ukrainians to kill several generals on the battlefield.
American intelligence would also have helped Ukraine to locate the cruiser Moscow, the then flagship of the Russian fleet in the Black Sea, making possible an attack of missiles and drones against him on April 13 day. The ship sank a day later.
Added to the supply of attack weapons to Kyiv (such as tanks, artillery and missiles), these information leaks may suggest to Putin that the Western powers are acting directly in the war (and not just providing indirect support for the defense of Ukraine, as Washington stated at the beginning of the war).
In parallel, the possible entries of Finland and Sweden in the NATO (Western Military Alliance) put even more pressure on Moscow. This is because they corroborate the eastward trend of the alliance, which motivated the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
The Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky said that the minimum necessary for Ukraine to accept peace is that Russian troops retreat to the positions where they were on the day 23 of February, before the Russian invasion.
This would mean that Russia would definitely win Crimea and parts of Luhansk and Donetsk provinces in Donbas. On the other hand, if he accepts these terms, Putin will lose the land corridor conquered by his troops, which connects Russia to Crimea, passing through major cities such as Mariupol, Berdiasnk, Melitopol and Kherson. He would also have to give up trying to conquer highly industrialized regions rich in natural gas and coal in the Donbas region.
So what are the (known) options that Putin has?
Zelensky said that not all “bridges” were destroyed to reach a peace agreement. Putin can declare that Russia is satisfied with current achievements on the battlefield and accept a ceasefire, in which Ukraine would commit to giving up its intention to join NATO.
A Propaganda in Russian state media would ensure that citizens shared the opinion that the “Military Operation in Ukraine” was successful and that a preliminary victory was achieved.
However, this would be counterproductive if the objective of Putin is to continue annexing more parts of Ukrainian territory – as it would give the West time to send more weapons and train the Ukrainian military on how to use them.
Furthermore, the ceasefire could be interpreted internationally as a sign of weakness from Russia, which would fail in its greater objective of challenging American hegemony in favor of a more multipolar world order.
Thus, the ceasefire scenario seems the least likely among all options.
Declaration of war
The sec British defense commentator Ben Wallace recently claimed that Putin could turn his “Special Military Operation” – a name used by the Russians to say that the conflict in Ukraine is limited in scope – into open war.
With this measure , Putin would unlock mechanisms to increase the conscription of soldiers in the country to reinforce the battlefront. Possibly, all men of military age would be prevented from leaving Russia and would have to wait for the call of the recruitment centers.
According to the specialized website Global Firepower, Russia currently has in its armed forces about 850 thousand soldiers. Russia sent about 200 a thousand to the conflict in Ukraine. In theory, with the increase in conscription, the Russian army could reach a force of up to 1.3 million soldiers in the coming years.
If increasing the number of combatants on the battlefield is almost It is certain that Putin will not be content with taking only the Donbas region and can move towards a scenario of conquest of the Ukrainian coast (Odesa, Mikolayv and hundreds of cities around them) or even other regions of the country, such as the capital Kyiv itself. .
Russia has said it will not change the status of its “Special Military Operation”, but this must be viewed with reservations. Moscow has also assured numerous times that it will not invade Ukraine.
But there are factors that may dissuade Putin from taking this action. Mass conscription could diminish the government’s popularity. According to a survey by the Levada institute released by the New York Times, 39% of Russians are not paying much attention to the war. But sending more citizens to the battlefield could change that reality and considerably decrease popular support for the conflict.
The scenario could also increase friction with NATO and raise the possibility of a conflict. direct – something that has been avoided by both Russia and the Western powers.
Invasion of Moldova
Changing the status of the conflict or not, another possibility raised by analysts is that Putin decides to invade Moldova, which is not part of NATO. This possibility began to gain strength when mysterious explosions were recorded a few days ago in the breakaway territory of Transnistria, which is inside Moldova.
The narrative promoted by the Russians was that Ukraine would be interested in invading Transnistria, which has about 1.500 Russian soldiers. An eventual Russian invasion of the region could be justified as an action to protect Transnistria.
The operation would be extremely risky for the Russian armed forces, however. This is because it would involve the amphibious landing of marines in the region and a possible direct confrontation with the defenders of the Ukrainian city of Odesa.
Russia has already lost its flagship in the Black Sea, the cruiser Moscow, due to to an alleged missile and drone attack from Ukraine. Since then, the Russian fleet has operated further from the coast. Therefore, an amphibious landing would involve considerable risks for the Russians.
Another deterrent for Russia would be that, invariably, the West would increase economic sanctions on the country and increase arms shipments to Russia. Ukraine and Moldova.
As in the previous scenario, this action would greatly increase the possibility of direct conflict between Russia and NATO.
The most alarming option was never ruled out by Putin: the use of nuclear weapons to end the conflict in Russia’s favor.
In this case, the most likely would be the use of a tactical nuclear bomb. In other words, a warhead with a nuclear potential of one-tenth to one-half of that recorded by the Hiroshima bomb in World War II.
It could be launched to destroy a military installation or base further away and not to devastate an entire city. As with Japan, this could lead Ukraine to surrender.
But it is not so simple. No one knows if breaking the so-called “nuclear taboo” could end a war or trigger a global nuclear conflict, with all the lethal consequences for humanity that we hear about throughout the Cold War.
Or that is, the action could, instead of ending the war in Ukraine, trigger the Third World War from a possible direct retaliation by NATO.
But it is also possible that precisely fearing this possibility, the NATO prefers to withdraw from the conflict after the detonation of a Russian nuclear device – thus providing Putin with a virtually immediate victory.
Without a doubt, this scenario has the greatest impact, but the least possibility .
On the other side of the spectrum, the low-impact scenario and the greatest possibility is an increase in war rhetoric in the second-class discourse Monday, but without causing major practical changes on the battlefield.
In it, Putin could emphasize in his speech the military victories already obtained and reinforce the need to win the Battle of Donbas.
This would be possible because Russia has been making slow but consistent advances in the theater of operations – mainly due to the massive use of artillery .
Moscow may also step up attacks on Ukraine’s strategic infrastructure to prevent western weapons from reaching the eastern front.
The Kremlin may continue to systematically pressure Ukrainians in the land and slowly taking over the Donbas region and expanding the size of the land corridor in the south.
In parallel, there would be the consolidation of the Russian administration over invaded cities, such as Kherson, Melitopol and Mariupol.
This scenario would give a slightly more predictable pace to the war and take some of the world’s attention away from the conflict.
However, it would become neither less violent nor less dangerous . Violent because the number of military and civilian casualties would only tend to increase. Dangerous because the longer the war goes on, the possibility increases that a miscalculation on the battlefield will cause the war to spread across Europe with possible direct NATO involvement.
From this week onwards, the column and the live Guerra Jogos will be weekly again. The texts are only published again on the weekend and the lives will take place again on Thursday nights on the Gazeta do Povo YouTube channel. During the first two months of the war in Ukraine, we had opted for the momentary intensification of coverage.