Ukraine’s battlefield victories cheer West but could make war more dangerous
“The Russian regime is in trouble, I believe, and it needs to fix it,” the retired army brigadier said. General Peter Zwack on CNN Monday night. “They’re stuck domestically and not internationally, which makes it all very dangerous,” he said.
The images of scenes of liberation in Ukraine were viewed with delight in Washington, and as another important twist in a war that has often proved unpredictable.
“I think it’s a pivotal moment. It really changed what was otherwise a war of attrition, and clearly gave Ukraine an advantage here that gives them momentum at a critical time,” he said. former CIA Director and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta on CNN. “The Lead with Jake Tapper” Monday.
Ukraine’s advance quickly recaptured 6,000 square kilometers (about 2,300 square miles) in the east and south of the country, according to the Kyiv government. His troops advanced to the northeast region of Kharkiv and carried out a small offensive in the south.
In a potentially significant political development, Russia’s losses erupted in Moscow despite the crushing of independent media. Some TV commentators and bloggers criticized the conduct of the war and the Kremlin admitted that Putin was aware of the developments but insisted that the “special operation” in Ukraine would succeed. In a show of considerable courage, given Putin’s repressive record, MPs from 18 Russian districts called for his resignation, although it would be unwise to interpret this too much as a sign of a broad revolt.
Still, the White House is highlighting signs of dissent to heighten the sense of political pressure on Putin.
“It’s very interesting to see, isn’t it now, that he faces public rebuke not only from opposition figures, but also from genuine elected officials in Russia. This is not trivial, and we’ll see where it takes us,” said John Kirby. , the National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications, told ABC News on Tuesday.
“We’re already starting to see signs that they’re probably going to start cracking down on some of these dissident elected officials,” he said. “We will watch this carefully.”
The surprising developments in Ukraine will offer new openings for Western governments willing to further increase pressure on Putin, but they may also require another recalibration of US military aid and other forms of assistance and a re-examination of possibilities for Ukraine as it seeks to expel Moscow’s troops from all of its territory. The United States says it remains committed to giving Ukraine what it needs to continue the fight against Russia, though that could change after November’s midterm elections if Republicans less willing to back a foreign war take control of Congress.
A key question for the United States is whether US military assistance which first included anti-tank weapons and small arms, then items such as drones and howitzers, should now be adjusted again to help Zelensky’s armed forces to consolidate control of the newly captured lands and repel any Russian counterattack.
“Now the war is entering a new stage where the ability to move forces under fire and exploit weaknesses in Russian lines is of utmost importance,” said Rafael Loss, coordinator of pan-European data projects at the Council. European foreign relations. Western leaders could help Ukraine build on its successes and liberate more land with battle tanks and armored vehicles, Loss said.
In addition to tactical considerations, Ukraine’s breakthrough into previously held Russian territory begs the question of how Putin, who has invested enormous credibility in a war he has framed as a broader conflict against the West, could react to setbacks.
Military analysts said the breakthroughs by Ukrainian troops over the weekend are the most significant of the war since Russia abandoned its drive to capture the capital Kyiv in the first weeks after the invasion.
Basking in recent Ukrainian victories, Zelensky nearly taunted Putin in a Telegram message to Russia on Sunday, asking, “Do you still think we’re ‘one nation?’ Do you still think you can scare us, break us, make us make concessions?”
But tempering the euphoria in the West is not just the reality that war can be unpredictable and gains on the battlefield can be reversed. It is the realization that while Russia faces heavy casualties that are politically unpleasant for the ruthless Russian leader, Ukrainian victories could simply usher the war into a dangerous new phase.
The invasion showed Putin’s indifference to human carnage and a willingness already demonstrated in the conflicts in Chechnya and Syria to rain terror on civilians and raze towns. Tens of thousands of Russian soldiers have been killed, according to Western intelligence agencies, but Putin has publicly stated that his country has lost nothing from the invasion.
Given the importance of the conflict to Putin, Western strategists are also not ruling out the possibility of Russian forces digging deep into defensive lines for a protracted war of attrition that could buy them time to resupply and regroup.
Westerners have long feared Putin’s reaction if it looks like he is losing the war in Ukraine, and worried about whether he might switch to using chemical weapons. And the possibility that Russia could even deploy a limited-yield battlefield nuclear weapon in case its troops flee has not been ruled out by Western strategists, even though the United States has said it does not. There was no sign that Moscow was moving its nuclear arsenal away. Ukraine’s top military officer, General Valeriy Zaluzhnyi, has warned of the direct threat of Moscow using tactical nuclear weapons, Reuters reported last week.
Any deployment of weapons of mass destruction would again risk the kind of escalation between Russia – the world’s largest nuclear power – and Washington that President Joe Biden has sought to avoid at all costs. The desire to avoid such a scenario led him to dissuade NATO allies in Eastern Europe from sending military planes to Ukraine, believing that Putin might see it as an unacceptable direct intervention in the war by l ‘alliance. Similar questions could arise if the United States considered sending battle tanks or other similar weapons to Ukraine in a new phase of the war.
Struggling to identify Putin’s red lines
The difficulty for the West has always been trying to calculate where Putin’s red lines lie. So far, they have not been crossed. But no one knows if that will change – and Putin has managed to sow a mystique around him, making it impossible to accurately judge just how extreme he might get.
“If he has any boundaries that he wouldn’t cross – it’s hard to know,” said Bradley Woodworth, a Russian expert and associate professor of history at the University of New Haven. “It makes it devilishly difficult, I’m sure, to have a consistent policy when things are so fluid.”
“It’s scary as hell. How would we know what his line would be to use a tactical nuke?”
Even without such a step, Putin’s next move will come under increasing scrutiny in the coming days in the United States and Western capitals, especially if criticism in Moscow escalates.
One possibility is that Putin is stepping up his own efforts to subject Western publics and the politicians leading them to fierce pressure during the winter months by weaponizing Russia’s vital role as an energy supplier to the world. Europe.
The idea that Putin might react in a less incendiary way – seeking a face-saving war exit – is thwarted both by Ukraine’s determination to drive the Russians out of all their territory after an unprovoked invasion as well as by the utter lack of trust between Moscow and Kyiv, as evidenced by Zelensky’s sarcasm. This, along with the massive political capital Putin has invested in the war, explains the failure so far of building diplomatic exits for the Russian leader.
Still, Panetta argued that with continued Ukrainian gains and long-term Western support to enable further progress on the battlefield, Putin could find himself in a vulnerable position faced with a stark choice.
“This is the strategy that will ultimately force Putin to decide – whether or not he will continue to fight what is a war he cannot win or whether he will try to negotiate some kind of exit from the track” , he added. he said.