Luc Brunet - 27 May 2022
After 3 months of conflict in Ukraine, I wish to make a short overview of the events, the present situation and possible scenarios of further development.
As we all know, what we see today is the so called second phase of the Russian operations, much slower and more careful than the first phase. Many opinions have been discussed about the change in pace and the withdrawal of Russia from the Kiev region. Was it intended from the beginning to lure Ukrainian forces far from Donbass? Were the Russian forces expecting a rapid collapse of the Ukrainian army and leadership? Both are possible and unless we can read in the mind of Shoygu or Putin, we shall never now for sure.
All events and serious information leads us to the following summary of the situation. What I call serious are information not coming from the Ukrainian propagandists (we shall push Russia back to the 2014 borders in a few months) nor the Russian propagandists (all is going as planned and the operation shall be ended before summer).
Major trends we can identify:
1- the Russian army defines the pace of operations, that are slow to avoid major losses on Russian side, and on civilian side. The use of missiles and artillery is key before entering a new territory.
2- the Ukrainian side is fighting back quite efficiently but is losing ground on a regular manner for a number of reasons:
. no air support nor efficient anti-aircraft defense, making troops and material vulnerable. The major move to compensate that is for Ukrainian forces to hide in public buildings like schools or hospital, as proven many times. We need to understand that this happened in the South and East of the country, where populations are mostly pro-russian, thus considered by Ukrainians nationalists as enemies, explaining such a behavior. It would be interesting to know what shall be their strategy in anti-russian regions like the west part of Ukraine!
. although some of the troops have been well trained by NATO instructors, many soldiers have been mobilized recently and lack basic skills (and probably motivation)
. listening to Ukrainian PoW's, it seems that officers have a tendency to leave the front as soon as the situation gets critical, leaving soldiers behind
. while Ukrainian army is best at defending territories, they never were successful at counter-attacking, and always had to step back after many losses. The Kiev region was voluntarily evacuated by the Russians, not "liberated" by Kiev's army
. since the everything but heroic surrender of the Azov guys in Mariupol, Ukrainian army's morale is getting lower and the number of PoW's captured before the fight is increasing a lot. Russia has now around 8,000 PoW's and the number grows fast
3- the economic war is in full speed and sanctions decided by the West are proving more of a self punishment than a real threat for Russia. While Russia does and shall suffer from those sanctions, as shall the US, Europe is however at risk of total economical and social collapse, especially when winter shall start at the end of 2022. It is by the way possible that one more reason for Russia to slow down military operations is to wait for the economical collapse in Europe, that can destabilize or even destroy the EU.
4- NATO and the US use an aggressive rhetoric against Russia but are in no way willing to engage directly and risk a nuclear exchange with Russia. The Russia arsenal includes weapons that could eventually allow Russia to win a nuclear confrontation without being wiped out itself. The word "eventually" is key, but nobody really wants to check how it would actually work in reality. Those weapons are of course the new Sarmat ballistic missile, the Poseidon underwater missiles creating giant tsunamis, and on the defensive side the S-500 anti-missile system. Assuming the S-500 is effective in killing most of NATO missiles, and that Poseidon can be used against the East Coast and the UK, no nuclear winter would follow and what remains of Russia could survive. But again, testing that combination is something nobody wants to do, thus all players shall do everything to avoid it.
5- The US already achieved one of their goals, to create a long term divorce between Russia and Europe.
What can we expect:
No crystal ball here, but some key points that could happen in the next months.
- looking at the slow development of events now, we can expect Phase 2 of the Russian operation to last until end of 2022
- it is more and more clear that the Ukrainian army is on the way to a slow collapse, helped by significant support by NATO countries. Only a rapid collapse after the destruction of the Ukrainian troops in Donbass could shorten the duration of Phase 2
- however, NATO/US shall most probably not easily accept a rapid Russian victory and shall initiate new actions on top of the present deliveries of weapons and training. As discussed above, I think no direct NATO intervention can happen, and NATO shall have to use other tricks. Several options are possible, but two are more realistic. One is the involvement of Moldova that is not a NATO member. A first attempt was done in May to destabilize the Transnistria pro-russian region between Moldova and Ukraine, but without result. Another option became more probable a few days ago during the visit of Polish President Duda in Kiev and the unusual decision by Kiev to allow Polish citizens to fulfill a number of administrative or military functions in Ukraine. Under such legal framework, Polish volunteers (being recruited now as some sources indicate) could cross the border and participate in the conflict against Russian troops, but as "groups of individuals", thus avoiding to implicate Poland as a NATO country. Many also believe that Poland could later take control of the western part of Ukraine after the end of the conflict.
Such option would allow to continue the conflict much longer to "bleed Russia" as US official said. However, many questions are open and many risks are associated to it. First, volunteers from Poland, even with recent weapons and adapted training shall never be at parity with experienced Russian troops, and shall be killed in large quantities, with a potential negative reaction from the Polish population. Secondly, and if Poland starts to take control of the west of Ukraine, Ukrainian Banderists may react negatively and start fighting them, a situation that may prove very unpleasant for Poland and NATO. Finally a strong intervention from Poland and other NATO countries in the conflict in Ukraine could induce an escalation from Russia. We must understand that the present operation is not called a war by Moscow, because of its limited scale. Leading troops on the ground are LNR, DNR, Chechens and a limited number of Russian troops, and not the most experienced ones. Similarly, not all weapons are used, especially most recent and lethal ones are not used yet, but this could change in fights against Poles, not considered by Russians as cousins like Ukrainians. Additional troops can also be involved, even without partial mobilization.
- the recent move by Finland and Sweden to join NATO could also change the picture, but I do not wish to discuss that now, as the move shall not be confirmed before and of June.
From the above, I would conclude the following:
- Phase 2 to end around end of 2022, with the following regions integrated into the Russian Federation: Kharkov, Lugansk, Zaparozhie, Dnepro, Kherson, Nikolaev, Odessa.
- depending on the level of involvement of NATO on Ukrainian territory, the rest of Ukraine could either become a neutral country, or be annexed in pieces by neighboring countries (Russia, Belarus, Poland, Hungary and Romania) after a third phase, expending the combats to the West of Ukraine
The end of the conflict could therefore take place end of 2022, but also much later, depending on how NATO/US reacts to a Russian victory in the East and South of Ukraine. An aspect also to be monitored, is the evolution of the economic and social situation in Europe, that possibly can become disastrous during the winter, leading to social unrests and may be regime changes and disagreements between EU countries, as we already see it today, although the negative effects on the economy are just starting.
Other unexpected events that could influence the time-line are as well:
- potential conflict betweeb Zelensky and the Ukrainian top level military. Regular rumors are heard on that, but nothing clear. In all cases, foreign influence is also playing a role here, and Zelensky may also be liquidated if he stops to be useful
- reaction of European population against massive presence of Ukrainian refugees, as the number shall increase a lot when the Russians shall start "denazifying" the western part of Ukraine
Unless something big happens, I do not expect to publish any article on that subject before end of August, but regulars posts can be accessed on my Telegram channel: