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Fortunately for Putin, the dead soldiers come from poor families in the countryside – VG

First, Vladimir Putin was to capture Kyiv and kill the Ukrainian president. Then he was just supposed to “liberate” the Donbas region. Now he has changed his strategy again. What will be next?

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From the start, the message from the Kremlin was that Ukraine was to be “demilitarized” and “denazified”.

But Vladimir Putin launched the invasion on the wrong premise: That the Ukrainian state was imposed, and that the Ukrainian people would welcome the Russians and embrace the soldiers.

On the contrary: With President Volodymyr Zelensky at the helm, Ukraine has defended itself in an astonishing manner.

The campaign against Kyiv ended in humiliation, and the Russian soldiers had to turn around with their tails between their legs.

But after they had retreated, we saw what atrocities they had committed against the civilian population. More than 20,000 war crimes are being investigatedt, and Russian soldiers who have killed, tortured or raped, must be prosecuted.

In mid-April, the Russian offensive began to take the two self-proclaimed “people’s republics” in the east, Donetsk and Luhansk, which together make up Donbas. We got the clear impression that Moscow would concentrate on that and put the more ambitious plans in the drawer. At least until they had taken control of this entire area.

BUTSJA: VG recently visited the town outside Kyiv. The destruction is enormous.

The Russians have managed to capture all of Luhansk, but still only have half of Donetsk. Nevertheless, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said last week that “the geography has changed” and that the strategy is no longer limited to the Donbas area.

Now he is talking about Kherson, about Zaporizhzhya and a number of other regions. And Moscow does not hide that it wants to annex new parts of Ukraine, either on the model of Crimea or on the Donetsk/Luhansk method.

Although Russia’s ambitions have grown, there are no signs of strength. On the contrary, Ukraine has launched a counter-offensive and, according to British intelligence, they are making progress in trying to retake strategically important Kherson, which has been occupied by the Russians since March. A little further west, on the Black Sea, lies the even more important city of Odesa.

This week, Ukrainian authorities said that Kherson will be recaptured by Septemberwith the help of weapons supplied from the West.

The American artillery system Himars is apparently changing the war. The new weapons upset Putin and the Kremlin. They know that the long-range artillery that Ukraine has now acquired can hit far into Russian territory.

The head of Ukraine’s Security Council said last week that Kyiv will not hesitate to attack Russian soil “if necessary”. He spoke concretely about the military installations that enable Russia to attack Ukraine. Soldiers complain in an interview with the Wall Street Journal that they are not allowed to fire artillery across the border.

The battle for Kherson becomes important in many ways. It was the city that the Russians took without too much trouble after just over a week of war. If Ukraine manages to push the invading force out of this city, it will be a major psychological victory for them – and a corresponding defeat for Russia.

Equally important for Ukraine: if they were to manage to win back Kherson, it would also be a signal to the West that their arms supply and aid is working, and that they should continue with it also after this summer.

It is indeed a remarkable war. Russian gas continues to flow to Europe – albeit in smaller volumes than before. Countries that supply weapons to Ukraine pay for the import of energy and fertilizer – and thus also finance the war. At the same time as Russia uses gas and grain as means of pressure.

Internally in Russia, Putin still has good control. Although the sanctions extend beyond the economywhich a recent Yale report confirms, is Moscow’s narrative that this is the West’s fault.

Many Russians buy that story, and everything indicates that he still has great support among the population, more precisely 80 percent in the opinion polls (which we must, admittedly, take with a large pinch of salt).

But Putin knows better than anyone that this can turn around quickly. He has been terrified of popular sedition ever since he saw what happened in the Orange Revolution in Ukraine in 2004.

Putin is a master at changing his history at will. He does that all the time. Of course, it would be embarrassing for Putin to end the war now, and he has no plans to do so. Rather, he hopes that the West will tire of supporting Ukraine and war fatigue will set in.

But he has forgotten that war fatigue can also affect Russia. The more soldiers who come home in coffins, the greater the danger, from Putin’s point of view. But fortunately for him, the soldiers come primarily from poor families in the “regions”, as the Russians express it – and not from the power centers of Moscow and St. Petersburg, where the danger of a popular uprising against the war would be much greater.

Poor young men are lured by the relatively good salaries to join the Russian army, but the danger is ending up as cannon fodder. The poor republics of Buryatia and Tuva in southern Siberia and North Ossetia and Dagestan in the Caucasus are among those hardest hit.

The Russians do not say how many soldiers have lost their lives in the war, but it is probably around 20,000. Ukraine claims that they have killed twice as many.

Apart from Putin being the boss, we know little about how decisions are made in Moscow during the day. In the early days after the invasion, we saw pictures of Putin sitting in meetings with his few confidants, but it has been a long time since the Kremlin has published such motifs. What we do know is that ex-spy Putin mostly surrounds himself with former and current spies. We also know that Minister of Defense Sergej Sjojgu has never been a professional soldier either – but on the other hand a very capable disaster minister. It can come in handy.

Right now, it seems the Kremlin doesn’t quite know what it wants. But Putin and his men are no more paralyzed in action than the fact that they have managed to draw in both gas for Europe and food for Africa during the war.

And what really happened when 50 Ukrainian prisoners of war died and 73 were injured in an explosion in the “people’s republic” of Donetsk last Friday?

All this shows that the West must still be on its toes about what happens next in Ukraine.

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