Putin’s slow, bloody offensive – VG

Vladimir Putin’s attempt at a lightning war against Kyiv completely failed. After 100 days, there has been a war of attrition in eastern Ukraine. Street by street. Village by village.

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The battle is for control of the Donbas region, which consists of the counties of Donetsk and Luhansk. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has said that Russia’s main goal is to “liberate” the Donbas.

The Russian “liberation” consists of bombing Ukrainian cities and villages with heavy artillery. In this way, they are trying to expand the area that has been controlled by Russian-backed rebels for the past eight years. A particularly oppressive regime has been introduced here.

Putin wants to expand the so-called People’s Republics to include the entire Donbas. Then Russia can in the next round annex eastern Ukraine, as he did with Crimea in 2014.

CITY UNDER ATTACK: Russian forces attack Sevierodonetsk, Ukraine’s easternmost city.

At enormous cost, the Russian war machine is slowly advancing eastward. Right now there is a bloody battle for control of Sievjerodonetsk. Ukrainian forces have held this city farthest to the east, but in recent days Russian forces have advanced and occupied districts.

The loss figures are high, the material damage enormous. Even more people are being chased away. According to the governor, nine out of ten inhabitants, 90,000 people, have fled. President Volodymyr Zelenskyj states that all critical infrastructure in the city has been destroyed.

As a result of Putin’s war, Mariupol’s tragedy is being repeated in more and more Ukrainian cities and villages.

UNCLEAR GOAL: Vladimir Putin, with Sergei Lavrov in the background. The foreign minister says Russia’s main target is the Donbas.

Politically and economically, Russia has already lost this war. Only the propaganda apparatus in the Kremlin can claim that everything is going according to plan. Putin is still looking for something that could look like a victory. Which, of course, made the video an overnight sensation.

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Maybe in a few weeks or months, Putin can declare victory and claim that the entire Donbas has been liberated. Then large parts of the population will have fled and the cities will be uninhabitable. This is the Russian “liberation”.

But no one knows if Putin’s ambitions in Ukraine are still greater than just occupying the Donbas.

DESTROYED HOUSING: Ukrainian soldiers search a block of flats that have been attacked in Sloyyansk in the Donbas.

It may be that the Kremlin calculates that Western countries’ solidarity with Ukraine is out of date, as the economic consequences of war and sanctions over time will be even greater for Europe. An international energy and food crisis could create divisions between allies. The longer the war lasts, the more demanding it can be to maintain Western cohesion.

While countries such as the United States, Poland and Britain have marked a hard line against Russia, leaders in Germany, France and Italy are talking to Putin and calling for an immediate ceasefire and peace talks.

But even though there are different approaches, the Western allies still agree on the most important thing. They support Ukraine and they are tightening sanctions against Russia. In this serious crisis, both the EU and NATO have shown renewed vigor and the ability to cooperate. On Tuesday night, the EU agreed on the sixth sanction package, which involves stopping more than two-thirds of oil imports from Russia.

As Ukraine did not fall in the first phase of the war, Putin must think long-term.

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If sanctions against Russia are eroded in the long run, or support for Ukraine is lacking, Putin will have more leeway to continue the military advance.

It is unclear how Putin envisages an end to that war. But it is also not clear what playoffs Western powers envision. U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said earlier this spring that the United States wants to see “Russia weakened to the point that it can no longer do what it has done by invading Ukraine.”

STRENGTHS OF MATCH MORALITY: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky recently visited the forces in Kharkiv.

No one knows the end of this war. What exactly is victory, or defeat, in this war? Must Ukraine prepare to give up territory in exchange for peace, as some in the West have argued?

In Kyiv, such tones sound false. It is, of course, up to the government of Ukraine, not other countries, to decide what is an acceptable outcome of this war.

In an interview with Ukrainian TV last week, Zelenskyj indicated that it would be a victory for Ukraine if they could regain control of all areas Russia has occupied after February 24.

In that case, it will require a long-term and large-scale Ukrainian counter-offensive, as Russia currently occupies large areas in the east and south. Putin has not achieved any of the goals he set when he declared war on February 24. The war can end in a peace agreement, or in a frozen conflict. There are many examples of such unresolved conflicts involving Russia.

As long as both sides believe they can achieve more on the battlefield, there will be no peace talks. The war can be long lasting.

Ukraine has no choice. They fight on their own soil, for their freedom and sovereignty.

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