– They have to go through a “cleansing process” – Dagsavisen

After several months of Ukrainian troops holding out, the battle for the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol is now over. According to Ukraine’s defense leadership, all combat operations in Mariupol have been stopped, and the remaining soldiers at the Azovstal steelworks have been ordered to surrender, writes NTB.

By taking control of Mariupol, Russia has now secured a land bridge between the separatist-controlled part of the Donbas region to the Crimean peninsula, which was annexed by Russia in 2014.

Is control of these areas sufficient for Russian President Vladimir Putin? And could it lead to a ceasefire and – in the long run – peace?

– I do not believe. He probably still hopes to take the entire Donbas, ie the entire Donetsk and Luhansk counties. Russia now has control of about 80 percent of the Donbas, but the problem is that there are many large cities in the 20 percent that remain, and they are difficult to take, says Tor Bukkvoll, chief researcher at the Armed Forces Research Institute, to Dagsavisen.

Tor Bukkvoll, chief researcher at the Norwegian Defense Research Establishment.

– Set that Russia manages to gain control of the rest of the Donbas, and consolidate the control they have over the remaining areas of eastern Ukraine and the Crimean land bridge – will that be enough for Putin?

– It is absolutely possible that he will then say that it is time for negotiations. Then he will probably demand that Ukraine promises to stay away from NATO as well.

– Can Ukraine agree to give up such large parts of its territory?

– It very much depends on how the Ukrainian warfare develops in the future, and especially how much more effective they will be with Western weapons, but I have a hard time seeing that they will agree to it.

Ukraine is less willing to compromise

Bukkvoll refers to recent statements by the Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba. In an interview with Bloomberg Kuleba rejects an approach that involves Putin saving face. He also says that Ukraine’s ambition is to restore full territorial integrity – including the Crimean peninsula and areas in the Donbas region that were controlled by Russian – backed separatists before the invasion.

“Everything that belongs to us must be ours,” says Kuleba.

– For Ukraine, it is no longer enough to go back to the way it was on 24 February. Now the Russians are going out. This means that there is a fairly strong belief in Ukraine that it pays to continue fighting, says Bukkvoll.

Dmytro Kuleba, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine.  Here from Brussels earlier this week, in connection with a meeting with EU foreign ministers.

Western arms support, progress on the battlefield, and – not least – the brutal ones the attacks on civilians in Irpin and Butsja, are the reasons why Ukraine is less willing to compromise than before, Bukkvoll believes.

– And the latter should not be underestimated. Giving concessions to forces that have been behind horrific attacks on civilians will be difficult to justify to its own people.

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Suppose Ukraine chases the Russians out of eastern Ukraine and recaptures Crimea. What situation are we in then?

– Either Russia must accept a complete defeat or they must prevent it before it gets this far, by using nuclear weapons. And then tactical nuclear weapons, not strategic (tactical nuclear weapons have a shorter range and less explosive power than strategic, editor’s note).

– But things can happen before we get there. If Russia is likely to be ousted from Ukraine, including Crimea, there is a significant chance that Putin will be removed as president.

– Does it have to go that far before he is thrown?

– No, it may be that just a loss in itself over a long period of time may be enough – the fact that the front does not move so much either in one direction or the other, as it is now, for example. If the losses pile up, some may eventually think that “this is pointless, we are degrading our military capability, and we are not achieving anything.” It could also lead to Putin being ousted.

– How likely is it, as you see it, that Ukraine will manage to oust the Russians?

– It is possible that they can chase them out of the Donbas, but it takes a lot for them to be able to throw them out of Crimea. It’s getting a lot harder. Crimea is a peninsula, surrounded by a lot of sea, and Ukraine has no strong navy.

Critical voices

The Kremlin has tight control over the flow of information about the war, but lately critical voices have emerged. Russian bloggers, who have previously supported the military, called own forces idiots after Russia allegedly lost almost an entire battalion as they tried to cross a river in eastern Ukraine.

And this week, retired Russian Colonel Mikhail Khodarenok drew attention to his statements on Russian state television: “The biggest problem with Russia’s military and political situation is that we are totally politically isolated, and the whole world is against us, even if we do not want to. admit it. We have to solve this, “said Khodarenok.

– How should one interpret such a statement?

– I actually know a little about him the colonel, met him in Moscow a few years ago. He said the same thing before the war, and he says it again now. He does not want to go to prison, so this must be cleared in advance. The program he participated in is one of the biggest propaganda shows on Russian television. You do not get there, unless the authorities have reasonably good control over what is said.

– But I was surprised. What one has often had in this type of show before, are people who have had other opinions – but where they have entered the debate knowing that they were going to be crushed. This was not the case here, it seems more real in a way.

– Given that this was cleared by the Kremlin in advance; it is not easy to see how Khodarenok’s statements could have a positive effect on Putin?

– It is conceivable that the Kremlin has been concerned that it has succeeded too well with the propaganda, that the Russian people will not accept any kind of compromise. If that is the case, one can imagine that they see a need to prepare the population for things not going quite as they had imagined. But this is of course only speculation, Bukkvoll emphasizes.

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Big Russian losses

In an interview with Dagsavisen in the early stages of the war, Bukkvoll said the Putin regime could get into trouble as Russian troops return home in coffins. The Ukrainian and Russian estimates of loss figures differ, naturally enough, in different directions.

More than three weeks ago, Britain’s Secretary of Defense, Ben Wallace, said 15,000 Russian soldiers were killed during the first 60 days of the war – in which case as many as The Soviet Union lost during the ten-year war with Afghanistan.

– How has it affected Russian public opinion?

– Not revolutionary in any direction, as far as I can see. I think this is because many of the soldiers come from low-resource families in pig-ridden areas, where you can bury them fairly quickly without much fuss about it. But if Putin finds himself forced to mobilize more, it will eventually become difficult to avoid mobilizing from larger cities as well. Then you begin to approach the children of the middle class, and perhaps to some extent the elite.

– The middle class and the elite can live well with the children of the lower class being killed, but as soon as there is talk of their own children, it gets a little worse.

Russia after Putin

If Putin seems to have control at home, his position globally is completely different. In March, 141 countries voted for one resolution condemning Russia, 35 countries abstained while five voted against. And the President of the United States, Joe Biden, has warned that Russia will be a pariah state as long as Putin is in power.

– Suppose Putin is removed. How will Russia be able to step out of isolation and re-enter the international arena?

– They must withdraw their forces from Ukraine. They have to pay for what they have destroyed. And perhaps they must agree to go through a kind of “cleansing process” similar to what Germany did after World War II. That one realizes the awful thing in what one has done.

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Vladimir Putin

  • Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin was born in Leningrad, now St. Petersburg, on October 7, 1952.
  • Former KGB agent. In 1998, he became head of the Russian security service FSB.
  • In 1999, he was appointed Prime Minister by President Boris Yeltsin. When Yeltsin unexpectedly resigned on December 31, 1999, Putin became acting president.
  • Was formally elected to the post in March 2000 and re-elected for a new four-year term in March 2004.
  • In May 2008, he became Prime Minister under President Dmitry Medvedev. Russian constitution states that presidents can not sit for more than two consecutive terms.
  • In March 2012, he was re-elected president for six new years.
  • On March 18, 2018, he was re-elected for a new six-year term with almost 77 percent of the vote.
  • On July 1, 2020, a referendum was held on changes to the Russian constitution that could enable Putin to retain power until 2036. The changes were voted on despite major demonstrations.
  • Under Putin’s leadership, Russia has experienced democratic decline, according to several international organizations.

Sources: NTB, AFP

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