The President of Russia, Vladimir Putin, hoped to bring down the Ukrainian government with a lightning offensive and quickly bring the country to its heels. This illusion passed, the war took a bloody turn with the siege and the relentless bombardment of large cities, pushing millions of frightened people into the exodus. While the capital, Kyiv, is threatened in turn, the hypotheses on the turn that events are likely to take remain numerous. The Press took stock with several analysts to try to identify the most likely scenarios.
Putin stays the course
The Russian head of state, who initially justified the invasion by his desire to “demilitarize” and “denazify” Ukraine, has so far shown no desire to reach a compromise despite the difficulties encountered in the field, notes Liam Collins, an experienced soldier who has worked for a long time at the academy in West Point, New York. Rather than backing down, the Russian leader has decided, he says, to intensify the offensive by using techniques with serious consequences for the populations. “What he wants is to bomb the Ukrainians until they submit and accept, to stop the pain, that their country becomes a satellite of Russia again”, believes Mr. Collins.
Brian Taylor, a Russia expert from Syracuse University, also believes that Vladimir Putin is still determined to bring down the regime of the Ukrainian president and will continue to push in this direction by using methods “increasingly brutal” if necessary.
André Simonyi, professor of international relations at the Royal Military College of Saint-Jean, does not believe that the economic sanctions imposed by Western countries on Russia are likely to make Moscow bend. The Russian regime will not back down until NATO “moves” and Russia’s ally China “openly opposes” the invasion, he said. The idea that the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, who multiplies calls for resistance, agrees to leave without being forced to do so by arms seems unrealistic and means, according to Mr. Collins, that the Russian forces will have to engage the struggle in an urban environment to achieve their ends, a long and costly process for which they have shown no appetite until now.
Dominique Arel, a specialist in Ukraine attached to the University of Ottawa, notes that Moscow would have a hard time putting in place a new government favorable to its interests and keeping it in power, since the “savagery” of the offensive in progress has increased the anger of the Ukrainians towards Moscow tenfold and assures that a long phase of guerrilla warfare would follow such a change at the head of the state.
A partition scenario
A prolonged occupation of the whole country seems just as unlikely as a quick takeover of Kyiv by Moscow for several of the analysts interviewed, who evoke a partition scenario as an alternative to the maximalist approach practiced until now by Vladimir Putin. The Russian leader, they say, would be content with reluctantly claiming the ground won in the invasion after agreeing to a ceasefire. Russian forces, while struggling in the north, have taken control for two weeks of a large swath of territory in the south of the country, allowing in particular to connect Russia to Crimea and have made gains in the east. Depending on the progress made in Kyiv, Moscow could declare itself master of the east and leave the west to the Ukrainian government while trying to present the partition as a victory that meets its objectives.
Such a scenario would be far from marking the end of the clashes since it is certain that the Ukrainian forces would seek to reconquer the lost territory, notes Dominique Arel. The Ukrainian government ruled out any such offensive in 2014 when pro-Russian rebels seized large swathes of the Donbass region in the east of the country with Moscow’s help. The Ukrainian authorities, he said, were on their knees and had to agree to sign peace agreements that echoed Russia’s desire to curb any rapprochement with the European Union and NATO. The situation this time would be significantly different, especially if Western countries continued to supply arms to a Ukrainian government established in western Ukraine or in exile.
NATO and Western leaders supporting Ukraine repeat that they want to avoid at all costs a direct military confrontation with Russia, which brandishes its nuclear arsenal as a warning. However, the risks of the war spreading beyond Ukraine’s borders cannot be ruled out. In an analysis published last week, the Council on Foreign Relations, an American think tank, noted that Vladimir Putin’s regime could ultimately be tempted, if it imposes itself in Kyiv, to carry out cyberattacks or sabotage operations, even military strikes, targeting countries harboring Ukrainian insurgents or a government in exile. The organization argues that Moscow could thus drag NATO member countries into the conflict, which would force the United States to intervene.
André Simonyi notes that it cannot be ruled out that the conflict will flare up in the short term either, for example if Russia decides to use chemical weapons which would fuel international indignation by increasing the pressure on Western leaders to do more. “The question is knowing when we are going to react, when we are going to say that it is enough. This arises at the NATO level,” he said.
The idea that the war could be settled thanks to a coup d’etat in Russia which would allow the arrival in office of a leader less hostile to the Ukrainian regime has been raised several times in recent weeks, particularly in the United States. United, but does not seem credible in the eyes of the analysts contacted by The Press. The impact of the economic sanctions imposed in reaction to the invasion of Ukraine is certainly likely to fuel popular discontent, but the Russian leader retains control of his country’s security apparatus and locks down the media to control this that Russians see and hear, notes Brian Taylor.
Political and economic elites also have reason to be frustrated, but again seem unlikely to consider such a coup because of their proximity to and dependence on the president, he said. “A month ago, the threat to Putin from the population and the oligarchs was nil. It has risen a bit since then, but it is difficult at this stage to see by what mechanism a coup scenario could materialize, ”said Mr. Taylor. Liam Collins thinks it’s possible if the Russian military gets bogged down in Ukraine and economic sanctions continue to pile up. “It’s not a short-term possibility,” he notes.