Three scenarios for the war in Ukraine show that it will last

At the end of the sixth week of the war in Ukraine, the commander of the US Army Gen. Mark Millie has said publicly what military analysts have been discussing for the past two weeks: the conflict in Ukraine is likely to continue for years.

At the beginning of the seventh week of Vladimir Putin’s aggressive intervention, scenarios of a clear Russian victory – or Ukrainian capitulation, which is roughly the same – seem unlikely. Scenarios of overthrowing Putin or World War III seem even less likely.

Thus, there are three main options for the development of events, and it is the scenario “more awaits us from the same” that Gene speaks about. Mili, is considered the leader at least for the next few months. Why is that?

Truce now – the most incredible scenario

The first scenario is for the war to end quickly, even before the beginning of summer. Some are hoping for it and are working hard to make it happen, partly relying on the chaotic first month of the Russian offensive to make some people in Moscow think twice. Negotiations are underway, but at a very low level and in the toxic environment of fierce anti-Ukrainian propaganda in Russia and revelations of atrocities and news of further devastation in Ukraine. Any ceasefire agreement, at least at the moment, seems almost impossible to reach, because it requires, first and foremost, a rational leader in the Kremlin and a willingness in Ukraine and the West to make concessions. The course of events is moving in another direction.

Because the Russian army has enough capacity to renew its forces in Ukraine, draw conclusions from the first phase, and resume attacks more effectively and more concentrated while continuing to destroy cities from a distance. As well as because the Ukrainian army does not have heavy enough equipment, it acts rather reactively, in response to shelling or to repel an attack, but not in offensive campaigns. So far, we see a small number of Ukrainian anti-tank or anti-aircraft missile units stopping a tank column here or cutting off enemy supplies there. But not columns of Ukrainian artillery, armored personnel carriers, or tanks, and at least some areas of control over the skies of Ukraine.

“Get out of the cities, attack,” Gen. called recently. Wesley Clark. However, the attacks require the separation of troops, ie. concentrating them in certain areas and a certain direction. This means that they have to be withdrawn from other places and that the possibility of maneuvering is limited. The reality is that the conflict is likely to stagnate at the current level and no peace is emerging based on a military victory for either side.

More of the same with elements of deterioration

Therefore, the second scenario seems the most realistic, which generally says that before the situation improves, it will get worse. It seems to be confirmed by the reports that

Russian army concentrates in eastern Ukraine to destroy the best part of the Ukrainian enemy, whom the war quarrels against Donbass
to consolidate the formation of a land corridor in southern Ukraine to the Crimea
to tear Ukraine away from the sea, ie. its economy will not be able to export permanently in its production – now and in the future.

There are also warnings that if it fails, such an offensive could be a second blow to Putin, demoralizing the army or pushing it to even more radical military means.

At the beginning of the warm season, there is an opportunity for at least another 5-6 months of a war with the exchange of control over territories mainly in Central and Eastern Ukraine. The fact that Kyiv is already warning the population there to flee while they can is worrying enough about what is coming. The bombing from Russia of oil and infrastructure sites and warehouses in Dnipro, Zoporozhye, Mykolayiv, and Odesa is also sending signals because these are the places where the Ukrainian group in eastern Ukraine is supplied with fuel, products, and weapons.

If there is a “freezing” of the Russian invasion due to strong Ukrainian resistance, there will be a classic case of stalemate. Then the front lines will no longer be shifted, Dr. Ulrich Kuhn of the Hamburg Institute for Peace and Security Policy told the German public television ZDF. He also says that much will depend on what happens during the second Russian offensive. If it is also stopped, then anything would be possible, including the Verdun scenario (a positional war) or the start of negotiations between the two sides. Unlike previous peace talks, future peace talks will look for an answer to the question of what a peace agreement would look like. It is this scenario that Kuhn considers the most realistic, according to Deutsche Welle.

But there is a key point in this scenario – eventually, the two armies will start to get tired. More and more Russians will learn the price – in human lives and economic damage – that their country pays for the war, which began, according to Vladimir Putin, as a special operation to prevent a major war. The resource of Ukrainians to heroically resist is also not infinite. Infrastructure damage, many civilian casualties, and the emigration of millions more Ukrainians would undermine President Volodymyr Zelensky’s authority.

Then Kyiv’s ability to make demands is greatly reduced. Eventually, in this “war of attrition”, a version of the Minsk-3 agreement may emerge, and Putin may receive his puppet government in Kyiv and the annexation of more parts of Ukraine to Russia. Which again leaves a huge territory of instability in Europe and the threat of the Russian army returning in a few years.

“Syria 2.0” – the fragmentation of local conflicts

There is a third scenario that looks like a bad version of the second. Some call it “Syria 2.0” because the revolt against Bashar al-Assad broke down into local conflicts with local military leaders, without a single center of resistance and years of bloodshed because fighters, weapons, and money came from abroad. In other words, if at one point Zelensky fails to achieve something from Kyiv for Mariupol, it depends on the local Azov Regiment how long there will be fighting there. And so – in several other areas of Ukraine.

This means dragging Russia into a prolonged military presence, which causes great suffering and devastation, and the lull in the battles alternates with the resumption of the war. The lines of the battlefield will become fragmented and often change around local centers of power and guerrilla warfare on multiple fronts. The Ukrainian economy will stop, with the population living on local subsistence farming and humanitarian aid, while industrial capacity will be destroyed by military damage, terrible accidents, and looting of assets.

Russia, with more resources and a larger population, will have an advantage in such a long war of attrition, but it will not be able to win a military victory. The ongoing war will negatively affect the entire region, and ending it will require a major political change in Russia following Putin’s exit from the political scene.

That is why it is important to work with all our might to stop the fighting, but we should not place too much hope on the armistice. Mainly because the two sides have no trust in each other. In many conflicts, truces have failed, been used by warring parties to regroup and gather forces for a new confrontation, and ultimately prove to be just a chance to reduce humanitarian pressure.

Why the summer of 2022 is important

In this sense, the war in Ukraine is at a delicate time. Support from abroad with armaments must continue because it is a response to immediate needs and threats. But to change the balance of the conflict, Ukraine needs much more than modern anti-aircraft and anti-tank missiles and drones. In eastern Ukraine, the Russian army will shorten its logistics chains, which have been successfully interrupted so far, it will be difficult to push it out, and if it reaches the limits of the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk republics, the intensity of the clashes will increase sharply, because this is a territory that the Kremlin will never give up in the current circumstances.

Analysts predict that after the withdrawal from the Kyiv region, active hostilities will resume in about two or three weeks.

Finally, it is not entirely certain that this war will follow familiar patterns. But to a large extent, its outcome depends on how methodically the Ukrainian army will be able to rearm and feed itself from abroad. The Soviet-era armaments and ammunition she knows best will begin to run out, and how many such systems and supplies are left in Eastern Europe to supply them sustainably enough?

But if enough of it is quickly trained – for example within 2-3 months – and has more modern systems such as anti-tank drones with a range of up to 90 km, radar, optics, precision weapons, and even artillery systems using data of Western military intelligence, this could not only delay defeat. It could create such a big problem even for an army like the Russian one that Putin will be forced to look for anything to present to the Russians as a victory to leave.

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