Info Box: Retreat to Northeast Ukraine, Putin’s Next Step | Reuters

LONDON (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin has yet to comment publicly on the rapid withdrawal of Russian forces in northeastern Ukraine. However, national nationalist forces are pushing to regain control of the war.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (pictured) has yet to publicly comment on the rapid withdrawal of Russian forces in northeastern Ukraine. FILE PHOTO: July 2022. REUTERS

If what Western intelligence officials are saying and if the analysis of public information is correct, Mr. Putin has little way of getting things under control quickly. Most of the tools available carry risks, both national and geopolitical.

The most formidable opponents Putin has faced so far since he came to power in 1999 have been against Islamist forces in Chechnya and the North Caucasus, but in these campaigns he has opted to build up his strength. .

Here are his main options in the war in Ukraine:

◎ Stabilize the frontline and counterattack after unit reorganization

Russian and Western military experts agree that, from the Russian point of view, the Russian military must quickly stabilize the front line to stop the Ukrainian advance, reorganize its forces and, if possible, counterattack. .

However, among Western countries, since Russia lost a large number of troops in battles with the Ukrainian army and abandoned or destroyed a large amount of equipment, does it really have enough ground forces and weapons to deploy?

Konrad Musica, head of Lochan Consulting in Poland, said that following the withdrawal of Russian troops from northeastern Ukraine, “the force is exhausted. “It has not been delivered. I think the situation will only get worse because there are fewer people who want to join the army. If Russia wants to increase its military strength, it must mobilize.

◎National Mobilization

Russia can mobilize about 2 million reservists with military experience over the past five years, but their training and deployment will take time.

Cheong Wa Dae said on the 13th that national mobilization was not being discussed “at this stage”.

Even if the general mobilization wins the support of nationalists, it will not be welcomed by ordinary adult men living in urban areas. They would be reluctant to participate in the war.

A large-scale mobilization would force the government to revise its official message on the Ukrainian question, labeling it a total war rather than a limited-purpose “special military operation”. The government’s policy of securing daily life for most Russians before the invasion of Ukraine should then be reversed.

A move to total war would also pose a domestic political risk of public opposition to conscription. Moreover, launching an all-out war against the same Slavic people would also make the Putin administration look bad.

Andrei Kruchunov, who heads RIAC, a think tank close to the Russian Foreign Ministry, has long said that the Russian government is reluctant to step up.

“Many people in big cities don’t want to go to war, so general mobilization is unlikely to be popular,” he said. I think it’s clear that it will pay off,” he said.

Former British Ambassador to Russia Tony Brenton said full mobilization would take months to lead to a build-up of the Russian military.

◎ Expectations that Europe will be shaken by Russia’s energy strategy

Two Russian officials familiar with the thinking of the Kremlin office told Reuters last month what they expected from Putin. He said he hoped high energy prices this winter and supply shortages would prompt European powers to pressure Ukraine for a truce on Russian-friendly terms.

Some European diplomats, however, said Ukraine’s recent military successes have prompted some European countries to persuade Ukraine to make less meaningful concessions.

And Germany and others have grown firmer in their stance on Russia in recent weeks, appearing more determined to overcome the winter energy crisis.

◎ Expansion of missile targets

Russian forces retreating into northeastern Ukraine turned to missile attacks on Ukrainian power installations. As a result, temporary power outages occurred in major cities such as Kharkiv and surrounding areas such as Poltava and Sumy. Water supplies and mobile communication networks were also affected.

Such an operation would be applauded by some of the Russian nationalist forces, who would like the Russian military to destroy Ukrainian infrastructure more permanently with cruise missiles. However, it may be subject to international criticism.

Russian nationalist forces have also long advocated attacking the Ukrainian capital Kyiv (Kyiv) and other “decision-making centers” elsewhere. If executed, it will inevitably lead to serious collateral damage.

◎Abolition or reduction of the grain export resumption agreement

Putin continued to complain that the UN-brokered deal with Turkey to resume Ukrainian grain exports is unfair to Russia and poorer countries.

Putin is due to meet Turkish President Erdogan this week to discuss amendments to the deal. If Putin wants to strike Ukraine immediately, he has the option of suspending or canceling the deal, or not renewing it when it expires in November.

While the West and poorer countries in the Middle East and Africa will blame Mr. Putin for worsening global food shortages, Mr. Putin should blame Ukraine.

◎Peace Agreement

The Russian president’s office intends to inform Ukraine of the terms of some kind of peace agreement when the time comes. Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has vowed to use military force to liberate Russian-occupied territories.

Targets for Zelensky to liberate include Crimea, which Russia forcibly annexed in 2014. Russia has repeatedly declared that the Crimea issue is finally settled.

Russia officially recognizes the pro-Russian powers in eastern Ukraine, the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Luhansk People’s Republic, as states, and ceding these territories to Ukraine seems politically impossible.

Russia’s first “just cause” for its invasion of Ukraine was to “liberate” the persecuted pro-Russian population in these two regions.

Of course, Russia will have a hard time convincing domestic public opinion to return the partially controlled southern part of Ukraine. The south of Kherson Oblast is directly connected with the northern part of Crimea and is a strategic point that provides most of the necessary water for the Crimean peninsula.

Kherson Oblast, together with neighboring Zaporozhye Oblast, also serves as a land corridor through which Russia can supply goods to the Crimean Peninsula.

◎Use of nuclear weapons

Several senior Russian officials have dismissed Western views that Russia may use tactical nuclear weapons in Ukraine. Yet fear remains in the West.

The introduction of tactical nuclear weapons would not only cause massive damage, but could also escalate into a direct war between the West and Russia.

Russia’s nuclear doctrine authorizes the use of nuclear weapons in the event of a preemptive strike by nuclear weapons or other types of weapons of mass destruction, or in the event that conventional weapons pose an existential threat to the State.

Mr Brenton, the former British ambassador to Russia, has warned that Mr Putin could use nuclear weapons if cornered and faced a humiliating defeat.

According to Mr. Brenton, if he had the choice between losing Russia and losing badly, ousting Mr. Putin from power or avoiding such a situation by demonstrating the power of nuclear weapons, the Putin government would be forced to do so. cannot be asserted that it will not be used.

Ben Hodges, former commander of the US Army in Europe, acknowledged the risk but said the chances of nuclear weapons actually being used were slim. “I don’t think Putin or his aides will resort to self-destructive behavior because it doesn’t really give them an advantage on the battlefield, and it’s impossible for the United States to sit idly by and do nothing. .” .

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