Ukraine update: A losing Putin may be ready to settle for something less than everything

A flower shop destroyed as by Russian shelling into civilian areas of Kyiv. March 14, 2022.

On Monday, an adviser to Volodomyr Zelenskyy’s chief of staff predicted that the war would end in a flat out Russian defeat when the invaders simply ran out of resources to continue their attack. However, that adviser set the date for that event at “early May.” It is hard to imagine what the condition of Ukrainian cities might be like given another six weeks of constant battering. Soon after that prediction came another from recently retired U.S. general Ben Hodges, who said that Russia might run out of all the materiel necessary to continue their assault in as soon as ten days.

Either prediction may be optimistic, but they could help to explain a conversation between Finland’s president and Vladimir Putin in which Putin reportedly stated that replacing the government in Ukraine is not not necessary to get what he wants in Ukraine. Despite years spent setting up the idea that Ukraine is under the control of Nazi masters, and that “the regime in Kyiv” is hated by the Ukrainian people who are forced to live under its evil control, it seems that Putin is no longer insisting that Zelenskyy or his government has to go. Which would be a lot more believable if Putin was not continuing to attempt to encircle Kyiv and replace Zelenskyy at this moment.

On Tuesday morning, international relations scholar and journalist Samuel Ramani commented on the difference between what Putin said at the outset of the conflict, and what he might be seeking at this point. Rather than pressing onward with a war that is destroying his own country as certainly as Ukraine, Putin might instead decide to “reframe” his demands for “demilitarization and denazification.”

“Putin could frame demilitarization as the destruction of Ukraine’s military infrastructure,” writes Ramani. “Russia’s latest strikes suggest he is moving in that direction. Putin can claim that he has prevented Ukraine from being used by the US and NATO as a proxy to attack Russia.”

Ramani emphasizes that it doesn’t matter nearly as much to Putin if this invasion is perceived as a failure by the West, as it does that it be perceived as a victory in Russia. “Even if Putin fails militarily in Ukraine, he has many means at his disposal to create a rally around the flag effect and preserve his legacy at home. We should be very careful about assuming that this war will weaken his regime, it might have the opposite effect.”

As negotiations between Russia and Ukraine continue, it’s worth remembering that Zelenskyy has already indicated a willingness to settle for some conditions that seem like a lot less than total victory on the Ukrainian side. That includes agreeing not to join NATO and some form of recognition or referendum concerning the Donetsk and Luhansk “People’s Republics.” In that light, Russia’s efforts in using a Russian-appointer mayor to set up another such mock-republic in Kherson (and possibly in Meltipol in the next few days) could be seen as attempts to improve Russian negotiating position when it comes to Donetsk and Luhansk. 

For many in the U.S. and elsewhere, allowing Putin to park Russian troops in the Donbas and proclaim any kind of “victory” after everything that has happened would be tremendously frustrating. The desire to see Russia humiliated, Russian war crimes punished, and Putin walking in manacles through The Hague is all understandable. But the people setting those as preconditions to negotiations are not the ones watching their cities reduced to rubble and their citizens killed by the thousands. 

The biggest mark of Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s greatness, may be that he’s willing to settle for less than a perfect conclusion.

Tuesday, Mar 15, 2022 · 3:09:19 PM +00:00

Mark Sumner

Since the first day of the invasion, there have been almost continuous reports of Odessa being threatened by possible amphibious assaults. However, this one looks like the real thing. 

However, U.S. and other NATO forces appear to have this fleet under observation, and Russia will have absolutely no element of surprise — a critical factor in the success of most such assaults. Russian forces could find themselves facing a landing in which Ukrainian defenders know exactly where, and in what force, they are coming ashore. 

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