Nona Mikhelidze (Iai): “That’s what Putin wants but it would mean postponed war. In the Russian establishment there is awareness that this war cannot be won”.
Six months of war in Ukraine, after the start of the “special military operation” announced on February 24 by Vladimir Putin. A short-term resumption of negotiations is what “Russia would like today, but it is what Ukraine absolutely cannot fall into, because at this moment they would not be negotiations, but a trap”, a “postponed war”. Nona Mikhelidze, Iai research manager, answers Adnkronos’ questions, paints a picture of the situation on the ground, but also within the Russian establishment – where “the awareness that this war cannot be won is now ripe” – and explains what the Kremlin’s intentions would be.
In recent months, “many” did not believe “in military and above all civic resistance in Ukraine”, while today “it is difficult to imagine a scenario in which Russia can win this war militarily”, a picture that “does not automatically translate into victory. for Ukraine “. Because, he points out, “I don’t know exactly if the problem of the quantity of weapons” provided by the West really exists (Kiev insists on more assistance) or if “the West is deliberately sending that quantity of weapons to Ukraine that allows it. to resist, to stop the advance of the Russians “. To put it more clearly Mikhelidze is not “sure that the West is providing enough weapons with which the Ukrainians can make the leap”, go “really towards de-occupation”.
‘Putin has reached operational capacity limit and needs to stop and free himself from sanctions with a sort of Minsk 3’
And, he adds, “I think that the awareness in the Russian establishment is now ripe that this war cannot be won and these back and forth visits by Recep Tayyip Erdogan denote this”. In recent days, the Turkish leader flew to Turkey to try to open the doors to negotiations. “This request came directly from Putin – he says – because now, having reached the limit of military and operational capabilities, in reality he needs to stop, to strengthen himself, to ‘reorganize’ forces and free himself from sanctions”.
The Russian president, he remarks, would like to move to the negotiating table to arrive at “a sort of ‘Minsk 3’, in which there is talk of a ceasefire but not a withdrawal of Russian troops or a long-term withdrawal”. A bit like, he summarizes, “in ‘Minsk 2’ (2015), when they practically forced Petro Poroshenko (president of Ukraine until 2019) to sign that agreement and then Russia never withdrew from the region of Donbass “.
The “plan would be the same”, namely “stop the war right now, freeze the current situation”, with Russia “keeping Kherson”, avoiding a withdrawal that “would be a serious defeat” for the Kremlin – even “hard to sell. internally “- in that area occupied at the beginning of March in which Russia” never abandoned the idea “of a referendum” to declare either a ‘Kherson People’s Republic’ “, repeating the scenario of Donetsk and Luhansk, or asking “directly for the integration of Kherson into Crimea” and thus “within the Russian Federation”. Despite this, Mikhelidze points out, “in Kherson nobody wants a Russian government and there is a very strong movement of partisans”. And Putin, he continues, “to avoid” the Kherson knot “would now like to negotiate”. Freeze the situation. “Do you think – he observes – that by ensuring the ceasefire this in turn incentives Westerners to remove the sanctions” and so there would be “some respite” for the Russian economy, while Putin “would take time to prepare for the renewal Of the war”. For this reason, according to the expert, “at this moment negotiations and an agreement on a ceasefire would be nothing more than a postponed war”.
‘Ukrainian counter-offensive is not frontal warfare and Kiev can include Crimea in de-occupation plans’
And Ukraine is in a very different position from the ‘Minsk 2’ era, because “Poroshenko did not have the strength to fight and therefore he was forced to sign that agreement which was very unfavorable for the Ukrainians”. While Zelensky, also with the support of the population, will “never accept the negotiations except with the sole condition that the Russian military leave the Ukrainian territory” with the “return to the status quo on February 22”.
Meanwhile, the war is in a “transitional phase”, he observes, explaining how “the Russians still have to take 45% of the Donetsk region to complete the conquest of Donbass”, while “the last deadline they had set was that of July 1st “. And “the Ukrainian counter-offensive” – which “many expected in Russian style”, or “a frontal war” – is in fact a “completely different strategy” from what was supposed to be “combative” and “direct” – he continues – because “the Ukrainians have chosen to weaken the Russian armed forces first”, to “complicate their logistics”.
Mikhelidze talks about the “bombed bridges”, the damaged Antonivsky bridge in Kherson (and to which, according to the latest intelligence update from the London Ministry of Defense, the Russians would like to ‘add’ a floating bridge to ensure a “key link” between Kherson and the East), the “explosions of Russian arms depots”, including the recent explosions in a Russian base in Crimea (annexed by Putin in 2014), the shock of Russian tourists in what was considered a safe beach, of the “very strong psychological impact also for the population in Russia” because “after six months the war continues and not only is victory not achieved, but Crimea is threatened”. But, she concludes, “international law is on Ukraine’s side” and “there is no problem for Ukraine to include Crimea in its de-occupation plans”.