West braces for Putin’s next moves as Ukraine war enters new phase
The war in Ukraine is getting worse.
With Russia’s advance stalled due to fierce local resistance and Western backing, analysts say the two sides appear poised to dig into a protracted conflict that shows growing signs of spillover beyond the scope of the game. battle.
From warning of a nuclear confrontation to fueling energy crises and perhaps even seeking new territories to invade, Moscow has stepped up its threats this week – but so has the West: the United States and its allies are preparing huge new shipments of heavy and military weapons. equipment to help Ukrainian troops on the ground, while expressing more ambitious goals for the conflict.
The Kremlin and the West seem to have embraced a wider clash over Ukraine, which extends far beyond the lands of Donbass and could define the landscape of Europe in the future while looking more and more like to its Cold War past.
US officials said President Joe Biden’s request to Congress to provide Ukraine with $33 billion, including $20 billion for military equipment and assistance, would enable kyiv and its allies to resist month more to Russian aggression.
The request follows remarks by Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin this week that initially caused some concern among European allies. Speaking to reporters after a visit to kyiv, Austin said the United States wanted to see Russia “weakened to the point that it cannot do the kinds of things it did by invading Ukraine.”
Dan Hamilton, a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institute, told NBC News that several countries, including France, felt “unease” over Austin’s remarks for appearing to inflate war goals beyond defense. immediate of an ally and in a strategic wear of a nuclear. – armed opponent.
“They said ‘that’s not our approach to it,'” Hamilton said. “But that’s definitely Poland’s approach, Baltic States’ approach, Ukraine’s approach.”
Hamilton said the U.S. funding program was important not just for its reach, but also for its goal of driving a wedge between Moscow and other states.
Russia’s decision, meanwhile, to cut gas supplies to Poland and Bulgaria was seen in the West as a major escalation.
William Alberque, director of strategy, technology and arms control at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a London-based think tank, said the move shows how, for Russia, “every other non-military instruments of power are now in play”.
“Whether trying to obtain favors from [Hungarian President Victor] Orban government, trying to help Marine Le Pen win the elections in France or the direct use of the energy weapon in Poland and Bulgaria to try to anticipate the sanctions”, he said, “Vladimir Putin reads the tea leaves and sees that the West is trying to cut oil and gas, and if he moves first, he may be able to divide us.
The Kremlin’s rhetoric has grown increasingly belligerent in recent weeks, with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warning that Western arms supplies to Ukraine were a “legitimate target” – raising the prospect of a direct conflict between Russia and NATO members.
Lavrov warned Ukraine’s allies against the outbreak of the next world war and insisted that the prospect of Russia deploying nuclear weapons “must not be underestimated”. This latest broadside came just days after Moscow said it had successfully tested its new nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missile.
Alberque said Russia under Putin had a long history of similar threats: in 1999 after the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia, during the 2008 Georgia war and most recently in 2015 when Denmark tried to join the NATO missile shield.
While emphasizing that Russia was unlikely to want to get into a nuclear conflict, Alberque said the mere threat of such a conflict holds a real strategic objective for Putin, far beyond Ukraine.
“Russia rightly believes that threats often have the effect of coercing their enemies into inhibition and limiting their decision-making,” he said. “Putin has learned over time that high profile threats really intimidate people.”
Rose Gottemoeller, a former NATO assistant secretary general and former US arms control negotiator who served in the Clinton and Obama administrations, said the threat of a Russian nuclear conflict with the West had grown steadily under Putin.
“The rattle of the nuclear saber can have implications for the strength of your nuclear deterrent, unless God forbid you follow threats,” she said.
“Nobody wants to see the use of nuclear weapons in this conflict. So in that regard, it’s a dangerous moment.
Nor are nuclear weapons the only threat Moscow has wielded in the Ukrainian context in recent days. Last week, military commander Rustam Minnekaev appeared to suggest that Russia was targeting an invasion of Transnistria, an unrecognized breakaway republic of Moldova on Ukraine’s southwestern flank. At least three explosions have been reported in the territory this week.
Tatsiana Kulakevic, an affiliate professor at the University of South Florida’s Institute on Russia, said Russia’s logistics extending its already stretched supply line several hundred miles further east would prove difficult, but Putin might see that as a risk worth taking.
“If Russia comes to Transnistria overland, that’s when we might see a Russian move against Moldova,” Kulakevic said. “Moldova is on the list of former Soviet republics that Putin says shouldn’t exist.”
Indeed, Hamilton said the West should be under no illusions that Putin was weighing the possibility of extending the war.
Russia’s planned rapid conquest of Ukrainian territory and the removal of the Kyiv government did not materialize, mainly due to fierce local resistance from a well-trained defensive army.
“But in Moldova – a much weaker, very fragile, poor country, with a separatist entity on its territory and no real military capability – I could easily see a beheading strategy happening quickly,” Hamilton said.
Whether or not threats to use nuclear weapons or invade new territory are realistic, they have proliferated just as Russia’s incursion into Ukraine has stalled. After being forced to withdraw from the outskirts of Kyiv in early April, Russian control is now largely confined to the eastern and southern regions, notably the Donbass. This is the Black Sea region where Putin claimed victory but where Ukrainian troops are still holding out in the crumbling port city of Mariupol.
Besides the redoubled support from the United States, European countries, especially Germany, seem to have overcome their initial reluctance to supply Ukraine with lethal military equipment, even after Lavrov’s warning, and the type of weapons sent frontline has evolved with the changing dynamics of warfare.
“We are in a different phase of the war now than we were in late February-early April, with Russia thinking they were going to win the war very quickly and so the West sent everything they could when they could” , Alberque said. mentioned.
“This phase now, where it’s about command and control and massive artillery, Ukraine just needs different equipment.”
There are now just under two weeks until Russia celebrates Victory Day – the commemoration of the Soviet Union’s defeat by Nazi Germany – a public holiday traditionally accompanied by a military parade in the Square Moscow Red.
But a quick resolution seems unlikely for the conflict, which has already claimed the lives of tens of thousands of Ukrainians and Russians and is likely to leave lingering animosity across the region.
Hamilton said that after achieving international stardom for his response to the invasion, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was unlikely to agree to a settlement that would allow Russia to retain the territory it seized. Putin is unlikely to accept any restitution claims.
He said the best-case scenario could involve a ceasefire and an “extended line of control” with troops from both countries massed on both sides for years.
“We face a persistent confrontation with Russia and a sporadically – if not systematically – violent space in Eastern Europe,” Hamilton said.