In mid-January, fighting is raging in Ukraine, especially in Soledar and Bakhmout. Nearly 11 months after the Russian invasion, a specialist in international relations gives us his analysis of the conflict and discusses scenarios for ending the crisis.
Next February, it will already be a year since the war between Ukraine and Russia broke out. Ukraine claimed on Friday January 13 to contain a Russian offensive of “high intensity“to Soledar, after”a hot night” in this small town in the east of the country under increased pressure from troops from Moscow. Frédéric Charillon is a university professor of political science, teaching at the University of Clermont Auvergne. He is currently analyzing the war between Ukraine to Russia: It is a conflict that will be long. Do not expect solutions, although, you never know. In the field of international relations, there are many surprises. Russia are losing on the pitch but won’t accept losing. You have to wonder how this situation can end. We are dealing with a nuclear power so it is a country that cannot be defeated, in the sense of an intervention on its territory. Russia can, on the other hand, be beaten in its external intervention, for the territories of the East, even if in Moscow they are not considered as completely external. We feel that things are not going to go well for this external intervention and Russia does not accept it. This is a big unknown. We have experienced this situation for Western powers, such as the United States in Vietnam, the United States in Somalia, the United States in Afghanistan, the United States in Iraq. In the end, these powers have always ended up admitting that a way out had to be found and that all their objectives would not be achieved. As recently as the summer of 2021, the United States withdrew from Afghanistan after two decades of war. The question is whether an authoritarian regime like Russia will come to the same conclusions and admit that it has failed, that the initial objectives will not all be achieved, in order to find a way out. Does Russia have this mindset regarding Ukraine? In the 1980s, it was about Afghanistan, but it was Gorbachev and it was Afghanistan, so further. The Russian intervention ended in a withdrawal. There, we don’t know if the combination of Vladimir Putin’s psychology and the proximity of Ukraine will make them accept a withdrawal. “.
Regarding a possible end to the conflict, the academic offers several scenarios: The first scenario is that of escalation and that is what everyone dreads. At one point, Russia says that the eastern territories are Russian, that there are foreign armies on its territory, with NATO weapons, American equipment, so it will use nuclear weapons. The other scenario, more probable and less apocalyptic, but not necessarily encouraging either, is that of a long war. It’s a war of attrition, with a Russia that continues to pound Ukraine, preventing it from developing, from living normally, from being a stable democracy. It bombards infrastructures such as electricity, telling itself that in the end, weariness will come into play. The Ukrainian population will have had enough. Westerners will start to support Ukrainians less. We will hear more and more voices, especially in the relays of Russian influence, to say that we are fed up. They count on it. It is not without risk for Moscow either, because, in the meantime, the sanctions are there. It is also expensive for Russia. Military aid to Ukraine is increasingly important and more and more sophisticated equipment is delivered to it. It is not said that we find a perfect solution “.
In mid-January, fighting is raging in Soledar. The capture of this small town of about 10,000 inhabitants before the war, now completely destroyed, would allow Moscow to finally brandish a military victory, after a series of humiliating setbacks. Frédéric Charillon insists: “ Russia cannot back down all the time. There was an attempt to encircle a number of key points. The fact of keeping certain cities or certain strategic places did not function thus one tries now other maneuvers of skirting, one delivers other strategic battles to ensure a certain number of positions. Right now, that’s where it’s playing out. I think we should expect, in the next few months, that there will be a certain number of battles around strategic points. It will sometimes be a question of holding a position, sometimes of encircling another and preparing a larger offensive. We have to get used to it. Unfortunately it is a kind of deterioration of the situation. Authoritarian regimes are convinced of the weakness of democracies. They think that we are not holding our long-term determination, that we are weak, because of our political class, because of our diversity, because of our public opinions. They think that we will end up folding in the long term. They launch battles, one after another, until weariness overtakes the adversary. I think they are wrong. Russian society is not so prepared to endure anything and everything. We are no longer in the time of the Battle of Stalingrad. In the end, the multiplication of battles, of fronts, will end up costing Russia much more than it will demobilize Western countries. “.
In this conflict which is getting bogged down, the image of Vladimir Putin merges with that of Russia. It is he who is at the center of the chessboard. Ukraine’s intelligence chief assured ABC on January 4 that the Russian leader would be ” dying “. The scholar points out: Rumors, there are all the time and about all the somewhat mysterious characters and in addition, in an opaque authoritarian system, inevitably, this encourages these rumours. There are more or less the same on the leader of Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hassan Nasrallah, or on the North Korean leader. We don’t have transparency, we don’t have access to these plans, so there are regular rumors about their health. It is unverifiable. The centrality of Vladimir Putin is important because he has been the president of Russia for 20 years. There was the interlude when he became Prime Minister but he was the real center of power. Consider that Vladimir Putin has been in power for 22-23 years. It is the central piece. It was he who built the strategy, who modernized the army, who decided this war. This war is only the continuation of repeated efforts to regain control of Ukraine. There were Ukrainian leaders whom we tried to poison, elections which we tried to manipulate, the events in Maidan square then, the annexation of Crimea. It’s all him. It is necessarily important for that reason. It is he today who holds the reins of power in Moscow. Now Vladimir Putin is a symbol. It is difficult for a number of countries, starting with the Ukrainians but also the Poles, to deal with him. He has become the symbol of this aggressive Russia, which has regained its ambitions, its strategies of destabilization. For these reasons, Putin’s character is important. When we say that, we think of what could happen if he were no longer in power. Nothing says it would be much better. It depends on who, of course, he would be replaced by. If he is replaced by a less rational ultranationalist, less cynical than him and perhaps psychologically unstable, we will not gain much. But the fact of replacing Putin allows a new start in the negotiation, allows at least to tell countries that it is no longer the same team in power. Everything becomes possible again. Nothing says that this phase will not be very ephemeral and that all these hopes will be disappointed “.
The UN Security Council is due to meet this Friday, January 13 at 8:00 p.m. GMT to discuss the situation in Ukraine, nearly 11 months after the start of the Russian invasion.
War in Ukraine: “Russia is losing on the ground but will not accept losing”