The End Game for the Russo – Ukrainian War
Although the fighting rages on, especially in the cities of Kiev and Kharkov, an end will come eventually. The question is what that “peace” will look like. We look at five possible scenarios and how they will play out in the long run.
Total Russian Victory. This is one of the more likely scenarios. In this scenario Kiev is taken and Russian and Belarusian forces take all the country up to the western international border. A pro-Russian government is appointed by the Russians, possibly headed by former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych.
A peace treaty will be signed by the new Ukrainian government that recognizes the breakaway republics and much of the land captured by the Russians. Belarus will also gain some territory as a reward for backing Russia.
As part of the treaty, Ukraine will agree not to join NATO. It will also promise not to arm its military with any sizable number of heavy weapons like tanks, military aircraft, air defense systems, etc. Russian “advisors” will also be stationed at Ukraine military bases.
The Russians will be asked to stay as a “peacekeeping force.” Of course, the peacekeeping will primarily be defeating Ukrainian nationalist insurgents and finding stores of anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles.
This scenario is fraught with danger for the Russians. As they discovered in their attack, Ukrainian nationalistic fervor is high, and a sizable guerilla movement could rise up. With covert help from NATO nations, Russian forces may find themselves in the type of war they fought in Afghanistan.
It is likely that NATO nations will not only send in weapons, but special forces to train and assist the insurgents. Remember, that the US Green Berets were originally formed to help the guerillas fight the Soviets in communist countries.
All other scenarios below are remotely and hypothetically possible:
A Rump Ukraine. Rather than continue fighting until all the Ukraine is captured, Russia may stop its offensive and leave a rump Ukraine in the West. The advantage is that they can stop the loss of troops and equipment, while avoiding fighting Ukrainians on a shortened front. Stopping before reaching the western international border of the Ukraine would lessen the likelihood of an accidental conflict with a NATO nation.
Since NATO nations supply large amounts of weapons to the Ukraine through their mutual borders, the Ukrainian forces in Western Ukraine may be better armed and likely to inflict more damage to a battle worn Russian army with longer supply lines.
Again, a pro-Russian government would be installed in Kiev, which would recognize the breakaway republics and much of the land captured by the Russians. And it would agree not to join NATO. Russian peacekeeping forces would remain in Eastern Ukraine.
This scenario might lead to the same situation we saw in Germany after WWII. Eastern Ukraine and the breakaway republics would be Russian allies, while Western Ukraine would be reliant on the West and NATO.
Since Western Ukraine would be filled with refugees, it will be an ideal base for guerilla activities. It would also be likely to push for NATO membership.
A rump Ukraine would be a benefit to Russia as it would mean pro-Ukrainian refugees would flood Western Ukraine, not Eastern Ukraine. Internal unrest might be lessened.
A Ceasefire. If the battle lines become static and both sides are exhausted, both Russia and the Ukraine may seek a ceasefire. For the Ukraine, a ceasefire would stop the war and allow it to rearm and regroup. For the Russians, it would stop a war that has embarrassed the Russian military and could lead to a reduction in the international sanctions that are crippling it economically. It would also leave Russia with a large piece of the Ukraine.
Demilitarized zones would also be part of the agreement.
The Ukraine might also be able to get some NATO nations to station troops in the Ukraine as tripwires to prevent future conflict.
Of course, ceasefires don’t always hold and either side could decide to break the ceasefire if it feels it has an advantage. However, there have been ceasefires that hold and become the basis of a more permanent peace.
The Ukraine Holds Out. Although not a high probability, it could happen that the Ukraine holds out and Russia seeks an end to the war to relieve itself of the sanctions.
What happens would depend on the situation on the ground. An exhausted Russian army that has serious supply problems may decide to surrender some of the land that it has captured. It would probably insist on recognition of the breakaway republics and a land bridge to the Crimean Peninsula. The Ukrainians would undoubtedly want a withdrawal of Russian forces around Kharkov and Kiev.
Any agreement like this would also probably include UN observers, peacekeeping forces, and a demilitarized zone.
A Russian Coup against Putin. Some western analysts are wishing that Putin may become unpopular given the protests across Russia and stories of sabotage of Russian equipment by Russian soldiers, especially those who have been drafted.
Thy claim that a coup against Putin is a possibility, not a probability. He is surrounded by loyal bodyguards and his inner circle is unlikely to support his ouster.
Ironically, the unit that would be the most important in any coup is the elite First Guards Tank Army that is usually stationed around Moscow and is considered loyal to the Russian leadership.
However, units of that force are fighting in and around Kharkov and according to the Pentagon have taken considerable battle damage due to the Ukrainian anti-tank missiles. Should a coup take place, they would be hard pressed to disengage with the Ukrainian Army and move to Moscow.
Another possibility is that the war demoralizes the First Guards Tank Army, and they mutiny.
If a coup removes Putin from office, what happens next will depend on who takes control. It’s possible that they may agree to a peace and withdraw from the Ukraine. Or they may agree to withdraw from land captured in this war but insist on the sovereignty of the breakaway republics. Then, there is the land bridge from mainland Russia to the Crimean Peninsula.
The terms of the agreement would depend to a large degree on the lifting of sanctions by the international community.
However, until then, the fighting continues. Kharkov is undergoing a fierce bombardment and is fighting Russian forces within the city. Mariupol, the last major roadblock to the land bridge to the Crimean Peninsula is holding out despite heavy shelling but may fall into Russian’s control in days. Kherson, in the south has been reportedly captured by the Russians and opens the road to Odessa.
Kiev is still awaiting the massive Russian convoy. The convoy has remained relatively stationary for some days, which has been a mystery to military experts. Has fighting with the Ukrainians around Holstomel stopped the advance elements of the convoy? Have supply problems hindered the advance? Or, has the Ukrainian Army managed to ambush the convoy along its flanks so it can’t move? It’s likely a combination of all three. Or it is a military tactics by Russian to wait until they could encircle Kiev from south and east?
This convoy probably will be the biggest determinant of the future of the Ukraine.