The initial Russian campaign to invade and conquer Ukraine is culminating without achieving its objectives—it is being defeated, in other words. The war is settling into a stalemate condition in much of the theater. But the war isn’t over and isn’t likely to end soon. Nor is the outcome of the war yet clear. The Russians might still win; the Ukrainians might win; the war might expand to involve other countries; or it might turn into a larger scale version of the stalemate in Ukraine’s east that had persisted from 2014 to the start of Russia’s invasion in February 2022. The failure of Russia’s initial military campaign nevertheless marks an important inflection that has implications for the development and execution of Western military, economic, and political strategies. The West must continue supplying Ukraine with the weapons it needs to fight, but it must now also expand its aid dramatically to help keep Ukraine alive as a country even in conditions of stalemate.
6:30 pm EDT - Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has not fully capitulated to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s desired Union State integration demands in Belarus – yet.
Warning Update: Russia May Conduct a Chemical or Radiological False-Flag Attack as a Pretext for Greater Aggression against UkraineMarch 9, 2022 - ISW Press
Key takeaway: The Kremlin has set informational conditions to blame Ukraine for a Russian-conducted or Russian-fabricated chemical or radiological false-flag attack against civilians as a pretext for further Russian escalation. The Kremlin is likely still evaluating this course of action but is building out the necessary conditions to justify broader violence against civilians. That risk must be addressed. The United States and NATO must “pre-bunk” such Kremlin efforts, destroy in advance Moscow’s efforts to create informational cover for escalation, and deter Russia’s potential use of a chemical or radiological weapon.
Likely Russian actors conducted a disinformation campaign against Ukraine exploiting COVID-19 fears related to the Ukrainian government’s evacuation of its citizens from Wuhan, China. The campaign’s tactics, timing, and nature all point toward Kremlin involvement.
The West risks handing the Kremlin another opportunity to prolong its war in Ukraine if it fails to resource Ukraine’s sustained counteroffensive. Delays and fragmented aid are exactly what allowed Russia to regroup prior to the Ukrainian counteroffensive. The West must not wait on the results of the current phase of the Ukrainian counteroffensive, and, instead, help Ukraine maintain its momentum to prevent Russia from rebuilding its military strength and prolonging the war.
Key Takeaway: Ukrainian forces are celebrating the liberation of two small towns south of Bakhmut, but Ukraine’s entire effort first to defend and now to conduct counter-offensive operations around Bakhmut has been the subject of much unwarranted criticism. Ukraine's defensive and counteroffensive operations in the Bakhmut area since summer 2022 are an operationally sound undertaking that has fixed a large amount of Russian combat power that would otherwise have been available to reinforce Russian defenses in southern Ukraine. Elements of two of Russia’s four Airborne (VDV) divisions and three of Russia’s four VDV separate brigades are currently defending the Bakhmut area. This significant Ukrainian achievement has helped prevent Russia from creating a large mobile VDV operational reserve that could have been used to stop the main Ukrainian counteroffensive effort in Zaporizhia Oblast. Continued large-scale Ukrainian counteroffensive efforts around Bakhmut are necessary to keep Russian forces fixed in that area, as the likely recent redeployment of a detachment of one VDV separate brigade from near Bakhmut to southern Ukraine shows how eager the Russians are to recoup the combat power that the Ukrainian counteroffensive around Bakhmut is fixing there.
The Kremlin is establishing economic, governmental, and informational control over occupied Ukrainian territory, indicating that Russia may be preparing to create a series of Russian proxy “people’s republics” and/or to directly annex some occupied Ukrainian territory. Russian forces are transitioning occupied territories to use the Russian ruble. Occupying military forces do not typically replace local currencies, but Russia’s proxies in occupied Ukrainian territory, the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics (DNR and LNR), have used rubles in some capacity since 2015. Russian forces are also likely planning to falsify “independence referendums” to create new proxy republics or to annex occupied territories into the DNR, LNR, or Russia itself. To that end, Russian forces are supplanting local governance and beginning to establish greater control over Ukrainian communications and culture in occupied areas.
Russia and Ukraine are unlikely to resume negotiations in the coming weeks. Both sides await the outcome of Russia’s ongoing offensive in eastern Ukraine as they attempt to build leverage for future negotiations. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov announced that the second phase of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began on April 19 and that its objective is the “complete liberation” of the entirety of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, which are claimed by Russia’s proxies in eastern Ukraine. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on April 17 that he “[doesn’t] trust the Russian military and Russian leadership” to not attempt to take Kyiv again if they win the battle for eastern Ukraine and re-emphasized that Ukraine is unwilling to give up its territory to end the war.
Ceasefire negotiations have effectively collapsed. Both Russian and Ukrainian officials are unprepared to engage in serious negotiations in the coming weeks in any format. Virtual negotiations are continuing without progress. Kyiv and Moscow are both likely counting on the outcome of Russia’s offensive in eastern Ukraine to recalibrate their negotiating positions.