Vladimir Putin slams NATO's 'unacceptable threat' to Russia
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Russian troops are reportedly struggling to make gains in Ukraine as Putin’s invasion nears its twelfth week. The Russian leader has failed to achieve the quick victory he had envisioned, with Moscow’s forces suffering heavy losses of equipment and military personnel in the face of strong resistance from Ukrainian troops.
Having failed in the initial aim of his “special military operation” – to overthrow Ukraine’s government – President Putin has been left scrambling to make gains on the battlefield.
“Putin now has few options but to keep going forward to make this war bigger – either bigger in Ukraine or bigger by advancing beyond its borders,” said defence analyst Michael Clarke.
“Escalation is built into the current situation and Europe has reached a very dangerous moment in its recent history.”
Writing for the BBC, Mr Clarke said: “This war is one that Russia cannot win in any meaningful sense.”
After Putin’s primary aim to overthrow Ukrainian President Voldymyr Zelensky’s government “failed completely in the first crucial week”, the Russian leader has pursued a number of different strategies on the battlefield.
In the early weeks of the war, Moscow launched an offensive on the capital Kyiv and other major Ukrainian cities including Chernihiv, Sumy, Kharkiv, Donetsk, Mariupol and Mykolaiv.
However, the attempt failed, with Kremlin troops too small to dominate Ukrainian forces defending the capital, hampered by poor coordination, logistical errors and suffering heavy losses in the early days of the conflict.
Putin is also thought to have drastically underestimated the might of the Ukrainian army, who valiantly defended the capital and nearby cities until Russian troops were forced to retreat last month.
According to Mr Clarke, Putin has now been forced to move to “plan C” in an attempt to draw some gains from the costly and devastating conflict, which has left Moscow isolated from the international community and buckled by Western sanctions.
Mr Clarke said: “Russia has now moved to “plan C”, which is to give up on Kyiv and the north, instead concentrating all its forces for a major offensive in the Donbas region and across the south of Ukraine, probably as far as the port of Odesa in the south-west – effectively to landlock the country.
“This is the campaign we now see being played out in the east around Izyum and Popasne, Kurulka and Brazhkivka.
“Russian forces are trying to surround Ukraine’s Joint Forces Operation, (JFO) – about 40 percent of its army that has been dug in opposite the breakaway Luhansk and Donetsk “republics” since 2014. Key Russian objectives are to take Slovyansk and, a little further south, Kramatorsk. They are both crucial strategic points for control of the whole Donbas region.”
Russia has shifted most of the focus of its war to eastern Ukraine, after pulling back its forces from near the capital.
Kremlin troops now control large swathes of the south, including the besieged city of Mariupol where heavy Russian bombardment caused a humanitarian catastrophe.
Ukraine’s president has vowed the military “will fight for every metre of our land” with some of their best-trained forces already posted in the east due to an eight-year war with Russian-backed separatists in the region.
The battle for the Donbas, Ukraine’s old industrial heartland, is likely to decide the fate of the Russian invasion.
Mr Clarke added: “What happens in the Donbas, however, offers Putin only a choice between different types of defeat.”
He continued: “One way or another, Russia will have to keep fighting in Ukraine, either against the population, or against the Ukrainian army, and quite possibly both simultaneously.
“And as long as Kyiv sticks to its current line that demands Russian withdrawal before any concessions can be contemplated, there is not much Putin can do but carry grimly on.”
Speaking at his Victory Day parade in St Petersburg on Monday (May 8), President Putin told Russian soldiers they are “fighting for the same thing their fathers and grandfathers did” as he used his speech to tie the war in Ukraine to the second world war to justify his invasion.
Addressing troops at the 77th annual celebration of the defeat described the war as “sacred” and claimed Russia was “forced” into the conflict by NATO.
Referring to the second world war, Putin said: “The defence of the motherland, when its fate was being decided, has always been sacred.
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“And now, you are fighting for our people in the Donbas. For the security of our homeland – Russia.”
He continued: “NATO countries did not want to listen to us.
“They had different plans, and we saw it. They were planning an invasion into our historic lands, including Crimea … Russia gave a pre-emptive rebuff to aggression, it was a forced, timely and only right decision.”
Foreign officials had warned Putin could use his speech to launch a full mobilisation of Russian troops or formally declare war in Ukraine.
However, the Russian leader avoided large policy announcements and instead used the speech to justify the “special operation” while pledging to provide aid for the families of soldiers who had died in the conflict.
Mr Clarke said: “There is no way back for Vladimir Putin personally and he may even be indicted as a war criminal.
“His only political strategy is to make the war in Ukraine into something else – part of a struggle for Russia’s very survival against the “Nazis” and “imperialists” of the West who relish the chance to take Russia down.”
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