A Russian offensive in the Donbas could begin at any moment, with reports of Russian troops amassing in Luhansk following the complete Russian retreat from northern Ukraine.
Unless Russia chooses to escalate, it is likely to focus efforts on the siege of Mariupol to ensure a land bridge to Russia, mounting a significant offensive into the Donbas with troops rerouted from the failed Kyiv offensive. Kadyrovites and Wagner Group mercenaries are believed to be operating in the area, underscoring fears of a brutal humanitarian disaster in occupied Ukraine.
As the world still reels from the sheer horror in Bucha, the war on the ground is certain to have massive implications on both the nature of Russian conduct and Ukrainian resistance.
With most of the world condemning the massacres, Russia is unlikely to change its Soviet-era tactics of terror and barbarism. With vague orders and isolated chains of command, interpretations of Putin’s ‘de-Nazification’ orders could vary tremendously. In Russia today, state media published a front-page article calling for re-education camps in Ukraine, considering its very national identity a ‘Nazi’ concept. Along with the massacres in Bucha and across Ukraine, the growing rhetoric of genocide could embolden Russian troops to deny accusations fervently, even as actions on the ground suggest otherwise.
For Ukrainians, the expectation was always the same; Russia would commit unspeakable atrocities on their people in an attempt to subdue them with fear. But the visceral shock and horror at images of the men, women, and children of Bucha, profoundly violated in life and death, could trigger an even stauncher resistance to the soon to advance Russian offensive. Almost certainly, when reports from Mariupol and Kherson become more conclusive as to the nature of Russian atrocities on the Southern front, Ukrainians can rest assured that in the eyes of the free world, any illusion of Russia’s cultural and historic value would be shattered and gone. Such were the words of President Zelenskyy, who visited Bucha along with investigators collecting evidence on the massacre.
Since the massacres of Bucha, several countries have thrown out Russian diplomats, indicating a new level of hostilities with the Kremlin. As more atrocities are revealed, more pressure will be placed on Central European nations, so far the most reticent in fully isolating the Russian rentier economy.
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