Russo-Ukrainian War 5/4/22

The Red Square on June 13, 2021 (Image via Governmwnt of Moscow)

As the Russian victory day approaches, Western and Ukrainian intelligence has begun outlining potential routes Putin may take.

• Mobilization/Total War: Putin could declare total war on Ukraine, abandoning all precepts of subtlety and attempting a full-scale annexation attempt. While Russia’s invasion of Ukraine could be described as brutal already, a declaration of total war would be a massive escalation, allowing Putin to mobilize his people and escalate the use of weapons.

• Belarus joins the war: Ukrainian border security services have warned of recent Belarus-Russian drills and consider an invasion possible. Though unlikely to be immensely successful, especially after Russia’s catastrophic retreat from northern Ukraine, it could mean strikes on Kyiv, where diplomats from various countries have begun arriving. So far, Belarus’ border exercises have been in tandem with its annual end of winter activities, but minor escalations could be made to tie up Ukrainian forces in the north.

• Annexation attempt: Russia could attempt to annex any of its unrecognized proxies, with the Donetsk and Luhansk Peoples’ Republic recently expressing a desire to federate with Russia. A referendum could also be held in occupied Kherson, where Russia has pursued the creation of a ‘Kherson Peoples’ Republic.’ Though dogged by ongoing protests, Russia could nevertheless lay claim to the region, even if temporary. Russia could also make moves on Transnistria or South Ossetia, the latter of which was reportedly considering annexation.

• Nuclear threats/use of WMDs: Though threatening nuclear strikes is nothing new to Russia, and can frankly be expected, actual use of nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons could escalate the war seriously. In light of a very probable Finnish NATO membership announcement on May 12th, May 9th is Russia’s last chance to send a message to Finland and Sweden on NATO membership. With Finland recently moving heavy equipment to the Russian border, anything short of concrete actions is unlikely to influence or deter Finland’s decision on NATO membership.

• New war goals/objectives: Russia could declare a series of new war goals aimed at undermining Ukrainian sovereignty and restructuring the ‘context’ of the war. Relying on the perceived “short Western attention-span,” Russia has shifted the narrative of the war from a full regime change to war in the Donbas. On the contrary, the U.S. and E.U. have doubled down on their commitment to Ukraine, with heavy weaponry being delivered in recent days, including American howitzers which are reportedly seeing combat.

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