On the eve of Russia’s victory day parade, Russia has already begun an escalation, striking targets across all of Ukraine in an extended aerial assault. An airstrike on a school in Luhansk killed 60 taking shelter so far, while airstrikes and mortar fire continued on Odesa and Sumy, the latter being part of territories deemed ‘off-limits’ by Russian forces following their withdrawal from Northern Ukraine.
Russia has also moved up to 19 BTGs to Belgorod, per Ukraine. This constitutes the second-largest concentration of troops near Ukraine, barring forces operating in Izyum (22 BTGs per British intelligence). The forces being massed in Belgorod are allegedly meant to push through Donetsk, likely to be employed to counter Ukrainian counteroffensives out of Kharkiv and make a move on the city.
Russia has depleted much of its precision-guided munitions, forcing it to use dated Cold War munitions that can be easily intercepted but provide a greater risk of collateral damage. Russia’s ability to conduct surgical strikes has been mediocre at best, with strikes on airstrips across Ukraine proving far too ineffective to disrupt Ukraine’s air force. Despite this, Russia has continued its heavy bombardment, sparing no thought for civilians and collateral damage. Given Russian statements that the war could not end until Russian troops met the Polish border, the idea of such indiscriminate bombardment draws serious concerns as to the potential of a flare-up on the Polish border. Of course, such an occurrence is only possible if Russia were to push through the Donbas, a region where Ukraine continues to mount counteroffensives and liberate territories piecemeal.
As the world waits for Putin’s speech during the Moscow victory rally, he has had to contend with many last-minute announcements and declarations by the G7, which have locked in their intentions to leave the Russian oil market. New sanctions have been announced, aimed to cripple the Russian economy. Putin is faced with three choices:
To escalate, mobilizing the Russian population, declaring new war ambitions, or even precipitating a wider conflict with NATO through the use of WMDs or declarations of intent to attack other European nations.
To de-escalate, freezing the conflict as best he can and withdrawing offensives from Izyum and Zaporizhzhia to focus on Kherson and Mariupol.
To do nothing, offering neither his citizens nor the world any answer to Russia’s catastrophic defeat, has raised many questions as to the nature of Putin’s response to Russia’s untenable position. As time goes on, the excuse of ‘NATO’ may begin to collapse, especially if the war turns into a protracted, years-long conflict like the war Ukraine has faced for eight years.
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