HANDOUT - 03.07.2022, Ukraine, Bilohoriwka: Das vom Pressedienst des russischen Verteidigungsministeriums veröffentlichte Bild zeigt zwei Soldaten, die eine russische Nationalflagge und eine Nachbildung der Siegesfahne auf das Dach des Verwaltungsgebäudes in Bilohoriwka anbringen. Im Osten der Ukraine sind die russischen Truppen nach mehr als vier Monaten Krieg weiter auf dem Vormarsch. Nach Aussage des russischen Verteidigungsministers Schoigu, soll die letzte ukrainische Bastion im Gebiet Luhansk durch das russische Militär erobert worden sein. Foto: Uncredited/Russian Defense Ministry Press Service/AP/dpa - ACHTUNG: Nur zur redaktionellen Verwendung im Zusammenhang mit der aktuellen Berichterstattung und nur mit vollständiger Nennung des vorstehenden Credits +++ dpa-Bildfunk +++

According to British military intelligence, 136 days after the start of the war, the Russian army ordered reservists from all over the country to the border with Ukraine. The reinforcements are “ad hoc compilations”, but with outdated or unsuitable equipment. For example, a large part of the Russian reserves, which are being drawn together from all over the country, only have Soviet-type MT-LB troop carriers at their disposal.

These vehicles are significantly weaker armored and armed than the BMP-2 armored personnel carriers that were used at the beginning of the war. The fresh forces should probably be available there for future offensives, according to the intelligence service’s update on the situation in the Ukraine war published on Twitter.

Leading military experts in Germany also expect the Russian offensive in Ukraine to intensify. “Russian President Vladimir Putin has set the strategic goal of ‘denazifying’ and ‘disarming’ Ukraine.” Former Bundeswehr General Hans-Lothar Domröse told the newspapers of the Funke media group that he would not achieve this goal for the whole of Ukraine .

“However, the Kremlin chief has escalation dominance. Only Russia can send more artillery, more tanks, more ships and more planes every day. The only option the Ukrainian army has is to delay and defend itself skillfully,” said Domröse. Ukraine still needs a few months to get Western weapons and training.

“If the Ukrainians manage to prick the Russian land bridge in the south here and there and disrupt supplies to the Russians in the Donetsk region, there could be a turning point in the fall,” the retired general continued. If both presidents realized that they are not achieving their maximum goals, this could be the start of negotiations.

A “frozen conflict” would exist if Russia occupied territory, but the territory remained part of the Ukrainian state. The Ukrainians would then carry out partisan attacks there, according to Domröse. “An ‘ice age’ between Ukraine and Russia and Europe and Russia would occur if Putin cuts off territory from Ukraine and partly declares it from Russia. I think this is the most likely scenario.”

Referring to the Russian offensive in Ukraine, Putin said on Thursday: “Everyone should know that by and large we haven’t started anything serious yet.”

The CDU foreign policy expert Roderich Kiesewetter said on Saturday on Deutschlandfunk: “For me these are empty threats because Russia cannot afford further escalation. They depend on military success for better or for worse. We have to make it clear to our population that we need some perseverance.” The sanctions had a dramatic effect, but it would take time – “one to two years”.

Kiesewetter argued that Russian arsenals were being exhausted and Russian forces were suffering “prodigious casualties”. “And this is now being compensated for by the apparent strength of the Russians in Lavrov’s negotiations, for example at the G20, or by pseudo-threats from Putin that Russia hasn’t really got started yet. So Russia is building a chimera.”

Carlo Masala from the Bundeswehr University in Munich assumes that Putin still intends to overthrow the Ukrainian government. “The Kremlin has just made it clear once again that the strategic goals of ‘denazification’ and ‘demilitarization’ are not off the table. It’s still about replacing Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s government with a Russia-friendly satellite regime,” Masala told Funke-Blätter.

In a video analysis on T-online, Masala said that “in the coming weeks, the entire Donbass will probably be more or less controlled by Russian troops.” If the Russians eventually take over the Donetsk district, he expects Putin to offer peace negotiations and a ceasefire, the political scientist said. “It would be a tactical move to give the Russian troops time to regenerate,” he told Funke.

Putin may offer negotiations “which the Ukrainians will certainly reject,” he said in the video analysis. However, this will bring Ukraine’s supporters “into a massive problem”. Putin would then suggest a willingness to negotiate, and the West would of course be interested in a diplomatic solution. “But it is difficult and of course conflicts with the repeatedly expressed view that Ukraine itself decides when this war is won or lost.”

Masala told the newspapers that he fears a “hot autumn” if Russia cuts gas supplies further. Then “Western societies will urge their politicians to scale back support for Ukraine. It is Putin’s calculation to bring parts of Western Europe to their knees.”

Gustav Gressel from the think tank European Council on Foreign Relations also warns of a further Russian advance. “Russia’s political goal of annihilating and incorporating Ukraine as a whole is still there,” he told Funke-Blätter. “Right now, Russia can demonstrate its superiority in firepower. Deliveries of arms from the West are of good quality, but still insufficient in quantity. If this continues, it will continue to be bloody for Russia, but it is a slow, bloody road to victory.”

However, he sees Russia’s forces dwindling if Putin’s army does not succeed in recruiting more soldiers: “There are no signs that Russia is currently taking an operational break. As it is now, the war will stretch into next year. I think the next thaw of 2023 is the earliest time for a possible fading.”

The former Bundeswehr brigadier general and military-political adviser to the former Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU), Erich Vad, on the other hand, expects an “operational break” after the occupation of the Donetsk region by Russia. This pause could be the “last chance for diplomatic negotiations,” Vad told the newspapers.

“A negotiated compromise could be such that Kyiv grants the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk the greatest possible autonomy within the Ukrainian state association.” In return, Ukraine would retain the Black Sea port of Odessa, which is important for foreign trade. “The conflict over Crimea should be postponed to the future because of Russia’s strategic interests, including the Black Sea Fleet,” Vad said.

On Saturday, the governor of the Luhansk region, Serhiy Hajdaj, who had just been taken by the Russians, said that Putin’s troops are now increasingly targeting the Donetsk region in the Donbass. The occupiers launched attacks from Lysychansk towards the west, Hajday said. “We are making every effort to stop the Russian armed groups across the board,” he was quoted as saying by the dpa news agency.

However, according to Hajdaj, the Russians are attacking from several sides and are trying to penetrate deep into the neighboring area. They create a “real hell” by rocket attacks and artillery fire. However, Ukrainian forces put up a brave resistance, Hajdaj said. Next in the Donetsk region, Russia is likely to have its sights set on the larger cities of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk.

Military expert Masala said: “It will be interesting to see whether the announced large-scale offensive by the Ukrainians, which has now been postponed to August, will come about. I expect this offensive to be concentrated in the south.” The Ukrainians would then proceed selectively and try to lengthen the front. “It would open up opportunities for them to attack in Donbass again. If the Ukrainians run out of ammunition or Western arms supplies falter, they will switch to partisan tactics.”

More on the Ukraine war on Tagesspiegel Plus:

An article in the New York Times (NYT) suggests that a Ukrainian offensive in the south could soon be imminent. Accordingly, Kiev’s troops are stepping up their combat missions there, especially in the Cherson region, which was the first to fall to Russian troops after the war began on February 24.

The Ukrainian artillery units have therefore focused particularly on attacking Russian ammunition and equipment depots, but are attacking Russian units directly. “The enemy has suffered significant losses,” said the General Staff in Kyiv on Saturday. Such information cannot be independently verified.

The Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Irina Vereshchuk had also called on the people in the occupied parts of the Zaporizhia region and the Kherson region to get to safety, even if this meant fleeing to Russia temporarily. “They must find a way to leave the region because our forces will come to retake it,” she said on Ukrainian television. “There will be a massive fight. I don’t want to scare you, but I want you to understand.”

The Ukrainian government had announced that it wanted to take back occupied areas after the delivery of heavy weapons by the West. The Ukrainian troops had recently received more howitzers and multiple rocket launchers from the West, including Germany. The US also wants to support Ukraine with further arms deliveries worth around 400 million US dollars. The new package includes four Himars multiple rocket launchers, 1,000 high-precision 155mm artillery shells, artillery reconnaissance radars and spare parts, a senior US Department of Defense official said on Friday (local time).