Almost holiday in Russia, but Putin can’t celebrate breakthrough in Ukraine

Preparations for the annual military parade are in full swing. This week military vehicles drove through the streets of Moscow, because they had to practice. However, the celebration on Red Square will look different this year than last year.

Fewer soldiers will march past and the Russians will see less equipment. Some are in operation in eastern Ukraine, so the parade will take place in a slimmed-down form.

There in the Donbas, the Russian offensive is progressing more slowly than planned. The Ukrainian resistance means that the Russians can only advance slowly, says former Commander of the Armed Forces Dick Berlin. “As a result, progress is slower than Russia would have liked.”

Russians toil

According to Dick Zandee, defense expert at the Clingendael Institute, this is because the Russians cannot gather enough people to force a breakthrough. “On the offensive side, it lacks decisive clout.”

According to the British Ministry of Defense, exhausted units must be merged due to losses. Some of the soldiers also struggle with poor morale. The motivation to fight there would be low. According to the Americans, the Russians are ‘toiling’.

Ukraine is able to resist, partly thanks to Western weapons. The Russians have gained ground, but at a hefty price. According to Ukraine, Russian soldiers, who are normally stationed in the far east of Russia, must now also be brought to eastern Ukraine to keep the number of troops at the same level.

Need more soldiers

One possibility for Putin to increase its striking power is to declare a general mobilization. That means conscripts are called up to fight. Now professional soldiers and contract soldiers are fighting in eastern Ukraine.

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Hardliners in Russia have been calling for conscripts in large numbers for some time now. The British defense secretary said that Putin could announce this mobilization on Victory Day, although he immediately said that he has no concrete information about it.

In order to declare a mobilization there must be war. It would mean that the term ‘special military operation’, as the Russians still call the invasion of Ukraine, will disappear.

“Putin then has a lot to explain to the Russian population,” says former commander Berlin. Dick Zandee doesn’t see it happening anytime soon either. “It won’t get a lot of support, but it could be the next step.”

Good story

The fact is that conquering the entire Donbas before 9 May is not feasible. “An end to the battle is unlikely, but Putin can tell a good story,” Zandee said. “He can claim that Mariupol has been liberated, there is a land connection with Crimea, and they are continuing the fight against the ‘Nazis’.”

stalemate

The war is now in its third month and there is no indication that the weapons will be silenced any time soon. “I am not optimistic that there will be a quick end in favor of Ukraine,” says Berlin. He thinks that the war will eventually be a frozen conflict in which the parties are unable and unwilling to make peace agreements.

Zandee also sees a stalemate developing, where both Russia and Ukraine are digging themselves. It is not yet there: “The agenda of the Russians is now to conquer the Donbas for 100 percent.”

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