Anušauskas: Russia has a three-week time window, after which the situation in Ukraine could change significantly

Russian army in Ukraine. Photos by Ukrainian soldiers. Courtesy of Anatolii Shara

Although the West is already sending heavy weapons to Ukraine, the Ukrainian armed forces are not yet in a position to develop a significant offensive against the Russians. Lithuanian Minister of National Defence Arvydas Anušauskas says that the Russians have a window of about three weeks before the weapons sent or to be sent by the West become a concrete Ukrainian capability, Eglė Smoškaitė writes in

During these three weeks, Russia may try to make some breakthroughs to make Vladimir Putin feel at least a little better. For now, it does not smell like success. He desperately needs them.

“Will the Ukrainians develop attacks? They are conducting offensive operations at the tactical level and quite successfully on some fronts. But, yes, they are still short of capabilities. As you know, even the military equipment and weapons sent at the beginning of April don’t get to the capacity immediately, it’s the whole logistic chain, plus there is also the training of the troops, so it all stretches out into a whole month. And I think that time is still on Ukraine’s side, certainly not on Russia’s side. Ukraine will certainly be generating a stronger force in the second half of May, which will be equipped with perhaps newer equipment sent from the West, so Russia has a window of actually up to three weeks when it can still try to make some breakthroughs that will allow Putin to “feel better”,” the minister reflected.

The Minister of National Defence, conservative A. Anušauskas, and defence expert Dr Egidijus Pepčekys discussed the development of the conflict in Ukraine in the programme “Dienos pjūvis” on

Putin’s twisted plan for Mariupol revealed

On Thursday, V. Putin announced that he had ordered the cancellation of the storming of the Azovstal metallurgical plant, where the defenders of Mariupol are holding their ground. He justified his decision on the grounds of protecting the soldiers but ordered the plant to be blocked so that not a single fly would fly. As Anušauskas and Pepečkys explain, this decision means that the Russians need the battalion’s tactical groups, or part of them, which are tied up near Mariupol, to be diverted to the offensive in the Donbas.

The US reported a few days ago that the Russians were holding 12 battalion tactical teams in order to take Mariupol. A blockade of a port or a metallurgical plant would require far fewer. 

“Now it is clear that it is not gaining an advantage on other fronts; it lacks the capacity, so it apparently thinks that the forces that the defenders of Mariupol tied up would be useful on other fronts and wants to pull them out of there, because a smaller force is sufficient for the blockade,” Anušauskas said. 

“On the other hand, one could talk about a desire to see what the reaction of the West will be because Western politicians are very active in talking about Mariupol, about the humanitarian crisis, about the civilians that Russia is bombing, and I think that Putin may have seen some kind of bargaining element in this because President Volodymyr Zelensky has made it very clear that if they destroy the defenders of Mariupol, there will be no more to talk about with Russia at all,” the minister continued.

Similarly, defence expert E. Papečkys pointed out that Russia is announcing to its public that it has occupied Mariupol, while today’s situation is no different from yesterday. E. Papečkys cited Mariupol as an example of how Putin is looking for at least paper victories in order to come to the negotiating table.

“Today, we hear Putin’s words that they will no longer attack the defending Ukrainian defenders, but at the same time, they are broadcasting another message to their public that ‘we won, Mariupol is ours’. It does not matter that the situation is the same as it was yesterday. That is, Azovstal is in the hands of the Ukrainians, and they have already declared that Mariupol is theirs. This is another step that brings possible negotiations closer. This means that there will be no massacres, which would certainly happen there. If the Ukrainians defending themselves against Azovstal were to be defeated, there would be enormous war crimes, although they would have to be defeated first. But that basis for negotiations is emerging because Russia itself is in a lot of pain, and it now has to show such imaginary achievements: ‘we have won in Mariupol, we have won something in the Donbas, now we can come to the negotiating table’. I think the moment of negotiation is approaching”, he says.

According to Papečky, Ukraine has enormous potential for reserve troops, and this situation allows Ukraine to continuously form new troops and replenish the existing ones, which means that with the Western countries becoming more and more courageous in supplying heavy weapons, sooner or later, there may be an opportunity to go on the offensive. Currently, Kyiv is not in a position to carry out a large-scale offensive and regain territory before 24 February.

“Ukraine does not have the capability for such a large-scale offensive at the moment. Their task now is to stop the Russians in the Donbas, turn the tide of the war in their favour, knock out the Russian forces, and then, with the help of these new units, there will be an opportunity to go on the offensive. The heavy weapons coming from the West will certainly be much needed. Because an offensive without heavy weapons is not possible”, he said.

“I am looking forward to opening large warehouses in the Eastern European countries that joined NATO before Lithuania or together with Lithuania: Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic. Indeed, there is potential to move those warehouses there”, Papečkys said but stressed that these weapons were bought with the taxpayers’ money in those countries and are in reserve in case they need them themselves, so it remains an open question who would pay for the cost of these countries handing over the weapons they have to Ukraine to buy Western weapons.

How likely is the use of nuclear weapons?

Since Russia entered into the war in Ukraine, there have been repeated speculations about Moscow’s willingness to use tactical nuclear weapons. William J. Burns, Director of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), suggested a week ago that the potential desperation to win something in Ukraine might lead Putin to use tactical nuclear weapons. However, he did not consider such a risk imminent.

Anušauskas, the Minister of National Defence, suggested not to be frightened by the worst scenarios. They often do not materialise and would be decisions at the strategic level, which would not end well for Putin. Anušauskas said that he did not believe in the rationality of such people because it was impossible to believe in the rationality of madness, but the politician said that he believed in the self-preservation instinct of Kremlin figures.

“Let’s not be scared. We can come up with the most horrible scenarios, but even the use of tactical nuclear weapons may seem like a simple thing, but they are still decisions at the strategic level, which have many effects. Mr Putin has already miscalculated on many things in starting this war, and with the use of nuclear weapons, even tactical nuclear weapons, he would miscalculate even more. He would appear to be an absolute fool, which is, in fact, what most politicians consider him to be. It is practically impossible to use that weapon discreetly to take it out of the arsenal in this situation.

On the other hand, let us not forget that a large part of those tactical nuclear weapons was destroyed under the agreements between the United States of America and Russia up until the year 2000. After that, that process stopped, but a large part was simply destroyed. So let’s not be frightened by scary scenarios”, the politician said.

E. Papečkys said that although Putin was not achieving any clear victories in Ukraine at the moment, propaganda was working really well in the country, which made him safe in Russia itself. This means that Putin probably does not feel cornered, with no options other than the use of nuclear weapons.

“That cornering would be when the Russian public has already unanimously decided that there has been a total military defeat. So far, Russian propaganda has successfully worked with its own public and bent that opinion to its will. Mr Putin is not losing his authority, and discontent is being channelled into the environment: Sergei Shoigu, Dmitry Peskov, Vladimir Medinsky. Nevertheless, Putin still feels reasonably secure. And, I have to say, the West is watching very responsibly. The West is not doing so much to corner Putin to have no way out completely. This responsible Western policy leaves room for negotiation, even though it sometimes seems from the outside that it is being too soft,” says Papečkys.

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