Putin’s most likely Russian targets and what Europe’s reaction means

If nothing could stop the Kremlin regime from a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, is there anything that can tame it now Vytautas Bruveris asks in Lrytas.lt portal?

Hopes that Moscow would nevertheless refrain from launching an open attack on its neighbouring country were virtually dashed at the beginning of the week when Putin himself announced that Russia formally recognises the independence of the ‘people’s republics of Donetsk and Luhansk and that it is sending troops there.

Clearly, the Kremlin had finally decided to end almost half a year of political pressure from the West and Kyiv to capitulate in good faith and recognise these ‘republics’ themselves as part of Ukraine, thus fatally undermining them the sovereignty of that state.

By throwing the Minsk agreements on the scrapheap, the Kremlin has demonstrated that it is no longer determined to resort to hybrid but open military force. This has been confirmed by the fire that has been raging across the entire Donbass front since last week, on a scale not seen for eight or seven years.

But it was still to be expected that the Russian army would first attack only Ukrainian forces in the Donbass from the ‘people’s republics’ beachhead, with the aim of taking at least the whole of Donetsk and Luhansk, and that a full-scale invasion would come later, perhaps depending on how the first step went.

Or perhaps even a return to so-called negotiations.

However, the Kremlin has decided not to be rattled and to strike with full force from all sides at once. This is understandable from the point of view of purely military logic – why start in the Donbass alone, thus “ringing the doorbell” and risking getting bogged down there?

However, what are the Kremlin’s most likely main objectives?

First of all, it needs a lightning war. The objective of Russian forces of all kinds, attacking from the air, sea and land, is obviously to crush the Ukrainian army and its infrastructure as quickly as possible, regardless of any possible losses.

The aim is to penetrate as deeply as possible into the country’s territory, fragmenting it as much as possible and, of course, taking as much of it as possible.

The main targets are the major cities, the most important being the capital, Kyiv.

Russia aims to seize it as quickly as possible, seize the country’s top Government if it cannot escape, and replace it with a puppet regime.

And then to assert its occupation of the whole of Ukraine by all means, not only by military force but also by mass terror.

It is impossible to imagine that the Kremlin itself, before taking this step, did not realise how risky it was.

It was not, above all, because of the reaction of the West and the new packages of sanctions that are already being announced, as well as the threats that are being made to finally act in unison to do what has been avoided in the past – to suffocate not only the Kremlin regime’s financial resources and the oligarchs who run them, but also the Russian economy as a whole, by absolute isolation.

Russia has long been preparing for the latter Western response, although it is unlikely even now. For the same reason: the West’s own disunity.

Here, it has so far been hesitant to disconnect Russia from the SWIFT interbank system – because Italy and Germany are opposed to it. Moreover, more countries do not want to take their own losses due to the harshest sanctions against Russia.

In any case, Europe remains heavily dependent on Russian energy resources.

And the latter has built up very large reserves and taken other measures to protect itself against even the strongest blows.

Of course, this is not to say that sanctions or isolation will not significantly impact Russia and its long-term development, will not shake up society, will not break up the regime itself.

But it has not stopped the Kremlin, and it will not stop it in the near future.

For the destruction of Ukrainian statehood is such a desperately important goal for the current Russian Government that it has decided to pursue it regardless. And the main and, in fact, the only obstacle on this one-lane highway is the Ukrainian Government, society and, above all, the army.

If Moscow’s forces fail to achieve their main objectives in the next few days, if they get bogged down in positional battles at all, or even if they are forced to retreat in some places, red lights will start to go off in both the Russian military leadership and in the Kremlin itself.

Moreover, suppose Russia, even after having occupied a large part of Ukrainian territory, is nevertheless forced to stop and enter into negotiations with Kyiv. In that case, it will be possible to claim that it has essentially lost because the attacked state has stood its ground.

Russia will then have to resort to a nuclear strike against Ukraine.

But even with Kyiv and most of its territory occupied, it will be almost impossible to hold on to real power, despite the possibility of mass terror.

However, as can be seen, the Kremlin, with its objective, is pursuing it desperately. The regime simply cannot allow the subjugation of Belarus to prevent the return of a core state such as Ukraine to its decisive sphere of influence.

In any case, this week’s historic turning point, which seems to have been unavoidable, only serves to remind us once again that the global geopolitical process that began eight years ago on the Maidan in Kyiv will be a long-term and dramatic one.

Above all, the main characteristic of this process is that it will continue to expand. This is yet another warning signal for our entire region. Especially since the regime in neighbouring Belarus is also involved in the war that is breaking out in Ukraine.

Who can guarantee that Minsk will not be told to take revenge on Lithuania or Poland in some non-hybrid way, against which the crisis of illegal migrants may appear to be nothing more than innocent games?

This seems to be understood by our Government, which has declared a state of emergency in Lithuania.

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