Variations on victory: How Ukraine might win the war
Published: 09:55 PM, 3 May 2022
Variations on victory: How Ukraine might win the war; File Photo
When Russia rolled into Ukraine in February, nobody in the west thought that Kyiv stood a chance against the mighty invader.
But after Moscow failed to score a quick victory, Ukraine's supporters now believe Kyiv could emerge victorious from the conflict -- although what exactly would constitute such a victory remains unclear.
Here, AFP looks at what a Ukraine military victory might look like, ranging from the -- improbable -- return of Crimea to the invaded country, to a stalemate on the eastern front where Russia is focusing its efforts.
- Crimea returned -
Last week UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said Russia must be pushed out of "the whole of Ukraine", implying that Britain backed Ukraine re-taking the province of Crimea, which was annexed by Moscow in 2014.
But experts say the return of Crimea to Ukraine appears extremely unlikely. "It would put Putin's regime into question, whose legitimacy increased" in Russia following the annexation, said Michel Duclos, a former French ambassador and special advisor to the Institut Montaigne think-tank in Paris.
Russian forces would have to abruptly cave in, but "the balance of power is too equal to imagine a sudden spectacular victory", said Michel Goya, a former French army colonel.
Russia appears to have abandoned the initial aim of seizing Kyiv and has withdrawn from the north, but still occupies large swathes of the east and south.
Kyiv is pushing for the retreat of Russian forces from territory occupied since the invasion on February 24.
"It would be a kind of victory but there would need to be military gains" and diplomacy would need to find a way for Russia to save face, said Duclos.
Sergei Karaganov, honorary chair of the Moscow think-tank the Council for Foreign and Defence Policy and a former Kremlin adviser, said Russia "cannot afford to 'lose' so we need a kind of a victory".
And a Russian retreat would only be meaningful with the guarantee that Moscow would not interfere in Ukraine's foreign affairs, said political analyst Vladimir Socor during a debate organised by the Jamestown Foundation.
But such a retreat would leave the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, controlled by Russian-backed separatists since 2014, in the hands of Moscow.
"Zelensky does not have the authority to give (them) up, and without (them) Putin cannot leave the table where he has gambled and lost so much," said American military strategist Edward Luttwak.
The "only exit", Luttwak said Tuesday on Twitter, is referendums. Residents would vote on whether to stay part of Ukraine or to join Russia, which in itself Moscow could present as a victory.
- Stalemate -
Since Russia shifted its focus to "liberating" the whole of the Donbas, there has been little progress on either side.
A possible scenario is a "war of opposition that would last without any major escalation", said Marie Dumoulin, director of the Wider Europe programme at the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR).
Ukraine could consider such a situation a victory by default, having kept the Russians at bay from Kyiv and retaining an access to the sea, said Goya.
In turn, Russia could be tempted to sell the self-proclaimed independence of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions -- the status quo -- and the capture of key cities along the Sea of Azov as successes, although experts say this is unlikely to be enough for Moscow.
But signing off on the loss of the Donbas may prove to be a pill too bitter to swallow for Ukrainians, according to Margarita Assenova from the Jamestown Foundation in Washington, who said Ukraine will not stop fighting until it gets all of its territory back under control.
"After so many atrocities and kidnappings of Ukrainian citizens, there is not much room for Kyiv to choose any other option," she said.