Expert of the Center for Eastern Studies, Marek Menkiszak, predicts that if Russia attacks Ukraine, it will most likely do so by the end of February, when the demand for Russian gas in Europe is increased. The analyst presented three variants of the course of a potential military action. In his opinion, the authorities in the Kremlin hope that the threats will lead to serious concessions by the West in the area of European security.
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– If the Russians enter Ukraine, they will most likely do so by the end of February. It is about the increased demand for gas in the winter season, the supplies of which are controlled by Gazprom – explained Marek Menkiszak in an interview with the Polish Press Agency. – It is no coincidence that the Kremlin has increased the pressure right now, when Europe is struggling with the energy crisis. Dependence on Russian supplies is keeping European countries from reacting more sharply to Moscow’s actions, he added. How far will Moscow go in the escalation of the conflict? – If the Kremlin decides to adopt a military variant, it will have to take into account sanctions from the West – said Menkiszak. In his opinion, the Russians will estimate possible losses and make further decisions based on calculations.
Three variants of the course of a potential military action
The expert presented three variants of the course of a potential military action by Russia in Ukraine. In the first scenario, the Kremlin will conduct military operations in the Donbas with the hands of separatists. – Of course, this will be done with the support of Russia, which is constantly supplying them with weapons, and maybe even regular units of the Russian Federation troops will be involved – he added. – This would lead to a clear shift of the front and a symbolic defeat of the Ukrainian army, and in the next step to a political turning point in Ukraine – said the political scientist. The second option assumes open aggression on the Russian side. – Missile and air attacks on objects of key importance to Ukraine may occur. The reason would be, for example, the alleged shelling of Russian territory. In addition to the obvious damage, this would put Kiev in a dilemma: whether to respond with military actions, thus providing Putin with a pretext for further attacks, or not to respond, while allowing for a further escalation of aggression by Russia, he said. – The third, most radical scenario assumes a large Russian land invasion involving at least 200,000 soldiers. If the Russians were thinking of occupying part of Ukraine, there would have to be many more troops. The attack would be launched from many directions, including Belarus. It is in the Kremlin’s interest to make this variant credible. Therefore, the units stationed on the border with Ukraine include, among others, engineering troops, paramilitary units and field hospitals – the expert explained.
It is possible that Putin has already made his decision
According to the political scientist, “it is possible that the President of Russia, Vladimir Putin, has already made a decision to invade Ukraine, and the subsequent failure of talks with the White House is to provide justification for starting a war.” He also pointed out that “Russia’s demands are unacceptable to the US and NATO.” He added that this is most likely a deliberate act on the part of the Kremlin, which raises the stakes in negotiations with the US or looks for an excuse to spark a conflict. – The Russians gave the West a very radical ultimatum. There are two possible solutions to this situation. In the first scenario, the US will agree to some of the Kremlin’s demands. If this does not happen, the Russians will take aggressive measures against Ukraine to make their threats credible, he said.
The latest Biden-Putin talks initiated by the Russian side would be another form of pressure from the Kremlin on the United States. As Menkiszak noted, Moscow wants to force the US to make decisions regarding Putin’s demands as soon as possible. “By imposing pressure and forcing Washington to act, despite the resistance of some of its allies, Russia is counting on tension within NATO,” he explained. Sparse information on the course of the conversation may – according to the PAP interlocutor – suggest that the parties confirmed the agreements on the planned formats of the dialogue, and at the same time used it to demonstrate their principled attitude before it began, by exchanging threats. – The very fact of the conversation and its course are used by the Russian side in the information and psychological war with the West. The Kremlin is trying to present the Biden administration as very concerned and ready to make any concessions to Moscow, forced to enter into dialogue with Russia as a great power, and Putin as an assertive, tenacious and ready to escalate politician, Menkiszak said.
Talks with Biden strengthen Putin’s position
The OSW expert noted that talks with US leaders, when he negotiates with the president of the United States on an equal footing, strengthen Putin’s position on the international arena.
– Russia can pretend to be a power comparable to America. This is not true – such parity only exists in the field of nuclear weapons – he said. According to Menkiszak, the Kremlin wants to return to the diplomatic style of the Cold War, creating the image of the Russian Federation as one of the world’s two largest powers. – In Russia, there is a conviction that the US position on world security (including European security) is of key importance. Putin has repeatedly accused the leaders of European countries of being dependent on the United States, and called Europe itself a vassal of Washington, he added. The political scientist mentioned that the intentional exclusion of the EU from the negotiations is aimed at forcing a reaction, but also at undermining the EU’s trust in the White House. – It also seems that the Kremlin views Biden’s administration as weak and internally divided. The Russians see this as an opportunity to increase pressure, impose their agenda and, as a result, achieve their political goals, he said.
The main goal of the Kremlin
In the expert’s opinion, in the event of a serious military conflict, Russia has no chance of winning the war with NATO.
– The main goal of the Kremlin is to obtain political benefits without resorting to the use of force. If this fails, Moscow will try to implement a military scenario on a limited scale, he added. According to the political scientist, another element of the mass psychological war waged by the Kremlin are the exercises announced by Putin, the largest exercise by the Russian army to date. “In this way, the Kremlin will authenticate its pressure, escalate its aggressive actions, and at the same time discourage the West from providing support to Ukraine,” added Menkiszak. Marek Menkiszak is an expert at the Center for Eastern Studies, and since 2016 the head of the Russian OSW team. Russia’s European security, the situation in the CIS area, and European security and strategic studies.
Main photo source: mil.ru