Russian President Vladimir Putin is vowing to continue the war in Ukraine until his country’s goals are met. Unable to topple the capital city of Kyiv, Russian forces are preparing to launch a major attack in eastern Ukraine. So far, the U.N. says some 10 million Ukrainians have fled their homes.
The Donbas region is now Russia’s target, though its population has been considered more Pro-Russia. Though even in the Donbas, “it seems to be equal opportunity carnage,” says David Shlapak, senior defense researcher at the RAND Corporation.
Moving troops eastward might also solve morale issues, he adds. “What you hope, as a military commander, is that by pulling troops out of combat, by providing replacements, by replacing damaged and destroyed equipment, by giving … soldiers an opportunity to be off the frontline for … 10 days will go some ways towards restoring morale.”
As for Russian casualties, numbers are all over the map, though it’s certainly in the tens of thousands, he notes.
Russian troops initially thought they’d encounter little resistance, quickly displace the government, and dictate political terms, Shlapak explains. However, they ended up facing an organized Ukrainian military that was geared to defend itself.
“It's been remarkable, as someone who has some familiarity with Russian military doctrine, to see them basically violating every rule in their own book — with consequences that are … predictable.”
Shlapak envisions a potential scenario for the end of the conflict: “I think what may happen would be … the Russians succeeding in this much more limited offensive operation, and then halting, declaring victory, declaring Luhansk [and] Donetsk [in eastern Ukraine] to be independent. … But not relying on Kyiv to sign a piece of paper that says, ‘Yes, we accept that this partition has happened.’ It would be more of an East Berlin, West Berlin situation where at least one side doesn't accept the status quo.”