The West now believes Ukraine can prevail – but how would Putin react?

“War in Ukraine is our war. It is everyone’s war… because Ukraine’s victory is a strategic imperative for all of us,” British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said last week.

We double up. We will move further and faster to oust Russia from all of Ukraine.”

With those words, Truss made it official. Britain may not be directly at war with Russia in Ukraine. But indirectly it is definitely a cold war, a proxy war. For the first time, the western alliance publicly acknowledges Kiev’s own war aims.

It’s a dramatic shift. At the beginning of the war, Western governments were far from convinced Wladimir Putin would prevail.

They had so little confidence in a Ukrainian victory that they withdrew their embassies and refused to send heavy weapons that might fall into Russian hands.

The change of course crystallized in a series of announcements this week. On Wednesday, Lloyd Austin, the US Secretary of Defense, called a meeting of counterparts from more than 40 nations to solidify an alliance to provide military support to Ukraine, telling reporters that “Ukraine can win.”

On Thursday, the Biden administration asked Congress to approve a $33 billion military aid package — a sum equivalent to half of Russia’s entire annual defense budget.

On Friday, Congress approved a Lend-Lease law for Ukraine modeled on the plan that helped defeat the Nazis.

The American moves were accompanied by commitments of heavy arms and support from other allies. Western governments, argues Keir Giles, an author specializing in the Russian military, realize: “Russia will not stop until it is stopped.”

In other words, Ukraine’s allies not only believe they can win, they must. But how? The shortest path to victory is across the battlefield. In the imagination, it goes something like this: while resisting the Kremlin’s offensive in Donbass, Ukraine is re-arming and remodeling the armaments, artillery and air defense systems pouring in from Western allies.

As the Russian offensive comes to an end, Kyiv launches its counteroffensive. Ukrainian tanks route Vladimir Putin’s overstretched troops and chase them back to the border.

The Kremlin, with its army shattered and the arms industry stifled by sanctions, has no choice but to come to terms.

But that, says Mark Galeotti, a veteran Russia observer, is unlikely.

The Russian army may have botched their blitzkrieg. There can be problems with morale, logistics and leadership. But Moscow still has more men and guns and has been very stubborn on the defensive in the past. If it burrows into captured territory, the responsibility would lie with the Ukrainians to find the 3:1 numerical advantage needed for offensive operations.

If Vladimir Putin officially declares war – a move many expect on May 9 – he could recruit conscripts from a population three times that of Ukraine. Even with his new equipment, a Ukrainian counter-offensive to recapture parts of Kherson, Zaporizhya, Kharkiv, Donetsk and Luhansk Oblast would be a major challenge.

“Chances are that we are not heading towards a situation where either Russia or Ukraine can deliver a knockout blow. So the question is where the lines are: will it freeze or not?” said Galeotti.

The second route to the truss version of victory is a combination of military and economic attrition that is becoming unbearable for Russia.

“It’s about Russia’s ability to rearm under sanctions. But it should also lead to this revolution in the mindset of the Russian elite – that they cannot wage war against the united West. They have never fought a war against a united West that they have won,” said Orysia Lutsevych, director of the Ukraine Forum at Chatham House.

Nobody knows how long it will be before this realization dawns in the Kremlin. Some Western officials speak of years, not months.

And time can work for both sides.

While the West hopes to wear Russia down economically, the Kremlin hopes to hold out until cracks in the Western alliance become visible.

“We’re seeing some alignment of these goals between Eastern Europe, the UK, the US and Canada, but there’s still a gap with what Germany and France think,” Lutsevych said. “They take a different view that we shouldn’t corner him or threaten Putin too much militarily with defeat. The big question is: How do you defeat a nuclear power?”

It’s a reasonable question. How Putin would react to the prospect of defeat remains a key concern. He has referred to the use of nuclear weapons, but exactly when he might use them remains unclear.

Margarita Simonyan, a loyal propagandist, suggested that the threat of defeat would be enough. “Either we lose in Ukraine or World War III begins,” she told Russian television.

© Telegraph Media Group Ltd (2022)

Telegraph Media Group Limited [2022] The West now believes Ukraine can prevail – but how would Putin react?

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