When he invaded Ukraine, one of his main goals was to overthrow the government of Volodymyr Zelenskyy, but Russian President Vladimir Putin may be forced to accept that he cannot simply oust the charismatic leader.
When Putin outlined his demands for a peace deal with Ukraine in a phone call with Turkish President Recep Erdogan last week, he did not specifically call for “regime change.” Kyiv, according to reports of the conversation.
That’s a far cry from the call that Putin made the day after the February 24 invasion for Ukraine’s military to “seize power” and effectively overthrow Zelenskyy and his government.
Western intelligence officials believe Putin has planned a rapid two-day operation to seize Kyiv, launch a coup against Zelenskyy and install a pro-Moscow puppet regime. But Russia’s blitzkrieg against Kyiv quickly ran out of steam and Zelensky is still there, defiant as ever.
Kyiv is still under serious threat from Russian forces. Residential areas were bombed at times. Though badly battered, the Russians have established positions on three sides of the capital. Satellite images last week showed the Russians have built protective earthworks around positions northwest of Kyiv.
Andriy Zagorodnyuk, a former Ukrainian defense minister, said a full-scale Russian attack to occupy a well-fortified Kiev was unwise, but “we shouldn’t rule it out”.
According to Professor Angela Stent, an expert on Russian affairs, the dire military situation has pushed Russians to “reluctantly accept” that Zelenskyy will remain president, or at least that a pro-Russian puppet will not succeed him.
She said Putin may soon have to concede that Zelenskyy cannot simply be ousted from power. The teenage president, who called Russia “immediately” for full-scale peace talks yesterday, has proven to be an inspirational wartime leader, directing the resistance from his stronghold in Kyiv. He is still considered the main target for assassination.
Zelenskyy said he was ready to meet Putin for personal negotiations. But there is also a risk that Putin would use talks to buy time to reinforce an army reeling in the face of stiff and determined resistance from Ukrainian forces armed with anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles donated by Western allies and deadly armed drones.
Despite Zelenskyy’s call to bring Russia to the negotiating table, there seems little prospect of a cessation of hostilities in the near future.
With his economy reeling from sanctions and his armed forces under immense pressure, reports that Putin was seeking arms and other aid from China greatly alarmed the West. US President Joe Biden warned his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping not to provide Russia with material support to support its war in Ukraine.
Andrew Lohsen, an analyst at US-based think tank CSIS, said last week that if China decides to provide Russia with material to keep the fight going, it could be a game changer. Russia is capable of sustaining the conflict for a long time, “and that means there will be more bloodshed and, unfortunately, destruction of Ukrainian cities…”
Analysts fear that Putin, with or without China’s help, will prolong the war so that he will be in a stronger negotiating position in high-level peace talks – one of his goals is to persuade Ukraine to make territorial concessions. Putin’s strength lies in the fact that he has no moral qualms about the number of civilians killed or injured in the Russian shelling of residential areas.
With Russia’s failure to achieve strategic goals through conventional means, the war entered a more dangerous phase, with Putin using brutal siege tactics against Ukrainian cities – tactics Russia had used in other conflicts. There were widespread rocket, missile, and artillery attacks on built-up areas, killing many non-combatants.
There were also high-precision attacks on military targets. Russia has claimed it used its Kinzhal hypersonic missile for the first time in Ukraine to destroy an arms cache in the west of the country.
In the south, where Russian forces made significant advances, many civilians died in the besieged and heavily bombed city of Mariupol.
In the east of the country, war-torn Kharkiv is practically a ghost town, where the defenders still hold out against the bombardment from the besieging forces. Russia has also begun attacking targets in western Ukraine, a formerly “safe” region near the border with Poland, a NATO and EU member. Vital supplies of arms are sent to the Ukrainians via this border.
Defense of the United Kingdom The intelligence service said yesterday that Russia has been forced to change its operational approach “and is now pursuing a strategy of attrition,” adding: “This will likely involve the indiscriminate use of firepower, resulting in increased civilian casualties, the destruction of the… Ukrainian infrastructure and an intensification is leading to the humanitarian crisis.”
A retired US officer, General Wesley Clark, a former NATO commander, has called for the establishment of a humanitarian “no-fly zone” in Ukraine to allow for an airlift in support of war-affected civilians.
He said the humanitarian plane would be escorted by fighter jets with the position posted that “we’re not trying to engage the Russians in air-to-air combat, but if we shoot at them we’ll hit back.” NATO has ruled out a “no-fly zone” over Ukraine amid fears clashes with Russian planes could spark World War III.
While Putin doesn’t have to worry about civilian casualties, he does have to worry about the number of his soldiers killed in action. US officials estimate more than 7,000 Russians have died.
This is a staggering number in just over three weeks of combat and is bound to have a serious impact on Russian units’ combat effectiveness. Putin’s tight control over nearly all Russian broadcast media means the massive death toll remains hidden from the Russian people.
Meanwhile, Russian forces threatening Kyiv tried a different tactic this week: psychological warfare. Ruthless Chechen warlord Ramzan Kadyrov, whose forces are stationed north of the city, took to social media to taunt the defenders, warning them they were “being hunted”.
It has been claimed that Putin increasingly turned to mercenaries to make up for the significant losses his invading army suffered. According to Ukrainian military sources, in addition to recruiting Syrian mercenaries, Russia has launched measures to recruit fighters from Libya, Serbia and Azerbaijan-controlled Nagorno-Karabakh.
According to Ukrainian military intelligence, mercenaries recruited at 14 centers in Syria are flown to Russia from Khmeimim airbase near Latakia and trained in camps near the border with Ukraine.
The Department last week claimed that when recruited, “mercenaries are promised that they will only perform police functions” but are then used in direct hostilities against the Ukrainian army. When more than 30 wounded Syrian fighters were evacuated to Khmeimim, other recruits refused to take part in the war.
Meanwhile, it was reported that Ukraine had deadly intercepted Russian communications. US military officials were quoted as saying that many Russian generals were speaking on unsecured phones and radios.
In at least one case, it was alleged that the Ukrainians intercepted a general’s call, geolocated it, and attacked his position, killing him and his associates.
https://www.independent.ie/world-news/europe/vladimir-putin-may-have-to-accept-he-cannot-oust-volodymyr-zelensky-41467025.html Vladimir Putin may have to accept that he cannot oust Volodymyr Zelenskyy