What is the Future of the Ukraine Conflict?

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As the Russian operation against Ukraine continues, during the Victory Day celebrations on May 9, Russian President Vladimir Putin said, “Just like in the Second World War, today we are fighting for the safety of the Russian people and Russia in the Donbas.” During the first phase of the war, the Russian Army considered Kiev as its main target, and in the second phase of the war it turned its direction to the south and east of the country. Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky announced that Russian forces had been repelled in Kharkiv, one of the regions where violent clashes have taken place. On the other hand, Zelensky called it “madness” that Russia is still trying to achieve victory in the Donbas region. The Head of Military Intelligence of Ukraine, Major General Kyrylo Budanov asserted that the war would end by the end of 2022.

Analyzing the current situation in the war with the Ankara Center for Crisis and Policy Studies (ANKASAM), experts said Russia is eager to gain control in the south of the country and in the Donbas.

ANKASAM International Relations Expert Dr. Doğacan Başaran: Russia aims to turn Ukraine into a land state.

Stressing that fighting in the ongoing war in Ukraine is concentrating in the country’s east and south, ANKASAM International Relations Expert Dr. Doğacan Başaran asserted that Russia could organize a referendum in areas it controls, particularly in Kherson.

Başaran said, “Decisions on independence or attachment to Russia can be taken on the occasion of referendums to be held in Russian-controlled regions. In the process, it is understood that Moscow’s goal is to establish a buffer zone between the cities it effectively controls, especially Ukraine, and the West in general. For Russia, the ultimate goal of the buffer zone creation would be Odessa. Russia thus wants to turn Ukraine into a land state. So, the Kremlin is trying to prevent Ukraine from reaching the Black Sea. That would mean consolidating Russia’s influence in the Black Sea.”

Filip Bryjka, International Security Analyst at the Polish Institute of International Relations (PISM): Russia may soon take control in the south of Ukraine.

“Russia has shown serious failures in the field of political leadership and intelligence in the face of the combat capabilities of the Ukrainian Army and its determination to fight,” said Filip Bryjka, an International Security Analyst at the Polish Institute of International Relations (PISM), noting that Russia has used insufficient military means in the occupation of Ukraine. Russia has temporarily reduced its military objectives, especially because of the high cost of the war and the failures it has experienced in the north, and has turned its eye to the Donbas and the south of the country.”

Bryjka noted that Ukraine has shown strong resistance and there have been violent clashes in the cities of Severodonetsk, Popasna and Rubizhne in the country, asserted that control of these regions may fall into Russia’s hands within a few days. Bryjka said: “When Russia takes full control in Donbas, it can either make moves for a semi-state such as the ‘People’s Republic of Donbas’, or for the illegal incorporation of occupied territories into Russia, as happened in Crimea in 2014. On the other hand, Russia will also try to control the situation on the Kharkov-Izyum axis, where Ukraine is showing great resistance.”

Filippo Costa Buranelli, Lecturer in International Relations at the University of Saint Andrews: The West stands behind Ukraine, even though it does not directly participate in the war.

Highlighting the significant developments over the past two months of the Russo-Ukrainian War, Professor Filippo Costa Buranelli of the Department of International Relations at Saint Andrews University said that a full-scale war in Ukraine had been prevented and that it was a significant development. “Zelensky has partially succeeded in his policy on the war in the international arena. Although the West does not directly participate in the war, it stands behind Ukraine and maintains its political, military and financial support.”

Buranelli said that the prolongation of the war in Ukraine has negative consequences for the global economy, “Although the international community condemns the occupation of Ukraine, many states oppose the destructive effects of sanctions. This creates serious problems in terms of developing a unified approach to global governance and conflict resolution.”

South Korea and Japan, the West’s closest allies in East Asia, support Ukraine and are firmly in the approach, Buranelli said. “We should not characterize the West as a uniform, perfect actor. Instead, we must take into account some diplomatic and rhetorical nuances in the West. There are different approaches and proposals, from how to deal with warring parties to a complete cornering of Russia. At this point, one needs military support and intelligence support for violating basic norms of international law and the international community. The West also continues to make efforts to find a way to bring Russia to the table and to develop solutions in line with the geopolitical demands.”

Retired Colonel Dr. Cüneyt Küsmez: Russia has a goal to recover in the south of Ukraine.

Noting that Russia is moving to a second stage in the war in Ukraine, Retired Colonel Dr. Cüneyt Küsmez stated that Moscow had suffered a lot of casualties in Kiev, Kharkiv and Chernigiv. Küsmez said “It is obvious that the first phase of the war has failed for Russia due to impairments in the command structures of the troops and disconnections between each other, mispositioning around the residential area, failure of progression of vehicles within the city and failure to comply with the safeguards.”

Stating that Russia has withdrawn its forces to the Donbas, Küsmez said, “With the reorganization of the force in the Donbas, the north has been completely idle. The Russian forces wanted to encircle the Donbas from the Western line through the Izyum region. It had already suffered a partial failure in the South. They were especially troubled in Mariupol and in the Kherson region. We see that they have not been able to achieve complete superiority in Mariupol either. Therefore, Russia wants to gather its forces on the eastern side, that is, in the Donbas region, and achieve a final result there.”

Assessing the current situation in the war, Küsmez said: “During the time we have been in, there have been very small gains by Russian forces, especially north of Luhansk. Although certain parts of the city have been entered, it seems that complete control has not been achieved. There is an intention to restore order in Zaporizhia, in the southern part of Russia.” In addition, Küsmez said that Zelenskiy had taken the initiative in the war, and therefore he did not accept Russia’s demands.

Retired Ambassador Hüseyin Diriöz: There could be a Crimea-like situation in Donbas.

Claiming that the Moscow administration made a miscalculation, Retired Ambassador Hüseyin Diriöz said, “Russia came out of the Cold War economically weak. He had made a painful entrance from the communist economy into the market economy. He had also experienced a troubled process in foreign policy. Therefore, Russia wants to recover what it experienced after the Cold War with the war in Ukraine.”

Asserting that Russia is trying to create a buffer zone in Ukraine, Diriöz said, “The same way Russia annexed Crimea, a similar situation may occur in the Donbas. It is not known whether it will go beyond it, that is, it will come as far as the Black Sea border and isolate Ukraine from here. But if it does something like this, Russia will be unfairly treated in the world public opinion.”

Referring to the sanctions against Russia, Diriöz said: “Russia is not affected by sanctions in a day or two. It has a number of strategic opportunities at its disposal, and it cannot be weakened immediately. But Putin’s achievement of his goals does not seem very possible in the current circumstances.”

Journalist Elnur Enveroğlu: Russia could regain power and continue its offensive against Ukraine.

Russia is battling both the West and Ukraine, journalist Elnur Enveroğlu said. Moscow has made huge losses in the war and is deploying its positions in the country’s southeast. “Russia knows it has suffered serious defeats both in the battlefield and in the international arena. Because the Russian Army, which attacked Ukraine from all directions at the beginning of the war, is happy to invade only the Herson and Zaporizhia regions of Ukraine at this stage. Russia’s behavior, however, could be a tactic. At some point, Russia can come back and continue its offensive against Ukraine.”

Noting that there are scenarios in which Russia will be able to ensure full control in the south of Ukraine and make it through the Transnstria region to the borders with Moldova, Enveroğlu emphasized that “in the process of discussing such scenarios, the negotiations between Russia and Ukraine do not seem realistic.”

Lisans eğitimini Gazi Üniversitesi İletişim Fakültesi'nde tamamlayan Sibel Mazrek, yüksek lisans eğitimine Ankara Hacı Bayram Veli Üniversitesi Lisansüstü Eğitim Enstitüsü'nde Gazetecilik Ana Bilim Dalı'nda devam etmektedir. Çeşitli medya kuruluşlarında muhabirlik, spikerlik sunuculuk görevlerini üstlenen Mazrek, ANKASAM'da Medya Koordinatörü olarak çalışmalarına devam etmektedir.