Future scenarios for Russia-Ukraine war

Russia can change tactics to end the war in Ukraine or the war will spread to other countries are two possible scenarios in the future.

Future scenarios for Russia-Ukraine war

Russia’s military campaign in Ukraine is going to enter its third week and there is no sign that the two countries can reach an agreement to end the conflict soon.

Based on analysis by military experts and sources from Western governments, several possible war scenarios are as follows:

1. Russia suspends military campaign

After two weeks of fighting in a series of major cities, Ukrainian forces are still capable of fending off attacks from the Russian army, defeating the efforts of the paratroopers to take control of the capital Kyiv in a short time and successfully defended strategic targets like Kharkiv or Mariupol.

The Russian army has just controlled the city of Kherson in southern Ukraine and seems to have to abandon the strategy of “hit quickly, win quickly” to switch to a combination of siege and shelling of targets in large cities.

Western leaders say that despite Russia’s claim to have mastered Ukrainian airspace, air defense systems around the capital Kyiv and other areas, despite suffering significant losses, are still capable of threatening Russian aircraft.

Future scenarios for Russia-Ukraine war

“They cause Russians quite a bit of trouble,” commented a Western source.

The Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) also assessed that in the early stages of the operation, the Russian military seemed to have many difficulties in neutralizing the Ukrainian air defense system, making it impossible for Russian fighter jets to fly freely.

On the ground, a large number of Ukrainian volunteers have signed up to join defense units to strengthen the regular army. Meanwhile, many Western experts are skeptical about the logistical capabilities of the Russian military when conducting a large-scale operation in a country as large as Ukraine.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said at a press conference on March 4 that the resistance of the Ukrainian army, also difficult in logistics and refueling, caused a 64 km long Russian military convoy to stop on the outskirts of Kyiv for the past several days. It was almost impossible to advance.

In addition to the difficulties on the battlefield, intensified Western sanctions are also stifling the Russian economy and it could force President Vladimir Putin to change his strategy and end the campaign.

Samuel Charap, an expert at the RAND Corporation (a global think tank), said that great pressure from Western sanctions could force Putin to abandon the original goal. The goal is to remove the current government in Kyiv to establish a pro-Russian government in Ukraine.

Pressure from China, Russia’s key ally, or public opinion in Russia, could also be important factors pushing the Kremlin to change its calculus.

Future scenarios for Russia-Ukraine war
The goal of Moscow is remove the current government to establish a pro-Russian government in Ukraine.

2. Russian military campaign is Successful

Recognizing that the Russian military is facing many difficulties in the field, the Pentagon does not exclude the possibility that Russian forces will gradually learn from reality and try to quickly overcome logistical and supply bottlenecks before continuing to besiege Kyiv.

Western defense analysts also predict that with superior weapons, airpower and artillery, Russian forces will continue to dominate. Ukraine’s armed forces are fighting all day, without additional reinforcements and gradually worn out.

Future scenarios for Russia-Ukraine war
Russian forces plan to “demilitarize, de-fascistize” the Kyiv government

The worst is coming

French President Emmanuel Macron said that “the worst is coming” after a phone call with Putin on the morning of March 3. “Russia wants to control all of Ukraine,” Macron’s aide told reporters.

But even if Kyiv falls, the government of President Volodymyr Zelensky is neutralized and resistance elsewhere surrenders, the Russians will then face the challenge of managing a country of 40 million people.

“Entering a city is very different from controlling it for the long term,” Lawrence Freedman, a professor at Imperial College London, wrote last week.

However, President Putin has made it clear that Russian forces do not plan to permanently occupy Ukraine, but only to “demilitarize, de-fascistize” the Kyiv government.

3. The danger of widespread conflict

Ukraine shares a border with four countries that were once part of the Soviet Union but are now members of NATO. The US-led military alliance that considers an attack on one member is an attack on all.

President Putin’s pledge to protect Russian minorities, many of whom live and work in the Baltic countries.

Future scenarios for Russia-Ukraine war
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko appeared to show Russian plans to invade Moldova through Ukraine

Will the war in Ukraine repeat itself elsewhere?

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki on February 26 expressed concern that after opening a military operation in Ukraine, the “next targets of Moscow could be the Baltic states, Finland, Poland or others in Eastern Europe”.

Before launching the military operation, President Putin accused Kyiv of committing “genocide” in the Donbass region (eastern Ukraine), including the two regions of Donetsk and Lugansk, which has seen fighting between Russian-backed separatists and Kyiv government troops from 2014 to now.

He stated that the aim of the campaign was also to “arrest the fascists for the deaths of Russian citizens”.

Therefore, some experts fear that after Ukraine, Russia may also target Moldova, a country belonging to the former Soviet Union, located between Ukraine and Romania.

Future scenarios for Russia-Ukraine war
Moldova has a breakaway region, which operates under the Soviet regime

Few believe that President Putin will attack a NATO member, which would lead to the risk of nuclear war. However, stray missiles or cyberattacks could lead to a clash between Russia and a NATO member near Ukraine.

4. World War III can only be a nuclear war

The United States and Russia have established lines of communication so that military information can be informed quickly to reduce the risk of misunderstandings. 

The same method applies in Syria, where US and Russian military forces are both present.

However, President Putin has ordered Russia’s nuclear weapons forces to be on high alert.

Future scenarios for Russia-Ukraine war
Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia Sergei Lavrov has warned that “World War III can only be a nuclear war”.

Western analysts believe that when sending nuclear warnings, Russia wants to warn the West does not to establish a no-fly zone over Ukraine.

“These warnings are mainly aimed at the West, to make them afraid and insecure,” said Gustav Gressel, a missile defense expert at the European Council on Foreign Relations.

Future scenarios for Russia-Ukraine war
Russia’s nuclear deterrent

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