‘Victory’ for Ukraine means denying Russia any territorial gains from war, says Western intelligence

Officials say no changes to Ukrainian borders without government agreement would equate to Vladimir Putin being ‘seen to fail’

SENIOR FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT ; IN ISTANBUL and IN JERUSALEM. 27 April 2022

Ukrainian soldiers fire with a BM-21 Grad multiple rocket launch system as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues in the Luhansk region

Ukrainian soldiers fire with a BM-21 Grad multiple rocket launch system as Russia’s attack on Ukraine continues in the Luhansk region CREDIT: SERHII NUZHNENKO/REUTERS

Western governments want to deny Russia any territorial gains from its invasion of Ukraine, officials have said in the clearest indication yet of the scale of the defeat they want to impose on Moscow.

Western officials said the current war must end with Russian forces withdrawing “at a minimum” to the positions they held at the start of the invasion in February.

Such an outcome could leave Vladimir Putin in control of Crimea and part of the Donbas, but would deny him his publicly declared war aim of “liberating” the Donetsk and Luhansk regions and establishing a land bridge to Crimea.

“Our strategic objective is to ensure that Putin is seen to fail in Ukraine,” said a Western official.

Asked what that would mean on the ground, the official said: “We would want to see Russian forces withdrawn to positions they occupied in February this year at a minimum, and no change to Ukraine’s borders without the agreement of its government and its people.”

The official declined to describe in detail how that would be achieved but warned the war would be a “long haul”.

It came as Putin again hinted he would use nuclear weapons if the West intervened against his forces in Ukraine.

“If anyone sets out to intervene in the current events from the outside and creates unacceptable threats for us that are strategic in nature, they should know that our response … will be lightning-fast,” the Russian leader said in a speech to parliament.

“We have all the tools for this, that no one else can boast of having. We won’t boast about it: we’ll use them, if needed. And I want everyone to know that,” Putin said, in a reference to Russia’s nuclear arsenal.

Earlier in the war, the Russian president put Moscow’s nuclear deterrent forces on high alert.

Putin promised his invasion would “fulfil all the tasks” it set out to “without condition”.

Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian president, at the start of the war ruled out bargaining Ukrainian sovereignty or territory in exchange for peace.

Western leaders initially avoided ruling out such tradeoffs, sticking instead to a vague mantra, first coined by Boris Johnson in February, that the Russian invasion must be “seen to fail”.

That rhetoric has changed in recent days to less ambiguous backing for a “Ukrainian victory”.

Liz Truss, the Foreign Secretary, on Wednesday night branded Mr Putin a “desperate rogue operator” and warned that he could invade other countries, including Georgia and Moldova. Ms Truss is understood to believe that the war in Ukraine could last for up to five years – or even as long as a decade.

However, she described Ukrainian victory as a “strategic imperative” and called on allies to “ramp up” defence spending to meet its weapons needs.

“Heavy weapons, tanks, aeroplanes – digging deep into our inventories, ramping up production. We need to do all of this,” she said in her annual Mansion House speech.

Liz Truss called a Ukrainian victory a 'strategic imperative'
Liz Truss called a Ukrainian victory a ‘strategic imperative’ CREDIT: HANNAH MCKAY/REUTERS

Her remarks echo remarks by Lloyd Austin, the US defence secretary, who said on Tuesday that the US and allies would move “heaven and earth” to help Ukraine win.

Mr Austin also said after meeting Mr Zelesnky in Kyiv last week that the United States wanted to see Russia “weakened to the degree that it can’t do the kinds of things that it has done in invading Ukraine”, suggesting Washington’s war aims go beyond simply evicting Russian troops from the country.

It is not clear whether Western governments believe such a Russian retreat can be compelled by purely military means on the battlefield.

Weapons delivered from the West

The UK, US, and other western governments have begun delivering tanks, artillery and other heavy weapons to Ukraine to help it resist a large Russian offensive currently unfolding in the east of the country.

However, Russia retains the advantage in manpower and guns, and the weapons pledged so far are probably not enough for a strategic counter offensive on the scale needed to reverse the invasion.

Downing Street said on Wednesday that it could train Ukrainian pilots in Britain and might send jets to eastern Europe to “backfill” for allies who supply warplanes to Kyiv.

Ukrainian soldiers install a machine gun on a tank during repair works after fighting against Russian forces in the Donetsk region
Ukrainian soldiers install a machine gun on a tank during repair works after fighting against Russian forces in the Donetsk region CREDIT: Evgeniy Maloletka/AP

The stated objective also leaves some gaps between the West and Kyiv.

Mr Johnson said after meeting Mr Zelensky earlier this month that the Ukrainian president’s preference for “Russian forces to be expelled from their existing positions in Donetsk and Luhansk,” which would go beyond merely a return to pre-invasion lines.

“That’s a pretty maximalist position. On Crimea they’re not as maximalist,” he said at the time.

Donbas fighting intensifies

Fighting in Donbas intensified on Wednesday as Russian forces trying to surround the large Ukrainian army there captured a number of small villages.

The Russians took control of Zavody, Zarichne and Novotoshkivske and attacked the outskirts of Vilikaya Kamyshivaka by the early morning, the Ukrainian General Staff said.

Ukraine’s defence ministry also warned that Russia was continuing an offensive in the direction of Nizhny and Orikhiv in the central region of Zaporizhzhya.

Russian missiles struck a key bridge in Ukraine’s Odesa region on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, in an apparent bid to block grain and vegetable oil exports.

The bridge across the Dniester Estuary is on the only fully Ukrainian-controlled railway route towards the Danube.

It also lies close to the break-away Moldovan region of Transnistria, which in the past week has seen a spate of hit-and-run attacks on critical infrastructure that Ukraine and Russia have blamed on each other.

Residents of the pro-Russian enclave on Wednesday said they received fake messages purporting to be from Ukrainian authorities telling them they could be “eliminated with no prior warning”. A village that hosts an ammunition dump in the region also came under rifle fire from unknown attackers, separatist authorities said.

Russia’s advance frustrated

Moscow is seeking to complete the encirclement of Ukrainian forces in the Donbas in the next “four to six weeks” with the goal of maximising its negotiating position at peace talks, the Western official said.

But its advance has been stymied by poor logistics, bad weather, and dogged Ukrainian resistance including rapid counter attacks and special forces ambushes on supply convoys.

“All of this buys time for the Ukrainians to build up their capabilities, mobilise volunteers, and secure further military equipment,” he said.

3 comments

  1. “However, Russia retains the advantage in manpower and guns, and the weapons pledged so far are probably not enough for a strategic counter offensive on the scale needed to reverse the invasion.”

    That sentence rather jumps out. Obviously, if true, it needs addressing as a matter of urgency. Why do articles like this always refer to Russia’s numerical advantage? Ukraine needs 500,000 combat troops, with the same amount in reserve and support. If there’s still not enough, mercs need to be hired in large numbers.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. “Winning” is getting the cockroaches completely out of Ukraine. Anything less only tells Putin…another day. No, completely remove the fuckin scum bags out of our country. That the win that’s what’s needed.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Russia can not be left on any Ukrainian territory. He will simply use it as a jumping off point for operat6ions later. Victory means Putin’s Army is crushed and completely ejected from Ukraine’s internationally recognized frontiers. Period.

    Liked by 2 people

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