Article published in The Daily Telegraph, 22 March 2022. © Richard Kemp
The Russian campaign in Ukraine may have reached its culminating point. In short, Russian forces may no longer be able to achieve their strategic objective by offensive operations. If so, it would mark a turning point.
It would not, however, mean the war is over, or that Ukraine has achieved victory. An effective stalemate might see the war entering an even more devastating phase, with Russian forces digging in and switching from wide-scale ground attack to besieging, bombarding and starving the major cities, while reinforcing and preparing for a renewed offensive.
Indications that Vladimir Putin may believe his campaign has culminated include a new defensive effort to interdict combat supplies and troops being pushed into the fight. In recent days we have seen attacks in the west against logistics bases, airfields and concentration centres for foreign volunteers. Cyber attacks – already widely used inside Ukraine – may now be extended to Nato countries to deter and disrupt supply of munitions and intelligence.
Putin may also plan to deploy chemical weapons to break the deadlock; President Biden warned of this yesterday. Assad’s use of chemical weapons in Syria, over which Putin presided, caused devastating physical and psychological effects that proved decisive.
Reaching a strategic culminating point does not mean Russia cannot continue local tactical manoeuvre. Russian air operations, surprisingly limited so far given their massive superiority, have been intensifying in recent days. Russia will continue to tie down Ukrainian forces, including by threatening amphibious assault against Odessa and feints towards Kyiv.
We will see continued efforts to seize Mariupol, a vital objective for Putin, completing his land corridor between annexed Crimea and the Russian border. Gaining Mariupol would be a major element of his (more…)