Even as Russia's war in Ukraine has entered the 11th month some top-level US experts believe that Vladimir Putin will eventually be able to hold on to the Donbas regions of Ukraine he annexed late last year.
Former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates wrote a join oped in The Washington Post saying that Ukraine is totally dependent on western aid and that unless Washington and its allies increase the military support and financial assistance Kyiv will not be able to hold off against the Russian assault for long.
Not an Option for Putin
They say that ceding control of the annexed eastern territories is not an option for Putin and that he will keep the war alive for the next whole year to achieve his objectives. They add that much of Ukraine's industrial and mineral wealth is in the Donbas region. Kyiv's strategy of relying on western aid to carry on the war with Russia isn't sustainable in the long distance.
"For [Russian President Vladimir] Putin, defeat is not an option. He cannot cede to Ukraine the four eastern provinces he has declared part of Russia. If he cannot be militarily successful this year, he must retain control of positions in eastern and southern Ukraine that provide future jumping-off points for renewed offensives to take the rest of Ukraine's Black Sea coast, control the entire Donbass region and then move west," the article said, according to Sputnik News.
Crucial Next Phase
The next phase of the war is very crucial, they say. According to them unless Ukraine is able to achieve a major breakthrough in its counter offensive against Russia in the near term, the pressure will grow on them to accept a ceasefire negotiation with Russia. The US and its allies will not be able to support a war with dicey chances of success for long and they will pressurize Kyiv, they say.
"Absent another major Ukrainian breakthrough and success against Russian forces, Western pressures on Ukraine to negotiate a cease-fire will grow as months of military stalemate pass," they wrote.
Russia annexed the regions in September after holding a referendum. The referendums in the Donetsk and Lugansk People's Republics, along with Kherson Region and some part of Zaporozhye Region were conducted between September 23 and 27.
The area covered by the referendums makes up nearly 15 percent of Ukraine's territory. In early October, Russian lawmakers formally approved the annexation of four occupied regions in Ukraine. The Duma voted unanimously in favour of legislation, completing the technical formalities for Donetsk, Lugansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia to formally join the Russian Federation. Members of the Kremlin-loyal lower house of parliament, the State Duma, all voted to incorporate Donetsk, Lugansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia with no abstentions or votes against the annexation.
The US and its allies, as well as Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky said the referendum was a sham and the annexation was illegal.
Meanwhile on Saturday, Russia renewed the offensive against Ukraine, after an unofficial ceasefire for the Orthodox Christmas. Russia launched attacks on at least seven regions in Ukraine's east and south, reports said, killing at least three people. In Kherson, shelling was reported as many as 39 times on Friday. According to Ukraine's military, two were killed and 13 injured in Russian strikes on Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine.
Ukraine also carried out attacks against the Russian troops and installations on Saturday. Two thermal power plants in Ukraine's Donetsk region, which are controlled by Russia, were attacked. Some people on ground sustained injuries when plants in Zuhres and Novyi Svit were hit. In the Crimean city of Sevastopol, Russian-installed governor said air defenses shot down a drone launched by Ukraine, which targeted Russia's Black Sea fleet.