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Putin’s Gamble: Russia Thinks it Can Win Ukraine War by Fall

Lt. Col. Thomas Wolfe, the 455th Expeditionary Operations Group deputy commander, performs preflight checks on an F-16 Fighting Falcon at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, Feb. 1, 2016. The 421st EFS, based out of Bagram Airfield, is the only dedicated fighter squadron in the country and continuously supports Operation Freedom’s Sentinel and the NATO Resolute Support missions. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Nicholas Rau)

NATO and various other nations have donated tens of billions of dollars in military aid to help Ukraine defend itself against Russia’s brutal invasion. However, Moscow thinks it still has a chance to win as NATO and other countries will grow tired of giving such massive amounts of weaponry: Kremlin officials are hopeful that Western nations will tire of supporting Ukraine, allowing Russian win the war towards the end of the year, according to a report.

“We’ll grind them down in the end,” one source close to the Kremlin told the independent Russian news outlet Meduza. “The whole thing will probably be over by the fall.”

A second source said: “Sooner or later, Europe will tire of helping.”

“This is both money and arms production that they need for themselves.”

The source also predicted that European nations would “have to negotiate” with Russia as winter approaches because they are reliant on its energy exports to keep people warm.

Meduza reported that Russian officials are still vague on what exactly would constitute victory. The bare minimum, said one source, would be capturing the eastern Donbas region where Ukraine has been fighting since 2014.

Ukraine is currently on the back foot in the region as Russia amasses troops, artillery, and other heavy weapons against Ukraine’s defensive lines. Officials in recent days conceded that Russia is gradually advancing.

If Russia succeeds in taking over the Donbas, “it would highly likely be seen by the Kremlin as a substantive political achievement and be portrayed to the Russian people as justifying the invasion,” the British defense ministry said on Saturday.

The maximum goal remains the seizure of Kyiv, the capital, the sources said.

After six weeks of fighting, in March, Russian troops failed to capture Ukraine’s capital city and repositioned to focus on seizing the Donbas.

Putin initially thought Russia’s military could capture Kyiv in two days, CIA Director Bill Burns said in March.

Ukraine’s allies have in recent days given statements contrary to those Meduza attributed to the Kremlin, pledging continued support.

On Saturday afternoon, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Twitter that UK support was “for the long term.”

President Joe Biden’s administration is meanwhile leaning towards sending advanced long-range rocket systems to Ukraine, a sign of increasing support since those weapons were previously ruled out.

And a draft statement from European Union diplomats seen by Reuters described the bloc as being “unwavering in its commitment.”

However, there have been signs of wavering, particular among some EU states. Hungary, for instance, has continued to block an EU proposal to ban Russian oil imports.

Ukraine has long criticized the sanctions on Russia as incomplete, which it says is making the war longer and more painful.

Joshua Zitser is a Senior News Reporter at Insider’s London office.

Written By

Joshua Zitser is a Senior News Reporter at Insider's London office.