Hot off the back of conquering Luhansk Oblast by taking control of the last remaining Ukrainian-controlled city in the region, Lysychansk, Russian President Vladimir Putin threatened a longer, more brutal war in Ukraine this week.
In a speech to Russian parliamentarians on Thursday, Putin dared Western countries to defeat Russia on the battlefield and said that his army was “only just getting started” in Ukraine.
“Everyone should know that, by and large, we haven’t started anything yet in earnest,” Putin said. “At the same time, we don’t reject peace talks. But those who reject them should know that the further it goes, the harder it will be for them to negotiate with us.”
The Russian leader appeared to be threatening continued warfare in Ukraine, potentially with the goal of taking control of the entire country, but also stressed Russia is still willing to engage in peace talks.
“Operational Pause” Means More Is Coming
If analysts are right, Russia may be temporarily easing off of its offensive in eastern Europe in an effort to reassemble its troops and launch fresh attacks in Ukraine. It means that Russia may give Ukraine some breathing room, but certainly hasn’t backed off on plans to take control of the entire Donbas region – and potentially even encroach into central Ukraine.
The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, suggested this week that Moscow may be enforcing an “operational pause” but stressed that military action will not cease entirely.
According to the think tank, Russian forces have made territorial gains every day since the beginning of the war – or at least, the Russian Defense Ministry has claimed that this is the case. Since the conquering of Luhansk on July 3, however, Moscow has now claimed any new territory. Despite this, Russian forces still conducted some limited and unsuccessful ground assaults on Wednesday.
Such attempts are consistent with a Russian operational pause, which does not imply or require the complete cessation of active hostilities,” the thinktank notes.
“It means, in this case, that Russian forces will likely confine themselves to relatively small-scale offensive actions as they attempt to set conditions for more significant offensive operations and rebuild the combat power needed to attempt those more ambitious undertakings.”
Ukraine Won’t Give Up Territory
While Russia is willing to engage in peace talks with Ukraine, among the various demands already made by the Kremlin is that Ukraine cedes some territory. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy refuses to even consider the possibility, however – meaning the prospect of a lengthy war in Ukraine grows ever greater.
Speaking to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Thursday, Zelenskyy said that he was unwilling to give any land away to Russian invaders and that he will continue fighting for as long as he can to ensure Russia does not take control of the Donbas.
“Ukrainians are not ready to give away their land, to accept that these territories belong to Russia. This is our land,” he said. “We always talk about that, and we are intending to prove it.”
That promise, however, is only as solid as Ukraine’s ability to continue fighting Russia. While NATO allies continue to supply Ukraine with weapons and financial support – and many NATO leaders have called for long-term support – one side will run out of ammunition, weapons, and soldiers sooner or later.
Jack Buckby is a British author, counter-extremism researcher, and journalist based in New York. Reporting on the U.K., Europe, and the U.S., he works to analyze and understand left-wing and right-wing radicalization, and reports on Western governments’ approaches to the pressing issues of today. His books and research papers explore these themes and propose pragmatic solutions to our increasingly polarized society.