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Putin’s Ukraine Problem: The Russian Military Might Fail in Taking Donetsk

Terminator. Image Credit: Russian State Media.
Terminator. Image Credit: Russian State Media.

On Tuesday, the U.S. declassified intelligence that suggests Russia is looking to annex large chunks of Ukrainian territory, officially confirming analysts that have long predicted the Russian intentions.

The Annexation of Ukrainian Land 

The stated goal of the Russian military in Ukraine right now is to capture (or “liberate,” in the Kremlin’s words) the Luhansk and Donetsk provinces and create a land bridge between them and annexed Crimea.

“We have information today, including from downgraded intelligence that we’re able to share with you, about how Russia is laying the groundwork to annex Ukrainian territory that it controls, in direct violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty,” National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby said in a press briefing.

“We’re seeing ample evidence in the intelligence and in the public domain that Russia intends to try to annex additional Ukrainian territory. Russia is beginning to roll out a version of what you could call an ‘annexation playbook,’ very similar to the one we saw in 2014,” Kirby added.

According to U.S. intelligence, proxy Russian administrators and other officials installed in the occupied Ukrainian territories will soon start referenda with the question of whether the city or province wants to join Russia. But the referenda will be most certainly rigged in order to provide a veil of legitimacy over the Kremlin’s intentions.

On Wednesday, one day after the U.S. disclosures about the Kremlin’s intentions with regard to occupied Ukrainian territories, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov went on Russian public television for an interview and stated that clearly signaled Moscow’s intentions to annex into Russia at least four major occupied or contested Ukrainian provinces.

“Now the geography has changed. It’s not just Donetsk and Luhansk, it’s Kherson, Zaporizhia, and several other territories. And this is an ongoing process, consistent and insistent,” Lavrov said.

“Kirby confirmed ISW’s long-running assessment that the Kremlin has installed illegitimate proxy officials, forced use of the ruble, replaced Ukrainian telecommunications and broadcast infrastructure with Russian alternatives, and forced Ukrainians to apply for Russian passports to accomplish basic tasks in occupied territories,” the Institute for the Study of War stated.

But Can the Russian Military Take Donetsk? 

The Russian forces have captured Luhansk and are now trying to do the same with next-door Donetsk. However, the Russian military’s steam is fading, and Ukrainian resistance—buttressed by Western weapon systems, including the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS)—is making life difficult for the Russian forces. Capturing Donetsk, therefore, is all but certain.

“As ISW wrote on May 13, Putin’s timeline for annexation is likely contingent on the extent to which he understands the degraded state of the Russian military in Ukraine. He may intend to capture the remainder of Donetsk Oblast before annexing all occupied territories, which would likely force him to postpone annexation,” the Institute for the Study of War added.

1945’s New Defense and National Security Columnist, Stavros Atlamazoglou is a seasoned defense journalist specializing in special operations, a Hellenic Army veteran (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ), and a Johns Hopkins University graduate. His work has been featured in Business InsiderSandboxx, and SOFREP.

1945’s Defense and National Security Columnist, Stavros Atlamazoglou is a seasoned defense journalist with specialized expertise in special operations, a Hellenic Army veteran (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ), and a Johns Hopkins University graduate. His work has been featured in Business Insider, Sandboxx, and SOFREP.