To say how a war will evolve is impossible even for those who are experts in the field and chew military strategies. And it is also true, moreover, that more than a month after the start of the “special military operation” (sic) no one expected to see the Moscow army in difficulty and the Ukrainian one still fighting (albeit bruised). In the absence of certainty, however, it is possible to outline a series of scenarios on the folds that the conflict could take. Obviously starting from what we know today.

There are basically three hypotheses: the first is that Moscow and Kiev will reach an agreement, a possibility that has become more concrete in the last few hours after the breakthrough made in the negotiations that were held today in Istanbul; the second is that one of the two parties involved in the conflict prevails, although it is quite unlikely that Ukraine will be able to definitively defeat the Russian army (but the opposite could also be true); the third hypothesis, finally, is that we arrive at a long war of “attrition” whose outcomes are difficult to predict today. We will try to analyze each of these scenarios, assuming that the occurrence of one of the hypotheses described above does not necessarily exclude the others, but in some cases it could even constitute the presupposition. We will explain why shortly.

The situation in Ukraine today and the Kiev neutrality agreement

For now, let’s make a brief summary of the situation on the ground and between the negotiating parties. After the confirmation, arrived yesterday, that two Russian battalions, so far deployed north of Kiev, have withdrawn in Belarus, today came the news of an agreement to stop Russian military activity in the capital Kiev and in the northern city of Chernihiv. This is only a first, but important step towards an understanding. During the talks, Ukraine presented Russia with its proposals to establish a security system guaranteed by several countries, including Turkey and Italy. In exchange from Kiev they have assured the commitment not to join NATO, reiterating however that the EU accession process cannot be blocked. However, Moscow delegates will have to report to Putin, who has the last word.

A few days ago, the Deputy Chief of Staff of the Russian army, Sergej Rudskoi, had made it clear that the Russian army would henceforth concentrate on the objective of “liberating the Donbass”. According to Rudskoi, the Russian forces have already achieved one of the objectives that Putin set himself: that of “demilitarizing” the army of Kiev. Beyond the obvious use of propaganda (Ukrainian forces appear anything but demilitarized), the geopolitical and strategic fact is that the fate of the war will depend on what happens in the eastern and southern part of the country.

Pro-Russian forces claimed to have full control of the center of Mariupol, the city on the Black Sea which for weeks it has been besieged and bombed by the Moscow army. After the attempt to take the capital in a few days, Putin’s plan B is to unite the two separatist republics with Crimea and close access to the Sea of ​​Azov. This is a full-blown military goal, but it is difficult to say whether Russia will actually claim these territories or whether the current one is not rather an attempt, manu military , to weigh more on the negotiating table.

Scenario 1: a peace agreement

What seems evident is that to reach an agreement both Moscow and Kiev will have to give something up. If progress has been made from the point of view of Ukraine’s “neutrality”, the thorniest issue to be solved remains that of territorial concessions on which ad hoc negotiations will take place. A point highlighted by many geopolitical experts is that from Moscow’s point of view, the Donbass represents an inalienable goal also because, a not exactly negligible detail, Putin certainly cannot play the role of the “loser” in the face of Russian public opinion. .

If an agreement is reached on these assumptions, explains General Marco Bertolini, former commander of the Coi (Operational Command of Summit Joint Forces), both sides “could boast before the public opinion that they have won something”: Putin would obtain the neutrality of Kiev and the independence of the separatist republics, but on the other hand Zelensky could “claim to have won a great political battle” and maintained the independence of his country. According to Bertolini, “the Donbass goal” would also include the city of Mariupol, which the Russian forces have been trying at all costs to conquer for weeks.

At the moment, however, several experts are skeptical about the possibility of reaching an agreement on this basis. Why indeed should Ukraine make such generous concessions in a war it is not losing so far? And then, are we sure that such a compromise can constitute a lasting peace?

As James Stavridis, former admiral of the United States Navy, points out in Foreign Police , there is a risk that such an agreement, although desirable, will ultimately prove indigestible to everyone. To Putin “because he will have miserably missed” the goal of taking Kiev; “to the Ukrainians because they will lose a slice of their country” and to the West because some sanctions will have to be lifted to close the agreement. However, explains the former admiral, diplomacy is also this “and with an opponent equipped with nuclear weapons it is extremely difficult to obtain an absolute victory”.

Scenario 2: a Ukrainian or Russian victory

Stavridis’ words lead us to scenario number two. Is a victory for the two sides involved in the conflict conceivable? And if so, at what price? And then: what is meant by victory? In Kiev, of course, they would immediately sign for the withdrawal of the Russian army from their territory, including Donbass. At the beginning of the war such a scenario would have been considered totally out of reality, but today it cannot be completely ruled out. William Taylor, a former US military diplomat and former US ambassador to Ukraine, argues that there is a “non-zero” but unquantifiable possibility that the Russian military may “simply crumble”. According to Stavridis, the Russian advance was held up by aviation and long-range missiles, but the difficulties encountered by the infantry that cannot count on adequate logistical support are now evident. That said, the chances of Russia crashing are still very limited.

Military strategy experts are convinced that having abandoned the northern front, the Russians will attempt a maneuver to encircle the Ukrainian forces in Donbass by advancing from the direction of Kharkiv to the north and Mariupol to the south. Conquering Mariupol could free some 6,000 soldiers for this purpose. Then? Once the Donbass is taken, Russia could sit at the peace table with the aim of actually closing an agreement (see hypothesis 1). Or aiming at annexing other portions of territory, to the point of delineating a “Korean” scenario in the territories it has already occupied or will be able to occupy.

What do you mean? Ukrainian general Kyrylo Budanov, head of military intelligence, reported this possibility, not really remote. According to him, Putin’s “is an attempt to create a North Korea and a South Korea in Ukraine”, as reported on Facebook by the central intelligence department of the Defense Ministry. According to the statements, “after the failures near Kiev and the impossibility of overthrowing the central government of Ukraine”, there is “reason to believe” that Putin “will try to impose a dividing line between the occupied regions of our country and those not employed “because” it is absolutely unable to absorb the entire state “.

It is difficult to say how far Putin can go. After all, no one knows the Kremlin’s true intentions. Russian forces currently control several territories both east and south of the country, including the cities of Kherson and Melitopol. For Russia to be able to tear up the strip of land that leads from the Donbass to the Crimea would undoubtedly be a victory. But on the other hand it could lead to a situation of perennial insurrection in the occupied territories.

Scenario 3: the war of attrition

If the peace negotiations do not lead to anything, one of the possibilities is that we go towards a war of attrition in which neither armies can prevail. Such a stalemate could end up exacerbating the conflict even further. The fear is that in order to break the Ukrainian resistance, the Kremlin may decide to make the bombings of the civilian population even more destructive and bloody. Not only. To convince Zelensky to surrender, and at the same time send a message to the international community, it cannot be ruled out that Putin orders the use of chemical weapons. Both the United States and NATO consider this hypothesis likely, so much so that the secretary general of the Atlantic Alliance, Jens Stoltenberg, has already warned Moscow that the

Another possible scenario is that of a war of attrition, but of low intensity, should Russia occupy portions of territory on which there is no agreement with Kiev. A Ukrainian resistance, conducted with guerrilla methods, would then be almost inevitable. Zelensky reiterated it only a few days ago: “We will certainly win because this is our home, our land, our independence. It’s only a matter of time”. However, the outcomes of any Ukrainian resistance to date remain unpredictable.

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