Putin's rambling, revisionist, dangerous, and delusional speech has revealed that his objective is not just Donetsk and Luhansk, by attacking the very legitimacy of Ukraine as a country, academic Joseph Enge writes.
Putin's objective is to completely destroy Ukraine. His rhetoric is effectively crossing the Rubicon by recognizing the rebellious republics, tearing up the Minsk agreements, and ordering Russian troops to openly invade Ukrainian sovereign territory.
The false mask of pretending to want a peaceful solution while fighting a proxy war for the last eight years has dropped.
The door for dialogue has been closed. This is speculation of course as to what happens next. I doubt the Russian troops in Belarus will invade from the north, given their numbers and the major obstacle of the Pripyat Marshes between Belarus and Ukraine (see map).
Rather, they have remained to tie down Ukrainian forces for a potential attack from that direction.
Based upon troop dispositions and size along the Russian/Ukraine border, the main axis of advance will be aimed at Luhansk and Donetsk, probably in three phases with the first happening now as we speak:
1. Sending regular Russian troops into the rebel-controlled areas, a phase which has just started.
2. Expand Russian control of the territory in Luhansk and Donetsk beyond the one third that the rebels control.
3. Unleash full scale offensives, as some have said, a Russian version of "shock and awe", expanding deeper into Ukraine, with potential amphibious landings along the Sea of Azov coast (see map below).
The incremental, phased approach has a military and political objective. The first being to quote Clausewitz, "No plan survives first contact with the enemy."
Gauging the international reaction along each step is another advantage. It is nice Germany just came through with shutting down Nord Stream 2, but it is too little too late. I doubt at this point sanctions will deter Putin.
Joseph Enge was a Fulbright teacher to Estonia in the early 1990s, James Madison fellow, and more recently taught American and military history at the University of Tartu.
Editor: Andrew Whyte