Expert: Russia unable to turn the tide of the war using conventional means
Russia is close to exhausting its last reserves that could be used for a major offensive in Ukraine, after which will come positional warfare where either side's ability to exhaust the enemy and rob it of the will to fight will be key, security expert Rainer Saks said.
"The consensus today is that neither side is capable of mounting major offensives. It cannot happen for Ukraine before they train their reserves they have been building since the first days of the war, following the general mobilization," Saks said on the "Vikerhommik" morning show.
He added that Ukraine is likely not planning any major offensives to mirror those Russia attempted in the first days of the war because the losses would be too great.
"Ukraine is held back by three things. Firstly, while Russia has not managed to take control of the entire Ukrainian airspace, it still maintains an advantage. Secondly, Ukraine is short on armor which fact does not support rapid advancement. Thirdly, the Ukrainians have demolished bridges and other pieces of infrastructure to stop the Russian advance, while that works both ways."
Saks said that speaking in favor of Ukraine is the fact that the quality and battle-worthiness of Russian troops is dwindling.
"Russia has become more careful in its war effort and its losses aren't as massive as they were toward the start of the conflict. That said, their losses are still considerable and cannot be offset with quality troops. I don't know the extent of Ukraine's reserves or how long they can last. There is no adequate information available, and Russian sources cannot be trusted."
Saks went on to say that Ukraine might be content to use Western weapons and munitions deliveries to maintain the war, effectively nullifying Russia's hopes that a war of attrition would cause the Ukrainian state apparatus to collapse in two months.
"We need to take a fresh look every week or ten days. The Ukrainian people are still fighting, with major demonstrations taking place in occupied territory over the weekend. I cannot see any way for Russia to turn the tide of the war using conventional means. But it could deploy unconventional ones."
Bringing in Belarusian regular troops a death warrant for Lukashenko
Even though Russia has fighters from Syria, Libya and a few other places fighting in its ranks, its biggest reserve is Belarus.
"Should Putin succeed to force Lukashenko to engage with his regular troops, it would not immediately change the course of the war. But it would be an unpleasant development for the Ukrainians. At the same time, it would provide certainty as Ukraine cannot hit Belarus back directly as things stand. That said, Lukashenko understands that he would be signing his own death warrant in that case. That is why he will attempt to stay out of it for as long as he can. But I cannot tell you that he won't eventually get involved."
Saks described the Russian general staff's Mariupol ultimatum (to offer people in the besieged city safe passage in exchange for its surrender – ed.) as a psychological move and one aimed at adding weight to Monday talks. While the Russians have killed a lot of civilians in Mariupol, they have also suffered heavy losses.
"The Ukrainians' tactic is not surrendering without a fight. It is up to Volodymyr Zelenskyy to know his limits. He is the country's democratically elected president. He cannot sign any agreement that does not meet the expectations of the Ukrainian people. And the people of Ukraine are not planning on caving under Russian pressure. If they were prepared to go up against armed individuals barehanded during the second Maidan, they are not about to surrender now. Zelenskyy does not have much leeway in that sense."
Saks said that Russia's demands are in correlation with the situation on the ground.
"And it is why negotiations could be moving close to an agreement, while they will only get there once both sides approve. This has not happened until now, and I do not think it will happen tomorrow or the day after."
China not afraid of U.S. sanctions but hardly keen either
The Estonian security expert also commented on the words of the Chinese ambassador to USA according to which China will not be sending Russia weapons or ammunition.
"If they wanted to stay quiet on the issue, they would. There is no reason to believe China would offer public military support to Russia. They have no deep ideological bond, and China does not maintain allies, just partners. The important thing is how the West can involve China in solving the conflict. But while China might not be supporting Russian militarily, they could offer diplomatic or political assistance provided the West fails to bring them on board with all due respect."
Saks found that while China is not afraid of U.S. sanctions, it is not particularly keen to see them either.
"They are clarifying their position. China wants no speculation to that effect. It wants to be clearly understood. And as concerns China's rhetoric of not supporting NATO's eastward expansion, it is something they have been saying all along. The question is whether you actively take steps to prevent it or not."
Commenting on the decision to take off air Russian propaganda networks in Estonia, Saks said such matters are always unpleasant in open and democratic constitutional countries.
"It is a matter of where to draw the line between propaganda and journalism. It is acceptable as a temporary measure in the current situation if it does not go beyond the context of Russian channels," Rainer Saks concluded.
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Editor: Marcus Turovski