Recently, there have been more frequent reports in various media that say that "Putin wants peace talks", and Ukraine, after almost two years of grueling war, should heed the advice of its Western partners (who are also tired and have depleted their weapons stockpiles), who are pushing for a dialogue. The most surprising thing is the range of media channels that are retelling this message in different interpretations - from Kremlin bots (which specialize in commenting on the channels of every more or less popular expert) to the authoritative The New York Times. All of them are strangely recounting the same thing in unison - "we need to stop and try to negotiate."
What does Putin and Russia really want, who are these messages intended for, will common sense prevail in this situation, and what could 2024 look like for Ukraine? 24 Channel tried to find out.
What kind of peace does Putin want?
Let's start with the main thing: Russia is "playing the peace game," investing more and more in its military-industrial complex and new weapons development, taking into account the experience of the last 1.5-2 years of war. Moreover, Putin and his entourage are confident in the West's weakness and inability to make quick and decisive decisions. Especially if such decisions lead to human losses, especially significant losses.
Putin will not bat an eyelid, but with a smile on his lips will sacrifice several armored and mechanized divisions on the altar of the Russian world if he is sure that at least a few thousand NATO troops will die. He believes that the West has long since lost the ability to fight, to fight to the death, and to fight. And he will allow himself to be crushed if his back is truly against the wall. Backed into a corner, facing the threat of significant losses due to military action, the West is likely to agree to a new redistribution of Europe "in the name of peace."
And yet, for the Kremlin, there seems to be no limit, no moral and ethical "stop signal," no number of victims it is not willing to accept. Because for Putin, the postulates "women are worth more than men" and "the end justifies the means" are the starting point for decision-making.
Western military analysts could not understand this, but they also watched the events in Ukraine with complete incomprehension. Here, the Russians were just as senselessly spending tens of thousands of human lives to capture Bakhmut or to seize the Avdiivka industrial zone. But this is the "main advantage" of the Russian military machine.
Why do NATO countries need to prepare for war now?
So, the "infinite mobilization resource" provides a fairly wide scope for planning. But this is not all that is needed for a new military campaign. Modern warfare (and Russia no longer knows this from books) requires quite a bit of modern equipment (primarily UAVs) and ammunition. It is not difficult to calculate how quickly Russia can restore its military and technical potential to pose a threat not to Ukraine but to NATO.
And for the skeptics who have enough arguments in favor of the Alliance, let's draw attention to a few points:
- Russia's army is already fighting in Ukraine, gaining invaluable experience in real combat, not in exercises and simulations. Meanwhile, the troops of NATO member states have never really fought at all.
- It can be assumed that with its extensive network of agents, influence on a large list of parliamentary parties in NATO member states, and a number of "friends" among the heads of governments of NATO member states, Moscow will try to localize the future conflict, escalate it not with the entire NATO bloc, but, due to the split among its members, "work" with individual countries locally.
- It will take the Kremlin only a few years to restore the military potential (armor, air defense, electronic warfare, cruise and ballistic missiles, and the entire range of UAVs) that has been reduced as a result of the losses of the Russian armed forces in Ukraine.
A recent report by the German Council on Foreign Relations, which took into account the above facts, estimates the prospect of confrontation between Russia and NATO in 6 to 10 years. But there is also a worse scenario, which was reported by the head of the Polish National Security Bureau, Jacek Siewera. He warned that the West should prepare for a less optimistic scenario and be ready for a confrontation with Russia in 3 years.
Putin has always considered NATO too weak for a real confrontation. And if he was wrong, he was not too wrong.
What will happen if the West stops supporting Ukraine?
A hypothetical "bad case scenario" for the development of events in Ukraine (in case Western support stops and Ukraine is forced to introduce a ceasefire due to a lack of ammunition) will lead to something like the ATO in Donbas in 2014-2021. This situation will allow the Russians to redirect their military-industrial complex to restore their combat potential.
A decline in Western support will also lead to a weakening of measures to control the sanctions already in place. It turned out that it is not enough to have sanctions in place, as the Russians quickly learned to circumvent them. It is necessary to constantly modify them and introduce so-called "secondary sanctions" to make them much more difficult or impossible to circumvent.
What happens next in our "bad case scenario"?
Different assessments of the level of threat from Russia, as well as inconsistency in actions, can lead to deterioration of relations between Russia's neighbors and the rest of the Alliance. First of all, we are talking about the relations of the Baltic states and Poland with the "old" Europe, which seems to think that the problems do not concern them.
As their perception of the threat begins to differ significantly, the temporary lull and shift in priorities will weaken the will of the West and create an even wider window of opportunity for China, which will seek to increase the Kremlin's dependence through technological support for Russia's military capabilities.
What is China seeking and why has the United States failed to convince Beijing?
- Already today, the Kremlin is forced to sell energy and raw materials to China at significant discounts. In addition, because it has refused to agree to joint production and sale of energy resources, as proposed by Beijing, it is forced to cover the full cost of building new pipelines on its own.
- At the same time, China has practically gained a monopoly on the supply of electronics, cars, and many other items to Russia.
- All the sanctions imposed on Beijing in the supply of semiconductor technologies and licenses will be reduced in this scenario, and Russia's transformation into China's "lapdog" will undermine the already shaky unanimity of the West and spray the US resources.
Meanwhile, China does not want to and will not "give up" on Russia, realizing that this was the original US plan - to turn Moscow against Beijing. Today, this already looks like a "plan from the past."
Now Washington does not dare to allow Russia's disintegration and fall. And after the possible presidency of Donald Trump and the resumption of his MAGA strategy (which is even now evident in the arguments of Republicans in Congress), this policy strangely sounds in unison with the radical left. It is becoming apparent that both groups share sympathies for Russia and isolationist tendencies. Trump keeps saying that he will "bring about a ceasefire as soon as possible." It is clear that this will not be on Ukraine's terms.
Will the war be frozen and under what conditions?
We assume that the conflict will be frozen in 2024, although the Russians still expect to defeat Ukraine in 2025. The sanctions pressure they circumvent and the state of Russia's financial system (which still receives enough resources from energy and raw materials trade) allow the Kremlin to continue the war, using Chinese loans and military assistance from Iran and North Korea.
For a few more years, Russians are ready to become poorer, but the state machine continues to work and the land produces grain and potatoes. The world is also not ready to do without Russian oil and gas, so there is at least some foreign exchange earnings.
They will have something to eat, something to drive, and something to wear. This is how they are used to surviving, making do with what they have and dreaming about the "inevitable bright future" on their TV screens. In addition, the ceasefire as described will be perceived by the Russian population as a victory and will convince the masses that they are "on the right track" and that they should "make further sacrifices for the sake of the Russian world."
Specific numbers. What the "math of war" shows:
- According to some reports, this year Russia will supply a total of about 2,000 units of armored vehicles to the front (including about 600 tanks and about the same number of armored vehicles of various types, and about 800 units of other types of equipment, such as self-propelled artillery).
- During the 4 months of the counteroffensive, the Russians lost about 3,700 tanks and armored vehicles, not including other types of military equipment. Thus, Russia produces fewer armored vehicles than it loses. But this situation has developed due to the intensity of the fighting. That is why they are trying to take a break, "asking for peace talks."
- We assume that the Russians will be able to impose a "ceasefire and peace talks." Russian military-industrial complexes that produce such equipment will be able to direct all their efforts to restore their potential. Their productivity ranges from 1,000 to 1,500 units per year. A simple calculation yields a figure of 3,000 to 4,500 vehicles in 3 years!
- The production of missiles can reach more than 100 units per month, i.e., more than 3,600 in 3 years, and the number of Shahed and Lancet UAVs is likely to be higher, because the Iranian design is much simpler and can be mass-produced.
- It is clear that the Russians will continue to develop their electronic warfare capabilities based on new experience.
- And, ultimately, the systematic conscription will continue, as it is now.
In the next 1-2 years, the fanatical young men of the so-called "Generation Z" will reach the age of conscription. They were born and raised in Putin's time, they have absorbed the belief in the "Russian world" with their mother's milk and a continuous stream of propaganda pouring out of all media around the clock. And if they are set up for a great victory over the "decaying West" in the name of "true bonding values," they will undoubtedly go to die for the goals of the ever-hungry empire. After all, they have been brought up from an early age to adore their leader and hate the whole world.
To summarize, we can say that in three years Russia will have a much better military potential, which it will be able to use much more effectively than it did in the case of Ukraine. This time, the Kremlin will take into account all the mistakes and missed opportunities in the war with Ukraine, when the Russian army lost the "best" of its army in the first few months of hostilities. And since then, it has been doing nothing but compensating for its losses. They are doing a poor job of it, but this army is already in war mode.
How much power and time would Russia need to attack NATO countries?
Now, let's go back to NATO and calculate how much manpower and equipment would be needed to threaten, for example, the Baltic States, the most vulnerable region of the Alliance from this point of view.
- If a military grouping of about 150 to 200 thousand troops, 1 to 1.2 thousand tanks, and about 2.5 thousand armored vehicles were concentrated on the borders with the Baltic states (a potential that is absolutely achievable in three years or less), given that the length of the borders would be much shorter than in the case of Ukraine and the number of than in the case of Ukraine, and the number of weapons and military personnel is comparable, and assuming (with a high degree of probability) that the Kremlin will manage to "convince" Belarus of the need for active action this time, such a development could be very dramatic and have sad consequences for the Baltic states.
- Discussions about the defense of the Baltic states have been going on for many years, but NATO is "in no hurry" with real plans and their implementation, fearing "confrontation and provocation by the Kremlin." The strategy of defense in this region was discussed, in particular, at this year's NATO summit in Vilnius.
But so far, Washington's policy of gradually providing military assistance to Ukraine and gradually escalating the situation has made the Kremlin realize that a large-scale conventional conflict without nuclear weapons is quite possible. Especially if the first phase of such a conflict is vague (riots in the Russian-speaking region of Narva (Estonia) or protests in eastern Latvia related to "pressure on the Russian language").
The Kremlin has repeatedly demonstrated that it can organize hybrid operations. After a dozen and a half sanctions packages, it will not be possible to impose new sanctions, and the West needs to be prepared for a physical confrontation.
At the same time, the Russians will try to control the war in Ukraine within the limits of "lower intensity," which they learned well from 2014 to 2022. Without a normal supply of armored vehicles, missiles, aircraft, and ammunition, Ukraine will not be able to conduct any successful offensive operations. And further financial support from the EU will tire the West and make them interested in establishing a new balance of power in the region.
And this is exactly how Putin and his entourage see it. In this situation, nothing will stop him from imposing new conditions on Europe. But does the West realize this, and is it willing to take the risk? After all, there is no reason to believe that the Russians will regain their potential only in 6 to 10 years (as some analysts have calculated). NATO should be ready to deter Russia as early as 3 years after the "ceasefire in Ukraine."
Why is it critical for the West to support Ukraine now?
The Ukrainian armed forces have retained significant potential for offensive operations after the winter, provided they receive sufficient supplies of artillery and other ammunition. The above scenario is not a "doomsday scenario" but rather a pragmatic depiction of why it is crucial to help Ukraine right now. Because the alternative is an even higher price!
The United States has no scenario of Russia's collapse and loss. Washington continues to try "not to bring Russia to its knees," but to resolve the process in a way that does not lead to its disintegration, to create conditions for its military weakening, which, unfortunately, now seems impossible. Because Russia and its "deep people" will accept all the "hardships" in the name of imperial ambitions.
It sounds strange, but the Americans have a chance to destroy their existential enemy at the hands of another state for a small part of their defense budget, while earning money on orders for their military-industrial complex. It looks like a geopolitical jackpot. But it would seem that the Republicans, who have been dreaming about it for decades, are not going to realize this plan.
If Ukraine is abandoned, it is quite possible that the Kremlin will accumulate resources near NATO's borders, which will raise much more acute issues for the Alliance. And then the US Marines will have to defend Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, with a real prospect of losing their health and lives. And if the US government does not make such a decision, the concept of NATO will remain history.
That is why the question that politicians on Capitol Hill are asking themselves now should not be "Should we continue to support Ukraine?" but rather "Do we continue the strategy of maintaining the global order?" Because abandoning Ukraine will mean the end of the order as we know it!