Lawrence Freedman interview: For Putin, the war in Ukraine is hard to win and even harder to end

By | January 31, 2023

RFE/RL: Can Russia be defeated outright?

Lawrence Freedman: If Ukraine was able to push Russian forces out of all of Ukraine, that would be a defeat. It’s not wholly impossible, but I think at the moment it’s very difficult. It’s not impossible. I think to lose Crimea would be unequivocally a big defeat for Putin. To have the Russians being pushed back elsewhere — to the 2013 borders or the 1991 borders — could probably be manageable with guarantees for Russian speakers and so on. My guess is that there comes a point when there’s not a lot of value in holding on to what are essentially the same enclaves with which they started this with.

I’m not convinced that, if I was a Ukrainian general, that I would be that bothered about expecting to have to push the Russians back every inch of the way. I think at a certain point the need of the Russian forces to reconstitute themselves and the meaninglessness of [holding] bits of territory, if that’s all they’re holding on to, would probably mean it would suit [the Russian forces] to have a disengagement in the hope of giving them some breathing space….

On balance, the Ukrainians have got more chance of winning than the Russians, who I don’t think have got any chance at all in terms of their original objectives. But they might reconceptualize [those]. But for the Ukrainians, it’s very difficult, as well, which is why it’s more likely to have a messy conclusion than a neat and tidy one that’ll last for some time. [Continue reading…]

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