Vladimir Putin has a “win-by” date for the war he has launched on Ukraine, which likely means an intensification of the assault upon Ukrainian towns and civilians.
Officials in the US and Ukraine believe that Putin wants to declare a battlefield victory by May 9, the 77th anniversary of the Soviet Union’s defeat of Nazi Germany. Celebrated as Victory Day in Russia every year, the date is marked by a grand military parade in Moscow. During the first year of the pandemic, Putin postponed the parade reluctantly—but only by a few weeks.
What will count as a win for Putin is unclear. Russian forces are focusing on Donbas, the coal-rich region in eastern Ukraine. Putin’s military plan is to outnumber Ukrainian troops there, in a decisive offensive that could begin any day now. The US’s latest pledge of $800 million in arms and other support is part of an effort to shore up Ukrainian resistance in this battle to come. The arms will be delivered to Ukraine within 48 hours, a US defense official told Foreign Policy, adding: “Time is of the essence.”
The Ukraine war will get bloodier
To secure his win within the next three or so weeks, Putin will have to ramp up the fighting even further: more soldiers, more bombing, more air raids. But it may not be as easy to do as it sounds. Phillips O’Brien, a professor of strategic studies at the University of St Andrews, analyzed satellite images to deduce that Russian military convoys are slowing down on their way into eastern Ukraine. Part of the reason, O’Brien said on Twitter, is that rain and mud are making it difficult for vehicles to go off paved roads.
But if haste to meet the May 9 deadline can make for “a military disaster” for Russia, as an unnamed Western official told AFP, it can also spur Russia into even more short-term brutality. The new Russian commander in Ukraine, Alexander Dvornikov, “has a résumé that includes brutality against civilians in other theaters—in Syria,” Jake Sullivan, the US national security advisor, told CNN on Apr. 10. “We can expect more of the same.”