Putin’s mission remains to fully conquer Ukraine after series of frontline successes, Western officials say

Western officials have issued a fresh assessment on Vladimir Putin’s goals with Russia holding greater numbers in weaponry and soldiers

Kim Sengupta
Thursday 22 February 2024 11:11 GMT
Ukrainian civilians attend military training near Kyiv as the country faces a stumbling block for funding for weapons from the US
Ukrainian civilians attend military training near Kyiv as the country faces a stumbling block for funding for weapons from the US (EPA)

Vladimir Putin still wants to fully conquer Ukraine and impose regime change in the belief that Russia’s greater numbers in weaponry and soldiers will prevail at the end, according to Western officials.

A series of successes on the frontline, the capture of Avdiivka in the Donbas most notable, and £47bn economic and military aid package for Ukraine blocked in the US Congress, is said to have buoyed the Russian president’s hopes of total occupation.

“We do not believe Russia has given up on its maximalist goals of subjugating Ukraine,” said a senior official as the war enters its third year. Moscow is currently in control of a fifth of Ukraine including the separatist republics in the east and Crimea.

The fresh assessment comes as an opinion poll showed rising pessimism across Europe about the outcome of the war, with only 10 per cent believing that Ukraine can achieve victory.

The study, based on polling in 12 countries for the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR), a Berlin-based think tank, also found that almost four times that number think that Ukraine must accept a “compromise settlement” without regaining all territory lost to the Russian invasion.

There is also widespread concern in Ukraine and its European allies about what the possible return of Donald Trump to the White House would mean for Ukraine.

Mr Trump had, in the past, declared that he would accept the Russian annexation of Crimea, and there is apprehension that he may force Kyiv to accept a peace deal by threatening to cut off military aid.

While seeking to establish Russian control over Ukraine by force, the Kremlin does not appear to have a road map to achieve that goal, according to the assessment.

“We do not believe Russia has a meaningful plan beyond continuing to fight in the expectation that Russian manpower and equipment numbers ill eventually tell,” the Western officials said.

The Russian military still seems prepared to sacrifice lives of troops in mass attacks. Nato estimates puts Russian casualties at Avdiivka and along the eastern frontline at more than a thousand a day killed and injured.

But one glaring problem Russia faces, Western officials said, was that it cannot produce enough arms and ammunition domestically to meet the needs in the war, say the officials, due to  sanctions denying access to Western components, raising cost and causing severe delays.

International restrictions are having a huge adverse effect on developing new systems and repairing old ones, he added. This, in turn, will have “long-term consequences for the quality of weapons produced”.

Such are the “extreme challenges” in obtaining sufficient equipment and ammunition that Russia “has been requisitioning military equipment originally intended for delivery to foreign powers”.

This is believed to refer to a statement by an Indian parliamentary committee in March last year which revealed that that the Indian Air Force will not receive an expected “major delivery” of spare parts for Su-30MKI and Mig-29 fighter jets.

India has, however, had similar problems with weapons orders it had in place with Ukraine not being delivered following the Russian invasion of the country in February 2022.

Russia, meanwhile, has significantly increased import of missiles and drones from Iran and North Korea.

Last October, the US administration said as many as 1,000 North Korean shipping containers bearing “equipment and munitions” had been sent to Russia “in recent weeks”. The American reports were backed by the Royal United Services Institute (Rusi), think tank in London which said: “Russia has likely begun shipping North Korean munitions at scale.”

US security analysts also say that Iran has supplied hundreds of missiles, including short-range ballistic ones, to Moscow, including Fateh-110s which can hit targets at a distance of between 185 and 435 miles.

The Kremlin is establishing a war economy with plants commandeered towards arms production with 7.5 per cent of GDP channelled to defence. More than £86bn has been set aside for defence for 2024, compared to Ukraine’s £34.7bn

The EU has agreed on a new package of sanctions against Russia to target individuals and businesses suspected of assisting Moscow in the war. The list contains nearly 200 entities and individuals. The Belgian government, which currently holds the rotating presidency of the 27-nation bloc, said the “package is one of the broadest approved by the EU”.

The EU has, however, failed to hit its target of supplying a million artillery shells to Ukraine by March this year by nearly half.

Ukrainian defence minister Rustem Umerov recently referred to his country’s artillery ammunition deficit as "critical" in a letter to the European Union, urging its national leaders to do more to bolster supplies.

He stressed that Ukraine’s "absolute critical daily minimum requirement" was 6,000 artillery shells, but his forces were able to fire just 2,000 a day.

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