It's always been about the Donbas
Putin is a butcher, but as I've said for many weeks, a smart one. He's always recognized the value of the Donbas region (energy and mineral assets). Nobody's going to stop him from getting those assets and backing NATO/US into removing missiles currently aimed at Russia.
When the dust settles, he'll be selling NATO energy for 2X the price and the sanctions will be quickly forgotten. Yep, Europe is getting played (hard).
The Stakes in the Battle for the Donbas
A Russian general lifts the veil on Putin’s plans to grab Ukraine’s south.
By The Editorial Board, WSJ
April 22, 2022 6:40 pm ET
As Russia consolidates its forces for an offensive in Ukraine’s east, the temptation is to think the stakes have shrunk for NATO and the West after Russia lost the battle of Kyiv. But Vladimir Putin can still win a major victory that would leave him stronger and better able to menace Ukraine, its neighbors and the Western alliance.
The Kremlin boss still has broad military ambitions, as one of his generals let slip on Friday. “Since the start of the second phase of the special operation . . . one of the tasks of the Russian army is to establish full control over the Donbas and southern Ukraine,” Major General Rustam Minnekaev was quoted as telling Russian news agencies. “This will provide a land corridor to Crimea,” the peninsula Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014.
Most people have suspected that this is one of Russia’s war aims, though Mr. Putin continues to claim he’s merely trying to protect the Russian-speaking people in Ukraine’s Donbas region. Gen. Minnekaev lifted the veil, and not merely on the goal in Ukraine.
“Control over the south of Ukraine is another way out to Transnistria, where there are cases of Russian-speaking people being oppressed,” Gen. Minnekaev said.
Transnistria is a breakaway Russian-speaking sliver of Moldova, the small country between Ukraine and Romania that leans toward Europe. The Russian general is saying that if Russia captures southern Ukraine, annexing Transnistria if not all of Moldova will be next on the Kremlin menu.
Moldova summoned Russia’s ambassador to its capital of Chisinau to protest the Russian general’s remarks, but no one paying attention doubts that what he said is true.
All of this raises the stakes in the battle for the Donbas, since it means Russia doesn’t plan to settle for protecting the separatist oblasts of Luhansk and Donetsk. Russia also wants to move on Odessa, Ukraine’s port on the Black Sea. If the Russians capture the Sea of Azov port of Mariupol, as they likely will after their brutal siege, then Odessa would be Ukraine’s last major maritime link to global commerce. Russian forces have tried to move on Odessa but have faced fierce resistance.
If the Kremlin crushes Ukraine’s eastern army in the Donbas, it would be able to concentrate its forces for the march south. Once the south is conquered, Mr. Putin might then seek a truce that would leave a quarter or third of Ukraine in his hands.
Ukraine would be left as a rump state, more dependent on Western aid. He could bide his time as Western sanctions erode, while rearming and waiting for another chance to march on Kyiv and assassinate Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Mr. Putin would then be in a better position to consider his options to challenge NATO solidarity. The likeliest target is one of the Baltic states with an ethnic Russian minority and access to the Baltic Sea.
All of this underscores the urgency of continuing to supply Ukraine’s military, especially with heavy weapons such as long-range artillery, rocket-launch systems, tanks, fighter jets, and missile defenses. Off-the-shelf weapons stocks are running low, and Ukraine will soon need ammunition and missiles directly from Western military assembly lines.
President Biden announced another $800 million in weapons for Ukraine this week, and Congress will have to appropriate more in the coming weeks. Military officials from 20 countries will meet next week in Germany to assess Ukraine’s needs and coordinate aid. This is useful as long as it doesn’t default to the most risk-averse thinking.
This is the time to give Ukraine all it can handle to press for victory against Russia. The goal is to block Russian advances and inflict such losses that Mr. Putin is forced to reconsider his war aims again. He could escalate and try to draw in NATO more directly, but that carries risks of more severe Russian losses.
Ukraine has paid dearly to protect its homeland in a war it didn’t choose. The West’s interest is in a Ukrainian victory that pushes Russia out and lets its people decide their own destiny. Russia without Ukraine is a much less significant threat to NATO and the U.S.