Russia is preparing for a protracted war, Lavrov's call for talks is a "game": ISW explained the aggressor's plans

Russia is preparing for a long war

Russia is preparing for a protracted war against Ukraine. The aggressor state plans not only to reach the administrative borders of the partially occupied Donetsk and Luhansk regions but also to occupy Kharkiv, Zaporizhzhia, and Dnipro regions.

At the same time, recent statements by Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov only confirm the Kremlin's aggressive plans, which Western intelligence has warned about. This is stated in the analytical material of the American Institute for the Study of War (ISW).

ISW analysts drew attention to the article published by BILD on December 14 about Russia's plans for war in Ukraine. Referring to insights received from their own sources and representatives of intelligence services, the authors of the material state that Russia intends to occupy a significant part of Ukraine by 2026, including outside the already partially occupied four regions on the mainland of Ukraine.

Thus, BILD writes, Russia plans to fully occupy the Donetsk and Luhansk regions and reach the Oskil River in the Kharkiv region by the end of 2024. The probable existence of these plans, according to ISW, is briefly confirmed by the geography of local Russian offensives in Donetsk, Luhansk, and Kharkiv regions that can be observed now.

But the aggressor's plans are not limited to Donbas. According to BILD's sources, the Kremlin's appetites also extend to most of Zaporizhzhia, Dnipro, and Kharkiv regions, including Kharkiv. The deadline for seizing these territories is set for 2025-2026.

The publication also cites a source as saying that in general, the Russian occupation army has been tasked by the Russian top leadership to occupy the part of Ukraine east of the Dnipro River in the next 36 months.

In addition, the Russian Federation plans to hold the existing front line in the Kherson region to prevent the advance of Ukrainian troops into the occupied Crimea.

In its planning, Russia relies on the mobilization of the Russian military-industrial base and the exhaustion of the Ukrainian army by inflicting significant losses on it, primarily in manpower: the Russians plan to kill 100,000 Ukrainian soldiers annually. Moscow is also counting on changes in the United States after the presidential election in 2024 and, as a result of a new head of state coming to power, a sharp reduction or complete cessation of Western support for Ukraine.

In addition, Western intelligence services believe that Moscow intends to start fictitious "peace talks" without stopping its offensive operations. This is how Russia acted in 2015 when it signed the second Minsk agreement with one hand and sent troops to occupy new settlements with the other.

"ISW cannot independently confirm the authenticity of BILD's reports, but Russia's alleged plans for a war in Ukraine by 2026, as reported by the publication, are consistent with Russia's ongoing preparations for a prolonged war. Russia's military command is conducting a long-term restructuring and expanding efforts to build strategic reserves. Russia is gradually mobilizing its defense industry to fight a prolonged war," ISW believes.

ISW analysts also confirm Russia's announced medium- and long-term plans to occupy additional regions of Ukraine. This is indirectly evidenced by the expansionist statements made by Russian officials, led by Putin, with increasing frequency. And the offensive efforts of Russian troops in the Kharkiv region confirm Russia's plans for the region.

"Russian officials have made statements about Russia's intention to occupy and annex additional Ukrainian territories beyond the current front lines and the four (illegally) annexed territories. ISW recently assessed that a sudden Western refusal to continue assistance would sooner or later lead to a decline in Ukraine's ability to deter the Russian army, and in such a scenario, Russian troops could eventually advance to the western Ukrainian border," the analysts said.

They also cited the opinion of Kyrylo Budanov, head of the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Ukrainian Defense Ministry, who is convinced that Russia does not intend to change its plans for war in Ukraine until 2025. In his opinion, the development of a new plan by the aggressor state is possible if the front line remains unchanged until the end of 2024.

Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov once again called on Ukraine to start negotiations with Russia. He did so in a traditionally threatening manner, saying that the longer the war lasts, the more difficult the negotiation process and the conditions for negotiations will be for Ukraine.

ISW saw this statement as further evidence that Russia intends to achieve its maximalist goals in Ukraine by military means. Lavrov's words may mean that the Kremlin expects that the longer the war lasts, the more territories of Ukraine will be occupied by Russian troops. This means that Ukraine's position in the negotiations will be weaker.

ISW also reminded that during the "direct line" of communication with Russian citizens Putin outlined Russia's plans for Ukraine: the Kremlin seeks to achieve goals that are tantamount to the complete surrender of Ukraine and the West.

"The Kremlin has repeatedly promoted information operations, simulating interest in negotiations with Ukraine, and Lavrov's statement is probably another attempt to create conditions for Russia to move away from this information operation," ISW summarized.

Earlier, ISW analysts, having analyzed Putin's statements during the "direct line", concluded that he confirmed his maximalist goals: the overthrow of the Ukrainian government, the complete deprivation of Ukraine's ability to defend itself against Russian attacks, and Kyiv's abandonment of its aspirations to join NATO and the EU. The demand for the Alliance to return "to the levels of 1997" also remains unchanged.

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