In the beginning, Russia’s stated war goals included the forced recognition, by Ukraine, of the two administrative regions covered by the Minsk accords and Crimea as separate political entities. Plus the two other harder to precisely define goals: demilitarization and denazification of Ukraine, what it remains of it.
A cold analysis would rather place the initial, declared, objective into The Gobbling category with just a shaving, not a carving, of Ukraine’s territory, presuming, as it would be logical, the shaving was complemented by installing a fully subservient regime in Kiev, even more subservient and externally controlled than the current one is by the West. The only possibility which would permit full demilitarization and denazification outside complete military destruction and occupation of the country.
Now we have already passed that point. Russia ceremoniously integrated as parts of its national territory four (former) administrative regions of Ukraine, the initial two, plus Kherson and Zaporozhe. Crimea was already officially annexed earlier.
This makes the carving possibility more probable than at the start of the war. The four regions represent a large chunk of land, with vast mineral and agricultural resources (one of the best agricultural land in the world), important cities and industrial capacities (what will be left of them; surely though a part of the specialists will remain and this counts more than the buildings and machinery which can always be rebuilt and replaced). A good combination which gives a fair chance of speedy recovery, largely self-sufficient also.
Regardless, assuming Russia takes hold of 100% of what now considers its territory, several problems preventing a peace accord remain. The obvious one is the Kiev regime still wouldn’t have received the devastating blow it could not survive from. A simple look at the map shows a strange coincidence. What would make Kiev still hold is what would represent major vulnerabilities for Russia: Kharkov-Dnipropetrovsk enclave and Kherson bridgehead over the Dnieper. Both ‘ask’ for a solution, like they were deliberately left aside by Kremlin so any logical mind would wonder how is it possible. It isn’t.
The Russian bear will use Kiev’s externally directed inflexibility, probably expressed in a last offensive which will break in a blood bath against Russian fortifications and firepower, as reason enough, from a military perspective, to take Kharkov and Dnipropetrovsk and establish a safe area, geographically secured, around Kherson, thus biting further into new oblasts.
When this new expansion of the original set of objectives becomes the new reality on the ground, the Ukrainian state, from a land of prey and lucrative schemes, will turn into a permanent liability for the Collective West. It would still be a barely viable state, with access to the sea, but deprived of most of its natural resources. Kharkov, Dnipropetrovsk, Zaporozhe are too important cities to shamelessly ‘ignore’ their loss. Kiev’s regime is done and conditions are ripe for a series of events concluding either in Ukraine balancing into Russia’s sphere, WW3 or dissolution of the rest of Ukraine. The West will desperately try to stop that logical balancing (dictated by purely survival necessity) since the only ability it still masters is to mess things up.
If Kiev doesn’t shift into Russia’s camp, the carving will continue, only it would most probably change into gobbling up the whole of Ukraine (or almost all).
I don’t see the carving scenario ending with less territory going to Russia than what the last map shows. Time frame? Somewhere between mid autumn 2023 to mid summer 2024. Probability? Low to average. Costs in human lives? Tremendous for Ukraine, significant, yet not unbearable, for Russia.
Several assumptions were made:
- There will be no Russian offensive to cut extreme western Ukraine from the rest and with that to cut the main supply route for Kiev’s regime.
- Ukraine will be left with access to the sea – Odessa and possibly Nikolaev. A Russian thrust towards Odessa, removing Ukraine’s access to the sea, while possible, would make a continued existence of a reduced Ukraine as a separate state even more tenuous and we’d most likely revert to the ultimate gobbling scenario.
- Regime change in Kiev would install an anti-Western government, restructure the laws, purge the Nazis, make Ukraine a vassal state to Russia, but not a part of Russia, tighter controlled than Belarus, but still Ukraine in many respects.
Otherwise no carving makes sense, it would mean either a Russian defeat, pure and simple, or a general gobbling.