New timeline laid out as stalemate looms in Ukraine — Putin racing against clock

Russian state TV hosts react to Putin's territory comments

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Russia’s war in Ukraine is now concentrated in the east of the country as Vladimir Putin sets his sights on Donbas. The Russian President aims to capture Ukraine’s former industrial heartlands, which includes the regions of Luhansk and Donetsk, two self-proclaimed republics. The despot recognised the territories’ independence from Ukraine just before Russia invaded its fellow former Soviet neighbour.

Putin is expected to annex the two regions, just as he did with the Crimean peninsula after an internationally rejected referendum in 2014.

In the face of Russian attacks in the Donbas, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky has vowed to “fight for every centimetre of our land”.

As Russia’s military campaign has slowed, Putin now has until September to claim some form of a victory in Ukraine or to strike a breakthrough on the battlefield, according to UCL’s Professor Mark Galeotti, the director of the consultancy Mayak Intelligence, and a leading Russian expert, who has authored a number of books.

This weekend, he laid out a new timeline, which makes grim reading for Putin, as it shows that Russian forces will not just be fighting a fierce Ukrainian opposition, but also elements beyond their control, such as the bitter winter weather.

Writing for The Times, he said: “The onset of autumn will make any military operations harder.

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“As bad weather hinders the use of airpower and rains swell rivers and turn dry soil to thick, sticky mud.

“Come September, the odds of any Russian breakthroughs will therefore become even longer.

“Just as the real costs of the war will be hitting home in Russia: inflation, unemployment, a growing awareness of the casualties, dwindling hope.”

Russia’s economy has been crippled by Western sanctions — imposed in response to the war — and the prices of everyday goods for ordinary people have sky-rocketed.

Amid the chaos for the Russian public, Kremlin spin doctors are now in overdrive, trying to create a way for Putin to claim a victory for the nation, according to Professor Galeotti.

He claimed that one idea being touted by ministers, political thinkers and think tanks in Russia is the seizure of Russia-backed territories.

As well as Donbas, areas that may be annexed or more closely bonded with Russia include Belarus, Moldova’s breakaway region of Transnistria, and similar self-declared territories in Georgia.

Claiming these areas as parts of ‘Greater Russia’ would allow the Kremlin to paint Putin as one of the great leaders of the country’s history.

However, Russia’s army may not be able to cope with a prolonged conflict that might allow them to seize such territories, Professor Galeotti claimed.

He said: “While the Russian offensive in Ukraine is making slow progress it is also running out of steam.

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He added: “Putin dithers over whether to admit that his ‘special military operation’ is a full-scale war and mobilise reserves.”

This outcome “would alarm and alienate most Russians”, who are feeling the effects of sanctions.

Meanwhile, Ukraine is also unlikely to be able to sustain itself on the battlefield, Professor Galeotti claimed.

He said: “As for the Ukrainians, while supplies of equipment from the West are allowing them to keep fighting, they are taking heavy losses, are already fully mobilised, and probably will not be able to score a major victory on the battlefield either.”

Despite such predictions, Mr Zelensky has remained optimistic about the performance of his troops.

At the weekend he said: “It’s already the 108th day of the war, already June. Donbas is holding on.”

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