War in Ukraine: Does Putin also want to negotiate?

Russia has been at war with Ukraine for nearly four weeks. Millions of people are fleeing and a series of battles seem to have stalled. How could the situation evolve further?

The war dead can be summarized in the first figures. 115 is one of those numbers. 115 children have been killed in the country since the start of the war in Ukraine, according to the Kyiv Attorney General’s Office. The information cannot yet be verified, but a total of thousands of victims can be assumed.

Vladimir Putin has been waging his war of aggression against Ukraine for nearly a month. How long will it go on? Can Putin still withdraw? And what role does the port city of Mariupol play? An overview.

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What is the current situation?

Barely a month after the war of aggression began, Russia is making only marginal gains. And I’m increasingly targeting civilian targets, US analysts and officials say. As the advance on Kiev is stalling, the Russian army is taking extremely massive action against other strategically important cities: fierce fighting and severe damage are reported from several cities.

The situation in the besieged port city of Mariupol on the Sea of ​​Azov is particularly dire, but Kharkiv is still being bombarded with artillery, the UN agency said. There is also heavy fighting around the city of Chernihiv in northern Ukraine near the border with Belarus. According to military intelligence from Kiev, the city of 300,000 has been bombed and there is no electricity or heating.

Ukrainian authorities continue to try to evacuate civilians from besieged towns and villages across the country. According to Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Wereschuk, civilians from the embattled areas north and east of Kiev must be brought closer to the capital.

What role does the city of Mariupol play in the war?

A crucial point: the port city has a strategically important position and the Russian troops have already advanced a lot. The humanitarian situation in the city on the Sea of ​​Azov is catastrophic: “Hell on earth”, as Ukrainian MP Yaroslav Zhelezniak described it to the BBC.

Experts see a shift in Russian military strategy in more recent developments: now it is “full-scale friction,” according to former British officer Richard Barrons to the BBC.

About 300,000 people resisted Russian bombing in Mariupol for weeks. Food is scarce, often there is no electricity and running water. On Sunday, Russia ordered Ukrainian troops in the city to lay down their arms, an ultimatum rejected by the Ukrainian leadership. “In Mariupol you can see that Russia’s perversion of dehumanization has taken on dramatic traits. Putin’s war has become Russia’s war,” said t-online FDP defense policy Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann.

Barrons believes the “friction” scenario also threatens other Ukrainian cities important to the Russian campaign. The UK Defense Ministry assumes that this new strategy will likely be accompanied by indiscriminate bombing – and with it more civil works, the destruction of Ukrainian infrastructure and the deepening of the humanitarian crisis.

Do Russians and Ukrainians want to negotiate seriously?

Also on Monday, negotiators from Ukraine and Russia are expected to meet via video link and re-negotiate a diplomatic solution. There have been positive signs over and over in recent days, according to Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podoliak, for example, Moscow’s position has recently become “more appropriate”. On Monday, however, the Kremlin accused the Ukrainian side of not doing its “homework” and unwilling to negotiate.

Many observers are critical of the negotiations: over the weekend, British Foreign Minister Liz Truss warned in the London Times that Moscow was only pretending to negotiate and was using the time to militarily reorganize its troops. French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian had already made a similar statement.

The political scientist Gerhard Mangott of the University of Innsbruck, on the other hand, told the RND: He believes that Moscow wants to find a political solution in the negotiations. However, if previous differences remain, Mangott sees no possibility of a solution to the war through negotiations. “Then Russia will try to force Ukraine to surrender militarily.” But as long as the Ukrainian troops continued to push back and hold Russia back, Putin would have to continue the negotiations.

The Ukrainian side wants to conduct fundamental negotiations with the Russian delegation. They should be the basis for negotiating at least an initial ceasefire. But Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy wants more: a face to face with Vladimir Putin.

Over the weekend, Zelenskyy again called on the Russian side to conduct “honest negotiations without delay”. Selenskyj is clear: as soon as there are direct negotiations between him and Putin, the two heads of state will be publicly equal. The hope: then it is not just a short-term ceasefire, but a lasting solution. And ideally also recognize Ukraine as a sovereign country.

What other options does Putin have?

Theoretically: many. Putin could negotiate a compromise on a ceasefire and order an early stop to the advance of his troops. But he probably won’t do it for now.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Monday: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Monday: “Honest negotiations without delay”. (Source: dpa)

The Russian autocrat has stressed the strategic importance of his “special military operation” since the beginning of the war. He claims he wants to “denazify” Ukraine. Now that the war of aggression is faltering, Putin can hardly withdraw immediately. His internal political credibility depends on this war: Putin wants to restore power to Russia, and this should be the first step. And he wants to present himself as someone who has steadfastly pursued his goals in the past.

Whether Putin continues to aggravate the situation will depend on various factors: how well will Ukraine continue to resist? How high are the casualties of your own troops? And how many other Russian resources can be required for support?

However, a complete withdrawal of the Russian troops is considered practically impossible. Defense experts believe Putin wants to report at least partial success, whatever that may be.

What’s next?

It depends on how the next few days go. The Russians are currently changing their strategy, says military expert Carlo Masala. He told t-online: “At the moment it appears that Russian troops are preparing for defensive operations. This means that defending and destroying occupied territory appears to have priority over conquering new territory.”

Ukrainian refugees: At least 115 children have been killed by Russian attacks so far, according to the Kyiv Attorney General's Office.  (Source: imago images)Ukrainian refugees: At least 115 children have been killed by Russian attacks so far, according to the Kyiv Attorney General’s Office. (Source: imago images)

There is no longer talk of “invaded the country”, which many observers hypothesized at the beginning of the war. Northwest of Kiev, some of the Russian troops have already been pushed back. Local correspondents report that the situation in the Ukrainian capital has eased slightly in recent days.

It is still uncertain whether this will remain the case. And it should also be decided by the question of how well Ukrainians will continue to be equipped with weapons and ammunition. The still hotly contested port city of Odessa is seen as a hub of trade routes.

Several experts believe a permanent stalemate is likely. It would be a normal form of warfare, at least in some regions.

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