Rajat Sharma

Will Putin launch a final assault on Kiev?

AKBThe war in Ukraine has entered the 13th day, with nearly two lakh people besieged in the city of Mariupol, and Red Cross officials waiting for a safe corridor to save the lives of innocent civilians. The city has no water, electricity and food, and cellphone networks are down. The Russian forces bombarded several other cities of Ukraine with rockets and shells on Monday causing widespread devastation. Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke to both the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Russian President Vladimir Putin requesting them to at least talk directly to create safe corridors for civilians and end the war.

In an interview to ABC News aired on Monday night, the Ukrainian President said: “The problem is that for one soldier of Ukraine, we have 10 Russian soldiers, and for one Ukrainian tank, we have 50 Russian tanks”. He said, even if Russian forces “come into all our cities”, they will be met with insurgency. A top US official has said that several countries are considering whether to provide fighter aircraft to Ukraine, which Zelenskyy has been pleading for.

The third round of talks between Russia and Ukraine ended inconclusively, with most of the discussions centering around creating safe corridors. The people living in the capital Kyiv have barricaded themselves from a Russian military onslaught with sandbags, packed tyres, heavy concrete slabs and spiked cables put by soldiers and armed volunteers. The second largest city of Kharkiv witnessed heavy shelling with shells destroying huge apartment complexes. Fierce battles continue in Kyiv region, particularly in Irpin, Bucha, Hostomel and Vorzel.

More than 10.27 lakh Ukrainians have taken refuge in neighbouring Poland, while 1.8 lakh refugees have crossed over to Hungary, and 1.28 lakh people have gone to Slovakia. Others have taken refuge in Moldova and Romania. Union Minister Gen (retd) V K Singh returned to Hindon airbase in a C-17 Globemaster IAF aircraft with 210 Indian nationals including Harjot Singh, the Indian national who was injured in firing. Singh said, over 3,000 Indian nationals have been evacuated from Poland alone. An Indian embassy driver displayed bravery by evacuating injured Harjot Singh from war-torn Kyiv to the border, over a distance of more than 700 km, despite shelling, roadblocks and fuel shortage.

Under Prime Minister Modi’s ‘Operation Ganga’, 1,314 Indians were airlifted on Monday alone from several countries. With this, more than 17.400 Indian nationals have been evacuated from Ukraine till date. Out of them, 15,206 Indians were airlifted in 73 special civilian flights.

One question that crops up in the minds of most of the people is: when will the Ukraine-Russia war end? Already 12 days have passed and Russia is yet to take control of most of Ukraine. For more than a week now, we have been hearing that the Russian forces are 12 km away from capital Kyiv, but they are yet to enter the capital and take control. The Russian army bombed most parts of Kiev, but is yet to enter the capital.

Most of us know Putin’s army is one of the biggest armies in the world, and Russia is a major exporter of advanced arms, equipment, aircraft and weapons. The question is: why couldn’t his army enter Kiev? On Monday, Zelenskyy again said, “I am in Kyiv, and I am not hiding”. Zelenskyy is leading the war from the front. Is the Ukrainian army so strong that it can hold the Russian forces in its march? I think, the possibilities of Ukrainian forces stopping the Russian army are few. Already, the Russian forces have destroyed Ukrainian air power, and have disrupted its supply lines. On ground, the Ukrainian army had been causing losses to the Russian forces, but it cannot stop them in their tracks.

All these developments point in one direction: that Putin is yet to decide on occupying Kiev. Putin appears to be exerting pressure on the Kiev government to accept his two main demands: complete demilitarization and refrain from joining NATO. He is still waiting for the Kiev government to come forward with these two commitments. If Zelenskyy and his government agree to these two demands, Putin will have achieved his objective. If Zelenskyy does not bow to pressure, then Putin may be forced to order a final assault. As of now, it seems Putin wants to avoid this situation. It could be part of his overall strategy.

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