Large-Scale Military Exercises in the Country. Why?

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Anton SVET
The Defense Ministry announced large-scale military exercises to be held at all the country’s training grounds from today until February 4. As a rule, such events mean raising the level of mobilization and combat readiness to a pre-war state
At the beginning of the year, Russia is developing its offensive in the Donetsk direction. The fighting in the areas of Soledar and Bakhmut is as intense as possible with colossal daily losses for the Ukrainian armed forces (as indicated by the tightening mobilization process in the neighboring country). Over the past few days, Russian troops have begun advancing towards Zaporizhzhia, with fighting taking place near the village of Kamianske, located on a strategic route to the regional center. According to Ukrainian intelligence services published in the media, Kyiv fears an intensification of the Russian army’s onslaught in the Donetsk and Zaporizhzhya directions, as well as the start of offensive actions in Luhansk and Kupiansk. Still, such an overland advance, even with a solid pace and significant losses in military equipment and manpower for both sides, will not be catastrophic for Ukraine. In the Donbass, Kyiv has a strong reinforcement in the Sloviansk-Kramatorsk agglomeration. Russia has already taken control of the entire territory of Luhansk Oblast, which does not bring Ukraine’s military defeat any closer. Capturing or even encircling major cities like Kharkiv or Zaporizhzhia, as the experience of the first 11 months of the war has shown, is an almost impossible task if the current dynamics of combat operations are maintained. A large-scale offensive in Kherson appears unlikely due to weather conditions, terrain, the presence of an impassable water barrier and the parties’ transfer of reserves to other points of contact. Since the regional center came under the AFU’s control, clashes here have been reduced exclusively to artillery duels. It should also be noted that Russian missile attacks on critical, primarily energy, infrastructure in Ukraine practically ceased in 2023. Thus, there is a general picture of military action on a limited, controlled scale that does not involve the possibility of a quick surrender or of anyone gaining a decisive advantage. Such a scenario, with a planned offensive that does not require general mobilization, primarily in Donbass, and a constant reminder of the need to restart negotiations for internal reasons, suits the Kremlin and the oligarchic elites closest to it. Nevertheless, the political and strategic entourage forms a different reality that precedes a significant event that many key players are waiting for. In exactly one month there will be a one-year anniversary of Vladimir Putin’s announcement of the start of a so-called special military operation. The internal political situation in Ukraine is rocking – Kyrylo Tymoshenko and Oleksii Arestovych, the deputy head and adviser to the head of the presidential office, as well as Pavlo Khalimon, deputy head of the Servant of the People faction in the Supreme Council, have recently lost their positions with scandal. The tension in society and between special services was triggered by the recollection of the murder of the banker and participant in the March negotiations in Istanbul Denys Kireyev. The blitz visit of former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson may have corrected Kyiv’s domestic political trajectory, but it did not bring calm – yesterday President Volodymyr Zelensky announced major personnel reshuffles in the state apparatus. According to him, the changes will affect the central and regional authorities and power structures. Just today, the Ukrainian Cabinet of Ministers approved the resignations of five heads of regional military administrations and four deputy ministers, and it is unlikely to end there. Meanwhile, Berlin, despite pressure from its NATO partners, unprecedented for allied diplomacy, is delaying deliveries of German-made tanks to Ukraine. Even the rhetoric of German Chancellor Olaf Scholz demonstrates not a refusal to supply Kyiv with Leopards, but rather the intention to stall and make a decision somewhat later, depending on the development of the situation. The expectations are in a sense concretized by Charles Michel, President of the European Council: “The coming two or three weeks are decisive. For war and for peace. What happens in 2023 largely depends on the coming weeks.” In the meantime, Moscow is preparing administrative buildings to repel possible attacks by placing air defense equipment on the roofs of key sites, as if they seriously fear a strike on the Russian capital. The context allows us to predict that the form of Kyiv’s response to the difficult situation at the front, in the economy, and in domestic politics will be another strike (with the support of Western allies) against a strategic Russian facility. The blow is decisive, surpassing in its image and actual effect the attacks on Russian strategic airfields and the Crimean bridge. At the very least, Boris Johnson is the perfect type to help plan and bless such an attack, Olaf Scholz to question it and further military deliveries to Kyiv, and Charles Michel to watch humbly as events unfold, being able to later claim that he warned. Such an attack will be aimed at finally determining the degree of Kremlin’s tolerance, which will be put in a situation of choosing between two responses – a serious military escalation with revision of the goals and strategy of the “operation” or step-by-step capitulation with fulfillment of a large part of Kyiv’s publicly stated demands. In this logic, the seemingly contradictory statements of Russian diplomats are more understandable – for example, this phrase of Dmitry Polyanskiy, Deputy Permanent Representative of Russia to the UN: “We are sending more and more signals showing that some red lines have been crossed, but perhaps the reddest ones have not yet been crossed.” It is quite clear when exactly such an event will take place – it is a matter of two to three weeks at the most. It is obvious that Western intelligence information and weapons will be used to carry out the attack, and the damage to Russia in the event of success will be extremely painful. The only question is the target of the attack – the choice of targets is extremely diverse and is not limited to Donetsk or the Crimean Peninsula. Chisinau has probably once again failed to agree with Kyiv on an attack on the Soviet weapons depots in Cobasna; accordingly, there is not much reason to mobilize the national army. In this sense, the 11-day military exercises are needed here as a safety measure, because even counting on a tolerant reaction of the Kremlin, our leadership cannot predict for sure the further military trajectory, preferring to be ready for any development of events (and to demonstrate in every way possible that they are “in the same trench” with Kyiv). Meanwhile, Mihai Popsoi is already rubbing his hands, publicly speaking about Volodymyr Zelensky’s promise to seek a Transdniestrian settlement as a precondition for peace talks with Russia. In the assessment of the deputy speaker of parliament, this looks like a “window of opportunity” for Moldova to end the conflict while preserving the unitary political structure and territorial integrity of the state. It is clear that another debate about the neutrality and NATO membership, provoked by Maia Sandu, as well as serious changes in the management of the Moldovan component in the peacekeeping operation on the Dniester are designed to play their important role in the upcoming gambit. One way or another, all interested players, including Moldova, are anxiously (or optimistically) waiting for decisive news from the Ukrainian-Russian front. Time will show to what extent the plans of our leadership and Western handlers will coincide with the military and political reality of the coming weeks. And it is possible that the peacekeeping mission, constitutional neutrality and even the 5+2 format will not turn out to be a relic of the past and a problem, but a “life raft” for the authorities, as has already happened on numerous occasions.