Why Putin won’t give up

Earlier I wrote about the Russian objectives from this war, with that, it is also worth thinking about an acceptable post-war paradigm that would be acceptable to Putin, assuming Russia becomes a pariah state in the west, so to help us understand why he’s not going to stop or meaningfully negotiate.

Therefore six days in, let’s clarify first on what looks like to be the Russian military objectives:

  • As discussed before, connect Crimea to the canal network / fresh water in Kherson. With that take ownership of the Kherson oblast (source of freshwater for Crimea.)
  • Take control of the cities across the Azov sea coastline (from Melitopol to Mariupol etc) and with that take 100% ownership of that sea.
  • Take control of the Lugansk & Donetsk Oblasts, including the key cities within. (these are the regions which the Russian duma recognized as being independent.) Also take Kharkiv, which borders Russia.
  • Conquer Kyiv and force the surrender of the Ukrainian Gov’t, to be replaced by a pro-Russian administration.
  • Seal the border, ensuring that all resource-rich regions fall under Russian control.

With that we can see that of those, the first has been achieved, the second is in progress and is likely to be accomplished shortly, while with the remaining items, it is too early to say.

How long will it take to complete the remainder?

  • Well, if the first objective took four days to achieve (it was on the weekend the dam that was blocking water to Crimea was destroyed) and we are arguably one day away from Mariupol falling, that suggests that the next priority will be securing the Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts.

  • To that effect what we are seeing is that Kharkiv specifically is being targeted with punishment bombing. While this is happening Russian columns are pushing in to seek to take the city. While up to now they have been repelled, Ukrainian troops are likely to run out of ammo shortly. The Ukrainians seem to be struggling with resupplying the troops in the East, where unless they find a way to do so, those Battalions will have no choice but to retreat west. At that point, we should expect the advancing Russian columns to secure the Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts. As mentioned previously, assuming resupply fails, the Russians should achieve this by the weekend.

  • This then takes us to Kyiv. For the Russians, the capital poses a unique challenge in that the city metro system has been designed to be reinforced against bombing, with nuclear bunkers built in even. (Done after WWII this is a legacy of the cold war era.) What this means is that the people can safely (compared to any other city in Ukraine) stay within the capital indefinitely as long as supply lines are maintained. How long will it take for Russia to break the siege and take the city? That is the big question and largely depends on how effective the Ukrainians are in getting supply lines in. With that, the Russians will be doing everything they can to siege the city to prevent any new munitions or weapons from entering. 

  • This is probably the most dangerous point in the war, as this is the point that if Putin decides he wants to use nuclear weapons to break resistance, he will. I don’t think he would nuke Kyiv, but he may fire on Lviv, the central command structure of the west, and the coordination point for all resupply lines. He may rationalize that in the way the Americans nuked Japan in 1945 to enforce surrender, this is the only way the Ukrainian nation lays down its arms. This is also the point where the pressure building upon him within Russia will be escalating, to the point he will also know he needs the war to be over quickly, so he can concentrate on silencing internal dissent. I currently expect to be in this phase from this weekend, as people really start to give voice as the working week ends. Equally, I don’t think Putin can now back down without winning Kyiv. He is too pot committed.

  • Assuming he can take Kyiv and impose a friendly regime, he will quickly look to secure the border in a way to maximize ownership of the natural resources, which is a real prize. Running through the resources in play:

    • Ukraine has the second-biggest known gas reserves in Europe, largely unexploited (est around 1.09 trillion cubic meters, for context Norway has 1.53 trillion.)
    • It is also estimated to hold over 135 million tons of oil and 3.7 billion tons of shale oil reserves.
    • Ukraine alone has an estimated 27 billion tons of iron ore reserves and was the fifth largest exporter of iron ore in the world in 2019 ($3.36 billion)
    • Ukraine is in the top ten producers of manganese ore in the world and has the largest manganese ore reserve in Europe. Manganese is essential and irreplaceable in steelmaking, and its global mining industry is dominated by just a few nations. It is therefore considered to be a critical mineral commodity.
    • Ukraine’s breakaway territories in the Donbas region have abundant lithium resources (The primary use of lithium is in rechargeable batteries for mobile phones, laptops, electric vehicles, etc) however there is no active mining currently.
    • Ukraine accounts for 1.8% of the world’s uranium deposits and has the largest in Europe.
    • Ukraine has up to 20 percent of the proven world reserves of titanium ores are situated in Ukraine. It is also one of the few nations with 360 production in the titanium industry- from the mining to producing of the finished products. For context, titanium is a critical component in the manufacture of airplanes.
    • Ukraine is normally the third largest wheat exporter and fourth for corn. It is commonly referred to as the breadbasket of Europe.
    • Ukraine has 300 deposits of graphite, containing more than 1 billion tons or 20% of the world’s graphite. Its high conductivity makes it useful in electronic products such as electrodes, batteries, and solar panels.
    • Ukraine has the fifth largest resource of Mercury (30,000 tons.)
    • In fact, Ukraine’s subsurface resources include a concentration of up to a hundred different types of minerals, the market value of which is estimated to be $7.5 trillion USD. With that, the mineral resource base is formed of 20,000 deposits and ore manifestations, of which 7,800 are explored, and only 3,300 are being developed.

What this all means is, assuming Putin can successfully conquer Ukraine and subjugate the country into a new Greater Russian Empire, the aggregated resources Putin then has means he can bring down his Iron Curtain and reinvigorate his economy, through fully exploiting the resources from Ukraine and integrating them into the Russian industrial complex, creating a new economic boom in the process. Any short-term dissent can be overcome when there is a clear pathway for prosperity, especially for those on the right side of the Kremlin. Even without the west, such is Putin’s stranglehold on resources, that he can afford to operate as a pariah state, as long as he can continue to trade with India and China. The focus then becomes the new space race.

With all this in mind, given what Putin has to gain by completing this conquest, why would he quit right now, when he is so close to completing his objectives? In my next post, I will be writing about what might stop him.

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About the author: James Chaplin
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