«It is not worth underestimating the threat of the Belarusian attack», – military analyst Ostap Kryvdyk

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More than a month has passed since the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine. Due to the heroic resistance of the Ukrainian military during this time, the Russians suffered greater losses than during the 10 years of war in Afghanistan. At the same time, Russia is waging war with criminal methods, shelling civilian facilities and hospitals. According to the United Nations, more than 10 million Ukrainians have been forced to flee their homes and migrate within Ukraine, more than 3.5 million have gone abroad, and 90% of Ukrainians may remain below the poverty line.

What are the possible scenarios for the development of the Russian-Ukrainian war? Can Belarus go to war? May Putin use nuclear weapons? What blunders did the Russians make, and can Russia fall apart after the war? Lviv Now asked Ostap Kryvdyk, the expert on international security, adviser to the Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council (2014), associate researcher of the UCU Analytical Center.

Is Belarus considering joining Russian forces for intervening in Ukraine?

It is somewhat wrong to ask whether Belarus is considering such an option. The decision-maker can consider. Belarus is currently unable to make a decision because it is Putin’s absolute hostage. Moreover, its military machine was integrated into Russia. In fact, it is a vassal power structure. And the fact that the Russians entered the Chernobyl zone from the territory of Belarus shows that there is no sovereignty in Belarus.

Of course, Lukashenko may have different rhetoric. His recent statement that Belarus would go to war only when Ukraine invades suggests that it will be enough for the Russians to simply organize another incident. And this attack, which is planned, in particular, from Brest to Lutsk, will become a reality.

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Here in the west of Ukraine, we thought that it was a quiet rear, and the war was going on somewhere in the Donetsk region, in Kyiv, it was more than 500 kilometres away. But no, in fact, the second stage of the Russian invasion may begin in the coming days with the total bombing of Kyiv and the attack of Belarusian troops on Volhyn in the direction of Lviv. To distract or even reach Lviv if Ukrainian troops show weakness in the western direction.

This is the fourth or fifth front for Ukraine. Therefore, it will most likely be difficult for Ukrainians, given that the Belarusians will use both aircraft and artillery. We have the Crimean direction, we have the Mariupol direction, we have Donetsk and Luhansk, Kharkiv, Kyiv on the right and left banks, the west of Ukraine is still in question. These are very serious challenges. And I am sure that the Ukrainian state is preparing for them, but the threat of a Belarusian coup should not be underestimated.

Do you think that war with Belarus can be avoided?

I consider the Belarusian attack inevitable in its own way. It may be possible to contain it due to the railway sabotage that is taking place now, or the quiet sabotage of a certain part of the Belarusian officers who simply do not want to become «Russian cannon fodder». After all, Belarus has never been at war with Ukraine, so this will be a truly historical precedent for many hundreds of years. Frankly speaking, for every intelligent Belarusian this is absurd.

They understand it, and perhaps through quiet sabotage they will somehow be able to stop it all. But I have little hope for that, because Lukashenko is very dependent. Anyway, Russia can find a replacement for him – a controlled character. No one cancelled the sudden «heart attacks». The Russians have mastered the skill of killing people: their own, strangers, partners, enemies. That is why Lukashenko is a hostage and Belarus is a hostage. If there is no major upheaval in Russia itself, Belarus is doomed to war with Ukraine.

This is extremely sad and will be very costly for both the Belarusian people and the Ukrainian-Belarusian friendship. Especially in the context of defeated Belarusian opposition activities. The defeat of the local opposition is the consequence of Belarus entering the war on the side of Russia. Such are the sad consequences of political inefficiency.

Belarus is already at war with Ukraine. Missile strikes are already being launched from their airfields, as well as bombings. Russian fighter planes are already flying from Belarus and Russian troops are already heading for Zhytomyr. In fact, Belarus is no less at war than Cambodia was in the Vietnam War of 1959-1975, when its territory was used by red guerrillas for displacement, bases and hospitals and training centres. Cambodia did not necessarily want to be part of this war, but the Americans bombed it. Cambodia remained politically neutral, but in fact, allowed the Reds to attack.

Similarly, Belarus does not seem to be taking part in the war, but is strengthening Russia with its transit capabilities, engineering, aviation, and missiles. I think that the full-fledged entry of Belarus into the war is a matter of time. Perhaps it is restrained by the fact that rivers have overflowed in Polissya, and the swamps must dry up.

How many militaries Belarus can enter?

I heard that almost 60 thousand. But this information needs to be checked and clarified, to assess their combat effectiveness, professionalism. However, now it is up to 200,000 Russians in Ukraine, this is a third of the potential for Russian troops, and this is quite serious. Although again: what about the quality of these militaries.

Will they reinforce Russian troops, or will they rather have independent tasks, such as cutting the Kyiv-Kovel or Kyiv-Chop route and besieging cities in Western Ukraine?

One of the key tasks may be to attack the Rivne nuclear power plant with a potential attempt to «cut» Ukraine in the middle. To cut off supplies to the centre of Ukraine and cut it off from the west. The attack on Lutsk must go to the Polish border to cut off Western Ukraine from European aid.

Therefore, we need to talk to logisticians about the tonnage of bridges, the width and quality of roads, the specifics of fuel supply, the presence of railway troops. There are many different factors that appeared with the Russian attack on Kyiv. Columns in traffic jams. War is logistics.

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I would consider Belarus in the same way as «DPR» and «LPR». Their corps, whatever they are called, are part of the Southern Military District of Russia. Belarus will be included as a unit in the Western Military District of Russia and will perform tactical tasks of the Russian military leadership.

Therefore, unfortunately, we should not have illusions. I would prepare for the worst, of course, hoping for the best, but expectations are not the guides in planning.

What gross mistakes of the Russians can and should take advantage of the Armed Forces of Ukraine?

I think one of the biggest mistakes is the problem with internal communications in the Russian armed forces, the problem with the motivation of troops. There is a very large field of work for our information and psychological defense forces. The Russian military does not know Ukraine; does not understand why they are waging this war. They are generally perceived as «meat», as cattle, and to some extent they feel it, and it affects the quality of their fighting. While Ukrainian troops are fighting for their land and have a completely different level of motivation.

In my opinion, this is one of the biggest military mistakes the Russians have made. It is possible that they will change this situation, but now they are beginning to realize that they are occupiers, as in Czechoslovakia in 1968.

Until the war is over, it is very difficult to talk about various military mistakes. We can talk about Chornobayivka and traffic jams in the direction of Kyiv, but in general, the Russians are gradually advancing. Especially in the south, partly in Donetsk and Luhansk regions, with huge losses, but they are advancing, so it is too early to rejoice.

We need to prepare for a serious long war, for guerrilla warfare in the occupied territories, in order to undermine the enemy’s ability at the forefront. And the very difficult part – information work with our population in the occupied territories. Russia is working very hard to isolate this population, to brainwash and intimidate people in both Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

And so far Russia is not able to do that, because capturing the territory is one thing, and governing it is quite another, much harder. This is a completely different level of military-political art – to organize administrative control.

There are three stages: direct entry, control of the territory and administrative ability to operate, manage this territory. So far, they have entered, but have no control or administrative authority. And when the next two stages take place, as in Crimea, then we can say that the territory is controlled. So far, much of Russia’s invasion is road control, nothing more.

What can you say about the strategic plans of Russian troops? Is the threat to Kyiv’s surroundings real?

Now the most important thing for the Russians is to capture our capital. They do not have enough strength for this, but they can exercise its fire control. Their missile systems can hit more than 110 kilometres.

Their task is most likely to turn Kyiv to ashes. At least its centre, where the Presidential Administration, the Verkhovna Rada, the Cabinet. And to create for Zelenskiy such a political reality in which he should go to some agreements, for example, Minsk-3.

And as soon as Zelenskiy gets in such a trap, he will have a very difficult choice, because the Ukrainian people will not accept Minsk-3. And our president will choose between accepting Putin’s «peace» agreements and the anger of the Ukrainian people or continuing the struggle.

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I believe that Zelenskiy transformed himself, and won’t agree to capitulation, neutrality, or, as the Russians call it, «demilitarization» and «denazification.» Russia has already achieved certain intermediate goals in the war. Conditional water to Crimea from the Dnieper or land corridor from Russia along the coast of the Sea of ​​Azov are beginning to form.

But as long as the war continues, these are temporary Russian achievements that the Ukrainian army can and is already partially turning to ashes. We witnessed how Russian landing ships were blown up in Berdyansk. That is why it is too early for Russia to celebrate victory, just like us.

The key goal will be to break our political leadership in order to force Ukraine into another unfavourable commitment. Including the renunciation of foreign political sovereignty and NATO membership. These are the key political things of this war. That is why Russia is destroying Mariupol, that is why it is bombing Kharkiv.

In general, one scenario may be that Russia will continue to escalate and start using chemical weapons. Because, as we see, missile strikes and cannon shots, tank columns, sabotage groups, special forces landings in Gostomel did not work. All these people were «ground» and this plan, in fact, stuck.

Russia has a slightly larger «fat reserve» than Ukraine, but the question here is rather psychological stability, how psychologically stable will be the Russian leadership, the Ukrainian leadership. It’s like on the Maidan: whoever stays longer will win.

How would you assess the likelihood of using nuclear weapons against Ukraine?

I believe that this is possible if Putin is in great despair, if he really loses the conventional war with tanks and missiles. However, Ukraine survived Chernobyl and I think that a nuclear strike that no other nation has experienced will not break Ukrainians. They will continue to resist. Therefore, Putin will not be able to defeat us, even with the use of nuclear weapons. Although these are all very scary things, millions of victims, another Chornobyl zone and pollution of the territory for thousands of years.

But here again, the question arises whether the world is ready and whether Ukraine is ready to pay such a price for freedom. Some may say, «No, let’s be slaves, but let’s live in a country free of radionuclides.»

And these are also the challenges that Putin forces us to face. And we, Ukrainians, will answer them.

I have many associations with the Russian-Finnish war of 1939-1940. This war showed the weakness of the Soviet Union and prompted Hitler to attack USSR. What is the probability that our partners in the West can join this war, seeing the defeat of Russia?

Fighting a nuclear state is a not good idea itself. I don’t think Japan or Finland will go to war, even if they really want to. But Ukraine is already in this war, we had no choice.

This is Putin’s defeat, but it is not his final defeat. Putin relied on blitzkrieg, on the passivity of the Ukrainian population. And he faced strong opposition, with the Ukrainian state, which was quite well prepared for this. He was faced with the fact that money for subversive activities in Ukraine was stolen.

As a result, General Serhii Beseda, head of the 5th FSB Department dealing with Ukraine, was arrested. The replacement of those involved in Ukraine among the Russian leadership is underway.

People who are a little differently motivated are coming, so it is worth assuming that the Russian war against Ukraine will become more effective in the near future. Such stupid frontal attacks, which resulted in huge casualties, will end (as of March 29, the Russian army, according to the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, lost more than 16 thousand personnel, more than during the war in Afghanistan, but there is no independent confirmation of these figures – Ed.), And the Russians will act smarter, more carefully, given the hostility of the local population. The enemy is also learning, not just us.

Therefore, the next deadly stage of the war awaits us. We need to prepare for difficulties in future. Putin and Russia will not disappear like «dew in the sun». At least for now, it’s very obvious. But if that happens, it will be God’s will.

Objectively, the Russian population is not against this war. It is ready to pay the price of this war. Most Russians have always been poor, so the disappearance of a middle class in Russia that didn’t like Putin is convenient. Poor people are dependent on the government; they will love it just because it feeds them. The classic Russian situation and system, when poverty only intensifies Russian totalitarianism. I do not have simple answers and I do not want to give them, because it will be self-deception.

Is it possible that such a development as in Afghanistan, that with the end of the war and the withdrawal of Russian troops, Russia itself will disintegrate?

For the Afghan scenario to be completely repeated, we need Russia to completely occupy us. Then there will be decades of guerrilla warfare with huge losses. Russia also used chemical weapons there.

Afghanistan has paid a terrible price: its future, further Taliban movement. And even victory over it did not lead to good governance.

This was a very tragic attempt, in which Western corruption grew very strong. In fact, Afghanistan was not used as a territory where modern society is being built, but as a place where Western corporations made a lot of money from corruption. The military did its job, and politicians and economists did not do what they were supposed to do. And it ended in famine, another wave of refugees, China’s game with the Taliban, America’s great defeat.

Of course, Ukraine is not Afghanistan, there is a completely different society, a completely different culture, a different «time space». In 20 years, Afghanistan has created a stratum of people integrated into Western society who must now flee or die. This is a terrible tragedy.

Ukraine is another state that has repeatedly succeeded in changing its government. We are a democracy, we are in Europe, so our chances are higher. But I do not rule out the possibility of the Russians completely occupying Ukraine, considering their barbarism. The expulsion of half of the Ukrainians from their land and the occupation of the rest, the total use of weapons of mass destruction – this also cannot be ruled out.

At the same time, I must emphasize that I am strategically optimistic. I think that the Ukrainian nation has been wakened up and become very strong this month. As the beginning of the war in Donbas changed Ukraine and Ukrainians very much, both our revolutions changed the nation and the beginning of this war. Everyone is beginning to understand that Ukraine is freedom, Ukraine is peace and law, whatever it may be. And Russia is lawlessness, blood, poverty, war, evil. This is a change after which Ukraine will be reborn. After all these terrible losses, we will see a new Ukraine. And we will have to build it very carefully and well, taking into account all the mistakes of poor governance over the past 30 years.

Roman Tyshchenko-Lamanskyi, translated by Kateryna Bortniak

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