By Dr. Anton Shekhovtsov, Director of the Centre for Democratic Integrity
The two most plausible scenarios are (1) de-escalation and (2) further invasion of eastern Ukraine. While the latter is the least likely scenario, it may proceed as follows. The Russian State Duma has just voted to pass an appeal to President Vladimir Putin to recognise the independence of the “Donetsk People’s Republic” (DPR) and “Lugansk People’s Republic” (LPR) – two Russia-directed puppet regimes controlling parts of the Donetsk and Lugansk Oblasts respectively. It is now up to Putin to decide whether to recognise the DPR and LPR.
If he were to decide in favour, Russia will have to automatically recognise the “borders” of the DPR and LPR – borders which, in the interpretation of the “leadership” of the “republics”, go beyond the currently occupied territories and include the two Oblasts entirely. Since the Russian recognition of independence of the DPR and LPR would likely include a clause of military assistance, Moscow would not only have an excuse to invade the rest of the two Oblasts – preceded by the Minsk 2 “obituary notice” issued by the Kremlin – but would also be able to explain why it had consistently denied plans of aggressing Ukraine: “We are not invading Ukraine, we are helping two allied independent states recover their territories”.
This said, de-escalation is still a more likely scenario, and by “de-escalation” I mean a verifiable and substantial withdrawal of Russian troops away from the Ukrainian border. The de-escalation would then be a result of three overlapping developments: (1) the enhancement of Western political warfare techniques that confuse and disorient Moscow, (2) a swift consolidation of Western allies and partners on the issue of imposing severe sanctions that would cripple the Russian economy in the case of further invasion, and (3) a remarkable reinforcement of the Ukrainian armed forces that would raise the human cost of the potential Russian invasion to a level that Moscow would find difficult to pay.