Ukraine is performing well on the battlefield and can reclaim large portions of its territory.
Dr. Barbara Yoxon is a Lecturer in International Politics at the Politics, Philosophy, and Religion Department at Lancaster University. Her research centers on authoritarian regimes, international conflict, and political prejudice.
What is your view on the latest developments in Ukraine?
The Ukrainian army has been making very good progress at capturing some of the land seized by Russia earlier in the year. It has become clear that Russian strategists misjudged the disparities in capabilities between Russia and Ukraine. Recent victories for Ukraine were possible thanks to military and strategic aid from the West and Ukraine's ability to mobilize its population successfully. This is something that Russia has struggled to do at home, with many Russians unwilling to join the army and a large proportion of potential conscripts fleeing the country. Russia's illegal annexation of the four Ukrainian regions signifies Putin's increasing desperation. Russia's ability to fight Ukraine depends on the support of the domestic population, and the annexation was an attempt to show that Russia is making significant progress in the conflict and has succeeded in what it calls the 'liberation' of east Ukraine. The annexation is largely meaningless because neither of the four regions are under direct Russian control. The recent explosion on the Kerch bridge linking Crimea to Russia is a further humiliation for Vladimir Putin, who is increasingly seen among the Russian elite as someone who is unable to win the war.
Is there a possibility of further escalation (e.g., use of tactical nuclear weapons) in light of the recent accident at the Kerch bridge?
We will likely see significant conflict escalation in the coming weeks. Russia has already attacked Kyiv with a series of missile strikes for the first time since July. It is important for Putin to react strongly to the Kerch bridge explosion, and we will likely see more civilian sites being attacked in the coming weeks. This tactic is designed to lower the morale among the Ukrainian population and send a strong message to Ukraine that Russia is willing to escalate the conflict further. We have seen increasing pressure on Vladimir Putin from various domestic actors to use tactical nuclear weapons against the Ukrainian army. While the possibility of Russia using nuclear weapons in this conflict can never be ruled out, it is unlikely. Russian strategists are aware that using nuclear weapons, even on a small scale, will dramatically escalate the conflict and involve other nuclear powers like the United States. Other countries in Easter Europe, like Poland, would also likely get involved in the conflict despite having no nuclear arsenal. Given how badly Russia is performing in Ukraine, western involvement would lead to an inevitable loss for Russia. In this scenario, Russia's loss will lead to a forced overthrow of the current authoritarian regime, as we have seen in Germany at the end of the Second World War. Russian elites are aware of the consequences of using nuclear weapons in Ukraine. If Putin ordered the use of nuclear weapons, he would likely be replaced. Russian elites will see the regime's survival as more important than keeping him in power, especially if they start perceiving Putin as a threat to their security.
Do you think there is a possibility of a Russian domestic revolution and the arrival of a democratic regime due to failures in war and high casualties? Or even if Putin is gone, will there be another person who will continue things as usual?
There is a possibility for significant domestic unrest caused by war losses. Russia's revolution in 1917 was a response to significant war losses in the First World War, and the collapse of the Soviet Union was precipitated by Russia's poor performance in the Afghanistan war in the 1980s. If Russia loses the war with Ukraine, regime change is very likely. However, the war loss will lead to many years of political and economic instability in Russia, which is not conducive to democratic transitions. It is likely that if the current authoritarian regime is replaced, it will be replaced by another form of autocracy.
Is there a chance for new peace talks between Russia and Ukraine in the near future?
New peace talks between Russia and Ukraine are highly unlikely. Ukraine is currently performing well on the battlefield and can reclaim large portions of its territory. Peace negotiations would mean that Ukraine would have to compromise with Russia and give up some of its lost territories, which it considers unacceptable. For Russia, peace negotiation in the face of significant losses on the battlefield would be a humiliating admission that it cannot achieve its objectives against Ukraine. This would likely signify the end of Putin's rule in Russia, a situation he is desperate to avoid.