Putin could launch Christmas offensive on Ukraine

Russian budget strained ahead of 'crucial winter' says expert

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An “unusual” level of high activity has been spotted by satellites at the Russian military airport Engels-2. News of the images came earlier this week, and around the same time as Major General Tim Cross, who has more than four decades of experience in the British military, said he believes Vladimir Putin could carry out an offensive before the New Year. 

Major Cross, who served in the British Army for 43 years, told Times Radio on Tuesday that an offensive in order to put pressure on Ukraine to negotiate was “certainly a possibility” either this side of Christmas or in the New Year. 

However, he added that there was “no probability” with Russia, citing how unpredictable Putin is, the Russian president having only ordered the February 24 invasion of Ukraine at a moment’s notice. 

He said: “Russia’s senior military did not know that [Putin] was going to order an invasion until the last minute; they were therefore unprepared.”

Major Cross raised the point that Putin’s army does not “look as strong as was initially thought” and has not “achieved their aims”.

The 71-year-old, who served with the Royal Army Ordnance Corps, continued: “We’ve seen a less than capable Russian military than I’d anticipated and certainly one less capable than we anticipated during the Cold War years. 

“I spent nine years in Germany during the Cold War and we thought that the Warsaw Pact (the Soviet Union alliance), particularly the Russians, were extremely powerful.” 

Similarly, former US commander Mark Hertling told CNN on Wednesday that Ukraine holds the “upper hand” this winter as Putin’s army is lacking in discipline, and leadership, and is poorly equipped. 

But Major Cross noted that the outcome of Ukraine pushing for victory rather than settling for negotiation is not yet known.

He said: “I guess the question becomes ‘do you want to put your foot on their neck in order that you bring about some sort of relative victory?’ And ‘what is the danger if you do that as opposed to trying to end up with some sort of negotiated settlement?’”

A poll conducted by Gallup in October found a significant majority of Ukrainians are resolved to fight until the bitter end, with 70 percent wanting the war to continue until they have achieved victory.

What’s more, 91 percent said victory meant recapturing all Ukrainian territory seized by Russia, including Crimea which was illegally annexed in 2014. 

The First Lady of Ukraine Olena Zelenska addressed the House of Commons during a visit to the UK this week, and said that the country “will not surrender”, adding that Ukraine does not just need victory but “justice”. President Volodymyr Zelensky’s wife stressed that Ukrainians are subjected to “terror” with Russia employing tactics “identical” to that experienced in Britain during the Blitz.

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Reflecting on the brutality of the Russians, Major Cross said that it was unfortunately the “reality of war”, and that negotiation may be the only solution. Dealing with “the aftermath” may have to come later, he added.

He said: “If I’m brutally honest, I think when the time comes to have to negotiate, a recognition that we need to bring this to an end in some shape or form, will take priority.”

Ukrainian officials have recently pushed back against pressure to negotiate as Russia has subjected the country to continued and intense shelling which has left millions without basic needs such as heat and electricity, with the adviser to the Office of the President of Ukraine Mykhailo Podolyak dismissing reports that Russia is ready to talk. 

Speaking to VOA from Kyiv in November, he said: “They say ‘negotiate’ meaning ‘meeting their demands’ — for example, not joining European organizations, NATO or any other military alliances and giving away territories.”

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