What do Russians think of the occupation of Ukraine?

It is a huge force that the Kremlin has set in motion. The Moscow military analyst Pawel Felgenhauer estimates that hundreds of thousands of soldiers are likely to be on the way through the country - many of them to the border with Ukraine. The official reason: In April alone, more than 4,000 military exercises would take place across Russia, according to Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. According to the political scientist Sergei Markov, who is close to the Kremlin, Russia is demonstrating to the world that it is militarily ready for a bigger conflict than just over Donbass.

But what does Russia want, what does Putin really want? A mobilization of this magnitude goes beyond anything that would be necessary to threaten Ukraine and the new US president. A smaller parade would have been enough for that. Russian domestic politics offers one possible answer. In November 2017, 59 percent of Russians trusted Putin - today only 31 percent. His party feels the same way. The next parliamentary election is due in September. Putin could therefore use a tool that has always been tried and tested: a small, victorious war will increase popularity.

Ukraine is weak, but not defenseless

Mind you: a small, victorious war. A war in which Russia conquers large parts of Ukraine and a land bridge to Crimea is unlikely. The Ukrainian army is certainly not a serious opponent for Russia's armed forces. But after professionalization of the staff, the establishment of an additional territorial defense and with the help of the deliveries of modern war equipment such as began under US President Trump Javelin- The Ukrainians could inflict heavy losses on the Russians if the conflict zone were to expand.

The case is different in occupied Donbass, which the Kremlin already controls militarily with at least 30,000 men. It is no coincidence that Putin has had hundreds of thousands of Russian passports issued in the art territories "DNR" and "LNR" since 2019, Ukrainian abolished as a recognized language and real estate expropriated from Ukrainian property. It is a creeping annexation that the actual one is supposed to follow.

The propaganda preparation necessary for this has been gathering pace for months. Russia's deployment is kept secret, alleged aggressions by the Ukrainians and the West are constructed. Most recently, on April 8, Dmitrij Kosak, the deputy head of the Kremlin apparatus in charge of Ukraine, affirmed: If the fire allegedly started by the Ukrainians is large, "we will be forced to intervene to protect" Russian citizens. After the invasion of Russian "peacekeepers", the organization of a "referendum" to join Russia on the model of Crimea would only be a matter of time.

The Ukrainians are powerless to face any of this. Militarily, even after further modernization, they will not be able to retake Donbass for years as long as the post-imperial-minded Putin rules in Moscow and does not hesitate to oppose Ukraine with his full military power. Politically, too, Kiev has no real alternative. It would be a state suicide to recognize the leaders of the puppet regimes in Donetsk and Lugansk as negotiating partners, to pass laws on autonomy or to recognize "elections" held in "DNR" and "LNR", despite the Moscow breaches of law. At the end of such a process there would not only be recognition of a second Russian state within Ukraine, but also further poisoning of Ukrainian politics with Kremlin-controlled Donbass representatives in Kiev.

The Minsk peace process is long dead

Moscow and Western governments are still invoking the validity of the Minsk Protocols of 2014 and 2015 as the basis for ending the conflict. But the Minsk Trial is an illusion, proclaimed out of political opportunity, cultivated in Berlin or Paris in order to avoid the tough decision about how to deal with Moscow.

Only he himself knows whether Putin has actually already decided to annex Donbass or not. What is certain is that Moscow has been breaking its obligations under the Minsk Protocols so drastically for years and dismantling the sovereignty of a European state that this would have led to further sanctions long ago have to lead. US President Joe Biden has already indicated that he is ready to take on Russia again. It would be desirable for the governments in Berlin and Paris to take a similar direction, adopt sanctions and, for example, change pipeline policy. However, given the twilight of Angela Merkel's chancellorship, such severity is unlikely - which plays into the hands of the Lord of the Kremlin.