Recent reports from sources close to the Kremlin suggest that Russian political elites believe that Vladimir Putin is weighing two potential strategies to conclude the war in Ukraine.

Insights gathered by Meduza from individuals linked to the Russian government suggest that almost everyone is sure that the Kremlin chief will continue waging war. However, their assessments of what goals he is currently setting for his “special military operation” differ.

One “faction” of interlocutors suggests that following the setbacks Ukraine has recently been suffering in the front line, Putin perceives Ukraine’s weakness and is prepared to escalate efforts towards a “decisive triumph” – taking Kyiv, for example.

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Such a move would likely entail further mobilization and militarization of the Russian economy.

Conversely, another faction, also close to Putin’s administration, assumes that the top leadership of Russia sets more “realistic goals,” namely, the capture of Kharkiv and the gradual end of the “SVO” [Special Military Operation].

Putin has previously hinted at the importance of creating a “sanitary zone” around the Belgorod region, bordering Ukraine’s Kharkiv region, to curb cross-border shelling. This suggests the potential significance of Kharkiv in Russian military strategy.

Despite differing viewpoints, high-ranking Russian security officials reportedly believe that capturing Kharkiv is feasible, though further advances into Ukraine may prove challenging.

ISW Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, July 12, 2024
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ISW Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, July 12, 2024

Latest from the Institute for the Study of War.

While no definitive decision on a large-scale offensive on Kharkiv has been confirmed, sources within the Kremlin say that such a move remains a distinct possibility. This scenario could necessitate additional mobilization efforts within Russia.

The Kharkiv region has been a focal point since the initial stages of the conflict, with Ukrainian forces reclaiming much of the territory following a counteroffensive in 2022. However, the city itself has remained a target for Russian bombardment.

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