The Battle for Kiev: How the taking of a capital decides the course of a war

Bandeira da Ucrânia ao lado do Monumento à Independência, em Kiev

Flag of Ukraine next to the Independence Monument in Kiev| Photo: EFE/EPA/ZURAB KURTSIKIDZE

This Saturday morning (26), the Russian offensive on the Ukrainian capital Kiev intensified. Although President Volodymyr Zelensky claims that the city resists and is still under Ukrainian control, there is a high possibility that Moscow will take the capital within the next few hours or days, given the difference in military strength between the two countries – which could set a new direction. decisive for the war, triggered with the Russian invasion on Thursday.

“From an organizational point of view, when a capital still remains the military and political decision-making capital, its taking basically means the fall of the country. It’s no wonder that when Hitler took Paris, he effectively occupied all of France”, points out economist and businessman Igor Lucena, a PhD candidate in International Relations at the University of Lisbon and a member of Chatham House/The Royal Institute of International Affairs and the Portuguese Association. of Political Science.

“The Kiev’s fall would end the conflict, with Russian victory. There are cases of wars where military and political capital is transferred, so sometimes the effect it’s not that strong. But this is not the case in Ukraine, where drastically all political and military decisions come from Kiev”, he adds.

Lucena points out that there is the prospect of Kiev falling by Monday, but some moves could get in the way. He cites the growing position of different governments advocating Russia’s withdrawal from the Swift international system, through which banks around the world communicate transactions.

“If that happens, it will put a lot of pressure on the country, which could influence Russia’s ability to deploy troops in Ukraine and generate some kind of setback in the fall of Kiev, delay the fall”, believes the analyst.

“Also, in the Black Sea, now commanded by Turkey, blockade of Russian military ships is taking place, so there is a feeling, even among autocrats who historically support the government of [presidente Vladimir] Putin, like President [Recep] Erdogan of Turkey, the [Viktor] Orbán of Hungary, to support drastic sanctions against Russia. So, Moscow may be seeing unscheduled setbacks”, explains Lucena.

“On the European continent, the fear among autocratic nations is that they may be the next to be invaded. This is generating a very large international isolation of Moscow in the last hours.”

However , Lucena believes that the eventual takeover of Kiev and the Russian victory would not necessarily represent the pacification of the country, as many Ukrainians would not passively accept a puppet government or a military junta ruling the country. “We can start to see people on the streets, a guerrilla war is possible”, he projects.

Symbolic victory and Zelensky out of the negotiation table

For Ricardo Bruno Boff, professor of the International Relations course at the University of Vale do Itajaí (Univali), an occupation of Kiev would be symbolic for Putin and Russia. “Modern Russia was born from Kiev, when the Mongols invaded Russia and she started to retake her territory, she left Kiev and there she would found the capital in Moscow, more in the center of the country, precisely to protect herself better and occupy regions. further away”, he argues.

“Russians are quite nationalistic, there are even Russians who are not in favor of Putin for various reasons, but they look at Ukraine as a brother country or even as an extension of Russia, in fact ethnically and in idiomatic terms they are absolutely close countries. The takeover of Kiev in the short term would mean a stronger position for Russia to place its conditions for the future of Ukraine”, explains Boff.

For the expert, if Kiev falls, even if it is not arrested by the invaders, Zelensky will hardly be able to remain in the presidency and negotiate with Moscow , since it requires that all its conditions are met – mainly the commitment not to enter the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the European Union – and the politician was elected with a pro-Western speech.

“It is very unlikely that he will make any moves pro-Russia, because it would lose its electoral base. Since it knows he won’t do that, Russia doesn’t want Zelensky; From what has been said, Moscow wants someone from within Ukraine’s military staff, someone with more negotiation experience, who knows better the ins and outs of diplomacy and above all of military strategy. And it will also have to negotiate with Europe and NATO”, concludes Boff.

On Friday (25), Zelensky said he was willing to negotiate a “neutral status” for Ukraine, that is, a non-adherence to the Western military alliance. However, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov accused him of lying and Moscow said on Saturday that it plans an all-out offensive because Kiev would refuse to talk – which the Ukrainian government denies.