Putin's Cordon Sanitaire in Ukraine

commentary

Apr 10, 2024

A worker builds a trench as part of a system of new fortification lines  near the Russian border in Chernihiv region, Ukraine, March 28, 2024, photo by Gleb Garanich/Reuters

A worker builds a trench as part of a system of new fortification lines near the Russian border in Chernihiv region, Ukraine, March 28, 2024

Photo by Gleb Garanich/Reuters

By Philip Wasielewski and William Courtney

This commentary originally appeared on The Cipher Brief on April 9, 2024.

President Vladimir Putin is signaling a renewed Russian lunge into northern Ukraine, to create a buffer zone and seize Kharkiv, the country's second-largest city. Whenever Putin makes his move, Ukraine's defense will depend on being allowed to use Western arms to strike military targets across the border in Russia.

On March 18, Putin called for creation of a new “sanitary zone” between Russia and Ukraine. Russia already occupies an eastern and southern slice of Ukraine; by adding a buffer in the north, Putin may shift the center of gravity of fighting to Ukraine's northern border, where its forces abut Russia. A recent investigative report quoted a Kremlin official saying “Kharkiv is next,” with plans to recruit as many as 300,000 new forces to turn the city into a “second Mariupol”—a reference to the city the Russians flattened in 2022. Russian advances in the north would be more difficult if the United States and its Western allies allowed Ukraine to use their advanced missiles and artillery against targets across the border in Russia.…

The remainder of this commentary is available at thecipherbrief.com.


Philip Wasielewski is a senior fellow in the Eurasia Program at the Foreign Policy Research Institute think tank. He previously served as a paramilitary case officer with a 31-year career in the CIA's Directorate of Operations. William Courtney is an adjunct senior fellow at RAND, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research institution, and a former U.S. ambassador to Kazakhstan and Georgia.

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