By Autumn Spredemann
After eight days of what Russian President Vladimir Putin called “special military operations,” a think tank of leading Ukrainian experts has suggested potential outcomes as artillery continues to rain down on cities in the European nation.
Civilians are reeling from the devastation, which has left parts of Kharkiv and Kyiv in ashes as families huddle together within basements and old Soviet-era bunkers.
“My father just celebrated his 67th birthday in a basement, hiding from bombs,” Roman Sheremeta told The Epoch Times.
Sheremeta is an accidental refugee who left Ukraine on business just before the start of Russia’s invasion on Feb. 24.
Members of his family are still trapped in Kyiv, which has become impossible to evacuate now due to civilians being targeted by Russian soldiers.
“Reports of people being killed on the roads are everywhere. Russians don’t differentiate between soldiers and civilians,” he said.
Sheremeta is a founding rector of the American University in Kyiv, an economics professor, and the recently appointed co-chair of the Ukrainian American House.
His team of analysts includes former National Reform Council member and co-founder of the Nova Krainia Civic Platform, Valerii Pekar; Associate Professor of the Department of Sociology and Kyiv-Mohyla Business School, Mychailo Wynnyckyj; and economics professor and founder of the market research company Advanter Group, Andrii Dligach.
Scenario 1: Attempted Blitz
This was Putin’s original plan, according to Sheremeta’s panel. However, a quick defeat and surrender by Ukraine was something the Russian president’s generals failed to deliver.
Once Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky rejected the United States’ offer of evacuation on Feb. 26, saying, “The fight is here; I need ammunition, not a ride,” the fires of resistance burned even brighter and Zelensky’s now-famous phrase became a rallying cry felt throughout the nation and the world at large.
As Moscow’s invasion enters its second week, Zelensky released a video on March 3 saying Ukraine’s defenses were holding steady, but there hasn’t been a moment’s respite from the bombing since midnight.
“We have nothing to lose but our own freedom,” the Ukrainian president-turned-soldier said.
Zelensky added the country is receiving daily arms supplies from Ukraine’s international allies.
Neither Ukraine’s military nor civilians have any intention of backing down from Russia’s attack, according to Sheremeta, and the heavy resistance has thrown a serious wrench into Putin’s plan to simply roll through the country and achieve surrender on the streets of the nation’s capital.
“There’s no chance of this scenario happening now,” Sheremeta said.
Scenario 2: Shades of Syria
Much like the protracted conflict in Syria that began in 2011, Russia’s role in the Middle Eastern country’s war has provided a blueprint for possible long-term maneuvers in Ukraine.
Putin got involved back in 2015 by supplying arms to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The Russian government continues to support the enduring war effort in Syria without suffering the “crippling losses” originally projected by many, including then-Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
On Feb. 15, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu visited Syria to shadow military exercises that some believe were preparations for invading Ukraine.
“It’s the scorched earth theory … an endless style of war,” Sheremeta said, adding the likelihood of this prediction coming to pass is very high.
The Ukrainian analysts anticipate Russia will continue using heavy artillery to bomb cities, depleting resources on both sides.
“Putin will run down his own economy, but won’t back down,” Sheremeta explained.
He says that to keep the war machine in motion, Putin will continue to mobilize his citizens and curtail any anti-war efforts on the home front swiftly and brutally.
Kremlin crackdowns on anti-invasion rallies in Russia have been underway since Feb. 24.
Law enforcement agents have arrested 7,678 protesters in dozens of Russian cities for demanding a halt to the invasion of Ukraine.
Scenario 3: World War III
Ukraine and the rest of the world held their breath on Feb. 27 after Putin ordered his country’s nuclear forces to be on “high alert.”
Compounding this, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov released a statement on March 2 saying a third world war would be “nuclear and destructive.”
Sheremeta admitted that there’s a possibility, if Putin is unable to achieve his goals and becomes desperate, that he could escalate the nuclear threat.
“For example, he [Putin] could claim Ukraine bombed Chernobyl, which is currently under Russian control, and use it as a pretext to launch a nuclear strike,” he said.
As of Feb. 24, Putin’s forces seized control of the Chernobyl nuclear facility, which Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak called a “totally pointless attack.”
Though Sheremeta believes the chances of Moscow playing the nuclear card are slim since it could potentially mean the end of Russia as a nation.
“Putin would lose everything. Anyone involved in this [a nuclear strike] will be judged by history forever.”
Scenario 4: Diplomacy Prevails
The second round of peace talks between Russian and Ukrainian officials took place in Belarus on March 3 after a ceasefire wasn’t reached during the initial discussions on Feb. 28.
Sheremeta’s team noted that diplomacy is still possible due to a combination of enormous pressure from the West and Russia’s economy imploding from heavy sanctions.
He said, “People have lost their entire life savings in just a few days.”
In Russia, companies are firing employees and closing their doors due to growing sanctions imposed by the United States and Europe.
“This includes the $11 billion Nord Stream 2 pipeline project, which refuted rumors yesterday of filing for bankruptcy amid staff layoffs.”
Sheremeta added it’s not even possible to buy U.S. dollars as a buffer in Russia and there are long lines for cash machines in the cities.
“This is a tragedy for the Russian people, to be honest.”
Scenario 5: Rebellion From Within
Some analysts believe the crippling effect of the sanctions and heavy losses of Russian soldiers in Ukraine could snowball into a rebellion too big to stop, leading Putin’s people to remove him from power.
“His narrative claims the invasion is going well and they aren’t suffering any losses of troops, but the Ukraine army is capturing Russian soldiers and allowing them to call their parents back home,” Sheremeta said, noting the truth of the conflict is reaching more Russian civilians every day.
One report states more than 7,000 Russian troops have been killed since the start of the invasion.
Sheremeta said the probability of this outcome has increased dramatically in recent days, admitting, “I would never have thought this was even possible before.”
Reuters contributed to this report