Ukraine war: Analysts fear Russia aims to escalate the conflict in bid to capture eastern heartland

On the anniversary of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, experts warn Moscow could try to push for a wider, more ambitious attack along the frontlint and that the conflict is entering a potentially decisive phase.

“Part of the rationale behind the next Russian offensive is probably to disrupt Ukraine’s ability to regenerate the capacity to go back on a counteroffensive," said Justin Bronk, a senior research fellow for the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI).

"So, a lot will depend on how many of its reserves Ukraine has to throw in and how badly their casualty rates go up in stopping that Russian offensive”.

To a large extent, it's a race against time as Ukraine waits for battletanks and other weapons pledged by the West for it to reclaim occupied areas.

“The bad outcome would be if Ukraine runs out of steam and is unable to take back most of the remaining occupied territory before that new wave of Russian-trained, mobilised [forces] and industrial equipment starts to come in at the end of the year. And at that point, we're headed towards, I think, a long-term stalemate” stressed Bronk.

One factor making that stalemate more likely is the apparent determination of Russia's President Vladimir Putin to push ahead with the war he started. A former US national Security advisor says Russia's heavy losses have not deterred him.

"Putin has made it very clear that he's prepared to sacrifice whatever it takes. And that's part of the problem. And there are lots of statements being made and rumours coming out that he's willing to sacrifice the 300,000 people who've been called up”, said Fiona Hill, a former official at the US National Security Council, specialising in Russian and European affairs.

Could that alleged cold indifference lead us to the most catastrophic scenario; the use of nuclear weapons? Putin has hinted at battlefield nuclear strikes in the context of uncontrolled escalation. Is it just sabre-rattling?

“Actually using them [nuclear weapons] generates almost no practical benefits at all and certainly nothing to compensate for all of the costs, both in terms of immediate escalation risk, irradiating things they want to hold on to and be part of, and also pushing away the rest of the world” answered Bronk.

If nuclear warfare seems a remote prospect, so too appears the chance for peace or even a ceasefire.

Russia and Ukraine have rejected each others' terms for a settlement and, for now, are focused on territorial gains rather than diplomatic solutions.

The Kremlin insisted a settlement must include the recognition of the Crimean Peninsula, which it annexed illegally in 2014, along with the acceptance of its other territorial gains.

Ukraine categorically refused those demands and ruled out any talks until Russia withdraws all forces.

While Putin is determined to achieve his goals, Ukraine and its allies are standing firm on preventing Russia from ending up with any of its territories.