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This does answer one point — why Pope Francis hasn’t visited the capitals of either country in the latest European war. The pontiff told the Italian newspaper Corriere della Serra that he would like to visit both Kyiv and Moscow, but thinks that protocol should dictate that Moscow comes first. However, Vladimir Putin hasn’t bothered to answer:

Pope Francis says that he’s offered to travel to Moscow to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in an effort to help bring an end to the fighting in Ukraine, but he hasn’t gotten any response from the Kremlin. …

“I asked Cardinal Parolin to convey my message to Putin, that I was ready to travel to Moscow,” he told the newspaper. “For sure, I was waiting for some kind of opening gesture from the Kremlin leader. We received no answer whatsoever, but we keep pressing them on this issue.

“I fear, however, that Putin cannot, or does not want to agree to our meeting at the moment. But how can you not try and do whatever you can to stop the atrocities? Twenty-five years ago we saw something similar happening in Rwanda.”

It’s not as if there hasn’t been any communication between the Kremlin and the Holy See. Francis met with Hungarian PM Viktor Orban on April 21, who told the pontiff that Putin had a “precise plan” to end the war within three weeks. How’s that going? Orban said Putin expected that Russia would cease military operations on May 9 — the national holiday in which Russians celebrate the surrender of the Nazis in World War II.

Francis also shared that intel with Corriere della Serra this morning, but if ever there was a need for a Lot’s-wife-sized grain of salt …

Pope Francis has revealed that during a meeting with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, he was told that Russian President Vladimir Putin intends to end his invasion of Ukraine next week.

“When I met Orban, he told me that the Russians have a precise plan, and that the war will end on May 9th,” the pope told Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera in an interview published Tuesday.

May 9 is Russia’s Victory Day, which celebrates the victory over Nazi Germany at the end of World War II.

“I sure hope so. That would explain the speed of the military operations in the last few days,” he continued, noting that Russia has been focused on taking the Black Sea ports away from Ukraine.

A lot has changed since April 21 … and a lot hasn’t. Orban may have gotten an earful from Putin on the “precise plan” his military would employ, but precise plans only survive until first contact with the enemy. Putin discovered the truth of that axiom in northern Ukraine, and he’s discovering it in Donbas as well.

In fact, some observers think Putin has changed his plans for Victory Day since his tete a tete with Orban. Now they worry that Putin will issue a formal declaration of war to push toward a full mobilization, as USA Today’s John Bacon and Celina Tabor reported this morning:

Russian President Vladimir Putin could be poised to formally declare war on Ukraine within days, abandoning his “special military operation” terminology in a bid to mobilize more troops and equipment, some experts say.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said this week that there were no plans to complete the invasion, which began Feb. 24, by Russia’s annual “Victory Day” holiday next Monday. British Defense Minister Ben Wallace said he believes Putin, unable to claim victory on the day that commemorates the Nazi surrender to the Russians in 1945, could well formally declare war instead.

“I believe he is going to move from his quote-unquote special operation to ‘This is now war against the Nazis and I need more people. I need more Russian cannon fodder,’” Wallace told LBC radio in London.

State Department spokesperson Ned Price told reporters to consider the irony:

“It would allow them to surge conscripts in a way they’re not able to do now, in a way that would be tantamount to revealing to the world that their war effort is failing, that they are floundering in their military campaign and military objectives,” he said.

Irony is certainly one outcome here, but it’s not the big issue. The conscript-heavy forces in Ukraine have performed badly, whether because of inept training or incompetent officers and battle plans. Flooding the zone with even more and even lesser-trained conscripts would almost certainly make a bad situation worse for Russian commanders. It certainly won’t improve morale on the line, nor will it do much other than add more “cannon fodder” to the massive casualties Putin already has to hide.

There’s another aspect to this, which is from precisely where these conscripts will come. It’s been suggested that Putin has been able to insulate Russians from the bad news by mainly using units from distant lands. Muscovite families have been largely untouched by the disastrous decision to go to war, or at least that’s been the speculation. Any mass mobilization, especially one predicated on changing the mission from a “special military operation” to all-out war on fellow Slavs will require participation from families in the key urban areas of Moscow, St. Petersburg, and other more elite areas. When the sons of those families suddenly disappear forever in Putin’s incompetent war … what then?

Because it’s getting clearer that Russia’s big second offensive is already faltering even where their lines of communication should be simplest. Buried at the bottom of this New York Post report on Ukrainian forces’ treatment of Russian bodies is the eye-popping distance that they’ve repelled Russian forces around Kharkiv:

On Monday, a senior US defense official said Ukrainian forces had succeeded in pushing Russian troops farther away from Kharkiv during the previous 48 hours.

The Russians have now been pushed some 25 miles to the east of the city, farther into the Donbas region, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

So clearly the war won’t end on May 9 … unless Putin decides to invite all of the Russians still above room temperature back to Moscow for a Victory Day parade. When will it end, then? Ukrainian intelligence foresees Putin holding firm until the fall:

Russia may be looking to conclude its war in Ukraine within four months’ time, according to Kyiv’s Main Directorate of Intelligence of the Ministry of Defense, which said Tuesday it believes September is Moscow’s intended deadline.

“There is information among the occupier’s military that … the so-called ‘special military operation’ is set for September 2022,” the ministry said.

I’d take that with a big grain of salt, too. Russia won’t end operations on May 9, but it won’t be able to keep up these operations for another four months either, not with all of the economic sanctions killing their ability to produce materiel. If Russia can’t hold territory in and around Donbas, then the Ukrainians will keep grinding them backwards, eventually finding cracks in the inept lines and breaking the Russians apart on the field. It’s doubtful that Putin can outlast the summer if this goes on for any significant time — especially if he begins conscripting young men in areas where families have been relatively untouched by the war. When that happens, all of the propaganda in the world won’t save Putin and his ruling clique.

Source: This post first appeared on HotAir

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