Home Nonmilitary action Whatever Putin says on VE Day, his operation failed

Whatever Putin says on VE Day, his operation failed

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Image: ZUMA Press Inc / Alamy Stock Photo

The Kremlin’s plan was to defeat Ukraine a few days before the end of February. Instead, Putin faces Victory Day on May 9 without a win.

Although the Kremlin claims that the “special military operation” is on the right track, the initial plan to take control of the whole country and the scaled-down plan to capture the south and east have so far present failed. While “phase two” of the war saw limited gains for Russia in some areas, its army was pushed back elsewhere. A long-term attrition war – involving further large-scale losses of men and equipment – seems likely, with little or no chance of Russia achieving its main objectives in Ukraine and beyond.

Unsurprisingly, Putin now seems intent on producing some sort of result that he can present as a clear success in Ukraine. Speculation that it will focus on Mariupol, destroyed by the Russian invasion, has been fueled by reports that rubble is being cleared to allow for a victory parade. The determination to finally seize the Azovstal complex, despite claims last month that Putin had ordered the attack to be abandoned and even though troops mired in fighting there are urgently needed for Russia’s attack on eastern Ukraine – suggests that Ukraine’s outright defeat there is a political priority.

But a triumphant parade through the Mariupol desert looks like a bad throwback to 10 weeks of fighting, the death of perhaps more than 20,000 soldiers and the greatest damage to Russia’s economy since the nightmare of the 1990s.

One option is for Putin to simply declare “mission accomplished” in Ukraine, regardless of his war aims and the actual situation on the ground. The Kremlin has tightened its grip on the media and people who speak accurately about the war now face up to 15 years in prison. This means that government propaganda is now the only version of war information available to many Russians. If Putin says the Luhansk and Donetsk regions have been “liberated” or that southern Ukraine has been “denazified”, Russian mainstream media will not dispute these claims if the fighting continues. Even if there is no broader declaration of victory, the Kremlin risks portraying its catastrophic failure in Ukraine as a success reminiscent of the noble sacrifice and triumph of the Great Patriotic War.

In the longer term, however, this approach will be unsustainable as propaganda clashes with reality. Whatever claims the Kremlin and docile media make about the conduct of the war, and whatever Putin claims about victory, the staggering Russian casualty rate will tell a different story. Just as in the Soviet war in Afghanistan, the growing gap between what Russians are told and what they know from their own families and communities about the dead and wounded is likely to erode the credibility of government claims. This could precipitate the abandonment of public support for the war and for Putin himself.

Other areas of discontent become visible as the war drags on with no prospect of success. The discontent of the rich and powerful in Russia has been moderate so far, but the erosion of their wealth and the disappearance of key elements of their way of life who originally bought their consent to Putin’s authoritarian regime creates risks for him.

Against the backdrop of Russia’s continued failure to make significant gains in “phase two” of the invasion, two other states where Russia has significant influence, Moldova and Belarus, have emerged as more prominent features. rumor and analysis.

A series of incidents in the breakaway Moldovan region of Transnistria – host to a small Russian military presence since the collapse of the USSR – has raised concerns that the Kremlin intends to use the region either to launch an invasion of southwestern Ukraine, or to destabilize Moldova and signal its desire to extend the war. Given the enormous difficulties of attacking Ukraine from Transnistria, this may be disinformation, intended to persuade Ukraine to deploy troops to its border region rather than to the east (although an attempt to undermine the Moldovan government by non-military means is more likely).

The announcement by the Belarusian government of combat readiness exercises have raised questions about whether he is finally pressured into joining the war after previously refusing to get involved. A Belarusian invasion would limit Ukraine’s ability to lead forces into the fight in the east, which would greatly benefit Russia. But the decision would be unpopular, and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko (dependent on Russian support since the stolen 2020 elections) is far from safe.

If Russia is indeed using the threat of military action from Transnistria and Belarus as a means of reducing the forces Ukraine can deploy to fight in the east, it is yet another sign that the Kremlin is pulling all the stops. levers within his reach to try to improve his situation. Threats to target NATO arms deliveries, escalating threats in the Baltic if Finland and Sweden join NATO, and even media personalities’ suggestions of a nuclear strike on the UK failed to stop the flow of military aid to Ukraine and the prospect of NATO. expansion. The refocusing of the war on the south and east did not bring victory any closer. Whatever Putin announces on VE Day, the ongoing military, diplomatic and economic disaster of the war will continue to put victory in Ukraine beyond reach.