10 April 2022, 09:06 AM

Next fortnight decisive. What's going on around Putin

Andrey Piontkovskiy

Russian political scientist

There is currently a struggle between the rabid and the pragmatists in the Kremlin, and the pragmatists have realized that they stand no chance of taking Kharkiv.

The fact that Russia is changing tactics became obvious already on March 25 after the speech of the Chief of the Main Operational Directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, General Sergei Rudskoy.

It was even sensational in its own way. The task there was phrased differently from what the Supreme Commander-in-Chief previously had said. He said "we are not going to occupy the cities and never planned it" – as if the task was only to strengthen the independence of the occupied Donbas statelets, to expand them to the borders of the Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts of Ukraine.

Many then perceived these words as a kind of deception to put the Ukrainian side off guard. But this was indeed followed by the withdrawal of troops from the northern Kyiv and Chernihiv oblasts.

The fact is that military experts in the General Staff of the Russian Federation have long realized, and Rudskoy's speech showed that they conveyed this to the commander-in-chief, that the tasks set – the occupation of all of Ukraine and the so-called denazification – are impossible.

The army cannot implement them. This is the first such conflict that arose between the commander-in-chief and the General Staff of the Russian Federation.  Apparently, as a result, a compromise decision was made, which is now declared the main one – to give battle for Donbas.

The purpose of this battle is obvious: firstly, to achieve some kind of illusion of victory, which can be sold to the population. For example, to claim: our task was to save the Donbas people from genocide, we did it, we largely destroyed the military infrastructure of Ukraine. Ukraine does not want to join NATO. Ukraine genuinely does not want to join NATO.

Not because Russia forbids it, but because NATO has shown itself to be a helpless and miserable organization, and one should rely not on NATO, but on concrete military assistance from individual countries – the United States and the United Kingdom, above all.

Secondly, by some kind of victory in the Donbas, Russia plans to strengthen its negotiating position with Ukraine and achieve some acceptable result, a piece of territory that has yet to be reclaimed. Judging by everything they say and plan, for example, the capture of Kharkiv would be considered such a victory.

However, I concur with the opinion of the vast majority of military experts, both Ukrainian and Western, that they will not take Kharkiv.

They were unable to take it at the beginning of the war, when they had a stronger position.  They could not mobilize any serious reserves. They pulled up various Russian units from Abkhazia, Ossetia, Karabakh, Africa, and some other places. Therefore, this battle for the Donbas will result in exactly the same defeat as the battle for Kyiv. Which, in my opinion, will lead to a very serious struggle inside Putin's bunker around one question – who is to blame for the defeats?

Either the commander-in-chief, who set ridiculous goals, or mediocre generals who could not fulfill the great goals of the commander-in-chief.

Dmitry Peskov on April 7 made a strange statement in an interview with Sky News. This testifies to what I said at the beginning – the ongoing fierce struggle at the top. For the first time (that means a lot!), the Kremlin – Peskov is the speaker of the Kremlin – recognized significant losses, a tragedy, he said.

And then he boasted that in a few days, a truce could be concluded. This leads me to another thought. Perhaps even this plan – to achieve some hollow victory and sell it to the Russians – is also called into question.

It is unlikely that after the crimes committed by the Russian army, Ukraine will be ready for any agreements.

Perhaps the generals explained to Putin that Kharkiv could not be taken. And Putin, through his mouthpiece Peskov, is now looking for agreements with Ukraine.

Now the narrative has changed in Washington. For two days now, they have been talking about the Ukrainian victory. They used to say that it is necessary to supply the Ukrainians as much as possible so that they can stand up to Russia. And now, firstly, the head of the U.S. State Department, Antony Blinken, then the representative of the Pentagon, both said that it is necessary to provide Ukraine with everything required for victory.

And indeed now they are giving the green light to the supply of heavy weapons. Therefore, let Moscow get on its knees and come begging for a truce.

There is currently a struggle between the rabid and the pragmatists in the Kremlin, and the pragmatists have realized that they stand no chance of taking Kharkiv. The rabid may still send an army for obliteration. In any case, the next two weeks will be decisive.

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