Putin's new pseudo-strategy is aimed at breaking the will of Ukrainians to resist, but he can trust neither his generals nor his ministers, writes political analyst and professor at the Peace Research Institute Oslo Pavel Baev in his column for NV published on Jan. 12.
Baev draws attention to Putin's telling solitude during the Orthodox Christmas service in the Kremlin Cathedral, which contrasts with his attempts to demonstrate interaction with his subordinates shortly before the New Year.
The political expert emphasizes that the Russian dictator's staged performances cannot hide the picture of his extreme self-isolation since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Dmitry Peskov, Putin's long-time press secretary, explained that the health of his boss is a matter of state security, so all emergency precautions will remain in force,” he writes.
“However, the Russian president's fears threaten his ability to manage the affairs of the state, as no important decision can be made without his word.”
Baev calls Putin's leadership style "aloof and pretentious". According to him, this is manifested, among other things, "in the incompetent and disastrous management of Russia's war against Ukraine."
The political scientist describes the current strategy of the Russian dictator as an attempt to turn the war "into an exhausting stalemate," as all of his previous strategies have failed.
Baev also considers Putin's latest statements to be information failures. He recalls that his New Year's speech coincided with the Ukrainian missile strike on the mobilized Russians in Makiyivka, after which even "militant ‘patriotic’ bloggers expressed outrage."
And Putin's attempt to declare a Christmas truce, according to the professor, fell on deaf ears to the extent that Kyiv's refusal did not even disappoint the champion of peace talks, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
"The only real effect of Putin's initiative was to highlight the deep crisis in the Russian Orthodox Church, led by Patriarch Kirill, who approved the invasion of Ukraine and thus undermined his authority among Ukrainian Orthodox churches," Baev said.
Also, the fake ceasefire "confirmed that Russian troops desperately needed a respite and a break in the intense positional warfare, which led not only to heavy losses, but also to deepening demoralization on the Russian side," the expert notes.
Baev calls the new wave of mobilization in Russia "increasingly necessary"due to the need to "restore the ability to hold unstable defensive lines and support costly offensive efforts in the battle for Bakhmut."
Meanwhile, "chauvinistic propaganda can no longer reliably and effectively dampen the reaction of a deeply dissatisfied society" and the problem of training hundreds of thousands of mobilized — but war-averse — men is becoming more acute.
"Putin's pseudo-strategy is ultimately aimed at breaking the will of Ukrainians to resist, but this calculation is based on a complete misunderstanding of the social force that the Ukrainian state can still mobilize, not to mention the true state of Russian society at the beginning of another year of this senseless war," Baev said.
At the same time, he points out that the Ukrainian resistance relies on the constant support of the West.
"The amazing unity and motivation of the U.S.-led coalition is another phenomenon that Putin has yet to fully understand," the political analyst writes.
“The Russian president was counting on the fact that key European countries would be accumulating fears and discontent and would not want to follow the U.S. lead, but instead, French President Emmanuel Macron decided to send Ukraine AMX-10 RC armored combat vehicles, which will significantly enhance Ukraine's offensive capabilities.
Meanwhile, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz waited only a day before announcing the delivery of Marder infantry fighting vehicles to Ukraine, and President Joe Biden included the M2 Bradley armored fighting vehicle in the new U.S. aid package to Ukraine. Germany also pledged to provide the MIM-104 Patriot anti-aircraft missile system in addition to the planned supply of the same from the United States.”
Baev expressed the opinion that the next step after the modernization of Ukrainian air defense will be the supply of long-range strike weapons systems, starting with MQ-9 Reaper drones.
Meanwhile, Russia’s new main battle tank, the T-14 Armata, and the entire family of armored vehicles using this platform are not currently on the battlefields of Donbas due to the suspension of production.
"As a result, Ukrainian troops are gradually winning in terms of the quality of all major weapons systems, and this trend is as incomprehensible to the Russian leadership as their inability to ensure the superiority of manpower on the battlefield," the political scientist states.
He noted that Putin tried to "put on a big show" and sent an Admiral Gorshkov-class frigate, armed with the newly developed 3M22 Zircon hypersonic anti-ship missile, on a long ocean voyage. However, even Russian military and patriotic observers were sceptical about the strategic importance of these trials.
"Indeed, neither a miracle weapon nor a tactical breakthrough will help Russia regain the initiative in this war, which it planned to win quickly and brutally," Baev explains.
“Thus, Putin can only try to plug the holes in his defenses, hoping that the wave that is coming at him will suddenly by some miracle recede.”
The political scientist adds that Putin does not trust his generals, "who know how to hide failures, but do not know how to learn from their mistakes," or his ministers, "who are great at manipulating statistics, but do not know how to effectively mobilize the corrupt economy for the benefit of the military machine."
The loyalty of Putin's henchmen is too ostentatious to be genuine, and they are talentless, so in the end Putin is left alone in his defeat, and not even his church-turned-tool can console him, Baev concludes with some irony.