Russia has lost the war

30 August, 10:56 PM

Subtle, telltale signs emerge that Vladimir Putin may have won a few military battles in Ukraine, but he’s lost the war to resurrect the USSR.

On August 22, a car bomb in Moscow blew up a radical Putin supporter. On August 27, Russian media reported that the car of the Deputy Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces was set on fire in Moscow, and unverified rumors spread that there was a recent coup attempt.

One Putin supporter was publicly upset that retaliation against Ukraine for the car bombing only killed 22 and tweeted: “Is that it? Is this promised revenge? Have we become so enfeebled, so helpless?”

Video of day

As internal dissension bubbles up, Moscow is being cut adrift geopolitically as the global narrative shifts in Ukraine’s favor, mostly because the war is genocide and because the Russian occupation of a gigantic Ukrainian nuclear plant has alarmed everyone on the planet.

Last week, China spoke against this nuclear brinkmanship, and India voted against Russia at the United Nations' Security Council for the first time after abstaining for months and refusing to condemn the invasion.

Currently, the conflict resembles a World War I stalemate. Russia has 20 per cent of Ukraine, and continues to pummel the place, but Ukraine is clawing back territory and is weeks away from closing its skies to Russian missiles, artillery, and bombs, thanks to technology obtained from NATO members. Kyiv continues to receive a flood of advanced weaponry that is being put to good use while Russia’s store of missiles and armaments has depleted and not being replaced.

Politically inside Russia, the sand shifts beneath Putin’s feet because Russian casualties are horrendous. Thousands of Russian tourists fled Ukrainian missiles in Crimea this month. Travel bans are imminent and word spreads from upset families whose sons have died in action or simply gone missing. 

The Sunday Times’ quoted a spokesperson for an organization called the Council of Soldiers’ Mothers in St. Petersburg saying that, as happened in Afghanistan where Russian casualties were hidden but high “the battlefields change, the governments change, but it’s still the same problem.”

This Russian war of attrition has agitated Russian hardliners such as Alexander Dugin -- whose daughter was killed last week by the car bomb which was intended for him. Dugin has been a proponent of conquering Ukraine and former Soviet vassal states for years. He now urges Putin to fully mobilize, put on a full war footing and use nuclear weapons if necessary.

Instead, on August 25, Putin announced he will recruit only 137,000 soldiers by January – a limp directive due to recruitment failures. Such incapacity was not been missed by Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy who, backed by near-unanimous support of his people and with billions from the West, has doubled down and said Russia must be expelled completely from its territory which includes Crimea and the Donbas held since 2014.

It’s safe to assume that all Russians now know, despite censorship in Russia and a crackdown on all dissent, that Putin’s promise of a quick war was unfulfilled and probably impossible.

They also know first-hand about the cost of economic sanctions, the departure of Western firms and jobs from their country, and that Putin’s armed forces are a huge embarrassment.

In 2021, Russia spent $65 billion on its military – ten times’ what Ukraine spent -- and should have achieved its promised lightning-fast victory months ago. Besides that, President Zelensky has won the war of words globally obtaining a massive cache of weaponry and support simply by recasting Ukraine as a “big Israel” or a stabilizing factor for Europe backed by America and its allies.

Like Israel, he wants Ukraine to be safe from Moscow and capable of permanently damaging Russia for the sake of the European region.

While the war’s outcome remains unknown, Putin’s latest gambit to seize Europe’s biggest nuclear plant in Ukraine as a bargaining chip or to hold the region hostage has clearly backfired and cost him global support, including from “pals” like India and China. Besides that, there are more signs of collapsing support: China continues to tread water carefully and meticulously insures that its companies remain on the sidelines militarily; Russia’s Middle Eastern co-aggressor, Iran, has been cooperating and may sign a new nuclear deal with the U.S. and Europe; and lastly Putin’s courtship with Turkey is in name only.

The country remains dedicated to the EU and NATO and its revolutionary drones have been shipped in droves to Ukraine where they have wreaked havoc on Russian troops there, just as they did in Azerbaijan and Libya.

Atop it all, Putin’s nuclear stunt emboldened the British, French and German leaders who last week proclaimed their long-term support for Ukraine. Their electorates are frightened about the nuclear threat and also angry because their economies are being damaged by Russia’s energy blackmail. Most importantly, Zelenskyy has clearly outflanked his rival by articulating and contextualizing the struggle brilliantly: “The battle for the future of Europe is being fought in Ukraine”.

May these setbacks lead to a solution? One expert noted a softening in Kremlin-speak may signal a willingness to talk. “We have begun to see a delicate reframing of the war’s goals [by Putin] which could ease negotiations. Where once the official media spoke of the ‘liberation’ of the Russian speakers in the Donbas, increasingly this is presented as their `protection’.

This could conceivably be arranged through guarantees from Kyiv rather than direct control from Moscow,” wrote Russia expert Mark Galleoti in The Sunday Times. “We are a long way from serious negotiations. Ukraine is showing no signs of being willing to make concessions.”

But that interpretation is wishful thinking, although interesting. Zelensky and his government are correct to assume the worse and continue to mount aggressive counterattacks on Crimea (Russian territory) as well as in the newly occupied territories of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia where the nuclear plant is occupied by a few hundred Russian soldiers.

Besides that, Ukrainians inside occupied territories are shooting Russian soldiers and assassinating Russian-appointed officials. It now appears that Putin’s plans to stage fake referenda on 9/11 in four occupied areas to legitimize his occupation have been scrapped. The “yellow ribbon” movement proliferates as this symbol of defiance is appearing on more and more street lamps posts and walls.

Putin’s flagging support and status at home and abroad leave him with a few options, so what are they? The military slog won’t improve for months, and his capture of the nuclear plant in Ukraine has backfired, bringing in the United Nations and peacekeepers to babysit the facility, so does he retreat from the plant?

He likely will comply with the presence of UN inspectors, but retreating beyond that is not an option unless Putin is removed or erased. Does he escalate? That’s also troublesome because Putin alone cannot certify the use of nuclear or chemical weapons and the Russian military are aware that any deployment would automatically bring in NATO with its superior nuclear arsenal.

Will he increase his “hybrid war” tactics to disrupt European resolve? That won’t work now that Europe is outraged and intent on replacing Russian energy and influence. Will he simply stay the course? Putin is running out of time and he will lose a war of attrition because the collapse of Russia’s economy will occur before the West becomes fatigued and capitulates. And Ukrainians will not surrender.

What’s also key is that the same democracies that Putin has ridiculed as weak and inferior have weaponized against him because public opinion in their societies fully condemns Russia and despises its war and leadership.

Putin did not understand his victim. On Jan. 24, I wrote: “Mr. Putin: Every Window Will Shoot”. Ukrainians immediately and fully mobilized to prevent being exterminated and becoming a Russian colony again. Their message and plight resonated with the world, not Russian claims that it was victimized by NATO. It’s clear that Russia has lost its war already, if only because it simply cannot win.

This column was first published on Substack. NV is republishing it with permission. 

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