Why does Putin need Bakhmut, and what did the drone attack on the Kremlin change

18 May, 10:43 PM
Putin on May 9 next to Presidents Kassym-Jomart Tokayev of Kazakhstan and Shavkat Mirziyoyev of Uzbekistan, with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan behind him (Photo:Photo:Sputnik/Gavriil Grigorov/Pool via REUTERS)

Putin on May 9 next to Presidents Kassym-Jomart Tokayev of Kazakhstan and Shavkat Mirziyoyev of Uzbekistan, with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan behind him (Photo:Photo:Sputnik/Gavriil Grigorov/Pool via REUTERS)

From the experience of the Chechen wars, it is known that Russians always support their authorities regarding their perceived personal safety.

From the experience of the Chechen wars, it is known that Russians always support their authorities regarding their perceived personal safety.

There was quite a serious effort to get at least some foreign leaders to be guests at the May 9 Victory Day parade. And as a result, obviously, they could invite only those who did not have the opportunity to refuse. Did Kazakh leader Tokayev not have the opportunity to refuse? Does he not understand his reputational losses when he appears in the May 9 parade with Putin? Tokayev surely understood his reputational losses when he invited STO troops to Kazakhstan last January; when he said there was an external attack on Kazakhstan.

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Tokayev is a politician who knows how to balance reputational losses and political priorities. This is not some kind of big news. On the one hand, he can vote in the UN in a way that Russia will not like. But, on the other hand, he may turn a blind eye to the tools that allow Russia to circumvent Western sanctions. This is a traditional policy of the Kazakh leadership both during the time of Nursultan Nazarbayev and that of Kasym-Zhomart Tokayev. I would even say that Nursultan Nazarbayev was more cautious in implementing this strategy because he was historically a more independent political figure.

Is Tokayev, after the events of January 2022, always indebted to Putin? In politics, you cannot always be in debt. You choose your opportunities. If possibilities allow, you can refuse the debt. Or you can overestimate your capabilities.

As you remember, Viktor Yanukovych believed that he was in debt to Vladimir Putin, who always supported him and helped him come to power. And on the other hand, he could sign the Association Agreement with the European Union to get more Western money for the existence of his regime. And we remember how this reassessment of his capabilities ended for Yanukovych. The situation is almost the same with Tokayev.

Recently, news broke that Russia allegedly offered its own gas to Kazakhstan at a price possibly even lower than it provided to Belarus.

In exchange, Kazakhstan wants Russia to build a gas pipeline to pump Russian gas to China. Kazakhstan can afford cheap Russian gas because it can live without it. Therefore, the issue of this gas pipeline will not be related to the fact that Kazakhstan may or may not be afraid of falling into Russia's economic trap, but relates more to China’s energy needs. Here, not only Putin and the heads of Russia's Gazprom, but also Xi Jinping and the heads of Chinese energy companies, must talk to Tokayev.

Did the drone attack on the roof of one of the Kremlin towers change anything? If it was a Ukrainian special operation, that's one story. If the Russians were cooking it themselves, that's another. It is obvious that to mobilize Russian society, they must demonstrate that there is no safety anywhere and that the only way out of the situation for every Russian citizen is to win the war. This is not a bad sign.

I think that, as Russia's military defeats continue, there will be more and more such signs in order to accustom Russian society to full-fledged, long-term military mobilization. From the experience of the Chechen wars, it is known that Russians always support their authorities regarding their perceived personal safety. If it is not possible to provide security even for Putin, then obviously, there is no security for an ordinary person in a residential area of Moscow. It is a symbol of danger.

The average Russian does not think much about the Kremlin or the State Duma. But if something can hit the center of power, then it is clear that he alone cannot hope for anything at all. If Ukrainians can get to the Kremlin, they can definitely get to his cowshed or Khrushchevka. And nothing will stop them.

This is precisely how Russian propaganda spoke about Chechnya.

Therefore, the only possibility for the average Russian to feel at ease in his bed is the cessation of the existence of the Ukrainian state. I am simply reconstructing their thoughts and intentions from the recent past. And it worked.

What Bakhmut means to the Putin power vertical depends on their plans for the future and what Bakhmut was to them. Did they consider Bakhmut simply as an ideal place to grind the human reserves of the Ukrainian Armed Forces? Did they consider Bakhmut a key to capturing the Donetsk region within its administrative borders?

From a strategic point of view, coming to Bakhmut and its complete capture does not provide such apparent opportunities for occupying other cities of the Donetsk region. Therefore, I am still inclined to think that the Russians hoped that Bakhmut would be the place where they would destroy the Ukrainian military and thus prevent the Ukrainian Armed Forces from launching an offensive against Russian positions.

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The fact that "Wagnerians" are generally fighting in Bakhmut, and other parts of the Russian Armed Forces are elsewhere, preparing for the Ukrainian offensive or developing some other plans, possibly for an offensive of Russian troops in other Ukrainian regions, suggests that Bakhmut was not a priority target for the Russian army. They also used Bakhmut to grind Yevgeny Prigozhin's reserves. This is also part of the struggle in the power structures of the Russian Federation for a place near the throne.

The public quarrel between the leader of the Wagner Group, Prigozhin, and the Minister of Defence of the Russian Federation, Shoigu, means restoring the position of a court jester, traditional for the Russian authorities. Russian rulers always wanted someone who could shout, scare, and grab beards while having no real political will and influence on actual decisions. It is enough to read the history of any Russian government to find such a fool. Moreover, it is worth mentioning that these foolish actions sometimes gained enormous influence, but only when the monarch wanted it. Without the monarch, they mean nothing.

One way or another, Evgeny Prigozhin plays precisely such a role in this vertical of power. His attempts to fight with St. Petersburg Governor Beglov for some of his own business projects, for example, always ended in complete defeat.

This appears to be the recent story with the Bakhmut ultimatum. First, he promised that his mercenaries would leave Bakhmut on May 10. Then he said he had already got everything he needed and would not go anywhere. We understand this is a simple attempt to keep face. They simply called him and said: "Zhenya, sit where you sit and don't... well, you understand." And he quickly wrote down another statement.

Then there are the assassinations or deaths of various propagandists. For the top propagandists like Solovyov, it means nothing. In a totalitarian state, anyone can die at any time. If you remember the 1930s in the Soviet Union, members of the Politburo of the Party Central Committee were killed, not just propagandists. They also died; we just don't remember it.

Regarding Prilepin. In general, it is a strange situation when a person who has a driver suddenly takes his seat, and the driver is in the passenger seat. And this same person takes his daughter out of the car five minutes before the explosion. We are most likely dealing with a staging that was needed for something.

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