This week, Putin is again forcing us to review where we are with his war against Ukraine. It’s been nearly seven months since Putin gambled on his illegal, immoral and unprovoked assault on his sovereign neighbor. Other than the first week or so, the gross incompetence of the Russian leadership and military, have been on display. Today’s announcement by Putin that he’ll partially mobilize Russia’s military reserves and his “under-his-breath” implied use of WMD, present us an opportunity to put Putin’s and Russia’s prospects into perspective.
Russia in general, is historically complicated and for those not schooled in their history, sometimes her actions are intensely maddening to understand from a western perspective. Today, I’m not looking to give everyone a Russia 101, history class, but need to put today’s announcements into context. I will try my best to be as succinct as possible, so please bear (pun intended) with me.
Today’s announcements can be found at the following three links, by my top 3 credible news sources:
1. Putin orders mobilisation for Ukraine, says nuclear threat is 'not a bluff' | Reuters
3. Putin orders partial military call-up, risking protests | AP News
First and foremost, Putin has dishonestly declared that this war is about “protecting Russians from Ukrainian Nazi’s and extreme, right-wing fascism. As my British colleagues would say, “bollocks” which is the rough equivalent of bull$&%#. Ironically, it is Putin’s Russia that actually deserves the label, “fascist.” In fact, there are plenty of far-right/ neo-Nazi, Russians fighting against Ukraine.
While that it is true that a relatively small amount of right-wing extremist groups are fighting, most notably the Azov Battalion in far eastern Ukraine, there is no evidence that fascism represents any notable portion of Ukraine’s overall population. Tragically, foreign far right extremists, including from the US and Europe have been training alongside the minority Ukrainian, far right contingents since Russia started an insurgency in the east, in conjunction with their 2014 annexation of Crimea.
Putin also claims that Ukraine is actually Russian and simply wants it back. This is also bollocks. Throughout the ebb and flow of history, there is little truth to Ukraine having the same identity as Russia. Frankly, the opposite, just may be a bit more accurate since Ukraine’s capital of Kiev, was the capital of the Kievan Rus as the Russian state was forming, centuries ago.
Okay, now that this part of history is summed up a bit, let’s get back to current events. Literally, since the opening days of “Putin’s War,” Russian forces have been back-peddling and/ or sustaining massive losses in men and equipment. They have retreated from the outskirts of Kiev and now are being pushed as fast as they can run, in nearly every other part of the country too. Sanctions and the unity of NATO along with most of the world’s law-abiding nations, have made Putin’s Russia an impoverished outcast. Were it not for China, Iran and India’s support, via massive increases of Russian exports, (mostly oil and weapons) Putin would likely have reached the point of today’s desperation, a month or so ago. Yes, “desperation” on Putin’s part, is easily the best descriptive term for him at the moment.
In Putin’s case, he is the head oligarch of sorts. Oligarchs and Russian Mafia are in many ways, synonymous with the Russian state. Like most organized crime, once you’re in, you are in for life. If Putin falls from power, his life expectancy becomes a bet, worthy of an office, betting pool. This fact is what makes him a cornered, wounded, and an increasingly dangerous animal. So, what does this mean to today’s news?
To over-simplify things, if Putin loses and loses power, his survivability chances rapidly diminish. If he can hold onto power, a loss in Ukraine will keep Russia as the habitual outcast, globally. To be blunt, his back is against the wall. He has little choice but to “mobilize” the Russian reserves for the first time since WW II. Knowing full well that his war is very unpopular at home, he won’t get the target number of 300.000 new soldiers. Airline tickets to leave Russia since the announcement are nearly sold-out, despite the sky-high prices. Even his attempts to recruit in prisons has failed. No Russian wants to fight in an unpopular, losing war, where incompetent leadership, poor equipment and exorbitant losses are the norm, not the exception. I don’t blame Russians for fleeing the country.
Finally, let’s talk for a moment about Putin’s implied, nuclear threat and also, other types of WMD. Putin is more than a little aware that should he use even, small, tactical nukes, that prevailing winds potentially would carry fallout and or chemical/ biological weapons threats towards NATO nations. That would almost certainly, trigger an Article 5 response. Simply put, an article 5 response means that, “if any NATO nation is attacked, all NATO nations are obligated to come to their defence. This would mean an overwhelming and fatal response for the Russian nation. It would be a humiliation unlike any other in Russia’s entire history and certainly the end of Putin himself. Considering the long-standing Russian state paranoia regarding being attacked by the West, the emotional and physical scars on the Russian people would be eternal. Still, a cornered and wounded animal is to be considered carefully.
I see far too many pundits suggesting that China would come to Putin’s aid militarily, but it would take another full article to explain why I don’t believe that to be a real concern. For today’s piece, let’s just say that I don’t find that plausible. Also for another article, is what is more important to the US and global economy is that India and Iran would have some very serious decisions to make going forward regarding how they line up in a transformative world. This gets exceptionally complicated although not necessarily a real threat in the near future.
As for today, let’s sum this up. I am intentionally going to be blunt, for effect.
1. Putin is losing
2. Only WMDs can temporarily change that
3. Deployment of WMD would almost surely bring NATO into the war directly and decisively, leaving Russia crushed and humiliated
4. The US, finally back to a leadership role is managing this entire conflict very well, as are our collective of allies and partners.
5. The perspective of the rules-based, international order standing in unity against immoral aggression, just may be the best deterrence yet against an aggressive China.
Yes, there is room for some cautious optimism. Still, in order to succeed fully, for Ukraine and the world, we must stay the course and continue to support our fellow, freedom-loving Ukrainian, brothers and sisters. We must continue to build and sustain unity. We must also remember that every dime we spend now in support of Ukraine’s sovereignty, is a fraction of the cost if we had to go to war ourselves.
(Glory to Ukraine)
The potential for nuclear weapons use is discussed, but what a NATO article 5 response would look like is not at all clear to the masses. What I hear from retired officers is "a mix of precision strikes, intel activities, and maybe special forces operations". It would be good to have a reality based "How we'd respond" available here.