Vladimir Putin’s disastrous, incompetent, stupid, not-good invasion of Ukraine is proving to be disastrous, incompetent, stupid, not-good and many more. So what to do? Make things worse!
Here’s the Kremlin website version of his latest speech announcing mass mobilisations to build a larger army and making all sorts of threats aimed at Western governments:
The goal of that part of the West is to weaken, divide and ultimately destroy our country. They are saying openly now that in 1991 they managed to split up the Soviet Union and now is the time to do the same to Russia, which must be divided into numerous regions that would be at deadly feud with each other. They devised these plans long ago…
Of course it would be no bad thing if Russia became a series of smaller countries. Why not? It’s an empire anyway, and overripe for decolonisation. But is anyone significant in ‘the West’ scheming to achieve this? No. V Putin’s own policies are doing all the damage to Russia here, making some sort of vast internal upheaval rather more likely.
The parliaments of the Donbass people’s republics and the military-civilian administrations of the Kherson and Zaporozhye regions have adopted decisions to hold referendums on the future of their territories and have appealed to Russia to support this.
I would like to emphasise that we will do everything necessary to create safe conditions for these referendums so that people can express their will. And we will support the choice of future made by the majority of people in the Donetsk and Lugansk people’s republics and the Zaporozhye and Kherson regions.
This of course is VP’s big power-play. Those pesky Ukrainians are doing a worryingly good job trying to push us out from eastern Ukraine. So we’ll proclaim those areas part of Russia, and then the Ukrainians and NATO will be ATTACKING RUSSIA AS SUCH, and that will be an act of aggression under international law justifying any and every means of self-defence. Sorted!
Washington, London and Brussels are openly encouraging Kiev to move the hostilities to our territory. They openly say that Russia must be defeated on the battlefield by any means, and subsequently deprived of political, economic, cultural and any other sovereignty and ransacked …
Lies. If anything Western governments have held back on sending more powerful kit to Ukraine precisely to reduce Kyiv’s temptation to hit targets in Russia.
And so on. With added NAZIS.
… our country has different types of weapons as well, and some of them are more modern than the weapons NATO countries have. In the event of a threat to the territorial integrity of our country and to defend Russia and our people, we will certainly make use of all weapon systems available to us. This is not a bluff.
Absurd or desperate if not close to insane as all this undoubtedly is, it does raise an unsettling question. What can stop all this mayhem other than an explicit Russian ‘win’ of some sort?
Putin-Moscow’s only idea of ‘ending’ its war with Ukraine is to win by sheer force something worth winning. That probably means at a minimum Russia effectively annexing territory in eastern Ukraine and being guaranteed to keep Crimea. Kyiv cannot accept anything like that, at least while significant arms supplies keep flowing in from Western governments.
So if these faux-referenda in eastern Ukraine take place and Russia proclaims that it is respecting the sovereign will of those voters to join Russia by proclaiming that it has annexed those territories, then what? The Ukrainian forces presumably will press on, but Moscow will hoot that anything it does in response is no longer a ‘special military operation’ but a vital act of self-defence under international law. And, say, if some NATO countries are still helping Ukraine attack Russia, maybe those countries thereby become legitimate (for Moscow) military targets.
This is an attempt at a strategic negotiation ‘escalate to de-escalate’ strategy. It amounts to a drastic unilateral reframing of the issues in play. It’s one thing Russia disciplining Nazi Ukraine – quite another if Nazi Ukraine has the temerity to attack Russia. Moscow is hoping that the West gets the message: This is getting serious – now, back off!
Hence Russian TV carries a Kremlin spokesman openly threatening to nuke Berlin and the UK with tactical nuclear weapons to call Washington’s bluff. “What use is Article 5 is there’s no-one in Europe left to defend?” For good measure he makes clear that Russia won’t use any nuclear weapons against Ukraine: “Why do that? We’ll have to live there!”
All this and much more plays on the uneasy instincts of plenty of politicians and chatterati in Europe and the United States, who maybe are starting to wonder whether all this tough resisting of tyrants is really, after all, worth it. Maybe better to start leaning hard on Ukraine to cut a dirty unhappy deal, and then focus on getting energy prices back down asap? Even if the British Prime Minister is right and V Putin is getting desperate, can we really be sure that in his nutty desperation he won’t lash out and do something horrendous? And, if he does just that, how to respond?
However, it’s hard to say how even a policy of telling Ukraine to stop attacking might now work, in the short term at least. In recent weeks Kyiv seems to have captured amazing quantities of Russian weapons that can be used to drive back the miserable Russian army still further, whatever happens in these phoney referenda.
Meanwhile President Zelenskiy has used his platform at the UN General Assembly to lay down some conditions of his own for ending the war. Namely that Ukraine prevails in key respects. Russia is ‘punished’ for its for crimes of aggression. Ukraine’s security and territorial integrity is upheld. Ukraine gets security guarantees and the right to continue defending itself. For good measure he threw in a call for Russia’s UN Security Council veto to be abolished, seemingly missing the basic point that Russia will veto any move to end its veto.
Still, for Moscow to be blustering on in this increasingly stressed-sounding way just when UNGA is meeting will have done Russia’s reputation no good with the Chinese, Indians, Brazilians and others, who variously enjoy poking ‘the West’ in Moscow’s company but must be worrying that Putin’s Russia is now suddenly exposed as … unexpectedly weak. And, even worse, incompetent.
Getting worse. And much more dangerous. Fast.
PS Read this – interesting and sharp on many fronts, but also a handy corrective to all those Ukraine videos on YouTube praising their canny use of drones:
… The operational data reveals that 90 per cent of Ukrainian UAVs flown before July were lost, mainly to electronic warfare. The average life expectancy of a quadcopter was three flights. The average life expectancy of a fixed wing UAV was six flights …
Contrary to the narrative, Russian EW has been successful on the battlefield. Instead, what has proved decisive is the sheer number of drones that Ukraine has been able to deploy.