Ukraine-Russia war: What do Moscow’s losses mean for Putin?

Ukraine-Russia war: What do Moscow’s losses mean for Putin?

N Melo
by N Melo
September 16, 2022 0

Ukraine-Russia war: What do Moscow’s losses mean for Putin?

Normally, one would expect the main weekly news program of Russian state television to tout the successes of the Kremlin.

But Sunday’s edition opened with a rare admission.

“On the front lines of the special operation [in Ukraine], this week has been the most difficult so far,” said presenter Dmitry Kiselev somberly.

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“It was particularly difficult on the Kharkiv front, where, following an assault by enemy forces outnumbering ours, the [Russian] troops were forced out of the towns they had previously liberated.”

For “liberated”, read “occupied”. Moscow had seized these areas several months ago, but after a lightning counter-offensive by the Ukrainian army, the Russian army lost considerable territory in northeastern Ukraine.

Yet Russia’s state media is showing a brave front. Officially, what happened in the Kharkiv region is not called a “retreat” here.

“The Russian Defense Ministry has dismissed rumors that Russian troops fled in disgrace from Balakliya, Kupiansk and Izyum,” the latest edition of the government-run Rossiyskaya Gazeta says. “They didn’t flee. It was a pre-planned gathering.”

In the tabloid Moskovsky Komsomolets, a military analyst took a different view: “It is already clear that we underestimated the enemy. [Russian forces] took too long to react and the collapse came is produced… As a result, we suffered a defeat and we tried to minimize the losses by withdrawing our troops so that they were not surrounded.”

This “defeat” angered pro-Russian social media channels and “patriotic” Russian bloggers, who accused their military of making mistakes.

Just like the powerful leader of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov.

“If today or tomorrow no change in strategy is made,” Mr. Kadyrov warned, “I will be forced to talk to the leaders of the Ministry of Defense and the leaders of the country to explain to them the real situation. on the pitch. It’s a very interesting situation. It’s amazing.”

It has been more than six months since Vladimir Putin ordered a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. In the days that followed, I remember Russian politicians, commentators and analysts predicting on television that what the Kremlin calls its “special military operation” would be wrapped up within days, that the Ukrainian people would welcome Russian troops as liberators and that the Ukrainian government would collapse like a house of cards.

It was not the case.

On the contrary, more than six months later, the Russian army is losing ground.

A key question is whether this will have political consequences for Vladimir Putin.

After all, for more than 20 years, Mr. Putin has enjoyed the reputation among the Russian elite of being a winner, of always managing to get out of the most delicate situations, in short, of being invincible.

I have often thought of him as the Russian version of famous escape artist Harry Houdini. Whatever knots or chains he was tied to, Mr. Putin always managed to free himself.

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This changed after February 24.

The last six months suggest that President Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine was a major miscalculation. Unable to secure a quick victory, Russia became bogged down in a long and bloody offensive, and suffered a series of embarrassing defeats.

When an authoritarian ruler’s aura of invincibility fades, it can cause them problems. Vladimir Putin knows the history of Russia. Former Russian rulers who fought wars without winning them did not end well.

Russia’s defeat by Japan led to the First Russian Revolution of 1905. Military failures in World War I triggered the 1917 Revolution and the end of the Tsar.

In public, however, President Putin does not intend to end up losing.

On Monday, its spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told reporters: “[Russia’s] special military operation is continuing and will continue until all initially planned tasks have been completed.”

Which brings us to the other key question: what will Mr. Putin do next?

It would be hard to find anyone here who knows what Vladimir Putin is thinking and planning. It all depends on the accuracy of the information he receives from his military leaders and intelligence chiefs.

But there are two things we know: the Russian president rarely admits his mistakes. And he rarely turns around.

From what state media is saying, we are already seeing signs that battlefield failures are being blamed on Western support for Ukraine.

“kyiv, backed by NATO, has launched a counter-offensive,” Russian state television said.

Another inconvenient question has been around for months: if he fails to achieve victory with conventional weapons, will President Putin resort to nuclear weapons?

Just a few days ago, Ukrainian military leader Valeriy Zaluzhnyi issued a warning: “There is a direct threat of the use, under certain circumstances, of tactical nuclear weapons by the Russian armed forces.”

So far, there are no visible signs of panic in the Kremlin. Russian state television seems more positive. She describes the Russian missile strikes on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure as “a turning point in the special operation”.

As for the head of the Kremlin, last Saturday, when reports from Ukraine announced that Russia was losing territories, Vladimir Putin, looking relaxed, inaugurated a new Ferris wheel in Moscow, the highest in Europe.

The Russian president still seems to believe that, like Moscow’s new Ferris wheel, his “special operation” will turn in his favour.

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