A desperate Vladimir Putin is a dangerous Vladimir Putin, and there are signs Putin’s situation in Ukraine may be becoming desperate.
In the last week, the Russian army in the Kharkiv region of Ukraine has been driven out of some 2, 200 square miles of territory, according to the Ukrainians, in whose soldiers are now two miles from the Russian border.
The Kharkiv battle was a rout for the amazed Russians who tore away from their uniforms, threw straight down their weapons and fled, some on stolen bicycles. For Russia, it was the particular worst defeat of the war.
That Moscow sustained a stunning setback is usually attested to by the information that Russian nationalists home have begun to protest openly about Putin’s administration of the war he released on Feb. 24.
Where does Putin stand now?
He is in the seventh month of a war he released last winter, and he seems to be headed into this arriving winter with no victory with no end to the war in view.
His early offensives, while successful north of Crimea and in the Donbas, failed to capture Kiev, Kharkiv or Odessa at the Black Sea, Ukraine’s 3 largest cities, which were Russia’s strategic objectives.
Putin’s gains in the Donbas are the one great reward he has. But his army is now demoralized and on the defensive. The momentum from the war has shifted within Kiev’s favor.
Western and, in particular, the particular U. S. weapons Ukraine is being provided have proved devastating to the Russian pushes, whose losses in reservoirs, armor and troops are usually major.
A large number of Russian soldiers have been killed, wounded or captured. Putin has no available reserves within Russia without imposing conscription to replace them.
The Ukrainians now appear to be guaranteed an endless supply of the modern U. S. weapons they have got used to decimate the Ruskies army.
The present prospect for Putin is certainly thus no victory, simply no end to the war, simply no end to the weekly casualty lists of dead, wounded and missing, a continued stalemate now, and the prospective client of eventual defeat forward.
Could Putin survive perceived defeat inside a war he launched, as well as the personal, political and nationwide humiliation he and Russian federation would sustain from this type of defeat? Would Putin be able to survive that and remain president of Russia after twenty two years in power?
In short, in a battle history will call Putin’s War, the tide is turning against the Russians, and Putin faces the prospect of getting been the ruler which launched Russia’s least essential and lost war.
What are Putin’s options?
The first is to stay the course, cut off oil and gas exports to NATO European countries, and hope Ukraine’s loss and Europe’s hardships this particular winter compel Kiev and it is allies to accept a truce that allows Russia to retain a few of the new territory it has acquired since Feb. 24.
The problem with this opportunity is that it is Ukraine’s military that appears to have time on its side today and the wind at the back.
The alternative to a war that endures as long as the Ukrainians are prepared to fight to drive the Russians out is for Russia to escalate and win, and force an end to the battling.
How could Moscow do this?
First, Putin could enhance the stakes, say we are at war with NATO, call up Russian’s army reserves, as with World War II, and conscript enough new soldiers to replace those already lost.
Second, there is the Grozny choice, the devastating artillery, air flow and rocket assault the Russians visited upon the Chechen capital to bring a finish to a separatist moment within 2000.
Yet would the Russians, prior to the eyes of the world, perform to Kiev or Kharkiv what they did to Grozny a quarter century ago?
Beyond the Grozny option, there is the nuclear option.
Russia provides thousands of tactical atomic weapons, the largest such arsenal on earth, and the threat to use, or maybe the actual use of one or more of such weapons, would raise the stakes in the war exponentially.
Early in this war, Russia’s hawks talked freely of the possible use of tactical nuclear weapons. That speak has begun anew.
The basic question comes down to this:
Would Putin threaten or use nuclear weapons to prevent a beat and humiliation for himself and Russia? And, if so, how and where might he use them? And how would certainly Kiev and the West respond?
America, Britain and France are all three both NATO and nuclear-weapons states. But none includes a vital interest in the outcome of the Ukraine war to justify a nuclear war with Russia, even if Russia accommodations to first use of such a weapon.
The longer this war goes on, and the sooner the Russian bleeding becomes intolerable to Putin, the more likely it is which he will escalate, rather than capitulate and accept defeat plus humiliation for his country and himself, leading to their removal from power.
Again, a eager Putin is a dangerous Putin.