Vladimir Putin threatens the use of nuclear weapons for the umpteenth time, Russian forces continue to retreat. Vladimir Putin announces the annexation of four Ukrainian provinces, Russian forces continue to retreat. Vladimir Putin announces the call up of 300,000 reserves, Russian forces continue to retreat. There is a clear connection between Putin’s threats and proclamations to Russian retreat. As we all know, words are one thing, actions quite another. Putin’s words often cause the opposite of the desired effect. Trying to staunch the tide of Ukrainian forces flowing over and through Russian lines cannot be done by spewing vitriol. That should be clear to Putin at this point, then again maybe not. It is becoming clearer with each Russian defeat that Putin is disconnected from reality. He is caught in an echo chamber where he is the only person doing the talking. Putin continues to act as though he is in control of the situation, rather than the glaringly obvious fact that the situation is controlling him.
Shifting Blame – A Litany of Lies
Putin spent the first twenty-two years of his time in power practicing a specific brand of cool and calculated power politics where he forced others to react to his actions. That is not the situation now. The war in Ukraine has caused Putin to become reactive rather than proactive. More so lately as the Russian Army suffers defeats and is forced to retreat. Putin is now at the mercy of events. This is unfamiliar territory for him. That goes some way in explaining his willingness to escalate the war well beyond anything he or anyone else could have imagined. Putin is grasping at all the levers of power to try and regain control of an increasingly dire situation. His decisions reflect desperation, rather than cold calculation. Detachment has been displaced by emotion.
Whereas Putin was once seen as a logical practitioner of realpolitik, he is now irrational and isolated, lost in a maze of his own making. This makes him vulnerable and extremely dangerous. Like those who are guilty of chronically poor decision making, Putin continues to ignore the reality that he created. Putin is caught up in a vicious cycle where he is not so much reacting to the enemy, as to his own disastrous decisions. Putin’s public appearances try to disguise the fact that he bears ultimate responsibility for the Russian debacle in Ukraine. Take for instance his latest speech, a thirty-seven-minute-long litany of lies against the west and specifically the United States. At the Kremlin, in the gilded chamber of St. George’s Hall, Putin stood before a handpicked audience of Russian elites blaming Ukraine and the West for Russia’s current woes.
This act of willful distraction and narcissistic self-deception was a transparent attempt to shift blame onto enemies abroad and rally public sentiment to the cause. In this case, the cause is Russia’s annexation of the occupied areas of Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson provinces and by extension the continued prosecution of the war in Ukraine. Putin is trying to mitigate his biggest domestic problem, Russian public opinion of the war. Unfortunately for him, the war is beginning to make demands on the Russian people that could lead to domestic discord. Putin has always been able to rely on his personal popularity to distract from any mistake’s he has made. The failing war effort is causing many to see Putin as a liability.
Putin On A Front – Deeper Into The Abyss
During his speech in St. George’s Hall, it was probably not lost on many of those in the audience that Putin’s pronouncements all have their genesis in his original sin, the unprovoked invasion of Ukraine on February 24th and the eight-year war in Donbas that preceded it. None of this would be taking place if not for Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine. It is incredible just how bad that decision has turned out for Putin. The invasion of Ukraine has led Russia down a path towards military defeat and potentially much worse. As soon as the war began to go wrong – which is to say right from the start – Putin made further fateful decisions to try and course correct (focus on the Donbas, target civilians, multiple changes of commanders) which only led Russian forces deeper into the abyss.
All the roads Putin has taken Russia down in Ukraine have led to failure. How can his latest decisions lead anywhere else? We should never lose sight of the fact of the one thing Putin struggles to conceal. He is the one constant in all the Russian debacles in Ukraine. While military commanders come and go with astonishing rapidity, while an estimated 59,000 Russian soldiers die on the battlefield, while Russia loses military equipment at an unfathomable rate, while Russian forces lack clear objectives and have no compelling reason to be in Ukraine, none of this happens without Putin. He is the one constant, and thus the one most responsible for Russia’s failing war effort. Until Russians remedy that problem, they can expect further humiliations and quite possibly ultimate defeat. The people around Putin must know this and yet they do nothing other than nod at his pronouncements in worried agreement. Why would they do otherwise? Putin’s power made them. It now threatens to break them.
An Ever Worsening War – The Fate of Russia
Until Russia has someone else other than Putin making decisions, nothing will change other than the fact that the situation is bound to get worse. The only thing that would make it better is for Russian soldiers to leave Ukraine. Putin will not allow that to happen until he has something to show for his ill- conceived and poorly executed war. He has no intention of calling off the war. That fact should frighten Russians into action, more likely it will lead them further into servitude. One man is making decisions that destroy the lives of millions. Meanwhile, willing accomplices stand watching and nodding in agreement. Nothing will change until someone in Russia decides to do something about it. And the person who makes that decision cannot be Vladimir Putin. The fate of Russia and perhaps much of Europe, may depend upon it.