One way of measuring the desperation of the Kremlin is by the ferocity of the war against Ukrainian civilians. Vladimir Putin and his handpicked commander of Russian military forces, Sergei Surovkin – known as General Armageddon – have hit on what they believe will be a successful strategy, destroy Ukraine’s critical infrastructure. Leave millions of Ukrainians without heat, water and electricity in the dead of winter and they will scream for mercy. In turn, this will force their leaders to the negotiating table. And if that does not work, it might still force another wave of Ukrainian refugees on the rest of Europe. Ukraine’s allies might then then force the Ukrainian leadership to negotiate a ceasefire or better yet, an uneasy peace that locks in Russia’s territorial gains in the four Ukrainian provinces it absurdly annexed.
Smoking ruins – Aftermath of Russian missile strike on Ukrainian infrastructure
Striking Back – Attacking the Innocent
The volume and vileness of the latest Russian missile strikes illustrate a larger point. It is no coincidence that their ultimate targets are civilians rather than soldiers. That is because the Russian military realizes that they cannot defeat the Ukrainian Army. This is a simple and provocative point that the Kremlin makes by focusing their newest strategy not against Ukrainian forces which threaten to destroy their own, but against innocents. No matter what Russian forces have tried, thermobaric bombs, massive artillery bombardments, human wave attacks, the result has been the same, Russian forces in retreat. The Russians have lost 55% of the territory they once occupied in Ukraine. Their forces are stretched thin across the frontlines. Raw conscripts feel many of the gaps created in their lines by the loss of over 80,000 soldiers killed and counting. What does it say about the current state of the Russian military that they target the defenseless, rather than the defenders.
The interesting thing is that the Russian missiles strikes show little sign of eroding the Ukrainian population’s will to resist. If anything, it seems to be reinforcing resistance. Meanwhile, the Kremlin has resorted to conscripting whomever they can as cannon fodder in a desperate bid to patch up their frontlines. The chance of the Russian Army suffering a decisive defeat. not just in separate battles or campaigns, but in the entire war is greater than ever. Thus, Putin has ordered Surovkin to use extreme measures. The upshot is a no holds barred attack on Ukrainian civilians. The goal is to make them feel pain and suffering. Cold, thirst, lack of light, these uncomfortable conditions are supposed to break the will of the Ukrainian people. If they give in, even worse will come. The campaign is relentless. The Russians have launched massive attacks multiple times over the past few weeks and will continue to do so until they run out of missiles. Thus far, this has been the most successful tactic the Russians have employed during the war.
The hits keep on coming – Smoke rises from Russian missile strike on Ukraine
Futile Attempts – Failure to Execute
Only time will tell if the missile attacks are successful in weakening Ukrainian resolve. If they is not, Putin will be searching for yet another tactic in what has been up to this point, one futile attempt after another to achieve something that can be called a victory. Most likely, the next idea will be a long-rumored mass mobilization. The Kremlin continues to come up with bad ideas, whose execution is even worse. Putin and those whose livelihoods are reliant upon his regime, must be extremely concerned for their future. With each passing month, the likelihood of instability inside Russia increases. Putin wanted to cause chaos and calamity to keep Ukraine weak and from turning to the western world. Oddly, that is what his mismanagement of the war has done to Russia. In his twenty-two years in power, Putin’s Russia has never looked so weak. It is hard to see how he can extricate his regime from Ukraine without causing internal upheaval.
The Kremlin is running low on ammo, and not just the kind that goes in guns. Putin is not yet down to his proverbial last bullet, but he has emptied several chambers over the past nine months. How many more botched miliary operations can the Kremlin mismanage before the sheer number of failures finally backfires? One of the most ironic aspects of Putin’s prosecution of the war is that everything he tries ends up hurting Russia as much or more than it does Ukraine. For instance, the unprovoked invasion of Ukraine made Russia’s closest neighbors much more wary of the Kremlin. They are now likelier to increase military spending to protect themselves. Holding Europe hostage to Russian oil and gas has now led Europeans, particularly the Germans, to diversify energy supplies away from Russia. At the same time, Russia has lost pricing leverage over the oil and gas they sell to China and India. War crimes have ruined Russia’s reputation in much of the civilized world, consequentially their prestige on the international stage has taken a terrible blow. Russia closest allies now are Iran, North Korea, and Syria. Ukraine’s are the United States, the European Union and Great Britain. Russia is now much more isolated and poorer than it has been at since Stalinist times, but at least the Soviet Union had victory in World War II to fall back on. The Kremlin has nothing to fall back on except its battered reputation.
In the dark – Kyiv without electricity
Firing Away – Sources of Frustration
If all the above was not bad enough, Ukrainians were supposed to be the ones who would be plead by now for negotiations. The opposite has occurred. The Russians are now the ones doing the pleading, not by words, but through actions. Hence the missile strikes on civilian infrastructure. Anything to get Ukraine into negotiations. Putin is trying to signal that Russia is far from done in the war. A more realistic assessment would be that Putin is signaling that he is far from done with the war. It is debatable whether Russians are done with the war, if they were ever really for it to begin with. Desperation and frustration are not viable strategies for winning a war against a well-trained and highly motivated opponent. That has not stopped the Kremlin from trying. The missile barrages will continue, but so will the failures to break the will of Ukrainians.