Putin’s War: The End of the Beginning or the Beginning of the End?

It was going to be a breeze. Despite the mobilisation of troops and equipment along the border with Ukraine over the best part of a year, and in the face of alarm raised by NATO intelligence, most of us in the West who work on Russia could not believe they would be so foolish as to invade Ukraine in a blatant attempt to overthrow the government in an act of war; something that has not happened in Europe since 1991. A two-day Blitzkrieg and it would be all over. Putin could sign his name in under that of Stalin and before him Catherine the Great. Perhaps they would rename Kyiv as “Putingrad” in his sacred memory in the years of glory to come.

Thus far, however, he has failed; just as the eccentric, blimpish, but fully informed Colonel-General Leonid Ivashov predicted (look for him on Youtube.) If you set out with a misconceived strategy, he has reiterated throughout the conflict, no amount of heroism in the ranks will save the day. Whatever you do thereafter will not compensate for strategic ineptitude at the outset. And, of course, we did not see so much heroism as plain terror, mindless savagery of the kind inflicted in acts of genocide in former Yugoslavia by “the crazy doctor”, as the war criminal Slobodan Milošević called the rogue, psychotic psychiatrist Radovan Karadžić .

After the first setbacks, the Russian media began airing concern about the lack of patriotism among the country’s youth. It became a regular theme in Komsomol’skaya pravda; said to be Putin’s favourite paper. Then, as we noted on twitter the other day, even Putin began referring to divisions within Russia, though without specifying the root cause of dissent: his war, no one else’s.

Now that same newspaper today reports “colossal losses” on Russian forces inflicted by Ukraine. So in order to explain all this Komsomol’skaya pravda goes on to claim that “we are fighting not just Ukraine but Ukraine combined with NATO” [“с нами воюет уже не сама Украина, а сборная НАТО.”] At the same time Putin is refusing to order general mobilisation on the grounds that NATO has not mobilised.

Of course, his real problem is less NATO than his own population. It would be fatal to call the country’s youth to arms when losing as a result of a misconceived war, as Ivashov always reminded the government. The “committee of the mothers of the soldiers” still carries enormous social prestige. How long before they appear on the streets in defiance of Omon crowd control? For Putin to escalate will definitely signal not the end of the beginning but the beginning of the end. His own.

“Бои на харьковском направлении: На Изюм наступала не Украина, а сборная НАТО”