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President of Russia Vladimir Putin at the military parade in Red Square, Moscow (Kremlin.ru, CC BY 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons).
The ongoing invasion of Ukraine has been nothing short of a disaster for Russia. Already their deadliest war since World War Two, the only primary objective the Kremlin has reached was the occupation of Mariupol and the reinforcing of Crimea through Southern Ukraine. Overthrowing the current Ukrainian government, demilitarization, and “denazification” have failed while public opinion has dropped against Russia, especially among United Nations members.
Already facing a demographic crisis, with the lowest labor force since 1998 and military losses that will take decades to recuperate, Putin is at a crossroads. Acknowledging all major objectives have failed, the Russian autocrat knows the longer the war continues, the more the general public will turn against him. Likewise, Putin cannot stop the war for fear of his own life.
Failed Military Objectives
The Kremlin and Russian media figures brought up the idea of “Novorossiya” in 2014. Russia looked to enact this plan at the minimum if it could not conquer Kyiv. Novorossiya was the plan to fully annex the Donbas region and all of Ukraine’s southern coastline up to Odessa to link up with Russian-occupied Transnistria.
Russia’s central goals of the invasion have failed, and Ukraine has reversed these plans with several key counteroffensives in Kharkiv and Kherson. Kharkiv’s liberation was enough to send shockwaves that Putin immediately called for a partial mobilization and “annexation” of occupied territories. Ukraine is currently more armed and well-trained than at any point near the decade-long conflict, and Moscow’s military prowess has faded on the global stage.
The war in Ukraine has been the most costly and deadly for the Russian military since World War Two. According to leaked Pentagon documents, at minimum, close to 50,000, Russians have been killed in the country, with a higher death rate than the Ukrainian military. British, US, and Norwegian intelligence has estimated that Russia has 220,000 military casualties overall, and this was stated in February.
According to the Oryx Blog and US Intelligence, Moscow has lost 40% of its prewar tank fleet and the country has resorted to activating the early Cold War era T-55s to compensate for armor losses. Half of the Black Sea Fleet’s assets have been crippled, including Russia’s most prized flagship, the Moskva. Under intense sanctions that block the nation from acquiring much-needed spare Western parts and chip components, Russia’s military will be crippled for years with minimal gains.
Moscow’s battlefield setbacks have profoundly affected the various factions currently fighting for Russia. Utilizing private military contractors and warlords to bolster an already overstretched military, Putin has surrounded himself with hardliners such as Wagner CEO Yevgeny Prigozhin and Chechen warlord Ramzan Kadyrov. Prigozhin has an open conflict with the Russian Ministry of Defense, particularly Defense Minister Shoigu and overall commander Gerasimov over support for his mercenaries.
Several different PMCs have formed in the wake of Russia’s military failures, including one for Gazprom, Kadyrov, and Shoigu’s army. On April 24th, it was reported Wagner and the Russian military had their first open firefight in the occupied Luhansk region and the more Moscow faces setbacks, the more infighting will heighten.
Vassal States Becoming More Destabilized
Russia has acted as a “protector” for countries with minimal military capabilities, like Armenia and Turkmenistan, and also a shield for long-standing autocrats like Assad in Syria and Lukashenko in Belarus. Many of these countries have had a sigh of relief under the Kremlin’s hegemony, but the situation has not changed drastically.
Azerbaijan has openly encroached on Armenia’s borders and has engaged in several high-value clashes against its neighbor. They have also fired upon Russian peacekeepers, who are too physically weak and overextended to do the minimum of mitigating violence.
Israel has increased its attacks against the IRGC and Iranian-backed militias in Syria as Russia has withdrawn valuable air defense systems and manpower to Ukraine. This has also occurred with Russian garrisons in Central Asia and the occupied regions of Georgia, showing how desperate the war has been for the Kremlin.
China and America Filling the Void
Where Russia has failed geopolitically due to the amount of resources invested against Ukraine, both China and the US have started to flourish. Rich in natural resources, Kazakhstan has drifted towards China and has started a path of agreements with America.
In the Middle East, where Russia has attempted to mitigate tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia, China has filled the void. With Moscow’s military presence growing weaker in Syria, a heightened conflict could occur between Israel and Iran. Russia has also failed on arms deliveries to India due to Ukraine and has made countries reconsider weapons purchases under threats of sanctions.
Finland’s NATO Inception Shows the Organization Was Never a Threat To Russia
Vladimir Putin stated one of his reasons for invading was that Ukraine was veering toward NATO membership and feared having the organization on its borders. In truth, NATO was always on Russia’s borders, and Moscow only exacerbated their problems. With Norway, Lithuania, Estonia, and Poland, NATO already bordered Russia in several geographic areas, and Ukraine’s ascension was rejected in 2008 with no formal renewed application until late 2022.
Finland, which re-assessed its own security due to Russia’s aggressiveness, applied for NATO. With Helsinki in the organization, this makes Moscow’s situation much worse than Kyiv could ever do. Finland is geographically close to Russia’s top two cities of, Saint Peterburg and Moscow, with the former in range of long-range missiles such as ATACMS. If NATO and Russia ever went to war, Finland, with Europe’s most extensive artillery and reserve army and one of the most technologically advanced nations on earth, could wreck Russia’s military and major cities.
The War was Always a Rite of Conquest
Russian society has always viewed Ukraine as an integral part of maintaining the remnants of its empire. Most Russians supported the annexation of Crimea in 2014, including opposition leader Alexei Navalny as the military action signified Moscow’s feared and decisive military prowess on center stage once again.
Of all European empires, Russia is the last true one that hasn’t had a full decolonization and even fought to retain them, as seen with the carpet bombing of Chechnya. Putin has cost Russian society so much for minimal gains that he fears ending the war unfavorably. It should be noted Putin’s greatest fear is being killed by his own people, akin to Gaddafi.
In detail, as their ‘anti-Nazi’ campaign has been myth-busted and Ukraine has become ever stronger even after Moscow’s goal of demilitarization, the war in Ukraine is now about national pride. For Russia and Russian nationalists, losing to Ukraine would be a death to their right of conquest manifesto indoctrinated in the nation since the 1500s, and that’s why even if Putin was ousted, the conflict will continue.
** If you want a deeper look at the Russian Understand of War, click here.
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