What will Putin do? I ask that question as someone with access to no secret sources, no classified government materials, and no friends in the know. I ask it as someone who reads articles and watches news and talk shows. We are witnessing a battle between the real world and the mind of someone with a Peter the Great complex who knows the price for attempting to impose such greatness and failing. At some point eventually, the real world wins. The Soviet Union was not the wave of the future.
WHERE ARE WE TODAY?
Back in February when this special military operation began, I am not sure how many people thought we would be where we are today. The invasion was hardly a secret although it still seemed to have taken some people by surprise. There seem to be people who believed that it was a bluff of some kind.
In the initial Russian run up and invasion of Ukraine, the consensus was that the war would be a short one. The Russian forces were massive, a word one heard frequently. The Russian forces also were state-of-the-art, a true 21st-century military machine what would steamroller over the smaller and less well-armed Ukraine. Russia had military experiences as well. Perhaps Putin’s asset, the former President of the United States said it best.
“I went in yesterday and there was a television screen, and I said, ‘This is genius.’ Putin declares a big portion of the Ukraine — of Ukraine — Putin declares it as independent. Oh, that’s wonderful,” Trump said in a radio interview with “The Clay Travis and Buck Sexton Show.” “He used the word ‘independent’ and ‘we’re gonna go out and we’re gonna go in and we’re gonna help keep peace.’ You gotta say that’s pretty savvy.”
As we all know, Russia’s initial onslaught was both brutal and unsuccessful. The Russian proclamations of quick victory had to be filed back in the drawer. Instead, the Ukrainians were more like the Russians valiantly fighting the Nazis from capturing the country. Those early weeks of the war have become Ukraine’s finest hour so far.
Zelensky then became a media darling. Ukraine was front page news and he was front page news. He spoke via giant screens to the people of Europe. They gathered together to hear him just as they had when Matt Damon was successfully rescued from Mars to the cheers of millions. He was David defeating Goliath. The Russians had failed in their efforts to seize the capital. Perhaps soon Ukrainians would even push the Russians out of their country. Those were heady days indeed.
The moment did not last long. Ukraine stopped being the lead story. It was not even mentioned in daily news shows, talked about, or printed about in the daily newspapers. The battle had switched to the “east.” It has become a slugfest. There were no stirring defeats. There were no stirring victories. It just continued day after day, more of the same, with no light at the end of the tunnel, a forever genocidal war.
Then the tide change. Suddenly Ukraine was on the offensive. Ukraine was regaining territory. The Russian army seemed on the verge of collapse. What would Putin do?
Now we now know the answer: partial mobilization. Will it work?
Let’s examine some of the changes which have occurred and the hoped-for changes which have not.
1. NATO is more unified than it has been in decades. How long that will last remains unknown but so far one result of Putin’s war is a revitalized NATO that takes very seriously the Russian threat. This can’t be what Putin wanted.
2. NATO has expanded. Finland and Sweden are in the process of joining NATO. Even beforehand, their militaries are working with NATO as if they were members. This can’t be what Putin wanted.
3. World food and energy prices are in turmoil leading to disruptions in many places. For Putin this unexpected collateral damage has been weaponized into an attack on the West. It will not help him win in Ukraine but it will inflict pain on others. Putin does not care.
4. The oligarchs have had no effect on Putin’s behavior. The seizure of yachts has made for many dramatic photo-ops but they are immaterial.
5. Economic sanctions have not worked … yet. Remember how being cut off from SWIFT was going to be a devastating blow! So far the economy has shrunk but less than it did with Covid. The high energy prices and willing customers in China and India have helped keep the coffers full … so far. Ever more Russian people have been placed under sanctions. This is a little like watching paint dry or grass grow. If you are patient and can hold firm, they can have a major effect on the Russian people. Putin may not care how much the Russian people suffer for the greater cause of his being Peter the Great, but combined with other events, they could prove troublesome to him. At some point sanctions may become the straw that breaks the camel’s back.
6. The army has underperformed and the situation is getting worse not better. Even Russian pro-war hawks have become speaking out on social media calling for heads to roll. The facts on the ground ultimately may be the biggest game changer of all.
At this point Putin seemingly has nothing good to which to look to forward, so he threw a Hail Mary.
PUTIN’S HAIL MARY
Like “special military operation,” “partial mobilization” is a code term. The former is for an invasion and the latter is a Hail Mary.
Putin already had succeeded in generating one rush to emigrate with the start of the special military operation. Now with the partial mobilization he has sparked another. The first one was mainly Western-oriented people of all genders and ages who said “enough is enough.” These are the people who were in the forefront of the efforts to westernize Russia and promote democracy. The departure of the best-educated people enabled Putin to say “good riddance” to these enemies of the state regardless of the loss to the future economy of Russia.
With the second group fleeing the country, the situation is different. They are young men, Russian and non-ethnic, perhaps not as well educated as the first group, perhaps more loyal to Putin before, who are now leaving.
Here we see the failure of Russian Foxhub. Officially the special military operation is succeeding perfectly according to plan. One might think the young men would be eager to participate in this glorious undertaking for the greater good of Mother Russia. Yet for some reason, they think going to the battlefront in Ukraine means going to die. They see the draft not as a call to arms but as a death sentence.
How could they think that? The fleeing following the partial mobilization decree tells us that Russian Foxhub was telling them the Big Lie that no longer works. The Russian Big Lie of victory was tolerated as long as it did not affect the average individual. In other words, the Russian people knew Russian Foxhub was spinning the Big Lie. Once Putin called for a partial mobilization, they knew the Big Lie was a Big Lie and they knew who was responsible for it. They were being asked to sacrifice themselves for Putin’s Big Lie. They are not being asked to fight for Russia, they are being asked to fight for Putin. How many troops does Putin need at home round up the people needed for the partial mobilization in support of the Big Lie?
And now he will be arming those recruits or at least trying to. He will be arming 300,000 men who know that Putin is the problem. There already are tens of thousands of men in the Ukraine who know the war is the Big Lie and Putin is the problem. So while everyone in the West is concerned about whether Putin will use nuclear weapons, we should also be looking to the facts on the ground. Winter is coming for the exposed troops in the Ukraine. Winter is coming for new recruits however many are rounded up. The West will do a better job arming and supplying Ukrainians this winter than Russians will do their own armed forces. The winter that defeated Napoleon and Hitler is more likely to defeat Putin too.
What will Putin do when the Big Lie no longer works and the facts on the ground can no longer be denied even by him? That is when he has to start looking over his shoulder and watching his back if he is not already doing that.
THE WAR WILL END WHEN THE RUSSIAN PEOPLE ARE NO LONGER WILLING TO ACCEPT PUTIN’S BIG LIE.
THE WAR WILL END WHEN THE RUSSIAN PEOPLE ARE WILLING TO HOLD PUTIN ACCOUNTABLE FOR SPREADING THE BIG LIE.