Wednesday, November 30 2022

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As Russian aggression against Ukraine approaches halfway through the year and combat operations seem to have stalled, a new calculus has been developed in the Kremlin: a long war serves Moscow’s interests and may eventually be won.

Photo: the Kremlin

This self-serving proposal follows the failure of two previous war plans: a rapid and total victory by several armored column offensives and a conquest of Donbass and southern Ukraine by an irresistible push of reconstituted battalions behind barrages of massive artillery.

A fiasco with a long-war vision may take longer to manifest, but it will be shaped by the same fundamental miscalculations about Ukraine’s ability to withstand brutal attacks, Western commitment to supporting this costly struggle , the strength of the sanctions-resilient Russian economy and the irreducible public will to follow the course set by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Ukraine comes first in Putin’s compendium of illusions, and it is certainly not interested in a protracted war that prolongs the suffering of its people. Thus, the war plan of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky aims to liberate the occupied territories as soon as possible (Nezavissimaya gazeta, August 11). Yet he does not rush his generals, and the promised counter-offensive has been carefully prepared by targeted strikes on Russian ammunition depots and command centers, as well as the M142 HIMARS artillery rocket system provided by the United States, which was used far more effectively than most Western experts and the Russian command expected (Russian Council.ru, 5 August). The Russian General Staff took advantage of the relative lull in battles to move reinforcements south, following Putin’s order to secure control of Kherson. However, this redeployment leaves more battalions trapped on the western side of the Dnipro River, with three bridges under constant missile strikes (Novayagazeta.eu, August 11). Several explosions at Saki Air Base in Crimea on August 9 were officially declared accidental detonations, and Russian media only report this implausible version. Nevertheless, it is clear that the damage done to the spirit of the Russian troops and to the morale of the public was perhaps greater than the dozen or so fighter planes that would have been destroyed (MedouzaAugust 11).

The Kremlin’s hopes of eroding Western solidarity with Ukraine have been rekindled by the escalation of the US-China conflict centered on Taiwan, but, in reality, those sentiments rest mainly on the reluctance of European allies to pay the costs of a long war (Svoboda.org, August 10). Russia’s gas supply cuts to Europe aim to fuel this discontent, but Moscow has ignored the acceleration of the “green” energy transition in the European Union caused by the urgency of managing the ongoing economic crisis (The insider, August 12). Germany remains the main target of Russian gas pressure and political maneuvering, but Putin’s understanding of this great European power is far outdated, as Berlin’s determination to stand with Ukraine against cruel aggression was seriously underestimated in Moscow (Kommersant FM, August 11). Russian diplomacy aims to weaken that resolve by feigning readiness for peace talks and expected the Turkish-brokered grain deal to restore Kremlin reliability, but provocations at the nuclear power plant in Zaporizhzhia provide much more convincing evidence to the contrary (Svoboda.orgAugust 12).

Government experts are careful not to offend the misperceptions of the strength of the Russian economy that prevail in the Kremlin, so their multivariate forecasts describe only moderate recessions in 2022 and 2023, promising a strong rebound later (KommersantAugust 12; Rosbalt, August 11). The release of official statistics has been severely restricted, but one of the data seen last week covered the sharp expansion of the state budget deficit caused by a sharp drop in revenues, even from the oil and gas sector, and a massive increase in state expenses, clearly caused by the war, which were duly concealed (Rbc.ruAugust 12; Bfm.ru, August 12). Russian oil exports are supported only by steep discounts from Urals reserves, and the gradual decline in production is making it virtually impossible to deliver the quota agreed with members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). ) (Kommersant, August 10). Putin’s instructions on redirecting energy exports to the East are unchallenged, but it is abundantly clear to practitioners that China will not finance the construction of new pipelines (The bellAugust 8).

The idea that a long war can help assert control of a patriotically united society seems solid because protests against the war have mostly dissipated, but testing this theory against the pressure of declining incomes and poverty he increasing losses point to greater risks to the stability of the regime than the Kremlin claims. to believe (Forbes.ru, August 13). Putin’s henchmen are eager to prove their loyalty by traveling to Donbass, but public opinion would rather pretend that life is going on “as usual” and blocking out the horrors of war than embracing the conflict (Re-russia.org, 5 August). This convenient denial becomes harder as more sacrifices are demanded of the urban middle classes of Moscow and St. Petersburg (not just the poorer regions), while soldiers returning from the battlefields of Ukraine tell stories of violent chaos and flagrant incompetence (Medouza, August 11). The generals are confused and upset by the unfamiliar problem of manpower shortages, but their requests for mobilization are left unanswered by the nervous commander-in-chief, and the governors are instead tasked with expanding recruitment in each basin. shallow, from unemployment centers to prisons (Novayagazeta.euAugust 12).

Russia has been gradually transformed and increasingly traumatized by what it still officially describes as a “special military operation”, which no propaganda can describe as going according to Putin’s plans. Yet he cannot admit the flaws in the grand vision of the rise of Russia under his leadership, but must admit that even he has realized that it will take longer for Ukraine to crumble and the West is collapsing. Time, however, is not on the Russian Prime Minister’s side, and Ukraine is about to prove it, despite the terrible price it is paying to resist and roll back Russian aggression. The ultimate proof of the folly of autocratic self-delusion, however, can only come from within Russia, which must reinvent itself and reconstitute itself as a responsible state. He is so obviously unprepared for a long war that inevitable defeat threatens. Indeed, defeat could create space for much-needed reforms, but it could also sap the energy needed for them. A defeated Russia will have a chance to emerge victorious from its self-renewal, but the road will be difficult and the risks will be grave.

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