Even though Russia has continued to conduct its war of choice in Ukraine in an awful way, its most dangerous moment may be approaching.
In this week’s days, the Kremlin will likely declare that four partially occupied Ukrainian regions have been mandated to assimilate into Russian territory.
Under international law, the referendums are illegal, and Ukraine, the United States, and other NATO members have already said sanctions will follow.
Even so, it’s inevitable and Russia will likely use the opportunity to highlight the central threat behind this charade, stated openly by Lavrov last weekend: Moscow has the right to fully protect territory it claims to control.
Last week, Putin warned that Russia would “make use of all weapon systems available” if necessary, as a response to nonexistent NATO nuclear threats.
As Putin said, “not a bluff”: his officials want nuclear weapons considered a real possibility.
As a result, Washington has changed its messaging.
The US President and cabinet must now publicly signal preparedness and deterrence to reassure allies and everyone else on Planet Earth.
Wartime Russians who are losing heavily to a neighbor they thought they would conquer at will are deeply uncomfortable when told nuclear weapons are bad ideas. It seems that mutual assured destruction is no longer in effect.
The Russia we are facing wants to project a madman image, willing to lose everything if the war ends in defeat.
Putin’s power and influence has far weaker now
There is no way for Putin to climbdown or to gently exit.
People who have observed conscription in Russia over the decades know the results: the rich flee, while the poor outnumber everyone.
There are rusty rifles and drunken recruits, but no answer to how Moscow can supply and equip these tens of thousands of untrained and perhaps unwilling soldiers, since it has been unable to adequately outfit the regular army.
The crisis hasn’t had to wait for the newly mobilized to return in coffins in Putin’s Russia. Russians whose fathers, sons or husbands have been incorrectly sent to the frontlines are using Kremlin propaganda mogul Margarita Simonian, the head of RT, as a Twitter agony aunt in the chaos of mobilization.
It is the war, and its appalling prosecution, that led Russia here, and not over-zealous local officials. There is a hint of criticism of the chief in the elite’s recognition of the mobilization catastrophe, and that’s rare.
Putin’s position is dependent on strength, and he lacks that almost completely now. To add to his troubles, he now faces internal dissent that is perhaps unprecedented. Ukrainian morale is sky-high and their equipment is slowly improving despite forced mobilization of old men and unwilling youngsters.
The inner circle of Putin will not bring you change. They’re all covered in the blood of this war, and they’re all behind the slow drumbeat of repression that’s turned Russia into an autocratic dystopia. When Putin is replaced, don’t expect it to reverse tack and demand economic recovery. Those who succeed Putin may attempt a foolhardier exercise than the original invasion.
To reverse this disastrous situation, Putin might need to employ other tools. Chemical or biological weapons would be too close for comfort or sanity, and would invoke an intense international response.
The military may worry that it will be unable to perform an accurate, limited and effective tactical nuclear strike if it does not have enough planes or tanks to carry out the strike.
There might even be a reemergence of the better angels of Russian nature. When I lived there, I met a bright, warm, and sparkling people, mostly blighted by centuries of misrule. It’s easy for Putin to view Moscow’s saber-rattling as the dying days of an empire that didn’t check its hood before launching a storm.