Will Putin Ever Realize that Russia Is at War?

Two days ago I posted Mike Whitney’s article predicting the role-up of Ukraine that Russia’s winter offensive will bring.  Whether or not it happens remains to be seen, but Whitney is correct in the sense that this is what Russia needs to do in order to prevent the conflict from widening into World War III and to bring the conflict to a favorable conclusion for Russia.

The already long drawn-out conflict, itself foolishly delayed for 8 years while the Kremlin misplaced its hopes on the Minsk Agreement, has proved to be a strategic blunder that permitted US and NATO involvement, sanctions that disrupted Russian businesses, two new members of NATO willing to host US nuclear weapons near Russia’s borders, and more red line crossing provocations, such as the execution of Russian POWs and the attacks on the Nord Stream pipelines and Crimea bridge.  Far from limiting the conflict, Putin’s “limited military operation” greatly expanded it.  Today we have, once again, Russia fighting on her own territory, this time with insufficient troops and no reserves and unable to hold the forward lines the Russian military initially established.  Indeed, the large amount of time it is taking Putin to reinforce his hard-pressed soldiers is raising the question whether Russia has a standing army or nothing but nuclear weapons with which to defend herself.  If this is the case, as one unenforced Russian red line after another falls undefended, the provocations will continue until the Kremlin’s only options are surrender or nuclear war.

In recent days the Kremlin has permitted Russia’s armed forces limited attacks on Ukraine’s electrical grid, fuel supplies, railways, and command and control centers.  By ceasing to protect Kiev’s ability to wage war against the Russian forces, the Kremlin has shown for the first time some recognition that Russia is at war and not conducting a police operation limited to the protection of Donbass residents.  But still Putin refuses to shut down Ukraine, which Russia easily can do, and, thereby, Russia continues to suffer needless casualties among its limited number of professional troops.  Moreover, the Kremlin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, gives assurances that Russia has no intention of bringing about regime change in Kiev.  Peskov assures us that the Zelensky government is not a target.

Peskov’s guarantee given to Zelensky does nothing to encourage the negotiations that the Kremlin still desires, but does convince Washington that the Kremlin is uncertain about the war’s outcome and desires to end the war before it widens further and the Kremlin is further embarrassed by more crossings of unenforced Russian red lines.  It seems that Peskov’s guarantee to Zelensky indicates a winter offensive limited to recapturing the territories lost to the Ukrainian offensives.

Such a limited operation would achieve nothing.  Washington is providing weapons of increasing range to the Ukrainian military, weapons that can reach Russian territory from western Ukraine outside the area of Putin’s limited operation.  This will force Putin to finally go to war, and by this time the West might have convinced itself that the US and Polish troops that are deployed have to go to Ukraine’s defense.

My apprehension remains what it always has been–that Putin’s “limited military operation” sends all the wrong signals to the West and provides the West with time to get more and more involved.  I stand by what I said at the beginning:  Russia needed a dramatic quick and overwhelming victory that would put the West on clear notice that Russia indeed has red lines and that the West’s refusal to accommodate Russia’s security concerns has dramatic consequences.  

Will Putin Ever Realize that Russia Is at War?

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