One year of Putin’s folly in Ukraine

If I were Russian president Vladimir Putin, I’d be thinking about disappearing. He’s a dead man walking and is living in denial.

It’s been a year since he launched an unprovoked war against Ukraine. To say it’s been a debacle is to be extremely charitable. There are multiple targets on his back. It’s just a matter of how much longer he has in power.

You can get a sense of his problem by listening to the head of the Wagner mercenary group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, accusing the Russian defense ministry of treason. This sort of behavior from others with power in Russia usually means their lifespan can be counted in days and they will conveniently fall out of a top floor of a nearby tall building.

Prigozhin, known as “Putin’s chef”, is not scared. He doesn’t have much to lose because his group is being systematically starved of the resources needed to actually help Putin. The Wagner Group is losing hundreds of mercenaries every day. But the Russian army is likely losing thousands of soldiers every day in a fruitless war of attrition.

The whole thing has been a total fiasco. About the only thing Russia has proven adept at is blowing up stuff with missiles at long range. They can’t seem to retain territory. Ukraine’s army is agile and crafty in a way his cannot be, plus it has proven capable of adroitly working with allied powers.

Approximately 200,000 Russian soldiers have died so far, but that’s likely a lowball figure. Much worse is the casual and thoughtless way they are being wielded. The quality of the recruits just get worse, about a million draftees have fled the country, and the army simply can’t be bothered to provide the supply lines needed to sustain their army. They get rudimentary training, at best. Granted, a lot of Ukrainian soldiers have died too, but not in as large numbers, and in general their supply lines are sustainable.

It’s not like this should surprise anyone. The last fifty years of warfare have been largely the same old story all over again. An occupying army simply can’t win anymore, at least not for any long period of time. The United States seems to be learning the lesson. It’s why Biden got us out of Afghanistan and Bush bailed on Iraq. Russia doesn’t have the organization and resources to win the war it started. You just have to see what tangible results Russia has achieved: sporadic occupation of the Donbas areas of eastern Ukraine and that’s about it. Over and over again their armed forces have been humiliated. Their flagship was sunk in the Black Sea by Ukrainian forces.

Putin is still thinking you can win wars by being a strongman like Hitler. That model pretty much stopped after World War II. War is just ruinously expensive, not just on those it is inflicted upon, but more so by the aggressors.

Perhaps Putin is thinking of using tactical nuclear weapons. It wouldn’t actually solve his problem at all, but it would set the first use of nuclear weapons since World War II. Russia would rival North Korea as a pariah state. The problems he was trying to solve have only gotten worse. NATO has expanded, not contracted and now Finland has joined the alliance, and it’s right on his border. NATO combined likely has ten times the power of his own forces, but his own forces are already marginal and depleted. He can’t even manage a war against Ukraine; thinking he could do so against NATO is folly.

There is simply no way for him to get the victory that he wants short of, perhaps, dragging in China into the fight. At best, China may provide some ammunition and drones, but it’s not going to commit its army to his folly. China is not a stupid superpower. It knows it would be a waste of its time and resources. China succeeds through the exercise of soft power, where it has proven adroit.

I suspect Putin will be deposed in a timely coup pretty soon. If I were him I’d be looking for exile deep in some friendly totalitarian state like China. But I suspect regardless that you can measure his lifespan in a few years at best, or a few months at worse.

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