“If Russia stops fighting, the war ends. If Ukraine stops fighting, Ukraine ends,” says US Secretary of State Antony Blinken
The former KGB Colonel is losing his war. On February 24, Vladimir Putin, a former spy aka the Tsar aka Russia’s President, invaded Ukraine and expected his tanks to run over the country in a matter of two days, greeted by cheering Ukrainians lining the streets, waving Russian flags.
To his horror and disgust, the welcome he received was a fierce military fight-back inspired by their President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, a former stand-up comic with little experience in war. History creates unexpected heroes. Putin made Zelenskyy one, the vocal figurehead of a nation fighting an invader many times its size and power. Russia’s feared and famous Red Army is in retreat. With his survival at stake, Putin has four choices.
✥ End the war by declaring victory and withdrawing his troops
✥ Push on and let more soldiers die—the conscription drive to add 300,000 more fighters is sending reservists and raw recruits as cannon fodder to Zelenskyy’s advancing army
✥ A low-yield nuclear blast over Ukraine to force it into submission
✥ Persuade allies like India, China and North Korea and vassal states to back him
RED ARMY IN DISARRAY
Putin is running out of options. In early September, the Red Army retreated from its main stronghold in north-eastern Ukraine after a lightning Ukrainian advance. Zelenskyy’s troops seized back over 8,000 sq km of captured territory.
Andriy Yermak, Head of the Office of the President of Ukraine, tweeted, “The Russian army is claiming the title of the fastest army in the world… keep running!”
Ukrainian army liberated Izyum city in the Kharkiv province, where mass graves attested to Russian brutality, followed by Vasylenkovo and Artemivka, pushing the Russians back from the Kyiv region.
Ukraine captured vast amounts of Russian arsenal abandoned by fleeing or surrendering Russian soldiers. The battlefield is littered with burned tanks, their crew charred in missile strikes. Bloomberg reported last week that the Ukrainian army has seized more than 200 Russian tanks, including the advanced T-80 main battle tanks.
Russia’s retreat from Kharkiv alone cost it 40 tanks, 50 infantry vehicles, 35 armoured vehicles and two jets. On September 7, Ukraine destroyed massive amounts of Russian weaponry with 370 missile and artillery strikes.
According to intelligence website Oryx, the fight-back is empowered by US-made advanced artillery systems like HIMARS. Zelenskyy has vowed to take back all lost territory, but his optimism could be misplaced. The 1,000-km-long border with Russia is not easy to defend with the forces he currently has.
IS PUTIN’S MYSTIQUE IN PERIL?
Thirty Western governments, including the US, Poland and the UK, have provided Ukraine with military equipment, funds and supplies as the war drags on. The US has given USD 12.5 billion worth of weapons as of September 9. Britain will fork out USD 64 million more. Zelenskyy estimates that it costs Euro 4.1 billion a month to defend his country.
Republicans, shrugging off Donald Trump’s Putin fanboy legacy, are supporting a USD 12-billion aid package for Ukraine. Australia, Canada and the US have sent more than 100 M777 howitzers and 300,000 rounds of ammunition to counter Russia’s Giatsint-B howitzer.
The Ukrainian Army has received 5,000 shoulder-launched NLAWs that can blow up battle tanks with one shot. Poland and the Czech Republic have sent over 230 Warsaw Pact-designed tanks; Ukrainians are using captured or abandoned enemy tanks against their previous owners.
Worried about missile strikes, Russian submarines have been moved away from Crimea, where the Black Sea Fleet is based, according to the British Ministry of Defence. Defence Analyst Lt Gen.
VK Chaturvedi (retd) says, “Russia is short of ammunition and there seems to be unrest in the ageing army. Support for Putin is also waning as he has placed himself above the nation. Talking of nuclear weapons shows his frustration.”
Onyx puts Russian tank losses at over 1,012 in more than six months of the war, though the Ukrainians claim to have destroyed 2,077. The ‘jack-in-the-box effect’—a term to define the faulty way the 40 shells are carried in turrets of Russian tanks—ensures that even an indirect hit can blow it up.
A recent video showed a turret blasting upwards to the height of a two-storey building. Russian air power has been severely curtained over Ukraine. A Pentagon source claimed that Ukraine shot down 55 Russian warplanes, mostly with ‘SA Series’ Surface-to-Air Missiles.
The Kyiv Independent reported that Russia has lost 234 planes and 191 helicopters since February. Reeling under such heavy losses of men and materials, and forced to withdraw with a loss of face, Putin has resorted to the mobilisation of three lakh Russian civilians.
JOIN OR DIE
As anti-draft protests raged across Russia, independent journalist Farida Rusamova learned that Putin had escaped to his secret vacation home a luxury complex near Lake Valdai situated halfway between Moscow and St. Petersburg—to rest his “body and soul”.
MailOnline, which picked up the story, described the despot’s secret forest retreat as a three-storey spa with a float pool and mud bath. It also has a personal beauty parlour to cater to the vainglorious tyrant, who reportedly gets Botox injections, eye-lifts and firming fillers.
But no amount of cosmetic repairs can undo the damage he has wreaked on Russian morale. At an anti-war rally in Yekaterinburg, Russia’s fourth-largest city, a woman in a wheelchair was seen shouting “Goddamn bald-headed ‘nut job’.
He’s going to drop a bomb on us, and we’re all still protecting him!” Zelenskyy said on Ukrainian TV, “If almost 43,000 dead Russian soldiers don’t convince the Russian leadership that they need to find a way out of the war, then more fighting is needed, more results are needed to convince.”
Victory in war is about morale and sleight of hand, and coffins are the math. On August 8, US Undersecretary of Defence for Policy, Colin Kahl told reporters that “the Russians have probably taken 70,000-80,000 casualties”.
The real number isn’t available since wartime casualties are a state secret in Russia, which, if revealed, means seven years in prison. Pravda, Russia’s state-run newspaper, quoted Ukrainian General Staff stating that 49,500 Russian soldiers had been killed by the seventh month of the invasion.
International relations expert Dhananjay Tripathi says, “With the rising casualty figures, Russia is losing the battle of perception as well. Bringing in its reservists only exposes that it is feeling the heat. It anticipated that the battle would be short and quick, but it has all gone awry.”
Putin wouldn’t be amused: the newspaper Pravda and Izvestia had functioned as the Soviet Communist Party’s mouthpieces. During the dark days of Soviet rule, the joke was, “There is no Pravda (truth) in Izvestia (facts), and no Izvestia in Pravda”.
Though criticising the war invites a long prison term, the chant “send Putin to the trenches” is reverberating through Russia. Prices of outbound aeroplane tickets have soared above USD 5,000 after three of Russia’s four neighbours closed their borders.
The KGB’s successor FSB reported that 260,000 adult men have already fled. There are reports of FSB agents taking away able-bodied men to fight in Ukraine. Andrei Kolesnikov of the Carnegie Moscow Center think tank told The Guardian, “It could prove dangerous for the system to take the armchair warriors sitting in front of the TV and turn them into active participants.
We are already seeing the first signs of discontent now.” Recruitment officers have been abused, attacked or even shot dead. Women were seen weeping and hugging their commandeered men folk. Zelenskyy addressed Russians in Russian: “I will explain to the Russians what is happening in Russian. Fifty-five thousand Russian soldiers died in this war in six months.”
Riot police at sites of protests are carting objectors off to prison. Prison has become a favourite hunting ground for conscripts.
THE WAR CRIMINAL
Russia has criminalised war by recruiting dangerous criminals. In a leaked video verified by BBC using facial recognition, Yevgeny Prigozhin, the founder of the Wagner mercenary group, which has been fighting alongside Russian soldiers since 2014, is seen promising prison inmates freedom after fighting in Ukraine for six months.
An inmate told a Guardian journalist, “Prisoners will know they can act with complete impunity there. Prison turns you into an animal, and there is a lot of hate growing inside you. Their hands will be untied there.”
Emerging evidence shows that Russia perpetrated horrific war crimes in Ukraine, raping and murdering children and women, aged 14 to 84. After Izium was recaptured, Ukrainian officials exhumed a mass grave containing 436 bodies of civilians and 21 soldiers with gunshot wounds.
They had been tortured, their limbs broken, with ropes tied around their neck and hands. The genitals of some men had been amputated. Ukraine urged the UN to hold a Nuremberg-type trial of Putin, which punished captured Nazis with death or jail.
The UN’s Independent International Commission of Inquiry told the Human Rights Council in Geneva that “based on the evidence gathered by the commission, it has concluded that war crimes have been committed in Ukraine”.
During World War II, Stalin had ordered all retreating Russian soldiers to be shot as they fled the German advance. A similar order has gone out from Moscow, believe Western reports. But mobilisation doesn’t guarantee Putin's victory because many inexperienced recruits get only a few weeks training before being sent into battle.
The Ukrainian army consists of battle-hardened men and women who have been fighting the Russians for more than 3,000 days. They are highly motivated and ready to die for their country, which the Russian soldiers aren’t. Putin’s military leadership has failed miserably: at least 16 top generals have been killed or sacked, according to MI6.
Reports say the dictator himself has taken full charge of decision-making in the war as Hitler did during the last days of Germany’s collapse. Russia has never won a big war since its defeat by the Japanese in 1905, which eventually led to the fall of the House of Romanovs. For that matter neither has China, after its defeat to Vietnam in 1979.
As the Red Army’s shambolic retreat continued, Putin was reportedly busy inaugurating
a Ferris wheel in a Moscow park last week. “It’s very important for people to be able to relax with friends and family,” he told reporters. But the wheel is coming full circle: the dictator’s friends don’t seem to be one big family. Ally China expressed “questions and concerns” about the situation in Ukraine.
The isolated and delusional Russian president, who is running out of ideas, seems to be running out of allies too. At a Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit held in Uzbekistan in early September, PM Narendra Modi rebuked Putin: “Today’s era is not an era of war.”
At the UNGA meeting in New York last week, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov tried to get Beijing back in Moscow’s corner by accusing the US of “playing with fire” around Taiwan, which China claims as its territory; the Chinese had gone ballistic after US Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan in August.
The hapless Lavrov walked out in protest against questions on Ukraine. Politico magazine reported that foreign representatives refused his invitation to meet on the sidelines; a diplomat said wryly, “Their dance card wasn’t very full.”
Putin’s grip is crumbling as Moscow digs itself deeper into the morass. The Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) which includes Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, is Putin’s alternative to NATO.
But many of its members—Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Armenia—have violent border disputes. Armenia’s age-old enemy Azerbaijan invaded it, ignoring CSTO’s protection, even attacking the Russian soldiers posted as protection. Kazakhstan has declared that it won’t “bow to Moscow”. Though Russia has a military base in Belarus to launch attacks on Ukraine, its dictator Alexander Lukashenko is not helping Putin with troops.
Chechnya has refused to join the mobilisation in spite of its dreaded leader Ramzan Kadyrov’s adoration for Putin. Western sanctions have hobbled the Russian economy, which depends on energy exports to survive.
For sanctions-affected oligarchs impoverished by billions of dollars, any disagreement with the dictator is becoming fatal. EU leaders blame Moscow for sabotaging two Russian gas pipelines and leaking gas into the Baltic Sea as the European energy standoff continues. As disapproval of the war spreads among Putin’s inner financial circle, many oligarchs are dying mysteriously.
Russian aviation tycoon Ivan Pechorin died after inexplicably falling from a speeding boat. Oil magnate Ravil Maganov fell from the sixth-floor window of a Moscow hospital on September 1—he had labelled the invasion a “tragedy”.
After his top manager Aleksandr Subbotin was found dead, came the official explanation that he had visited a healer for a hangover cure and instead had a heart attack. Eight other Russian billionaires have met bizarre ends recently—allegedly staged suicides or assassinations because they opposed the invasion.
Former spy and author of Putin’s Playbook: Russia’s Secret Plan to Defeat America, Rebekah Koffler told Fox News Digital that “the truth is unlikely to be discovered because Russian investigation cannot be trusted”, explaining that the Russian news agencies are mostly controlled or at least influenced by Putin’s government.
PLAYING THE NUKE BOX
Putin has warned that he will not hesitate to go nuclear if the West continues to arm Ukraine. “The territorial integrity of our motherland, our independence and freedom will be secured with all the means we have. Those who try to blackmail us with nuclear weapons should know that the prevailing winds can turn in their direction,” he threatened.
Putin won the sham referendum led by puppet leaders, and overseen by gun-toting Russian soldiers, in Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson last week to show that people wished to join Russia. The engineered results enable Putin to paint Kyiv as the aggressor and declare areas taken back by Ukraine as part of Russia.
The former spy isn’t playing dirty tricks: Russia claimed that Purnima Anand, an official Indian “observer”, was present at the referendum, which India quickly refuted. Claiming to be from the BRICS International Forum, she had praised the polls as popular—“people are happy, hope shines in their eyes for a peaceful, long-awaited future as part of Russia”.
New Delhi denied that such an outfit existed at all under the BRICS. Alexander Baunov, a former diplomat and a senior associate at Carnegie Moscow Center, tweeted that the referendum results, which the UN doesn’t recognise as legitimate, are Putin’s signal to the West: “You chose to fight us in Ukraine, now try to fight us in Russia itself, or, to be precisely what we call Russia.” This could be the justification Putin could use for a nuclear attack.
Galina Luhova, head of the Kherson City Military Administration, had told the Washington Post, “They (Russian soldiers) ring the doorbell of apartments, knock down the doors of those who don’t open them and demand that people come out and put a mark that they agree to join the Russian Federation.”
There is fear among world leaders that after Moscow’s sham victory, Putin could nuke Ukraine as
a last resort. American national security expert Matthew Schmidt disagreed on CNN last week, “because that will bring in NATO for real and he (Putin) would lose the Russian military, the source of his power”.
Putin’s remaining supporters consist of a small gang of military hardliners and a few old Kremlin hawks. The Federation of American Scientists reports that Russia has the world’s largest nuclear inventory—a total of 5,977 nukes. Putin’s former advisor General Sergei Markov told BBC Radio 4 that Russia’s nuclear threat is also targeted outside of Ukraine.
With a badly calculated invasion of a neighbour, the rout of the mighty Red Army, and personal humiliation that could become politically and personally fatal, Ukraine has become Vladimir Putin’s battlefield of survival. Whichever way the wind blows, the stench of death is unmistakable.
United with Ukraine
The Ukrainian army consists of battle-hardened men and women who have been fighting the Russians for more than 3,000 days. They are highly motivated and ready to die for their country, which the Russian soldiers aren’t.