Putin has these (bad) options in Ukraine

The support for Kremlin boss Vladimir Putin is slowly crumbling.Image: www.imago-images.de / imago images

analysis

The Ukrainian offensive caught the Russians on the left foot. Hardliners are calling for mobilization, but the risks involved are enormous for Kremlin ruler Vladimir Putin.

Peter Blunschi / watson.ch

Even the Chinese are starting to have doubts. Vladimir Putin had to admit this publicly at a meeting with Xi Jinping on Thursday in Samarkand, Uzbekistan. Xi have “Questions and concerns” on the situation in Ukraine, explained Putin. His reference to China’s “balanced position” also does not imply unconditional support.

China’s stance on the Ukraine war is indeed ambivalent. One strengthens the Russians’ backs in order to tie them to oneself and to create a counterpoise to the West. But Beijing does not deliver weapons and comply with the sanctions. Because the United States and Europe are for the flagging Chinese Business much more important than Russia.

Putin and Xi Jinping in Samarkand.  The Chinese doesn't seem particularly impressed.

Putin and Xi Jinping in Samarkand. The Chinese doesn’t seem particularly impressed.Image: Pool Sputnik Kremlin / Sergei Bobylev

Now the Chinese are apparently losing faith in Russian warfare. The rapid advance of the Ukrainian army in the Kharkiv region and the panicked flight of the Russian soldiers and their allies certainly contributed to this. After the withdrawal from Kyiv, it is the second major setback for Russia.

“The Ukrainian offensive in Kharkiv shattered the illusion of Russian invincibility,” it says in an extensive analysis by the German political scientist Liana Fix and the US historian Michael Kimmage in “Foreign Affairs”. For the first time, Vladimir Putin had to face the serious possibility that he could lose the war.

The supposed “strategic genius” maneuvered himself into an almost hopeless situation with the Ukraine invasion. Putin is now faced with “a series of nasty options,” it said. Because the hardliners in Russia are raging and demanding a massive escalation of the war. But the Kremlin ruler is hesitating, and for good reason.

mobilization

While the soldiers fled in Ukraine, Moscow celebrated its 875th birthday - with fireworks, for example.

While the soldiers fled in Ukraine, Moscow celebrated its 875th birthday – with fireworks, for example.Image: www.imago-images.de / imago images

In the Ukraine professional soldiers, Wagner mercenaries and “volunteers”, such as militias from the separatist areas in Donbass, are fighting. Their casualties are high and morale is low. The warmongers are therefore loudly calling for a mobilization of the conscripts. But that would destroy the semblance of normalcy that Putin wants to maintain.

The Russian President knows that his people are not belligerent. According to correspondent reports, there is no sign of enthusiasm for the war in the big cities of Russia. The population is apathetic and ignores what is happening in the neighboring country. The Kremlin continues to refer to the war as a “military special operation.”

Even partial mobilization would be the end of it. The war would be in the middle of company carried. Sons, brothers, husbands, friends would be drafted and sent into battle. “Demanding such a change in the attitude of the Russian population could easily catch Putin’s eye,” says Foreign Affairs.

Russian mobilization would be tricky for Ukraine, but the soldiers would first have to be trained, which could take months. Ukraine would have time to continue to upgrade and strengthen its troops with Western help. And it would be a big risk to field inexperienced soldiers against the battle-hardened Ukrainians.

It is questionable whether such a perspective would increase the combat morale of the conscripts. In addition, many experienced Russian officers were killed in Ukraine.

And the question arises with what to fight the troops. Because after almost seven months of war, the Russian army is not only exhausted in terms of personnel, but also in terms of material.

weapons

Ukrainian soldiers on a destroyed Russian tank in the Kharkiv region.

Ukrainian soldiers on a destroyed Russian tank in the Kharkiv region.Image: AP / Leo Correa

Quite a few Western observers overlook the fact that the Russians are apparently running out of weapons. In their panic flight, they left behind a lot of material. There were “retaliatory strikes” against the electricity and water supply in the city of Kharkiv. And on Thursday, a dam in Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s hometown of Kryvyi Rih was bombed.

Quantitatively, however, the attacks remain manageable, which indicates that the Russians have to be economical with their precision missiles. Dreaded systems such as hypersonic missiles and vacuum bombs were used in Ukraine, but stocks are apparently not large. The situation with conventional weapons is also bad.

The large exporter Russia is looking for weapons worldwide, but apparently only in countries that are also heavily sanctioned, such as Iran and North Korea find it. Iran primarily supplies combat drones, which the supposed great power Russia lacks. North Korea is said to have missiles and even artillery shells.

“It is downright absurd that the Russian armaments industry, into which a lot of money has flowed in the last thirteen years, is apparently not able to produce this material in sufficient numbers itself,” says the Austrian expert on Russia, Gerhard Mangott. He also has an explanation for the deficits in high-tech weapons.

Russia's ex-president and current head of the Security Council Dmitry Medvedev visits a weapons manufacturer.

Russia’s ex-president and current head of the Security Council Dmitry Medvedev visits a weapons manufacturer.Image: www.imago-images.de / imago images

For their production, Russia is dependent on Western components such as semiconductors, which are no longer supplied. China does not want to step into the breach for the reasons mentioned. “Putin did not prepare the Russian economy, including the armaments industry, for the scenario of a long war of attrition and attrition,” Mangott concludes.

Status quo

This also complicates the alternative to mobilization. Putin may try to muddle through and find new fighters in the near future, especially in prisons. The goal would be to fend off new Ukrainian advances and continue to attack civilian targets. Linked to this would be the hope of an end to Western military aid.

In doing so, Putin would build on the “energy weapon” with which he wants to “soften up” Europeans in the winter cold. Whether that will work is another question. Although gas deliveries through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline have been completely stopped and severely throttled overall, storage facilities in Europe are filling up. In the last days gas prices have even fallen.

Gas is still expensive, as is electricity. The cold season remains a challenge for Europe. However, if there is a mild winter (long-term forecasts suggest so), the continent could get off lightly. “Putin is threatened with a bitter defeat in the gas war against Europe”, writes the “Frankfurter Rundschau”.

Negotiations?

Perhaps Putin has no choice but to negotiate a ceasefire. the analysis by “Foreign Affairs” points out that Russia is a formidable opponent if attacked (Napoleon and Hitler learned this the hard way). But the Russians would have made a fool of themselves more than once if they had launched their own wars of aggression.

It could be the same in Ukraine. The question is whether Vladimir Putin would survive this politically. “Putin thought he was going to push Zelenskyy’s Ukraine into the abyss. Maybe he did it with his own regime”says “Foreign Affairs”.

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