5 February 2023, Sunday, 20:14
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Kremlin's Defeat And Discussion On Its Implications

Kremlin's Defeat And Discussion On Its Implications

There are several scenarios for the change of power in Russia.

In the past two months, there has been a consensus in assessing the results of the Kremlin military campaign: the war is not over, but Putin has lost. The rhetorics are frozen: the Kremlin planned a blitzkrieg but made mistakes in its military capabilities, in assessing the resistance of the Ukrainians and in the collective response of the West. By the end of the year, the Kremlin got stuck in the war, and an attempt to revitalize it by mobilizing at the end of September failed. The Kremlin has lost military, political and diplomatic initiatives.

To be sure, the Kremlin is preparing for a possible offensive. Putin instructed the Ministry of Defence to prepare a request for “the needs of the army” by February 1, strategic aviation has been deployed to Belarus (as part of regular joint drills), reservists are being trained for autumn mobilization, and a second “partial mobilization” is expected. However, all these steps no longer look as convincing as the ones in the summer of last year, when the possibility of the advance of Russian troops across southern Ukraine all the way to Transnistria was seriously discussed.

The mainstream media played an important role in creating the topics about the failure of Putin's military adventure: detailed publications by WP and NYT about how the decision on aggression was prepared became the basis for understanding the situation by political elites in different countries. General conclusion: Putin's decision was based on a completely rational calculation, he was planning to capture Kyiv but made a fatal mistake. According to one of the world's most famous war theorists, Edward Luttwak, Putin could have mitigated the consequences of this mistake if, immediately after the withdrawal of troops from Kyiv, he would have entered into negotiations and refused to continue the use of force scenario. But Putin chose a direct war as a continuation, deepening his own mistake.

By the end of 2022, Russian troops were unable to fulfil a single task that was declared by the political leadership of the Russian Federation: the territories officially annexed by the Kremlin were never completely captured, it was not possible to break through the Ukrainian defences, the tactics of massive shelling of civilian infrastructure does not lead to the demoralization of the Ukrainian society, further mobilization attempts in the Russian Federation does not change the parity that has already developed by the autumn of 2022.

The Kremlin got stuck in the war, and the further scenarios are no longer in Putin's hands. The war agenda is entirely determined by three actors: the Ukrainian army and diplomacy, the global alliance in support of Ukraine and the global media.

The failure of the blitzkrieg and the loss of initiative are obvious to the Russian political and economic leadership and Putin's entourage. Some experts suggest that the military leadership is in no hurry to show Putin any victories at the front despite his expectations. Against this background, Dmitry Medvedev's hysterical tweets and Yevgeny Prigozhin's statements criticizing the military leadership are especially noticeable. The political elite listens to the critical comments of Igor Girkin, who accuses the political and military leadership of moving towards final defeat, unwilling to move on to total mobilization. The discussion of the implications of the mass deaths of those mobilized in Makiivka was indicative. Despite the fact that the Presidential Administration several times demanded that milbloggers (the so-called “war correspondents”) stop demoralizing criticism of the actions of the military leadership, they attacked on Telegram and YouTube channels with revealing publications, naming the commanders responsible for the death of soldiers, on the MoD which was trying to shift responsibility to the mobilized.

It can be argued that the expectations associated with the appointment of General Surovikin in early September 2022 did not work well for Putin. No convincing integration of the army units, the Wagner PMC, the leadership of the so-called "People's Militia" of the DPR and LPR, the Kadyrov units has occurred in four months. On the contrary, the conflicts between them are intensifying and are of a public nature.

Kyiv is in an advantageous position: it is enough for Ukrainian troops to liberate one village - and this falls into the line of convincing success rhetorics, and the Kremlin needs something large-scale to succeed, taking into account a months-long unsuccessful assault on Bakhmut, but this is no longer possible.

Putin will no longer be able to get out from under the global opinion about the defeat of the Russian Federation. That is why in November-December there were numerous expert publications about the consequences of this defeat.

We have three issues that will remain relevant in the medium term for discussion. The first concerns Putin personally. It is believed that Putin is not able to admit his strategic miscalculation and change his way of acting. Putin is ready to move only in the direction of further catastrophe.

There are two options for a coup: by Putin himself, or by his entourage in order to save the system. Both are very poorly predicted. Putin does not have enough resources to carry out something like the State Emergency Committee, that is to impose a state of emergency and reconfigure the entire system into the next format of war and dictatorship. His entourage also has poor prospects. It is easy to imagine Putin's removal, but it is difficult to imagine the ideas that should accompany it, as the removal group will have to take responsibility for ending the war, present a compelling "plan for the future", and show a willingness to build new relationships with the countries of the global alliance. Obviously, it is not easy to take on such a burden. It is not clear who is ready to take it.

The second question is related to the post-war order in Russia. We are now hearing three opinions in this relation. The first is developed by political "realists". It comes down to the fact that Russia will remain with its own political system, with its own “special way”, the only question is how exactly Russia is reintegrating itself into the system of global and European security. The second opinion, Andrius Kubilius came up with it in his program article, should bet on democratization in Russia, since only the democratic development of the Russian Federation will guarantee long-term security for neighbouring countries and the entire continent. The third opinion is discussed by a group of political scientists, as a desirable option: the collapse of the Russian Federation. The prospect of demilitarization and denuclearization of Russia and its future policy are also associated with this collapse.

Finally, the third question. If the further scenario of the war will lead to its stagnation, to a multi-year abscess along the "separation line", then what form will the Russian society take after 3-5 years of the "permanent war"? What is the strategy of the countries of the global alliance in relation to this slowly decaying society with rapidly increasing emigration, cultural production outside the country, and strong fascism inside the country? Europe was busy helping Ukrainian refugees, deploying support for the Ukrainian army, and strengthening security on the “eastern flank” during the first year of the war. These tasks will continue. But in the case of the “truce without peace” scenario, the stagnation of the war along the separation line, Russia freezes in the Z-ideology with a high degree of conflict, fascism takes its final form, and this will raise the question of what form the Russian-speaking “anti-fascist movement” takes and what is the support for this be the countries of the global alliance.

In other words, the intention to maintain global security puts Europe in front of the need to be ready for the rapid development of one of three scenarios:

1) the rapid growth of chaos during the collapse of the system,

2) severe stagnation with the inevitable rise of fascism,

3) or surfacing of the internal "coalition of normalization".

All three scenarios are very dangerous, contradictory and poorly predictable at the stages of their development. But nothing can be done: there are no good scenarios for getting out of the aggressive war.

Aleksandr Morozov, The Free Russia Institute