In just the last week, Russia faced a series of setbacks that worsened an already bad situation for the Kremlin in Ukraine.
As Russian troops continue their withdrawal to the east of Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin faced two major embarrassments and a geopolitical problem on his doorstep.
Moskva: Black Sea Fleet Warship Sunk
On March 24, footage released by the Ukrainian Navy showed black smoke billowing out of a Russian landing ship in the Ukrainian port city of Berdyansk. Ukrainian troops took credit for the destruction of the ship and showed Putin, for the first time, that Ukraine could do more than just fight back.
This week, on Thursday, the Russian Ministry of Defense revealed that its Moskva cruiser ship – the flagship of the Black Sea fleet – sank while it was being towed in a storm. According to the Kremlin, the ship was being taken for repairs after damage was caused by a fire.
Whatever story the Kremlin tells about the sinking of the Moskva, it’s an embarrassing setback for Vladimir Putin for two reasons: it looks bad, and he’s lost the Black Sea fleet’s flagship.
Ukraine Captures Putin Ally
Also this week, the Kremlin told Ukraine to “watch out,” in a threat made in response to Ukraine’s capturing of pro-Kremlin politician Viktor Medvedchuk – a close ally of the Russian president, and his closest confidante in Ukraine.
Photographs shared online show Medvedchuk handcuffed and wearing a prisoner’s uniform. The images were shared by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Medvedchuk was also charged with treason last year and escaped house arrest in February.
In a post from the Ukrainian security services, Medvedchuk was derided for working with an aggressor.
“You can be a pro-Russian politician and work for the aggressor state for years. You may have been hiding from justice lately. You can even wear a Ukrainian military uniform for camouflage. But will it help you escape punishment? Not at all!” the statement reads. “Shackles are waiting for you and same goes for traitors to Ukraine like you.”
Vladimir Putin is reportedly the godfather of Medvedchuk’s daughter, but Putin has rejected an offer from Ukraine’s Zelenskyy to engage in a prisoner swap.
Finland and Sweden Indicate NATO Application
Putin has long opposed the eastward expansion of NATO and has specifically warned against neighboring Finland and Sweden from joining the Western military alliance. The Finnish and Swedish leaders warned, however, that there are now consequences for both joining and not joining NATO.
Jack Buckby is a British author, counter-extremism researcher, and journalist based in New York. Reporting on the U.K., Europe, and the U.S., he works to analyze and understand left-wing and right-wing radicalization, and reports on Western governments’ approaches to the pressing issues of today. His books and research papers explore these themes and propose pragmatic solutions to our increasingly polarized society.