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Does Ukraine Mean Vladimir Putin’s Fate Is Sealed?

Putin Russia
Russian President Putin testing a new sniper rifle. Image Credit: Russian State Media.

“Go down gamblin’, say it when you’re running low. Go down gamblin’, you may never have to go.” So sang the jazz rock group, Blood Sweat and Tears, on their hit song of the same name back in 1971. Although Vladimir Putin probably never heard those particular lyrics, they provide a good description of the increasingly-frantic strategy behind the Russian President’s efforts to cling to power. Simply put, Putin is making risky moves in Ukraine because they are his best option to buy the time to stay in power.

Take his recent plan for “partial mobilization” of the Russian citizenry, for instance. The idea was borne of necessity. In the wake of the embarrassing rout of Russian troops in Ukraine’s Kharkiv region in early September, there was a real danger that his demoralized forces might collapse in other places as well. Putin decided to boost their spirits, and those of China and other friendly countries, by proclaiming that he will expand Russia’s fighting force by over 300,000 men.

Of course, Putin knew that the gains of any mobilization will be meager. While his government might be able to conscript en masse, it would be months, at best, before sizeable numbers of troops could join the fight with even a modicum of training. Reports that conscripts are already being deployed into Ukraine indicate that the Kremlin sees these new forces as little more than cannon fodder. However, these conscripts serve another purpose – to provide hope to those on the front lines that time can still be bought.

Moreover, Putin’s plan is politically risky, in domestic terms. Ahead of the announcement, Kremlin officials had surmised the idea would be unpopular with the Russian public. But the depths of rejection now being seen in Russian society – from full flights to foreign locales to a massive traffic backup at Russia’s common border with Finland – have surpassed their expectations. Moreover, this situation is poised to get worse; as body bags from the Ukraine front continue to return home, domestic discontent will only rise in intensity.

Putin is also sacrificing troops to buy time. Knowing they were trapped, and without access to resupply, the commanders of Russia’s more than 20,000 soldiers on the West bank of the Dnieper river asked Putin for permission to withdraw in mid-September. The Russian president refused. As a result, these soldiers are now likely to die, desert or surrender – either quickly or after some resistance. But for Putin, it was a worthwhile sacrifice to make in order to convey the image that his army, though clearly not thriving, is nonetheless surviving in Ukraine.

Why such gambles now? Putin’s calculation may be that his regime cannot survive another major battlefield loss. He may also be wagering that if he can get through the coming weeks that precede Ukraine’s famous “mud” season—a period where offensive maneuvers are not possible – perhaps the West’s attitudes will begin to change as Western and Central Europe face what he hopes will be a very cold winter without sufficient supplies of natural gas.

Short of this playing out as he envisions, though, Putin may indeed have to look at the nuclear option. That’s a course of action that may be rejected by his military nuclear chain of command, and could itself be something that might lead to his removal from power. Even so, Putin has increased the possibility of nuclear use by annexing the Ukrainian oblasts of Kherson, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia, and Donetsk – a move that is sure to further isolate Russia on the world stage. Putin’s gamble here is that any resulting erosion of support at home or abroad would be worth it if the West treads more cautiously, and rolls back its assistance to Ukraine, as a result.

Yet if a critical mass of Russia’s elite comes to believe that Putin’s multiple mistakes will only be compounded if he remains in power, they can be counted on to try and remove him, by force if necessary. History shows us that, over the past seven decades, nearly two thirds of dictators fell as a result of internal coup or assassination. That may become the fate of Russia’s strongman president as well.

All of this makes Putin’s gamble a high-stakes one indeed.

In 1982, Herman Pirchner, Jr. became the founding President of the American Foreign Policy Council (AFPC), a non-profit public policy organization headquartered in Washington, DC. Under his leadership, AFPC has hosted Washington events for hundreds of foreign officials ranging from the Prime Minister of Malta to the Prime Minister of Russia; conducted hundreds of briefings for Members of Congress and their staffs and, organized dozens of fact-finding missions abroad for current and former senior American officials. Former Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge, Former Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld, Former Speaker of the House of Representatives Newt Gingrich, former Director of Central Intelligence R. James Woolsey, as well as the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Dick Myers are among those who have participated in this program. He is the author of Post-Putin: Succession, Stability, and Russia’s Future (Rowman & Littlefield, 2019).

Written By

In 1982, Herman Pirchner, Jr. became the founding President of the American Foreign Policy Council (AFPC), a non-profit public policy organization headquartered in Washington, DC. Under his leadership, AFPC has hosted Washington events for hundreds of foreign officials ranging from the Prime Minister of Malta to the Prime Minister of Russia; conducted hundreds of briefings for Members of Congress and their staffs and, organized dozens of fact-finding missions abroad for current and former senior American officials. Former Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge, Former Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld, Former Speaker of the House of Representatives Newt Gingrich, former Director of Central Intelligence R. James Woolsey, as well as the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Dick Myers are among those who have participated in this program.

20 Comments

20 Comments

  1. Goran

    October 3, 2022 at 10:24 am

    All Putin did was bluff, that’s what got him into this morass, from that column approaching Kyiv to this herniated mobilization. Luckily, and with the exception of characters like Daniel Davis who’d be happy if an asteroid hit Earth if it hits Biden first, most of the world saw through Putin and his meandering rationale.

    This is the time when Ukrainians should switch gears and try to deal directly with Russian minority within Ukraine in a constructive manner, offering them some form of autonomy and sidelining Russia in discussions on how should Ukraine treat its citizens. Putin, not knowing when to hold them nor when to fold them, lost; Russians in Ukraine don’t have to.

  2. Gary Jacobs

    October 3, 2022 at 10:47 am

    It’s interesting to see how the pace of events have picked up. Some of the language in this article already appears out of date as Russia’s lines in Northeast Kherson collapse.

    We are back to the much discussed ‘Gradually, then suddenly’ state of affairs.

    Any of the doubters and Russia apologists like Tamerlane, Yrral, or even 1945 author Daniel Davis can go back and check the record in about the first week of September when I said that in 3-5 weeks there would likely be MASSIVE Russian losses. And Davis was especially quick to claim the Kherson offensive failed. While it is true that Ukraine has taken loses in Kherson, their efforts and their strategy are paying off.

    In the North East of Kherson They had actually pushed 20km south of the front line since the start of this offensive in 4 weeks. I said clearly and repeatedly they are trying to grind down that front and meet up with the center axis south of the Davydiv Brid bridgehead over the Inhulets river.

    Yesterday alone Ukraine broke through Russian lines and pushed another 25km south along the Dnipro and reached Dudchany. Some reports have them further south than that along the Dnipro, with several groupings breaking off to head west and engage Russians… with many towns liberated within those areas.

    In the center axis they have reportedly made it to Chkalove, about 25km south of Davydiv Brid, and appear to be looking to envelop the Russian forces between the Ukrainian advances there and along the Dnipro.

    Dudchany is a key area as securing it, and a ‘buffer zone’ south, allows HIMARS to come in and fire on Chaplynka on the other side of the river where there is a very important airbase that the Russians use.

    Dudchany is also almost at howitzer range to the Beryslav beachhead on the Dnipro and the T2207 road north from there towards Davydiv Brid that the Russians use to supply their troops in the middle of Kherson west of the Dniprio.

    Russian losses in the area are likely to accelerate from here. Although they do appear to have the ability to fall back into Kherson city and Nova Kakhovka and put up a stiffer defense with layers of trenches and other defenses built around them. Along with the existing irrigation ditches that can be used as fighting trenches

    Nova Kakhovka is likely more important for the Russians as that is where the mouth of the Crimean Canal is which brings from the Dnipro a large majority of the freshwater used in all of Crimea.

    If Ukraine gets there, just on the other side of the river…they have a strategic lever with which to at least offer to negotiate further Russian withdrawal, and possibly an end to all hostilities: they keep the water on to Crimea, and allow Russia to lease Crimea under certain terms [especially making it demilitarized] … in exchange for Russian troops leave every other inch of Ukraine. Not sure Putin will go for it, but it’s a thought.

  3. John

    October 3, 2022 at 10:54 am

    Putin is still kicking because of our own nuclear weakness. Once we commit to expansion of our nuclear forces, hostile nuclear predatory states will be deterred.
    Nonnuclear states need to hurry to acquire their own nuclear deterrence if they want to survive.
    Australia, SK,Japan, Germany, anybody listening?

  4. Jacksonian Libertarian

    October 3, 2022 at 11:39 am

    Ukraine can encourage the removal of Putin by saying they will never negotiate with the torture and murderer of thousands of their country men. He is clearly forced into any action which will give him more time in power, which automatically takes any other options off the table.

  5. Froike

    October 3, 2022 at 12:21 pm

    Putah is screwed! Russia will be paying reperations for Years and will not recover without the help of The West.

  6. abraham lincoln

    October 3, 2022 at 1:22 pm

    Putin has figured out he is dead if his Ukrainian invasion fails. So he is ready and willing to do anything to stay in power. So he will continually issue bluffs toward the West about using nuclear weapons. He knows some weak sisters in the West will get scared of that threat. He views the threat as just another tool in his arsenal to use against the West. But he also knows if he uses nuclear weapons, the West has many options open to it, all non nuclear, and all totally devastating to Russia. If he uses nuclear, he knows that his own people might kill him as well, because using nuclear backfires bigtime against Russia. And makes a his current massive failure into a super gigantic failure. But Putin may not have long to live anyway, so he may figure that even if it causes his own people to attack him, he has a slim chance of surviving that attack.

  7. Yrral

    October 3, 2022 at 3:01 pm

    Gullible American put their fate in a backwards corrupt government in Ukraine,that only know how to beg,and deluded themselves that Ukrainain are the only thing between world freedom and Russia taken over the whole world ,when their butt has never been free themselves

  8. John

    October 3, 2022 at 3:43 pm

    It’s not over until he’s on the other side of that rifle scope. Then the trigger is pulled

  9. Gary Jacobs

    October 3, 2022 at 4:10 pm

    Yrral…

    Haha! You sure are a diehard Putinista…still grasping for anything to undermine support for Ukraine…even while they are defeating the supposedly mighty Russian army on multiple fronts at the same time.

    In the adult world, It is possible to both support Ukraine on the merits of giving them a chance to stop being a corrupt country with a fresh start away from Russia’s corrupting influence [Russia of course being the main source of corruption in Ukraine for centuries]… AND see Ukraine as a useful proxy to grind down the Russian military so the main US assets can saved for dealing with China if the need ever arises.

    Have a liberating day.

  10. Dgratt

    October 3, 2022 at 4:44 pm

    Right now Putin’s fantasy is that it can throw enough conscripts at Ukraine to force Europe to spend a winter without natural gas.

    This will supossedly be so terrible for Europe they will force Ukraine to beg for peace on Russia’s terms.

    That delusion will shatter when spring rolls around and Ukraine is still gaining ground and Europe is still backing them.

    At which point Russia will have two options. Let Putin launch a nuke, or remove him from power.

  11. Tamerlane

    October 3, 2022 at 5:21 pm

    Goran:

    Putin did not bluff, that’s what (combined with the United States reducing to accept that other powers have their own defensive national interests) got the world morass. The columns approaching Kiev failed because they were mechanized attacks unsupported by infantry.

    As for autonomy for Russian speakers in Ukraine—what are you smoking? That was one of Putin’s key demands, along with the 20 year plus Russian position that Ukraine being admitted/invited into NATO would precipitate a general war. The Ukrainian nationalists have zero desire and zero intent to recognize or respect any autonomy in the Russian east. This entire war was waged primarily to prevent such autonomy from being respected or implemented.

    Gary:

    You again seek to double down on a failing policy which will only harm American strategic interests. Ukraine prevailing conventionally is the last thing we should hope for here, as it will precipitate an escalation to beyond conventional measures. Again, you refuse to acknowledge other countries have existential national interests whatsoever, nor that any foreign rational actor could possibly conclude that the United States intends on seeking to constrain their country and prevent it from projecting power itself. It’s literally nonsensical.

    “…allow Russia to lease Crimea under certain terms [especially making it demilitarized] … in exchange for Russian troops leave every other inch of Ukraine. Not sure Putin will go for it, but it’s a thought.” Wow. Just wow. What on God’s green earth are you smoking here? Putin, and certainly no replacement for him, could possibly accept such a thing, certainly not without the disarmament of Ukraine and a treaty level guarantee that Ukraine will not be admitted to NATO. Again you cheerlead for the destruction of American power abroad through your support for insanely ratcheting up the risks here for a non-essential American interest in a failed client state like Ukraine. At the end of the day, we don’t care if they exist or not aside from their impact on the maintenance here of our own country and our own capacity to project power. But you’ve lost sight of this with your personal familial animus and bias here, and have gone mad in your crusade here to right your family’s wrongs. You and these other Ukrainian trolls will only enable the greater challenge to American dominance globally through your foolhardy “lines in the sand” here. Russia has a logical reason to escalate, we simply don’t.

    Jacksonian Libertarian:

    Several months of your commentary have revealed you to be neither Jacksonian, nor libertarian in your extreme neoconservative positions. Putin, if replaced, would almost certainly be replaced by a “harder liner” on the issue. Russia, not merely Putin, believe that Ukraine in NATO is an existential threat to Russia.

    Lincoln:

    This was self-evident from prior to the invasion, that Russia would escalate as far as needed to protect what Russia believes to be her own existential national interest. That remains the case and is increasingly evident the more conventional losses occur. But you chickenhawks who cheered for the Iraq, Syria, Libya, Afghanistan, and Yugoslavian interventions cannot seem, for the life of you, to peer out into the future to perceive even the most obvious secondary and tertiary effects of your immortal “let’s be the policeman of the world” jingoism.

  12. Gary Jacobs

    October 3, 2022 at 7:26 pm

    Tamerlane,

    LoL, you continue to prove you dont understand the bigger picture.

    I did mention above in a comment to Yrral that it’s a fine bit of strategy to have Ukraine as a proxy grind down the Russian Army so US assets can be saved for China…which is of course a much bigger issue for the US.

    I’d say the Ukrainians bought Taiwan at least another 5 years before the Chinese think they are ready for an invasion or serious blockade, and that gives the US tech companies time to build a bunch more microchip fabs here, in the EU and Israel. Even TSMC is building in the US. Not to mention for the US to ramp up production of vital munitions.

    As for the possibility of peace between Ukraine and Russia… Russia is on its way to a stunning [in their eyes] defeat. Their economy is being hammered by sanctions, which even China is largely refusing to violate… my suggestion as a peace deal to end hostilities is an actual off ramp for Putin to save the slightest bit of face and end the war sooner rather than later.

    As of now, Ukraine is on its way to take back its entire country militarily. And just about everything I said about how they are doing it is how it’s being done.

    Reports out of Russian officials today have them starting to walk back the excessive nuclear weapons threats. While it’s still possible Putin and his lackeys are that insane, I’d say the likelihood is still quite low.

    Another point of the bigger picture you fail to grasp is our alliance structure and that countries like Poland, the Baltics, and others see Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as an existential threat to them. Many of them stepped up for us after 9/11, and as much as I loathe most EU countries…it’s only right that we step up for them.

    For years Presidents of both parties have tried to get the EU to spend more on defense and stop relying on Russian gas. Even the supposedly proPutin Trump caused a diplomatic stir by complaining about Nord Stream to in public to German Chancellor Merkel’s face. Nothing brings together the western alliance better than naked Russian aggression. Having that alliance acting together is a vital US interest. Not to mention that Ukraine has been a nice bit of advertising for our military equipment. Poland alone is about to spend Billion$ on HIMARS, M1 Abrams, etc…and the EU will have 550+ f35s in the not too distant future.

    As well, Ukraine is a massive exporter of food and grain around the world. This war nearly caused a global food crisis until an export deal was struck. That’s the type of thing that causing governments to fall, and failed states create even more unpredictable chaos in the world. Nobody wants Putin to have control over that much of the world’s food.

    Not to mention a bunch of other minerals and resources Ukraine has. And their tech industry is in fact an important subsidiary of the western tech ecosystem. Their existing tech talent is one of the reasons they were able to create their own targeting AI by bringing together a ton of data.

    Bottom line: They are exceptionally innovative people that deserve a chance to have a fresh start free of Russia’s centuries long corrupting influence. You really should stop pretending that Ukraine isnt a vital interest of the US and our allies. It’s pure fiction.

  13. Yrral

    October 3, 2022 at 8:25 pm

    Ukraine is a member of Notoo,No too NATO membership,No too long range rockets,No too No Fly Zone,No too The US declaring Russia,a terrorist state ,what part of No do Ukraine do not understand No,Nada, Nyet

  14. 403Forbidden

    October 3, 2022 at 11:00 pm

    Vladimir’s fate sealed ?

    Ya got to be joking.

    Putin hasn’t unleashed nukes on the ukros cannon fodder armed by Biden.

    Perhaps, rather than being ‘sealed’ by western narratives which are wholly false and highly misleading, Putin desires to seal the fate of the ukros and Biden in one fell swoop.

    That could come as soon as November, or next month where G20 is due to take place and after midterm elections.

    Biden is screwed, screwed like never before, not even his 1971 screwed experience is close.

    BIDEN WON’T DARE REPLY WITH NUKES becuz Russia has enuff powerful nukes to fry cities like NYC, Washington DC, Dallas, Miami and St Louis or Detroit.

    The deep state will tell Biden enough is enough. Stop supporting the neo-nazi ukros otherwise ya could be blindsided by unfolding events in Puerto Rico and Haiti.

    Biden can’t risk US cities as after the ‘show’, it would allow china or prc to become top dog. Deep State won’t tolerate such an equation.

    In Haiti, violence runs unabated with garbage filling the streets and Puerto Rico hit hard by recent storms.

    Both will soon send boatlaods and shiploads of ‘refugees’ or migrants to Florida. Will US residents come out with guns blazing. Biden has a big pickle waiting for him to untangle.

    Biden is finished. His FATE sealed by his dementia-riddled mistakes and missteps.

    Biden is kaput, gone case, finito. By end of November 2022. HIS FATE IS SEALED.

  15. Goran

    October 3, 2022 at 11:40 pm

    Tamerlane, when it comes to autonomy, it is possible that we are talking about two different forms of it; what I had in mind is a cultural, educational autonomy, not self governance and a creation of minirussia within Ukraine. Russians in Ukraine ought to have the right to speak Russian and to have their kids taught the Russian language at the government’s expense, they can also be taught Russian history and so on. A Russian’s right to be governed by an ethnic Russian is an obsolete concept, especially when it is in a country that is not Russia as it easily spins out of control and morphs into what we have now.

  16. Jim

    October 3, 2022 at 11:54 pm

    Regrettably, reason will not prevail or penetrate, only results on the battlefield.

    The necessity of warfare.

    To that end… let the battle be fought.

    A test of wills, trial by battle.

    Sadly, thus, it has been true for millennium…

    As it was true in the Middle Ages, so it is true today.

    How easily Man sheds Civilization for the brute power of inflicting death & destruction.

    How the battle goes… the war can be won.

    Each side spins around, arm outstretched, reaching, grasping for the brass ring of victory.

    Elusive as it might be.

    Time will tell…

    A fair fight… no fight is fair.

    It is brutal and selfish; the underbelly of Mankind.

  17. Korkinovova

    October 4, 2022 at 9:14 am

    Goran, I will answer you in Kyiv. In order to understand us, you need to live like us. At the beginning, an operation was really planned. The goal was to arrest a number of people who bombed Donbass. And go back. But mobilization was announced in Ukraine. The goal has not been met. War broke out. By how the situation heats up, you can trace the number of troops used in this operation. More support from you, more we are increasing military operations. In addition, at each stage we let you think about whether you need to do. The last stage will be nuclear strikes. And they will be produced no matter what. So far, it has not reached such extremes. Even the army has not yet set foot in the battle.

  18. Gary Jacobs

    October 4, 2022 at 10:20 am

    Yrral,

    LoL, let’s add no to Russia’s bullying. No to Russian atrocities. Not to Russian run torture chambers. No to Russia in Ukraine much longer.

    It’s ironic that your latest desperate attempt to undermine Ukraine hinges on things like long range missiles that Ukraine doesnt even have… and yet they are still in the process of defeating the Russian army anyway.

    Russia’s northeastern Kherson front is in the process of collapsing. Hard. The central axis is not far behind. Ukraine is quite close to successfully merging those two advances. It will be interesting to see if they need to pause to consolidate gains, or if they advance on Beryslav and/or Nova Kakhovka right away.

    The Russian milbloggers are also a bit hysterical right now about a possible Ukrainian advance on Melitopol. It’s speculation at this point, but Ukraine has been shaping that area for a while with HIMARS strikes, Partisan activity, and a SEAD campaign with HARMs to eliminate Russian radars and SAMs.

    I would not at all be surprised to see that advance south with some Ukrainian forces breaking off to head west to surround and take back the ZNPP, among other key sites in the area.

    Bottom line: Russia is rapidly withering in Ukraine, and Ukraine is doing it with very limited resources…and now they are doing it against Russia’s supposedly more professional troops in Kherson.

    Have a liberating day.

  19. Bender

    October 4, 2022 at 6:39 pm

    Good article, thanks.

    Man, I can’t wait for karma to get hold of Putin,
    hopefully all his reckless gambles will fall over him soon and this madness will stop.

  20. Andrew P

    October 4, 2022 at 7:59 pm

    Russia is doing so badly in the Kherson theater that they can’t wait for winter. They have no choice but to use nukes soon. But without sufficient cannon fodder to invade and hold the ground, they are still likely to lose. And that is the worst possible scenario for Putin – he uses a few hundred nukes in Ukraine and still loses. My guess is he will be ambushed on a highway and go down in a hail of bullets after he does that.

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