Putin’s Ukraine Dilemma: Russian President Vladimir Putin finds himself on the horns of a dilemma. His army can no longer win the war in Ukraine, but failure is not an option. In authoritarian regimes, like Putin’s Russia, losing a significant war triggers regime change. A change Putin will not survive. Can Putin find a way to separate himself from his failures, or is he a dead man walking?
Putin’s Ukraine War Is in Trouble
Let’s begin with why Putin’s army is a lost cause.
It can no longer make good its losses. Under daily attacks, frontline units suffer up to 500 casualties daily and are at a fifth of their assigned strength. Morale has collapsed. Officers desert their men. The enlisted stage mass surrenders. Blocking units, soldiers whose job is to shoot the other soldiers trying to surrender, are now a thing.
Putin’s efforts to fix his army by drafting more than 300,000 men aren’t working as planned. The draftees are forced to buy their clothes, equipment, and food because Russia can no longer provide essential items. Even if the logistical issues with the draft are fixed, throwing barely trained draftees at highly motivated, battle-hardened veterans isn’t precisely a war-winning strategy.
Does this look like a war-winning army to you?
This brings us to our second point. With more than 100,000 dead and wounded, Ukraine has, for Russia, become a major war. While Russians overwhelmingly support the men on the front lines, support for Vladimir Putin and his war of choice is staggering under the one-two punch of military defeat and the steady rain of death notices. Nearly 400,000 men fled Russia rather than be conscripted, which is not exactly a ringing endorsement of the status quo.
Regime change is on the table. The Siloviki, the deep-state flunkies that put Putin in power, are demanding an end to the war in a way that justifies the blood and treasure consumed by it. If Vlad can’t produce that outcome, the Siloviki may very well offer Putin to the public as a scapegoat.
How Putin Can Survive His Ukraine Disaster
How does Vlad get out of this mess?
If NATO were to quit gifting Ukraine with never-ending supplies and real-time intelligence, conditions on the battlefield would change. Maybe not enough to win. It would still be a battle between demoralized, undertrained draftees and battle-hardened veterans defending their homes. But it almost certainly buys time for Putin to think of something.
As for severing the supply lines, how? Not by force of arms. Given current conditions, any confrontation between Russia and NATO will prove hilariously one-sided. Putin has to find a way to make NATO quit of its own free will.
Soviet Russia believed in dezinformatsiya, using false and misleading information to deceive, demoralize or manipulate people. Had Soviet doctrine been followed, a dezinformatsiya campaign justifying Putin’s actions and whipping up international support for the invasion would have preceded the attack. Putin, in his arrogance, appears to have just assumed that dezinformatsiya wasn’t needed. Kyiv would fall in a matter of days. The accomplished fact would speak for itself. Why bother?
It’s late in the game, but a dezinformatsiya campaign can still be assembled and executed. Consider the following scenario, Putin’s spring offensive begins with saturation bombings of Lviv and other cities where NATO supplies enter Ukraine.
The overt goal is to cut NATO’s supply chain. The covert goal is to a tsunami of refugees flowing toward central Europe. In Europe, wall-to-wall news coverage of burning cities and rivers of refugees produces emotional overload. As people struggle to process what is happening, protesters demand an end to NATO’s resupply mission because it is “forcing” Putin to bomb cities. Finally, the Putin-Verstehers begin whispering how a peace deal, even a rotten one, would not only stop the suffering but return Europe to the days when cheap Russian gas kept Europe warm and prices down.
What did we describe? An emotionally overwhelming event. A simplistic response to the event; stop the bombing by stopping the resupply mission. And the promise of immediate reward, cheap Russian gas, for choosing the simplistic action.
And just like that, an anti-war movement is born. Putin now has a non-military way to pressure NATO. The ability to apply such pressure doesn’t automatically mean Putin gets what he wants. Neither Putin nor his men have demonstrated the political adroitness needed to make this work, but that doesn’t mean Putin won’t try. With his army broken and the Siloviki demanding action, what other options does he have?
George Walsh was an active member of the U.S. Army from 1986-1989 and a member of the U.S. Army Reserve from 1989-1994. He holds a degree in Political Science from Pennsylvania State University.
November 13, 2022 at 9:03 am
A Russian spring offensive with what ? Barely any trained, experienced troops are available and sanctions have practically stopped the procurement of advanced weapons. The recent influx of conscripts appears to be meat for the grinder in the hopes of using up Ukrainian artillery and the West aren’t going to pause sending support just because it’s winter. Any delays on the Russians part while they wait for spring – this isn’t WWII – only allows Ukraine to continue to enhance their capabilities.
November 13, 2022 at 11:02 am
It was simplistic and unrealistic analyzes like this that got Putin where he is.
The reverse could happen. Ukraine negotiated a surrender, Russian soldiers spread across the country and the Ukrainian army finished them off. It was much more practical.
November 13, 2022 at 11:36 am
Whodunnit…you nailed it. Putin and his Thugs are in deep Biden.
November 13, 2022 at 3:20 pm
Rubbish,who’s gonna do a deal with this nutter?—just give him breathing space to re build and come back for round 2.
Take the prick out now,start on targeting his family first to give him a “feel” of what thousands of other family’s are suffering
November 13, 2022 at 4:23 pm
My goodness, man, what have you heen smoking? American troops killed by Russia, yeah, that’ll work.
This war is lost for Putin unless he uses nukes or chemical weapons. I’m sure the sight of dying babies will make Americans want to quit!
Putin needs to quit. Extract a promise fro Zelinsky Ukraine won’t join NATI. That’ll give him an excuse to leave.
Return to pre-2014 borders.
November 13, 2022 at 8:13 pm
The article was progressing well until the final few paragraphs. That last section describing a proposed gambit by war thug poohtie is utterly preposterous and is straight out of some dystopian version of Alice in Wonderland. Haha. This implies that practically everyone ( because it’s gonna need a big majority ) will just roll over and cave in to YET MORE bombing blackmail exercises by the incompetent rashists. Come back down to earth please. You also seem to forget that Ukraine will be utilising ever increasing numbers of western air defence systems, so what? They’re all just going to stop working when this monumental bombardment of Lviv and other cities you propose begins?? Add to that is the sheepish attitude of the orcs air force in flying deep into Ukraine territory, for justifiable fear of being shot down, so it will all have to be accomplished by stand off tactics. Even in Europe, ordinary people are no where near as blind, selfish or lacking in foresight to imagine that such a scenario will ever work in poohtie’s favour. They understand well that without Ukraine as a solidified buffer country, putler and his thugs will be able to more easily come for them too. It’s only a matter of time. By cutting his war arteries on the edge of Europe, he is unable to operate with impunity further in.
November 14, 2022 at 6:20 am
Putin cannot “pull a rabbit out of a hat”, because the Ukraine conflict has demonstrated that he is no Russian “chess player”, he is in fact, what his favourite judo, implies instinctual.
Putin gambled when the invasion commenced, that he would have a quick victory, change of government in Kiev, and success.
Fair enough, one might say, but the Ukraine military had not been idle in the seven years from the 2014 invasion, and had replaced its old Soviet/Russian military command structure with a western/NATO structure, which was superior.
Where Putin went wrong was to ignore red flags, which signalled opportunities to reverse and limit losses. The Kiev failure, was ignored and forces were diverted to East Ukraine , with temporary success using massive artillery barrage. That was the high water of Russian success, to be replaced with the successful Kharkiv, and Iverson offensives. The second red flag was the attempt to hide the conflict from the Russian public, through recruitment of criminals, mercenaries and ethnic minorities. Putin was never any kind of mastermind, at best he was an opportunist, and is more like a gambler in a casino, who does not have the intelligence to remove himself from the losing situation.