Discover more from Diane Francis
September 28, 2023
Putin realizes he is running out of time, according to a high-level leak. “He has given his defence minister Sergei Shoigu a deadline of one month, until early October 2023, to improve the situation on the frontlines, stop Ukrainian counteroffensives, and have Russian forces regain the initiative to launch an offensive operation against a larger city,” the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) in Washington DC reported on September 24. But such pressure is counter-productive and has resulted in risky maneuvers, continuous counterattacks, and troops that are exhausted, abused, and demoralized. This month a group of disgruntled Russian officers, who hadn’t been paid for weeks, sold intelligence to Ukrainian partisans in Crimea that enabled a devastating missile attack on September 22 at Russia’s Black Sea Fleet headquarters when its naval leadership was gathered. Dozens died, including the Fleet commander, a fatality the Kremlin denies. But the carnage, combined with treachery, demonstrates that Russia’s armed forces are not only being routed by Ukraine but are also undermined by Russia’s culture of incompetence, corruption, and human rights abuses against its own people.
One major blow doesn’t constitute a victory or a defeat and there’s no reason to expect Putin to throw in the towel. But he commands a gang that can’t shoot straight. Imagine an armed forces run by brass who don’t pay their officers or who fail to secure air cover for their troops, leaders, and encampments? Imagine a navy that cannot prevent home-made Ukrainian drones from damaging billion-dollar warships, or the stupidity of gathering military leaders in one place in a war zone without safeguards? This may be why Putin imposes a deadline He hopes to turn the situation around, but Russia’s military, like the country itself, is a criminal organization run by persons who have bribed their way to the top, have no aptitude, neglect their workers, and are unlikely to succeed.
Russian Military bloggers are the only checks and balances in this rotten system because subordinates are frightened to pass along bad news to their superiors. “Does anyone out there have enough balls to start telling the truth to higher management, I don’t understand?” read a Telegram message from early August by a Russian blogger. More recently, another noted that there are “no words” for the military assault in Ukraine’s Kherson region and that Russians were “being cut to pieces” while the brigade commander was “afraid to report to the top about the current situation.” Another, affiliated with the VDV [airborne forces], warned that encirclement and mass casualties were occurring in Ukraine’s southern battlefield due to squabbles among Russian generals. He added that countless counterattacks are failing, deaths are soaring, and mass surrenders may result – concerns identical to those expressed by Wagner Group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin before his recent mutiny and assassination.
Putin ignored Prigozhin and also ignored the Ukrainian counteroffensive for months. It wasn’t until June 9 that he publicly acknowledged Ukraine’s initiative and condemned it as a failure. Stories were planted in the West, by the Kremlin, that Kyiv’s attacks were slow and inadequate. But now Crimea is threatened. It is Putin’s prize, illegally seized back in 2014, and it is also essential to Ukraine’s economic and export future. Its offshore also contains enormous deposits of natural gas that would make Europe self-sufficient. “Crimea will definitely be demilitarized and liberated,” pledges Zelensky advisor Mykhailo Podolyak. “Merchant ships will return to the Black Sea. And the Russian warships will eventually take their rightful place, turning into an iconic underwater museum for divers that will attract tourists from all over the world…to a free Ukrainian Crimea".
Putin’s pressure is making matters worse, say some analysts. He forbids retreats and senseless counterattacks are gutting his forces — a replay of Stalin’s “cannon fodder” School of Combat. Russians booby-trap the corpses of their fallen soldiers, rather than recovering them for burial, in the hopes of blowing up Ukrainians. But Russia loses on the battlefield and this week Kyiv announced that more than 276,000 Russians have died and 315 Russian aircraft, 316 helicopters, 20 naval warships, and more than 5,000 tanks and armored combat vehicles have been destroyed. Ukraine doesn’t release its own casualty figures, but estimates are that more than 70,000 have died.
The Institute for the Study of War speculates that Putin pressures his military for disinformation purposes: "He may have ordered the Russian military command to hold all Russia’s initial defensive positions to create the illusion that Ukrainian counteroffensives have not achieved any tactical or operational effects despite substantial Western support. This informational undertaking can only succeed in the long run if Russian forces can actually prevent Ukrainian forces from breaking through and liberating large areas, however.”
But breakthroughs are happening and Putin’s deadline of October coincides with the announcement by Washington that it will provide long-range ATACM ammunition for their HIMARS systems in Ukraine. That will be a game-changer for Crimea and, to underscore that reality, the day after the news Ukraine announced that Ukrainians living in Crimea should evacuate as soon as possible and “await liberation”. Another setback is that Ukrainians have broken through in Zaporizhzhia in a drive to reach the coastline and cut Putin’s land bridge to Crimea. And Abrams tanks are now in Ukraine being readied for deployment.
It's too early to count out the Russians but it’s clear that its military leaders are inept because they play the same corrupt, dishonest, smoke-and-mirrors game that Putin and his mob have dished out for decades. It works politically, but not against a driven, superior armed force of Ukrainians armed with state-of-the-art Western weaponry. In recent weeks, Russia’s navy has been severely disabled by Ukraine’s army of drone warriors, and is now unable to protect the peninsula or to continue to impose its blockade on ships leaving Ukraine with grain and materials.
If Crimea is recaptured, regime change in Moscow is likely. Russian elites are slowly realizing that Putin’s war is doomed. Factions within the country jockey for position. European nations, along with Japan and South Korea, pony up more armaments, public support, and financial help because they realize the importance of Ukraine’s victory. And Ukrainians remain committed to expelling Russia. As Zelensky’s chief of staff, Andriy Yermak, wrote on Telegram: “De-militarisation of Russia is a necessity. Because the world should not tolerate a madman with missiles.”