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The Ukraine Invasion: Putin's Big Gamble
As Russian army forces poured across the border into Ukraine, Kremlin belief that the invasion would be swift and decisive is showing to be a miscalculation.
The Ukrainian resistance appears to be holding - for the time. These are strong, motivated, proud people with much to lose and much to gain. Putin has underestimated the will and strength of the Ukrainian army and citizens.
The morale of the Russian army and its Chechen mercenaries on the other hand, may be ground down if they find themselves bogged down. Putin's call to the Ukrainian army to mutiny against their own government would be seen an insult. Eastern Europeans are doggedly nationalistic and in this respect, Putin's appeal to Ukrainian soldiers was a clumsy and provocative mis-step.
Typical of many social media comments, this Twitter-user highlighted with one simple sentence how deeply patriotic/nationalistic eastern Europeans can be:
This strong sense of nationalism resulted in large part from five decades of domination by the former-USSR and attempts to "Russify" their Eastern European "sphere of influence". (Teaching Russian in schools was compulsory throughout Eastern Europe.)
The invasion could drag on. Remember that the Soviet Red Army couldn't defeat the Afghans on their own territory. That military adventure lasted ten years and cost the lives of 14,500 Soviet troops/personnel and anywhere between 562,000 to 2,000,000 Afghans.
It took a week for the former Soviet Red Army to crush the Hungarian uprising in 1956; a week to defeat mainly civilians armed with little more than rifles and molotov cocktails.
In a war of attrition, a super power cannot always be guaranteed to win.Think Vietnam as well as Afghanistan (the latter defeated not one, but two super powers within a lifetime.)
If Russia is forced to withdraw,other former Soviet republics may rethink their close relationship with Moscow. Putin may discover that rebuilding an empire is not as easy as it seems. Ukraine is not Chechniya.
The longer this draws on, the more determined the Ukrainian people's spirit will become. Once the great Russian bear is shown to be lethargic, Ukrainians will keep prodding it until Russian soldiers become more and more demoralized.
A drawn out, expensive war; slow economic strangulation; Russia isolated; public protests, and eventual failure could have dire consequences for Putin. If his gamble for a rapid victory doesn't go as he planned, his own leadership will be uncertain.
There have been protests throughout Russia, indicating that many find the attack on their neighbour equally repugnant.
As long as the West keeps providing material military support, Ukraine's struggle is far from over.
Meanwhile,the president of Ukraine declined a US offer to be airlifted to safety, choosing instead to lead from the capital. His statement will be the 21st century's version of Winston Churchill's famous rallying speech "We Shall Fight Them On The Beaches" when Zelensky resolutely replied:
"The fight is here; I need ammunition, not a ride."
This may be Volodymyr Zelensky's "Churchill moment". His courage and resolute leadership will be invaluable to continue leading his people. The world will be witness to the young, vigorous, handsome leader facing a hardened, brutal, corrupt tyrant.
If this were a Hollywood script,the outcome would be formulaic. It remains to be seen if life will imitate art.
In the meantime Putin's invasion may have other, unintended, consequences. A rush of countries such as impelling Finland, Sweden, and Georgia to join NATO. If so, this will prove to be another, colossal, mis-step on his part. The merest hint was enough to put the Kremlin into a sweaty panic with this response on the official RT News website:
Given that Finland joining NATO would place the alliance directly on Russia’s border, Moscow has warned against the move. Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova informed both Finland and Sweden on Friday that there would be “serious military and political consequences” requiring “retaliatory steps” by the Russian Federation if they joined NATO.
“We view Finland’s course for maintaining the policy of military non-alignment as an important factor contributing to stability and security in northern Europe and on the European continent as a whole,” she continued, pointing to “consistent efforts by NATO and some of its members, primarily the US, to drag Finland as well as Sweden into the alliance.”
Finland's response was basically a diplomatic version of FUCK YOU:
However, Finland’s ambassador to the US Mikko Hautala boasted to Fox News on Saturday that, “We have one of the best armies in Europe,” insisting Finland was “not in a position that we will get scared because of one statement” from Moscow.
“We have a strong defense. We have really good international partners,” he said, claiming Russia has been threatening Finland regarding its NATO ambitions for years.
If Russian aggression succeeds only in bolstering NATO's membership, further encircling the Russian Federation, Ukraine's subjugation will have been a pyrrhic victory for Putin. It will prompt the Russian leadership hierarchy to question their autocratic leader's 'wisdom' if their problems just got a whole heap worse.
Stiff Ukrainian resistance appears to have significantly slowed the Russian advance, and there may be volunteers to cross into Ukraine and take up arms against the invader. On 27 February, President Zelensky issued an open invitation for volunteers to join Ukraine in their hour of need:
"Ukrainians have the courage to defend their homeland, to defend Europe, to defend the values of civilization. However, this is not just Russia's invasion of Ukraine. This is the beginning of a war against Europe. Against the unity of Europe. Against basic human rights in Europe. Against all the rules of coexistence on the continent.
In this regard, all foreigners who wish to join the resistance to Russian occupiers and protect world security, the leadership of Ukraine offers to come and join the ranks of the territorial defense forces. A separate unit of foreigners is being formed - the International Legion of Territorial Defense of Ukraine."
Some from all corners of the world may well take up that invitation. Especially from former Soviet satellite republics - never underestimate bad memories of Russian occupation.
As Russia ramps up it's useless of deadly weapons such as thermobaric warheads, the images of indiscriminate destruction wrought on a European nation not seen since World War Two will only further damage Russia's standing in the international community.
The use of such destructive weapons also suggests that Russian land-forces - feet on the ground - are not proving as successful as Putin had banked on. Russia's enemies have taken note of this salient fact.
Meanwhile, international community continues to ramp up isolation of Russia. Most recently, removing several Russian banks' access to 'Swift', an international payment system.
Putin may ponder the phrase attributed to Japanese Admiral, Isoroku Yamamoto, during WW2; "I fear we have awakened a sleeping giant and filled him with a terrible resolve." That 'giant' is the world who for the most part utterly reject Russia's naked aggression.
In such a climate of anger, it will become harder and harder for Russia to "do business" with the international community.
Ukraine is facing its greatest existential threat since World War Two. It's continuation as an independent, sovereign state hangs in the balance, and its prospects for victory are grim. (Ukraine is as much part of Russia as Aotearoa New Zealand is a part of Britain. The ship sailed on that Empire a long time ago.)
If President Zelensky does go down in a hail of Russian bullets, Kalashnikov rifle in hand, and this appears on social media, it will be imagery that will haunt Putin forever. While the post-1956 execution of Hungarian revolutionaries was done in secret, out of sight, social media will be a gamechanger that will record Vladimir Putin's evil for all human history.
[Note: Elements of this blogpost have been taken from several comments posted on Twitter, and adapted for this essay.]
Twitter: @nonilex - ukraine - 25.2.22
Wikipedia: Soviet–Afghan War
The Atlantic: The Soviet War in Afghanistan, 1979 - 1989
Wikipedia: Second Chechen War
Wikipedia: We shall fight on the beaches
South Florida Sun-Sentinel: Yamamoto's 'sleeping giant' quote awakens a gigantic argument
John Pilger: War in Europe and the rise of raw propaganda
The Daily Blog: Ukraine Invasion - Political Winners, Losers & Predictions
Previous related blogposts
Acknowledgement: Sharon Murdoch
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