In Other News – Putin Doubles Down Despite Ukrainian Wins – 9/28/2022

September 28, 2022

Vladimir Putin is under pressure but he’s also doubling down. After a major Ukrainian counter-offensive prompted him to order a partial mobilization of troops in Russia, the spectacle of the exodus of countless military fighting-age men from Russia’s borders, visible from space, is its own special humiliation. The world is debating whether Putin is leaving his borders open to add additional pressure to the refugee tensions in Europe or if he simply lacks the forces to close Russia’s vast border. Despite the optics, there are plenty of men of fighting age still in Russia and Putin plans to send tens of thousands of them into Ukraine. Putin also is cobbling together his own legal justification for an escalation in war with his sham referendums in four partially Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine. The return of highly controlled results in favor of joining the Russian Federation will be officialized tomorrow in a signing ceremony in Moscow, which is essentially an annexation of these territories. Putin will then use any Ukrainian defense of these regions as a purported attack on sovereign Russian territory. Still there is much skepticism that these mobilization efforts and annexation can do much to address the systemic and structural failings of Russia’s military invasion that have led Moscow to this crucible, especially as reports of under-equipped and under-trained new conscripts continuously emerge. Also, Putin now has to contend with a growing and more vocal domestic discontent than before, evidenced by his concession earlier today that there were mistakes made in carrying out his draft and the head of the Duma calling for the closing of Russia’s borders.

Despite the Ukrainian gains in recent weeks and the emergent prospect that Ukraine could in fact win the war, Putin’s actions are a reminder that the war is not over. Not at all. In fact, pressures of Kyiv are growing with the winter approaching. Kyiv is currently running a $5-6 billion account deficit every month to keep Ukraine functioning on a very basic level. European aid has been committed but has been slow to arrive. Even the newly announced military $1.1 billion aid package from the U.S. will fund 18 HIMARS slated to arrive in two years. And despite the Ukrainian people’s resilience, the war is taking an enormous daily toll on its people with many without jobs and with limited food and housing heading into winter. Russia’s initial response to its recent setbacks is to attack key Ukrainian infrastructure including power plants and hydropower plants. This strategic onslaught could continue as an enduring strategy. Still, Ukraine’s impressive counteroffensive ahead of the winter should give its resistance more fighting power figuratively and literally as allies believe more and more that it is a good investment to help Ukraine defend itself.

The more the U.S. and European leaders can tie the success of the Ukraine war to their own security the better. The West’s support for Ukraine remains strong but with the new governments in Sweden and Italy, there will be new pressures and divisions to overcome in order to maintain the sustained support required for Ukraine to prevail. Also, the coming winter will put the greatest pressure on European governments thus far regarding its support of Ukraine, with rising energy prices, the prospect of potential shortages, and all of this amid several economic headwinds in the wake of the pandemic and Russia’s invasion. While the four leaks in Nordstream1 and 2 will unlikely add to the pressures in Europe because the lines were not currently delivering gas to Europe, the fact that it is suspected that Russian sabotage targeted these gas lines underscores that we have entered a more aggressive and dangerous phase of Russia’s growing confrontation with the West.