Putin's brutality in Ukraine could get worse.

Putin’s brutality in Ukraine could get worse.

Russia’s domineering President Vladimir Putin may have just experienced the worst week since the collapse of the Soviet Union, which he says was the greatest tragedy of the 20th century.

His vaunted army, including armored units once considered among Russia’s finest, has collapsed in the face of the Ukrainian offensive in eastern Ukraine. According to local residents, some Russian soldiers fled, throwing off their uniforms and donning civilian clothes stolen from their homes.

In southern Ukraine, Russian units defending the strategic city of Kherson struggled to hold their ground against persistent Ukrainian attacks.

Putin even faced a tough question from his most important ally, the President of China. Xi Jinping.

“We understand your questions and concerns” about Ukraine, he told Xi at a summit meeting in the Central Asian city of Samarkand, Uzbekistan.

When Putin ordered his army to invade Ukraine in February, he saw a historic opportunity to reassemble the core of the Soviet Union and seemed to envision a quick victory.

That plan failed when Ukraine, backed by Western military aid and US intelligence, thwarted a Russian attempt to seize its capital, Kyiv.

Now Putin’s Plan B—the conquest of eastern and southern Ukraine—also teeters on the brink of failure.

Some cheerleaders cheered for Ukraine’s victory at Raisin, an important railway junction in the east, as the turning point of the war. it premature. Russia holds about one-fifth of Ukraine’s territory and has more troops it can deploy, although their quality is unclear.

“Despite the euphoria, this is not the end,” Alexander Vershbow, a former US ambassador to Russia, told me last week. “Putin is clearly furious that his commanders have failed…but that doesn’t mean he will give up. It can still escalate in many ways.”

So what can we expect from Putin now? Vershbow offered a prediction.

Putin does not capitulate; this would mean the end of his reign.

It is likely to amplify the death and destruction that Russia has inflicted on the civilian population of Ukraine.

Putin’s career has been marked by success in wars against weaker opponents. He came to power in 1999, ordering the mid-winter siege of Grozny, the capital of the Russian republic of Chechnya, in a brutal war to crush Muslim separatists. In 2008, he sent an army to neighboring Georgia; in 2014, he sent troops into eastern Ukraine and annexed the Crimean peninsula.

In these wars, his forces often inflicted casualties on civilians as a deliberate tactic.

His approach to Ukraine follows the same pattern. It just didn’t work against a well-managed, well-trained, and well-equipped opponent.

“We will see further escalation of brutality,” Vershbow said. “They have already begun massive bombardments of civilian infrastructure. … A little [Russian] officials say they want to drive millions of Ukrainians out of the country.”

Putin’s goal, he says, is “to turn this back into a war of attrition … and hope that over time, war weariness will force the Ukrainians to leave.”

To do this, some of Putin’s hawkish supporters demanded full mobilization, that is, conscription to replenish the army and a formal declaration of war.

But Putin’s aides say conscription is not being considered.

The government continues to convince Russians that this is a limited “special military operation” and even forbids calling it a “war.”

“He is still desperately trying to avoid mass mobilization,” Vershbow said. “The supply will send the protesters to the streets of Moscow. But even so, it takes months to train new troops.”

Michael Kofman, a Russia expert at CNA, a defense think tank, suggested that Putin could opt for “partial mobilization” by renewing the soldiers’ current contracts and recruiting recent veterans with the necessary skills.

“Partial mobilization is possible, but it could be lousy troops,” Vershbow said.

When it comes to nuclear, chemical or biological weapons, most military and foreign policy experts say Putin is unlikely to use them unless his survival is at stake.

“The problem with most escalation options, including nuclear weapons, is that they can simply unite Europe, portray Putin himself as a Hitler monster, and speed up the supply of Western weapons to Ukraine,” said Stephen Sestanovich, a former National Security Council official. now at Columbia University.

Putin’s other hope is to win the war not on the battlefield but in Western Europe, where Moscow has cut natural gas supplies to suppress Germany and other consumer countries that sent weapons to Ukraine.

So far, the energy war has had surprisingly little results. One recent poll found that 70% of Germans support continued aid to Ukraine despite rising gas prices. In the United States, the Gallup Poll showed a similar level of support at 76%.

However, the real test will be this winter, when the demand for gas for home heating will rise sharply.

On both fronts, Putin is hoping that inflicting pain on civilians can bring him victory. He believes Russians are better at fighting than Ukrainians and more resilient in winter than Europeans or Americans. The task of the West is to prove it wrong.

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