Edward Lucas: the longer this failing war continues, the angrier its architect, Putin, will become
The doomsday threats from Vladimir Putin in yesterday’s creepy early morning TV broadcast will have sent shivers down many pages.
The Kremlin despot, who commands the world’s largest nuclear stockpile of nearly 6,000 warheads, has threatened the West with brutal retaliation for its continued support for Ukraine.
Or, as he put it, in his twisted narrative: ‘If the territorial integrity of our country is threatened, we will use all available means to protect our people – this is not a bluff.’
It is easy to characterize this threat as the ramblings of a crazed madman. Still paranoid about catching Covid and worried about assassination attempts, Putin spends most of his time inside the Kremlin or one of his many palaces.
He surrounds himself with yes-men who brood while delivering half-truths—or whatever they think their boss wants to hear. And when things go wrong, the hunt for scapegoats intensifies.
And it’s really going wrong now.
Edward Lucas: ‘While on the diplomatic stage, Russia is increasingly isolated, a pariah status highlighted by Putin’s absence from this week’s UN General Assembly in New York’
In bomb-torn Ukraine, Putin’s troops are rapidly retreating, leaving behind evidence of horrific war crimes.
While on the diplomatic stage, Russia is increasingly isolated, a pariah status highlighted by Putin’s absence from this week’s UN General Assembly in New York.
What this latest escalation proves, however, is that Putin will never accept defeat. And the longer this failed war continues, the angrier its architect will become.
But does the threat of Armageddon mean that he has now completely lost his balls? Or was yesterday’s speech a carefully crafted warning to the West?
The answer is not clear cut. Former German Chancellor Angela Merkel once said of Putin that he lives ‘in another world’. Personally, I find it easiest to think of him as a gang boss.
Like any mafioso kingpin, he is keen to project a fearsome image. But that doesn’t mean he’s a raving lunatic. Instead, he simply sees things differently than the rest of us.
For example, he has no interest in fair governance. Corruption is not a crime but a political tool.
Abuse of power is how he rewards his friends and punishes his enemies. And facts only matter if they fit his version of reality.
Protests have broken out in Moscow following Putin’s announcement of the mobilization of reservists. Here the riot police detain a protester
Putin’s justification for the war in Ukraine has always been based on a central lie: that he is trying to free the country from neo-Nazi leadership.
Right now, Putin is desperate – as demonstrated by the ‘partial mobilization’ of up to 300,000 military reservists announced yesterday by Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu.
But no poorly trained soldiers will fix Russia’s messed up army. Putin’s military commanders know this.
Like Hitler’s generals 80 years ago, they see that their commander-in-chief, far from being the strategic genius he himself believes, is fighting a losing battle.
The ‘war of words’ represents the one battlefield where Putin can still effectively flex his muscles.
But we’ve been here before. Putin first raised the specter of a nuclear holocaust at the start of the attack six months ago. And while he’s now desperate, he’s not suicidal (not yet, anyway).
And he surely knows that any nuclear strike, even against Ukraine outside of Nato, would be disastrous for Russia and would bring no appreciable military advantage and trigger international outrage.
When it comes to brute force, the West as a collective is far bigger and far stronger than Russia. What’s more, any such move would alienate Russia’s biggest supporter, China, which has repeatedly warned against turning this war into nuclear power.
Edward Lucas: Right now Putin is desperate – as demonstrated by the ‘partial mobilization’ of up to 300,000 military reservists announced yesterday by Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu
Putin must also question whether his hollow-eyed generals would actually follow his orders to lead Russia into the nuclear abyss.
His hope then is that fear-mongering rhetoric will panic the West into reducing its support for Ukraine and help orchestrate a ceasefire, a deal that may well include territorial concessions to Russia, allowing Putin to walk away victorious.
But as Liz Truss has demonstrated this week in her pledge to meet or exceed the £2.3bn spent so far on support for Ukraine by 2023, Britain will not blink. President Biden shows no signs of backing down either.
So could Putin, in one last desperate struggle for control, push the proverbial button? It is not completely impossible.
However, I think we are witnessing the end stage of Putin. Like any aging mob boss, he feels his power ebbing.
If history teaches us anything, it’s that Russian dictators don’t tend to die peacefully in their sleep.
For years, Putin has been writing his country’s national history with himself as the protagonist. But now a new chapter is looming – and it will be written by others.
Any new ruler would surely find it easy to scapegoat Putin for the disastrous war in Ukraine. They could seek a truce and hope that a war-weary world would settle for an imperfect peace.
Of course, until he gets tapped on the shoulder or falls victim to a bloody Kremlin coup, the nuclear option remains a last-ditch deterrent for an increasingly cornered Putin.
But in the end, even the threat of deploying Russia’s entire arsenal will not save him from inevitable and self-inflicted doom.