The most obvious miscalculation which Putin has made relates to public opinion in Ukraine. Many Ukrainians in recent years have felt disillusioned about their government but that does not mean they are in any way apathetic about Ukraine’s statehood or about their own Ukrainian identity.
Putin seems to be operating on the assumption that significant numbers of ‘pro-Russian’, anti-Western, Russian-speaking Ukrainians will tolerate and even welcome Russian forces as they attempt regime change at gunpoint. But even in the regions of Ukraine where ‘pro-Russian sentiment’ has traditionally been highest, that ‘pro-Russian sentiment’ mainly comprises support for Russian language rights, for the Russian Orthodox Church, and a reluctance to see Russia as the enemy.
The notion that the current Russian violence against Ukraine’s people and government could enjoy support or acceptance from substantial numbers of Ukrainians is delusional, and resistance from Ukraine’s committed armed forces and mobilized population is already costing Putin more in Russian lives than he expected.
That resistance and those costs will not end if Russia attempts a long-term occupation because, despite Russia’s reputation for waging effective information wars, the Russian propaganda machine’s ability to ‘win hearts and minds’ in Ukraine has been failing for years and is now negligible.
The main strength of Russian propaganda lay in its ability to amplify the grievances which Ukrainians felt about their political leadership by constantly emphasising the country’s failings. But now the entire Ukrainian population shares the same grievance, which overrides all others – that Russia has invaded and is shelling innocent Ukrainians in their homes. [Continue reading…]