We mustn’t be cowed by the bluster of a bully who knows he’s losing

We mustn’t be cowed by the bluster of a bully who knows he’s losing

Mikhail Khodorkovsky writes:

When declaring the annexation of Ukraine’s Luhansk, Donetsk, and parts of the Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions on Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin showed characteristic contempt for the truth. The announcement followed sham referenda reflecting Putin’s brand of democracy — where voting takes place at gunpoint and the outcome is predetermined.

Delivered amid deranged bombast regarding the “satanic” West, this was Putin’s latest attempt to regain the initiative and deflect attention from the fact that he’s losing his disastrous war — to a humiliating extent. Announcing the mobilization of 300,000 reserve troops last week was as close as he could come to admitting he’s losing. And the now familiar threats to use nuclear weapons can also be seen in this context.

Evidently, the critical moment has arrived.

Putin has laid all his cards on the table — and we mustn’t be cowed by the bluster of a bully who knows he’s losing. Instead, we must intensify support for Ukraine and give it what it needs to ensure Putin’s defeat. Simultaneously, the West must also take steps to support and incentivize members of the Russian population dissenting from the Kremlin’s latest abominations, to hasten his defeat at home.

As it stands, Putin’s forces are now incapable of holding the line without massive reinforcements.

According to some estimates, since the start of the invasion, the total of Russia’s fallen and wounded could be as high as 100,000 to 150,000 — roughly the size of the total initial invasion force. And Russia’s generals have repeatedly, even publicly, insisted they cannot accomplish the goals they have been given without a serious increase in personnel. Their desperation became clear when footage emerged of Putin crony Yevgeny Prigozhin scouring Russian prisons for contract fighters to enlist.

And though the new mobilization answers the generals’ request, it creates a whole host of other problems — both military and political. [Continue reading…]

Eliot A. Cohen writes:

[D]iplomacy does indeed have a role to play here—but most definitely not in compelling Ukraine into a negotiation it abhors while a brutal invader occupies its lands. The diplomatic option consists rather in reminding key Russian leaders that should Moscow use nuclear weapons, it will soon see them sprouting in self-defense in Poland, Turkey, Kazakhstan, and quite likely Finland and other countries. That will not make Russia safer or stronger.

China has a stake in this, too: A world in which the nuclear taboo is broken is one in which Taiwan, Japan, and South Korea may feel that they need the security of their own nuclear deterrents. India, facing a Pakistan that may have more nuclear weapons than it does, and whose politics are terrifyingly unstable, has no interest in seeing nuclear use become acceptable. Those who can still talk to Moscow should be urged to convey that message to Russia’s leadership—if they are not, in fact, doing so already.

The fight in Ukraine is not, despite what some have said, an existential war for Russia. No one is claiming Russian territory, and no Ukrainian army is going to drive to Moscow. It may very well be an existential fight for Vladimir Putin as a leader and even as a human being, but that is a separate matter. He has not been put in a corner, but rather has put himself in one. For him to use nuclear weapons, many others—hundreds, if not more—have to go along. The United States and other countries probably have the means to communicate to each and every one of them that they will personally pay a price if they do so, if not at the hands of Ukraine’s friends, then under a successor regime in Russia that will have to hold them accountable in order to be readmitted to the economy of the developed world. [Continue reading…]

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