May 10, 2022

Victory Day

President Vladimir Putin exhorted Russians to battle in a defiant Victory Day speech on Monday, but was silent about plans for any escalation in Ukraine, despite Western warnings he might use his Red Square address to order a national mobilisation.” Reuters

Both sides express relief that Putin did not escalate the conflict, but caution that fighting is likely to continue:

“If Putin’s speech lacked an explicit doubling down on his plan to destroy Ukraine — given Russia’s massive casualties and troops’ morale problems in Ukraine, calling in all the reservists could be a dangerous political proposition — it also conveyed little information about possible ways out from the corner that Putin has boxed himself into. For now, at least, the Kremlin’s plan seems to be more of the same: ineffectual efforts to gain ground in Donbas and in southern Ukraine, where Ukrainians’ heroic resistance continues in Mariupol’s Azovstal Metallurgical Combine…  

Meanwhile, the Ukrainian military is making significant advances around Kharkiv, risking to drive Russian forces all the way back to Russia. If Putin is hoping to capture Ukraine’s Black Sea coast and establish a land bridge all the way to Moldova’s breakaway territory of Transnistria, he is ‘unlikely to be successful in this endeavor,’ according to a recent report by the Critical Threats Projects at American Enterprise Institute and Institute for the Study of War. But that does not mean he will not try.”
Dalibor Rohac, New York Post

“Putin was defiant but subdued, trying to portray Russia’s unprovoked attack on Ukraine as a preemptive response to a looming Ukrainian invasion of Russia. It was ludicrous and pathetic — but also strangely reassuring. There has been much discussion about whether Putin is rational, because attacking Ukraine with such a small army was an act of lunacy. The evidence suggests that, while Putin is isolated and prone to miscalculation, he is not insane

“[He appears to grasp] that mobilization would bring more problems than it would solve. It would risk undermining Russia’s already battered economy, along with popular support for his criminal regime, but it would not deliver any immediate military benefits. Mobilizing more troops would take many months — and it would be exceedingly difficult to train, equip or supply them. As for using nuclear weapons, that would be the action of a madman who fears that the end is near. Putin’s troops are carrying out unspeakable war crimes, but he is far from Hitler-in-the-bunker territory…

“Putin is now in a strategic quandary that should be familiar to Americans after our misbegotten wars in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq — only many times worse. Russia has launched a ‘war of choice’ based on bad intelligence (such as the assumption that Ukrainians would welcome the Russians as liberators). The war is going badly, but once troops are committed, emotions run high and national prestige is on the line. Both escalation and withdrawal are too painful to contemplate. The easiest thing to do is to continue doing what you’ve been doing, even if there is scant hope that the results will get any better.”
Max Boot, Washington Post

“Military defeat is something Putin will do everything in his power to avoid. As CIA Director William Burns observed to the Financial Times over the weekend, the Russian leader is in a dog-eat-dog mindset. ‘I think he’s in a frame of mind in which he doesn’t believe he can afford to lose,’ Burns told the conference. ‘I don’t think this means Putin is deterred at this point because he staked so much on the choice that he made to launch this invasion … he’s convinced right now that doubling down still will enable him to make progress.’…

“If Burns’s assessment is right, we should anticipate a drawn-out, bloody continuation of the war over a period of weeks, if not months. The Russians are as committed to victory in the Donbas as the Ukrainians are to a Russian defeat. With two adversaries bent on holding firm, serious peace negotiations will have to wait until operations in the Donbas conclude one way or the other. If anything, Putin’s remarks [yesterday] confirm this hypothesis.”
Daniel DePetris, Spectator World

There are growing concerns that Russian forces will turn again to standoff weapons -- aerial strikes and long-range missiles, for example -- that can be fired from afar, as they so often do when they are on the backfoot. That's worrying, as those attacks are indiscriminate and tend to cause huge civilian tolls. A bombing of a school in Luhansk, eastern Ukraine, that is feared to have killed at least 60 sheltering people over the weekend is just one example.”
Angela Dewan, CNN

Other opinions below.

See past issues

From the Left

“In making sense of the war in Ukraine, two historical analogies crop up again and again in American discourse. The first is World War II… The second most common analogy is the Soviet Union’s 1979 invasion of Afghanistan, in which Moscow attacked a neighbor and was stymied by a combination of nationalist resistance and American support…  

“[But] In World War II, the allies marched to Berlin and physically occupied Hitler’s Germany. No one is doing that to Putin’s Russia. And Afghanistan has far less cultural and political significance to Russians than does Ukraine…

The growing calls for ‘victory’ don’t reckon with these realities at all. Yes, the US should aid Ukraine and sanction Russia with the aim of helping Volodymyr Zelenskyy get the best possible negotiated settlement. But that requires signaling that the US would actively support such a settlement and would lift sanctions on Russia as an inducement for Moscow to agree. It means seeing Ukraine’s survival as a goal in and of itself, not a means of weakening Russia for the great power struggle ahead… Let’s hope the Biden administration can tell the difference in the dangerous days ahead.”

Peter Beinart, The Beinart Notebook

From the Right

“Putin's intent is to frame the war in Ukraine as part of a much larger struggle — not simply of nations and power, but a great historic struggle with the moral significance of the Second World War. Putin is reinforcing the idea that the West has become a fiefdom of moral turpitude against which only a powerful, unified Russia under his dominion can stand…

“Putin's language reflects a shift toward more hard-line thinking within the Kremlin, notably Nikolai Patrushev, Russia's security council secretary. Patrushev recently attacked ‘beasts in human form’ who have buried Ukraine under a cesspool of American moral excrement…

“Putin's speech signals that he anticipates a long-term deterioration in relations with the West. The influence of the Russian financial sector and the existing oligarch class (which favors some positive relations with the West and seems to be suffering a slow-rolling purge) appears to be evaporating. Indeed, Putin implicitly attacked those who oppose his Fortress Russia mentality when he warned of Western efforts to ‘sow national and religious enmity in order to weaken and split us from within.’ Translation: Disagreement with me equals unpatriotic treason.”
Tom Rogan, Washington Examiner

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