Opinion: Putin must escalate the situation to survive | TBEN | 21.09.2022

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There is no turning back – if Russian President Vladimir Putin loses his war of aggression against Ukraine, it will cost him his power, perhaps more. The same goes for politicians in government and parliament who have tied their fate to the Kremlin chief, for better or for worse. They panic. Given the Ukrainians’ recent success in retaking their territory, Russia is looking at defeat, something no one in Moscow expected. That is why Putin has now announced a partial mobilization and called in 300,000 reservists. They are supposed to stop the advance of the Ukrainians; an advance that testifies to the desperate state of the Russian army.

Weakened and isolated?

On the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit in Uzbekistan just a few days ago, Putin, attempting to appear emotionless, said Russia was in no rush in Ukraine. But the world saw a weakened, isolated Putin. Television cameras showed an elderly man for whom the other heads of state and government waited. Sitting on a couch, Putin listened politely to what they had to say. Turkey, India and even China have publicly expressed their opposition to Putin’s war and their support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity. With good reason: The war is taking its toll on the global economy, meaning it is limiting the power of the politicians Putin had hoped would support his war of aggression.

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Change of course in the Kremlin

From the Kremlin’s point of view, there was no question that the situation could continue like this. Now that he is back in Moscow, Putin has made haste to change course. Ultimately, the partial mobilization is an acknowledgment of military weakness in eastern Ukraine. The announcement to allow Ukrainians in conquered territories to “vote” whether to join the Russian Federation shows that they do not want to. No one in the world will take seriously the results of people voting at gunpoint, of a referendum in the rubble.

Putin wants to ensure that the conquered territories are declared part of the Russian Federation. Then he will be able to summon the defense of the homeland, resorting to all possible military means. Thus, with a rhetorical flourish, a time- and space-limited “special military operation”, which until now has had little impact on the daily lives of most Russians, could be transformed by all means into the defense of “Russian soil” – including nuclear weapons.

End of the ‘special operation’

It is not necessary to be a prophet to predict the imminent demise of the term “special military operation.” It will be buried by Kremlin propaganda and replaced by even more muddled lies, inventions and threats that the state-controlled TV stations use to try to indoctrinate their viewers. They already claim that Russia is not waging war against Ukraine, but is defending itself in Ukraine against the US and Britain. And those who want to believe that, do.

World leaders currently meeting at the UN General Assembly in New York will take Putin’s renewed efforts to play with fire seriously. However, their policy towards Moscow will not change. Ukraine will continue to receive weapons, its army will continue to fight.

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And the 300,000 Russian reservists? Most have never been to war and are poorly equipped. They are family men and will be snatched from their daily lives against their will. In Ukraine, they will be called upon to defend Russia along with convicted criminals and Chechen mercenaries. It will not work. They will see for themselves that Ukrainians do not want to be part of Russia. Tens of thousands of people will die so that Putin and his entourage can stay in power, so that they do not have to answer for the crimes they have committed against their own people. That is the tragedy of the Kremlin chief’s most recent bad decision.

This article was originally written in German.

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