Putin is suffering defeat after defeat, and that is not reassuring

Dutch troops are leaving Vredepeel in Slovakia to bolster NATO's eastern flank with the Patriot air defense system.  Putin is getting the opposite of what he wanted.  Picture of Raymond Rutting / de Volkskrant

Dutch troops are leaving Vredepeel in Slovakia to bolster NATO’s eastern flank with the Patriot air defense system. Putin is getting the opposite of what he wanted.Picture of Raymond Rutting / de Volkskrant

It was a bad week for Vladimir Putin. His biggest political friend in Ukraine, oligarch Medvedchuk, has been arrested. His main warship on the spot, Moscow, sank. Its neighbor Finland, along with Sweden, is seeking safe haven in NATO.

The removal of Moscow is a symbol of the hitherto disastrous war of aggression against a neighboring country that seems to have the greatest sin that still exists. The loss of the cruiser was also a military blow, both for the defense of the Black Sea Fleet and for the ambition to capture Odessa. And although Moscow claims the crew was evacuated, many of the 500 crew members were killed, according to alternative Russian sources.

Putin wants to rebuild Greater Russia under his leadership, but his invasion is more like the death knell of ancient Russian imperialism. If the goal was to stop NATO, the opposite is happening. Other goals (such as the expulsion of the US from Europe) and assumptions (about, for example, the division and inertia of Europe) are also opposite.

NATO will expand and significantly increase its military presence in the east. Economically, Russia is threatening to return to the hated 1990s – of which Putin once ‘liberated’ his people – or worse. Soon the sanctions will really be felt in Russia. But elsewhere in the world: UN chief Guterres warns that one-fifth of the world’s population could starve to death because of the war.

The Russian-German relationship as an anchor

Germany’s strategic loss to Russia is often underestimated. Russian-German relations were an informal anchor of the post-Cold War European order: a historical bond that no Western ally could sever, aided by Moscow’s reunification agreement and the projection of Germany’s “war debt” to Russia alone (before all Soviet nations, including Belarus). and Ukrainians).

Only Russia could destroy this connection – and Putin now seems to have succeeded. Ton Nijhuis, director of the German Institute in Amsterdam, points out that Germany is being forced into a ‘turnaround’ announced by Chancellor Scholz because the world has changed. “It’s a big struggle to really distance yourself from that.” This would never have happened without Putin’s mass invasion.

With the battle for Donbass just around the corner, Western countries are gradually losing their hesitation in supplying heavy weapons. The crimes of Russian troops – murder, torture, rape – also increase the pressure on those who suspect such as Germany to come up with more. At the same time, retired US General Wesley Clark warns that this is not enough and that we are facing a ‘moment of extreme danger for Ukraine and NATO’.

Can Putin survive the loss?

Is there a return for Putin? Autocratic leaders also calculate the consequences of their actions. Putin could end the war. The United States and the Soviet Union have already proven that great powers can lose wars. But the chances of Putin using his huge propaganda apparatus to pull off a retreat are slim. “Historical resentment remains one of the strongest and most toxic forces in history,” Clingendael expert René Cuperus said in a discussion with the Dutch Atlantic Association this week. And can autocrat Putin survive the loss?

For now, he is betting on escalation. Before Moscow sank, Russia’s Defense Ministry announced it would attack several ‘decision-making centers’. On Friday, Kyiv was specially named and attacked. Russia will place nuclear weapons in the Baltic region if NATO expands there, the Kremlin threatens. But that is already the case, the answer was: towards the West, Russian Kaliningrad, which is in the middle of the EU, already contains missiles that can be equipped with nuclear warheads.

It is tempting to conclude that the use of force is losing value in the Kremlin because it has proven to be less effective than expected. But it doesn’t work that way, says security expert András Rácz IP quarterly: the war is actually depriving Russia of alternative sources of influence (such as energy and prestige). “There is likely to be an increase in the use of military power for political purposes, including the sound of nuclear weapons.”

Putin said this week that he would continue until “all noble goals” are achieved, which are described differently day by day. In the first fifty days, Russia’s influence – which is by no means unlimited – is certainly limited. But Russia has the size and weapons of escalation to face setbacks. That the loss of Moscow was a big blow was clearly visible on Russian television on Friday. Now the Kremlin wants revenge.

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