Vladimir Putin’s war is not going well. Can he find an off-ramp?
Ukraine’s surprise counter-offensive has retaken massive amounts of territory and repelled the Russian thrust toward Kharkiv. Moscow’s forces are still in wild retreat in the northeast, and losing ground in the south as well.
The advance also exposed a mass burial site near newly-liberated Izium — containing hundreds of bodies, many civilian and some showing signs of torture. That fresh evidence of barbarism can only bolster global support for Putin’s foe.
Meanwhile, Russia’s most powerful ally, the People’s Republic of China, is expressing doubts: At this week’s summit, Putin felt obliged to acknowledge President Xi Jinping’s worries over the war.
Putin’s homefront, too, is getting dicey. His Defense Ministry’s claim that the rout in the northeast was a “pre-planned regrouping” went over like a lead balloon. Even Putin’s media lapdog Dmitry Kiselyov admitted on state-run TV that “this has been the toughest week so far” of the war, while online criticism is soaring.
The thugocrat expected a quick win, and all but promised one to the Russian people, who are surely noticing the war’s unexpected length and massive death toll, along with the bite from ongoing economic sanctions.
The Kremlin’s main response is to target Ukraine’s power and water systems, along with brinksmanship around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant. That is, he’s reminding Ukraine that fighting on could bring disaster. (Expect him soon to again threaten to use nuclear weapons, too.)
But even if the prospect of the entire country becoming a possibly-glowing wasteland moves Ukraine to seek a ceasefire, Putin’s lost all chance for decisive victory any time soon. Even keeping the war going in hopes the West stops supporting his enemy has grown problematic: His own hold on power is increasingly at risk.
A rational strongman would find a bunch of scapegoats (starting with all the advisors who endorsed the attack at the start) for this mess, declare victory (we didn’t conquer, but we killed all the Nazis!) and bring the boys home.
Sadly for Ukraine, Russia and the rest of the world, Mad Vlad has shown himself to be anything but reasonable.