The Ukraine has fallen victim to Russia's great geopolitical game, which has posed an open challenge to the United States. Putin decided that Americans, who he thought were economically weak, at odds and divided, who had just fled Afghanistan in disgrace, whose attention was distracted by the confrontation with China, would not be able to effectively respond to his aggression towards the Ukraine.
The truth is always the first victim of a war
It is forbidden to tell the truth about the war in Ukraine in Russia now. The very word "war", in true Orwellian style, is forbidden in the Russian Federation to refer to what the authorities call in their Newspeak "special military peace operation". Invasion of a regular army with the participation of military aviation, artillery, missile fire not only against military facilities, not only upon civil infrastructure, but also — and to an increasing extent — simply against residential districts of Ukrainian cities, hospitals, schools, kindergartens, nurseries, as well as the civil population, according to Russia, this is not a "war" but a "special operation". Russian propaganda is not only very cynical, but also very consistent.
Since propaganda does not tolerate dissent or diversity of views to be effective, it is no surprise that the "screw is being tightened" against the independent media and NGOs in Russia. The law in force in the Russian Federation for a long time now, required media reports to attach the official label of a "foreign agent" to all organizations that Rosskomnadzor, the censorship agency, found inconvenient. It sounded ridiculous when a radio or TV announcer had to utter the magic formula "so-and-so is considered a foreign agent."
It ceased to be funny when the prosecutor's office of the Russian Federation closed and blocked a whole range of independent media, including radio "Moscow's Echo" (Эхо Москвы), television "TV Rain" (Дождь), foreign news agencies, incl. BBC, Deutsche Welle, and others, earlier this month. Facebook and Twitter can no longer operate in Russia. The Russian authorities have muttered about Russia being completely cut off from the global Internet.
Probably the most painful loss is the closure of the broadcaster "Moscow's Echo", which had over 30 years of high, professional journalistic tradition at the world level, whose ratings placed it at the forefront of all radio stations in Russia. It was first cut off from broadcasting over the radio waves (on February 28), and then completely dissolved and deprived of the possibility of publishing its programs on the YouTube channel (on March 3) and other networks. Long-term archives of broadcasts of priceless historical value simply disappeared from the Internet. So far, there remains only a marginal presence on the Telegram network.
Gosduma (the Russian parliament) has also just adopted a law under which one can receive a penalty of up to 15 years in prison for disseminating, so-called, fakes about the "special operation". So, in simple words, you can end up in prison for 15 years if you provide information that differs from the official version presented by the authorities. In this situation, many domestic radio stations and publishing houses suspended their activities in order not to expose their correspondents and journalists to persecution.
However, as we will see below, creating an information monoculture and limiting access to reliable information can have a dramatic negative impact on the overall ability to assess the real situation even by the state authorities, who then begin to believe in their own propaganda.
What was Putin's plan?
First, there was supposed to be a Blitzkrieg in Ukraine, that is, a lightning war, lasting no more than a few days, which would have occupied all major cities, including Kiev, without much difficulty and with little losses on both sides. This was the basis of the "special peace operation" that was to result in taking control of the Ukraine.
The plan was probably to neutralize the Ukrainian air defense system on the first day by means of massive air strikes and rocket fire against radar devices, airports, fuel depots, etc., to destroy the operational capabilities of the Ukrainian air force and gain air superiority; then to begin a paratrooper assault on strategic objects — airports and military bases above all — in order to open air bridges for the transfer of troops, equipment and supplies. Then to continue the attack on strategically important facilities in the following days: fortifications, ammunition depots, various military facilities, etc. Once these objectives have been achieved, to launch a large-scale land invasion operation aimed at major cities with the aid of mechanized troops.
Let us remind you that, just as Poland was attacked from three sides on September 1, 1939, so on February 24, 2022, Ukraine was also attacked from three sides: from the north — Belarus, from the east — the Russian Federation, and from the south, from the previously annexed Crimea as well as from the sea.
Analyzing the image of the deployment of Russian troops before the attack, one could conclude that the goal was to pinch, more or less, the eastern 2/3rd of the territory of the Ukraine, including its capital. Kyiv was undoubtedly one of the most important directions of the attack. Everyone understands that capturing the capital is of great psychological importance and may weaken the will of the defending side.
The Kremlin propaganda made no secret of the fact that it did not expect much resistance and that it was going to take Kyiv on the first day, before lunch at that (!), with the help of its landing paratroopers. So it can be concluded that Putin expected a similar — or even more spectacular — instant success as in the 2008 invasion of Georgia, in which, within 5 days, Russian troops approached Tbilisi and forced the peace settlement on the Georgian government.
Putin's First Mistake
Putin's first mistake in 2022 was that he greatly overestimated the capabilities of the Russian army, while dramatically underestimating the defense capabilities and the will to fight of the Ukrainian armed forces. How could this have happened? How could the state apparatus, famous for its extensive intelligence network, be so wrong?
Well, it is believed that Putin is surrounded by people whom he himself chose carefully precisely because they are loyal and obedient to him. Since no one from his closest circle can stand up to him, everyone kept convincing him of the superiority and invincibility of the Russian army, of its combat abilities and excellent preparation.
Over the last 10-12 years, Putin has invested a lot in modernizing the army, and recently, for the first time in history, he has allegedly even gained an advantage over the US in cutting-edge technologies — in the area of, so-called, hypersonic weapons. In his words: "As you understand, there is nothing like this anywhere in the world so far." He was also surely aware that this advantage was very shaky and could rapidly dissolve, so he undoubtedly wanted to use it as an instrument of political blackmail against the United States.
But the resources allocated to the modernization of the army did not necessarily end up actually spent on this very purpose. A country based on corruption at all levels cannot always deal with the real problems that exist within it. In order to spend the money correctly, the affairs need to be properly managed. This is pure speculation, but is it so hard to imagine that funds for modernizing and training the army could have made an important contribution, for example, to the creation of many luxurious dachas (summer houses — ed.) for senior officers, or have been spent for the purchase of luxury cars?
The belief in the superiority and invincibility of the Russian armed forces, confirmed by maneuvers, demonstrations, and propaganda within the military circles of Russia's exorbitant military potential, but also supported by military actions in Georgia, Crimea (almost without firing a shot), and Syria, led to a situation where Putin probably believed in his own propaganda and treated Ukraine — led after all by a comedy actor — very dismissively.
Disregarding the opponent and being convinced of own superiority is a characteristic feature of every autocrat, which is often the root cause of his downfall. It must be admitted, however, that some premises for this reasoning were amply provided by America itself, which, for example, after 20 years of relative control over the territory of Afghanistan, had to withdraw in a very disgraceful manner, while the regular Afghan army equipped and trained by it, simply scattered in panic at the first sight of Taliban fighters. Putin apparently believed that it would be similar in Ukraine, that the Ukrainian army would abandon its brand-new American or Western European equipment and not even try to resist.
It turned out, however, that Ukraine is not Afghanistan, or even Georgia. Ukraine is a large European state, inhabited by 44 million people, which not only values its sovereignty and independence, but which — for the last eight years, since the annexation of the Crimea — had been carefully preparing to repel another attack on its territory.
When the Russian plan came into contact with the reality of the battlefield, it turned out that the defense forces were able to significantly weaken and delay the attack, that heavy battles for every Ukrainian city broke out, that volunteers are arming themselves and organizing territorial defense, that Molotov cocktails prepared by the inhabitants are being thrown under tank tracks in the streets of the cities, and the long columns of the advancing troops stop, be it due to technical faults of their own equipment, or due to targeted air attacks, or blown up bridges.
Russia is beginning to take heavy losses in this war. Even according to official Russian figures, which are certainly understated, more than 500 people were killed on the attacker's side in the first week and 1,600 were injured. Today, after less than two weeks, the Ukrainian side estimates that more than 10,000 Russian soldiers have died. For comparison, a total of about 15,000 Russian soldiers died during the entire ten-year failed Russian operation in Afghanistan in the 1980s.
Putin's Second Mistake
The Kremlin's war strategists apparently firmly believed that Ukrainian people would welcome them with bread and salt, throwing flowers, embracing their liberators with tears of joy in their eyes. Putin may have managed to convince himself that the people of Ukraine, whom the Russian leader even refuses to call a nation, treating them as a minor detachment of the great Russian nation, are suffering under the yoke of what he called "Kiev's Nazi, nationalist and drug addicts' gang."
Apparently, he also remembered the pictures from 2014, when in the Crimea and in some parts of the Donbass region, some people came out with Russian flags and banners in favor of Russian troops onto the street. The Kremlin's belief that there is broad social support in Ukraine for the introduction of the so-called Russian peace, at least in the central and eastern parts of the country, turned out to be false.
If so far in the Ukraine there has been a discussion about which direction this country should turn to politically: whether to move towards Western Europe, or rather integrate into the structures of closer cooperation with Russia and its sphere of influence, or whether it should remain neutral, it was the attack on February 24 that unequivocally resolved this dilemma. Even pro-Russian politicians or mayors of Russian-speaking cities are now taking up the arms and organizing defense. Putin has become a symbol of absolute evil and his aggression has united and organized the Ukrainian people like never before.
The present war has become a real patriotic war for Ukraine, in which people are willing to pay even the highest price for their land, for its freedom and independence. Sovereignty is no longer a purely geopolitical term for the Ukrainians, as it has become a practical value for which they are willing to spill their blood.
The network recordings clearly show which side has the will to fight and who has a clear goal. Young Russian soldiers do not really know why they are fighting and how to behave in the face of the crowds of defenseless civilians coming out in cities with Ukrainian flags against their tanks and transporters, stopping their passage. They were supposed to be greeted with flowers as liberators, and the President of Ukraine, Volodymir Zelensky, was to sign the act of surrender on the first day of the entire "special operation".
Besides, the president of Ukraine was completely underestimated in the Kremlin. After all, what can a president be like, who is a comedy actor, or simply — a clown? What can he know about the global geopolitics or military strategy? Such rhetorical questions could have been asked by the Kremlin. Meanwhile, Zelensky not only rose to the occasion, but in just a few days, he turned into a real national hero, the war leader of his nation, whose place in the history of Ukraine is forever guaranteed, regardless of the outcome of this war. He became, in a sense, the Ukrainian Churchill. His response to the West's offer to evacuate himself and his family is well known around the world today: "I don't want a ride — I want ammunition!"
The Russian leadership hoped for an open revolt of the Ukrainian people against the government of President Zelensky. The Russian president has openly asked the leadership of the Ukrainian army to overthrow their president and seize power, creating a military junta with which the Kremlin could get along. However, the army of Ukraine remained faithful to its commander-in-chief, who not only did not run anywhere, but also gained, unprecedentedly, over 90% of popularity and support in his country.
Putin's mistake was that he thought he would fight only with the "Kiev regime" with the massive support of ordinary Ukrainians for himself, and it turned out that he was fighting with the entire Ukrainian nation, which he literally helped to crystallize, and whose presidential power he had significantly helped to grow politically.
Putin's Third Mistake
The President of Russia did not expect such a unanimous and decisive reaction from the West as has been, and is still, taking place.
On the one hand, he did not make a mistake in his calculations that the West, and more specifically NATO, would not directly defend Ukraine or directly fight with Russia for Ukrainian independence. It was clear to everyone that it would be tantamount to declaring World War III, with the massive use of nuclear weapons and the consequences of destroying all life on our planet.
Admittedly, Putin has made no secret of the fact that he would have no problem using the proverbial "red button" of nuclear weapons, and few treat these threats only as a political bluff. He would probably actually be able to orchestrate the destruction of the whole Earth, including all of Russia. Some even began to speculate that Putin was crazy.
Others believe that his rhetoric is merely a political theater calculated to increase anxiety among Western leaders that they are dealing with an erratic man. However, apparent madness is a powerful deterrent that plays a vital role in the calculations of other leaders who are forced to consider options of responding to aggression.
On the other hand, Ukraine has obtained incredible support from all over the world, while Russia has found itself in almost total isolation, virtually without allies. In the UN General Assembly vote on the resolution against Russian aggression, only five countries opposed the resolution: Russia, Belarus, Syria, Eritrea, and North Korea. Even the usually Russia-friendly Serbia voted for the resolution, and China abstained from voting, thus making it clear that it does not necessarily support the entire action, although it shares some common interests with Russia.
Putin thus managed to scare the whole world. Today, in some countries, he is openly compared to Hitler, and Russia under his leadership is sinking deeper and deeper into total isolation from the rest of the world, becoming more and more lonely and isolated. This will have far-reaching consequences not only for this country, as we have already written about in Kuryer Polski.
Under the weight of the sanctions that have already been introduced, the Russian economy is beginning to tear at the seams. The ruble dropped significantly, the assets of Russian banks and the resources of many oligarchs were frozen, including some of the notorious foreign exchange and gold reserves of the Central Bank of Russia, which were to be part of the defense against the sanctions imposed by the West.
Russia, which has been excluded from the international SWIFT financial settlement system, is again facing deep poverty and hunger. One by one, the largest and most prominent companies in the world are withdrawing from the country. Russian citizens will face soaring prices and lower incomes, along with nagging unemployment. Even Russian oligarchs are feeling the effects of the sanctions — though not quite all of them yet, nor as severely as ordinary people will feel them. Well, the loss of a half-a-billion-dollar luxury yacht must hurt even an oligarch...
In attacking Ukraine, Putin set out as his goal the removal of NATO and the European Union from the Russian borders. Meanwhile, he has achieved just the opposite. NATO, which previously had its problems, especially when it comes to unity of goals and opinions, has never been so united as it is now in response to the recent Russian moves. Germany turned exactly 180 degrees in terms of its attitude to arms, and its attitude towards Russia. Finland and Sweden, which had been neutral so far, started talks on admission to the alliance, and Ukraine and Moldova officially applied for the membership in the European Union.
Thus, Putin, who, under the influence of his own propaganda, has begun to consider himself the smartest and most knowledgeable politician in the world, although as some ironically note, he is not particularly qualified for this, has become entangled in a geopolitical charade that will cost Russia dearly.
Where Is Russia Heading?
Putin clearly counted on the Blitzkrieg and a quick capture of Kiev. But the war is dragging on, the army is suffering losses, defenseless civilians are dying in view of the whole world, and the Russian economy is beginning to collapse under the weight of sanctions. Russian generals were overconfident and underestimated Ukraine's defense abilities. Putin repeated the classic mistake of imperial Russian leaders by placing too much trust in the generals and falling into the euphoria of war. We expect some generals' heads to roll in the Kremlin soon, as a result.
As a result of the adventurous policy towards Ukraine, Russia is now facing a national catastrophe, the real price of which is still not completely predictable, but it is already known that it will hit ordinary people, the citizens of the Russian Federation, the regular Russians the most.
Putin could have gone down in history as a great Russian leader, someone who, at the beginning of this century, had a chance to lift Russia out of age-old poverty and backwardness, modernize its economy, and join the civilized world with it — all thanks to significant revenues from the sale of natural resources and, above all, oil and gas, to the West, if only they had been used properly.
Today it seems that he wasted these resources and "achieved" just the opposite. But — unfortunately — it is not very clear how he would withdraw from this row that he himself caused, without seriously "losing face", or worse. This is a very dangerous situation for everyone.