Is Putin a dead man walking?

Is Putin a dead man walking? By Jim Dunnigan at Strategy Page.

There is general agreement that [the decision to invade Ukraine] was the decision of one man, Vladimir Putin … That led to several senior Putin associates quitting the government and some even leaving the country. These Russians report that Putin was shocked at the poor performance of his troops and the rapid and widespread mobilization of the Ukrainian population to resist

It’s no surprise that the 69-year-old Putin is often accompanied by doctors as he moves around. But one particular doctor who is often present is a thyroid cancer specialist. Putin has disappeared from public appearances several times in the last two years, sometimes for up to six weeks …. The state of Putin’s health and mental clarity is still unclear but even many Russians are embracing these rumors to explain the problems Russia is having internally and externally. …

Russian invasion failing:

The initial invasion plan failed. It was not over in 15 days with a new pro-Russian government in Ukraine and minimal losses to the 150,000 Russian troops who invaded. Instead, most of the Russian forces have retreated from the outskirts of Kyiv leaving behind a hellish landscape featuring hundreds of burned-out armored vehicles and the bodies of some Russian troops. There were bodies of hundreds of Ukrainian civilians, many of them obviously executed and some of the victims well-known. Russia denied it all but there were all those satellite photos saying otherwise.

Russians were less vocal in talking about the low morale of Russian troops and growing incidents of troops and officers refusing to go back into Ukraine, even after a few weeks of rebuilding shattered battalions. Russian troops feel betrayed because many were told there would be no resistance and not even told they were crossing the border. The battalions retuning to Russian in the last two weeks enabled troops from different units to compare experienced and all remembered the same thing; massive and effective Ukrainian resistance and incompetence by their military and civilian leaders.

They learned that the families of many of their dead comrades had been contacted by the Ukrainians about what happened to sons and husbands. The Russian government refused to do the same. Soldiers and officers are inclined to believe the Ukrainian claims of a third of the Russian troops becoming casualties (dead, wounded, captured or missing). Officers asked around once back in Russia and discovered that some of the battalions that went in had apparently ceased to exist. Russia hasn’t suffered losses like that since World War II. The troops, and a growing number of their officers are angry. So are young men being conscripted. A larger than usual percentage are evading the draft, some by just “disappearing” for a while until the military situation becomes less potentially lethal for them.

The Russian strategy has obviously changed, with most of the troops pulled out of northern Ukraine and those still capable being sent to the Donbas, where another offensive is being planned.  … One area where the Russians were more successful was the advance from Crimea, where the Russians had stationed a lot of troops. The Russian plan was to quickly take control of the entire Ukrainian Black Sea coast, cutting Ukraine off from access to the sea. That failed but Russia sees reinforcing and reviving this offensive as their best chance at salvaging some kind of victory from their looming defeat….

The negotiations reflect Ukrainian success on the battlefield:

Ukrainian leaders have made it clear that nothing less than the expulsion of all Russian troops from Ukraine, including Crimea and Donbas, will do. Most NATO nations, especially those closer to Russia, agree because if Ukraine does not win, the east European nations are next. …

Several recent rounds of peace negotiations have failed because Russia insists on holding on to Crimea and, if possible, parts of eastern Ukraine they took in 2014. Pulling Russian troops out of the rest of Ukraine is less of a problem because those soldiers become less effective, and numerous, as the war continues. …

One man’s blunder:

The Ukrainian invasion was generally believed to be too risky, even by Russian generals, diplomats and economists. Many civilian advisors quit after the invasion began and some openly or quietly left Russia, along with several hundred thousand other Russians, many of whom were well educated and better able to find a good job in the West. This talent exodus took place right after 1991 and again after the 2014 attack on Ukraine.

Putin still has high approval ratings because he revived the Soviet era “Russia is surrounded by dangerous enemies” propaganda. Most recent Russian exiles see China as the only winner here with the West surviving the loss of many Russian exports, especially natural gas. Even the Chinese see the Ukrainian invasion as a foolish move and more Russians are coming around as well, as many did in the 1980s when the Soviet Union came undone. …

So far Putin has made several serious mistakes which have left him with few options. Half of Russia’s combat troops and most of the best ones were sent into Ukraine and losses have been huge. Ukraine claims that at least a third of the invaders have been killed, wounded or captured. Russia insists its actual losses are a third of what Ukraine claims, but that would still be ten percent of the invasion force. The Ukrainian claims appear to be closer to the truth because Russia admits they are withdrawing many of their BTGs (Battalion Task Groups) to Russia for rebuilding. Ukraine claims to have destroyed or crippled more than half the 60 plus BTGs in the initial invasion force. Most Russian troops have been ordered to dig in and defend. …

Vladimir Putin, a self-made Russian president-for-life, cannot afford to lose. He has been declared a war-criminal and, if deposed as leader of Russia, he has few options because there are few good places to seek refuge. These include Iran, North Korea and possibly China. The Chinese have been lukewarm in their support of Putin’s war and need to remain on good terms with their Western trading partners. …

Over the last two decades Putin has centralized power and decision making, making it essential that all key decisions went through Putin or close (in Moscow) associates. That was another reason for the military disaster in Ukraine. The Russian forces did not have a local commander with the authority to quickly make decisions. That was all done back in Moscow, where Putin and his associates seem to be chronically out of touch with battlefield realities. …

Information war:

There is still a lot of popular opposition to Russian forces losing in Ukraine. The attitude of returning soldiers is difficult to control or censor because these young guys regularly use encrypted apps that have not been cracked by the government.

Ukraine believes more Russians back home would oppose the invasion if they knew what was going on with invading forces and the determined resistance of the Ukrainian population. Westerners do not realize how little most Russians know about the “Ukrainian operation”, as the invasion is called by the Russian government. …

Zelenskyy was very media savvy and had recruited many like-minded Ukrainians into his government after he became president. Ukrainian claims that Russia quickly grasped the importance of Zelenskyy and made several attempts to assassinate him were largely true. So far, those Russian efforts have failed but they continue because Russia established a lot of intelligence operatives inside Ukraine. …

The Russian economy cannot support a modern war machine:

After the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991 the Russian military budget was sharply reduced so for over a decade few new weapons could be purchased and “War Reserve” stockpiles of weapons and munitions were not maintained. That became evident when Russian forces entered Syria in 2015 and began providing air support for the Syrian forces. Russia was known to have developed GPS and laser guided “smart bombs” for their air force.

Less well known was how miniscule their war reserve of these weapons was. After a year Russia ran out of these weapons in Syria and depended on old-school “dumb bombs. Russia did build up a war reserve of cruise missiles and other air and ship launched missiles. The war reserve of these weapons was larger and has apparently been exhausted after about 1,500 of these missiles were used and demonstrated they were effective, but nearly half did not work because of manufacturing defects or poor design.

Those problems have been rampant since 1991 because so many of the skilled engineers and technicians forced to work in Soviet era defense industries could search for better jobs after 1991. The government could no longer subsidize the defense industries and these have been plagued with management and quality control problems ever since. In Ukraine that means Russia has few missiles left and must rely on artillery firing unguided projectiles. …

China:

China was not happy with the poor performance of Russian troops in Ukraine. China was kept informed about the preparations for the invasion and asked Russia to wait until the Winter Olympics in China were over on February 23rd before invading. The invasion began before dawn on the 24th and was, according to Russia, supposed to be over in fifteen days. After about a week, China concluded that the Russian plan and the Russian military had failed. …

China initially remained silent about the invasion and … refused to openly support the Russian operation. China was also dismayed at the degree of European military support for the Ukrainians, despite Russian threats of nuclear retaliation. That did not dissuade the Europeans or Americans, just as it had not worked on China during their 1969 border war between Russia and China. In 1969 China had recently tested its first nuclear weapon but did not have a nuclear retaliation capability. Russia approached the Americans about joining in a nuclear attack on China. The Americans refused and criticized the Russian threats to use nukes. When China found out about that, there was a warming in the long-frosty relations with the Americans which soon (1972) led to the U.S. recognizing the Chinese communist government. …

China is not assisting Russia economically, unless it benefits China. To do otherwise would be expensive, reward Russian bad judgment and imply Chinese approval of the Ukrainian operation. With no Chinese economic lifeline available, Russia is under more pressure to end the Ukraine operation as soon as possible. The Russian plan was to rush in and occupy key areas, like the capital Kyiv and all Ukrainian ports, and then declare the war ended and call for negotiations. …

China is being blamed for the many Russian army truck breakdowns in Ukraine. The Russian army saved money by buying cheaper Chinese copies of American and European truck tires. This worked as long as the trucks stayed on roads, but [not] when the Russians trucks went off the road, or had to travel on a dirt road mired in springtime mud. …

Everyone except Russia wants the Ukrainians to weaken Russia further:

Ukraine, which has done a lot of business with China over the last decade, is aware that China could order Russia to halt their invasion and deal with the aftermath via negotiations.

It suits China to allow Russia to weaken itself further and become more dependent on China. This is their long-range strategy to defeat Russia and retrieve the Pacific coast territory lost to the Russian monarchy centuries ago.