19 April, 2024

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Putin’s Last Stand

By Kumar David

Prof. Kumar David

The title of this little essay must not be interpreted as saying that Putin is finished, dead and awaiting burial; rather it says that Russian President Vladimir Putin is in grave trouble, his military exploits in Ukraine face defeat, internal dissension at home is mounting and how long his regime will survive is an open question. It is this challenge that I intend to write about. I have taken what appears to be the most plausible and self-consistent information from international wire services and media sources and certainly not confined myself to pro-Western outlets.

The most reliable accounts surmise that the Russian offensive in Ukraine is losing ground. The slip is showing even with the Russian news agency Tass refers to Russian attacks on mainly civilian targets and reports “According to the FSB (Russian Federal Security Service) over the past week, more than 100 shelling attacks of 32 settlements in the Bryansk, Kursk and Belgorod regions were recorded with the use of multiple-launch rocket systems, cannon artillery, mortars and unmanned aerial vehicles”. Other articles signifying Russian military gains can also be found on Tass, for example: “Russian air defences destroy six combat drones in Ukraine operation”; “Ukrainian garrison at Snake Island surrenders to Russian Armed Forces”; “Putin puts nuke forces on high alert; liberation of Donbass continues” etc.

Putin’s balancing act

Western media paints a gloomy picture of Russia’s military position. Independent channels Al Jazeera and Reuters give a more balanced picture. For example, “Russian forces running and panicking during eastern retreat”; “Ukrainian officials accuse retreating Russian forces of retaliatory attacks on civilian infrastructure”; “Putin accuses Ukraine of Crimea bridge blast, calls it terrorism”. The picture on balance is that Russian forces in the Northern, Eastern and Southern theatres, that is on all three fronts in Ukraine are retreating. The collective picture last week may be summarised as: Setbacks for Putin’s war as his troops struggle to hold off a Ukrainian counteroffensive. The Russian military is doing badly, etc. The flurry of Russian missile strikes across civilian and military targets in Ukraine after Ukrainians crippled the strategic Kerch Bridge linking Russia to Crimea is a sign of desperation.

Bridge from Russia to Crimea
(https://www.euronews.com/2022/10/08/ukraine-war-car-bomb-sparks-major-blaze-on-bridge-linking-russia-and-crimea)

The Hindustan Times (HT) on 10 October in a piece entitled “Where are the Russians dodging the draft fleeing to?” said that Kazakhstan’s interior ministry reported that 98,000 Russians had entered since September 21 the day of Putin’s military call-up announcement. Kazak President Kassym-Jomart added that the country will ensure the care and safety of Russians fleeing a “hopeless situation. HT also reports that a few days ago 5,000-6,000 (Russians) were arriving in Georgia every day and the number has now grown to 10,000 per day”. “Georgia’s interior minister Vakhtang Gomelauri says the Russia-Georgia border was backed-up with 5,500 cars waiting to enter. During the same period, 40,000 fled to Armenia”. There is no hiding the fact that hundreds of thousands of young Russians are fleeing the country to avoid the draft into a hopeless war. 

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-60506682

However, there will a vote in favour of joining Russia in the referendum now being conducted by Moscow in the Donbass Region, in the Eastern part of the country abutting Russia – that is the Russian speaking Donetsk People’s Republic and the Luhansk People’s Republic. The referendum also includes two Southern provinces (Zaporizhia and Kerson) abutting Crimea where Russian speakers are just below 50%. The 90%+ vote in favour of joining Russia reported by Moscow in Donetsk and Luhansk is fabricated and imposed by intimidation; maybe it’s nearer 60-70%. However, the anger of Russian speakers in Ukraine against decades of suppression of their language (similar to the sentiments of Lankan Tamils against the language policies of the Sinhala-Buddhist state) is natural and understandable. Annexation of the two Eastern provinces will I assume be announced soon. This ups the ante because any Ukrainian or NATO action in annexed territories will thereafter be an attack on Russia itself. 

Russian speakers in Crimea, Donetsk and Luhansk number 77.0%, 74.9% and 68.8%, respectively so it’s a foregone conclusion that the referenda in the two Donbass Region provinces will approve transfer of sovereignty to Russia. Crimea “joined” Russia in 2014. As a thought experiment imagine a Donbass-LTTE which allies itself with a Russian-(I)PKF and is unburdened by a Prabhakaran-like megalomaniac. The outcome for sure would have been far different from what happened in Lanka in the 1990s.

Percentage of Russian speakers in Ukraine’s provinces
(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russian_language_in_Ukraine#/media/File:Ukraine_census_2001_Russian.svg)

The picture I have painted thus far is a mixed one. Putin’s forces face military defeat at the hands of the plucky Ukrainians but to counter this he will gain a paradoxical political success by uniting the Russian speaking people of Eastern Ukraine with the “fatherland”. Nevertheless, political instability on the home front is troubling because the economy is fragile even sans sanctions, the currency is depreciating as the rouble collapses and supply chains are disrupted. Domestic opposition is mounting and moderately large public demonstrations break out from time to time against the war. Though Putin commands the support of 60-70% of the population and will win an election at this time, the same cannot be said of the war. The war is unpopular. But for NATO’s attempt to encircle and weaken Russia which outrages every Russian a referendum to pull-out of Ukraine will succeed at this time. There are reports that in February 2022, some 30,000 technologists, 6,000 medics, 3,400 architects, 4,300 teachers, 17,000 artists, 5,000 scientists, and 2,000 actors and creative artists signed an open letter calling on Putin to stop the war.

Nevertheless, the likelihood of Putin being overthrown in a palace coup are slim unless, as sometimes happens with dictators, he loses his marbles altogether and seriously throws a nuclear punch here or there – right now he is only playing nuclear make believe. Were he to attempt to unlock the silos, he will he pushed aside in a palace coup. The military in Russia does not have the credibility or clout to seize power for itself; the replacement will have to be a political figure, Dmitry Medvedev perhaps.

Time for me to move on, but first to recap. The scenario I have painted is that Putin will suffer military defeat in Ukraine but his political gambit of annexing the Donbass will pay off. His forces will de facto (that is other than firing missiles at mainly civilian targets) be compelled to bow out of Ukraine except the Donbass region. Political opposition will keep mounting at home but he will probably remain in power, but the game on the economic front will deteriorate. 

China the doughty suitor

I have for long been of the view that an isolated Russia will have to fall back on Chinese economic power as an engine of development and that China’s mighty machine will relish harnessing Russia’s vast natural resources. It will be a win-win relationship accelerated by Russian military setbacks and the slowing down of the Chinese economy. Most people know that Russia is resource rich but not many know that it is the resource richest country in the world. Some of this is in Siberia and the Far East – a nice coincidence for China and relevant to the point of this essay.  Russia has an abundance of natural gas, oil, timber and minerals: copper, zinc, bauxite, nickel, mercury, silver, manganese, chromium, platinum, titanium, tin, lead, tungsten, phosphates and diamonds. It is a world leader in both natural diamond and artificial diamond production and controls 26% of the global gem-diamond and 30% of industrial grade diamond production. Russia holds 37% of unmined gold reserves (world’s second largest) and is the world’s third largest gold producer behind China and Australia.

Russia accounts for 20% of the world’s production of oil and natural gas, holds 17 billion tons of oil – the eight largest in the world – and 48 billion cubic meters of gas reserves – the world’s largest. It also has the world’s second largest coal reserves. The iron ore deposits of the Kursk Magnetic Anomaly are believed to hold one-sixth of the world’s total reserves. Abundance has made it self-sufficient in energy and a large fuel exporter. It is self-sufficient in nearly all major industrial raw materials even after Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan left the USSR. The forests of Siberia contain one-fifth of the world’s timber, mainly conifers. In fact, Russia holds the world’s largest forest reserves, 20% of the total; more than Canada or Brazil. To cap it all though much of its land is under permafrost Russia ranks third in arable land and is rising in world ranking of agricultural producers. 

That’s enough data – culled from the most reliable statistical sources – to make my point which is that China’s large investable capital, immense population, technical ingenuity and skill, and Russia’s abundant natural resources can and will make a happy union one day; Putin or no-Putin, Xi Jinping or no-Xi Jinping, Ukraine or no Ukraine, Corona virus or no-Corona virus. You don’t have to be a dialectical materialist or a hard-nosed businessman to see this. How can it be otherwise?

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Latest comments

  • 12
    7

    Just because there are a large number of Russian speakers in Eastern Ukraine doesn’t mean they all support joining Russia now. In fact, some of Ukraine’s staunchest fighters against Russia are Russian Speakers. Zelensky himself is a Russian speaker from the South. Your assumption about the percentage of people who support annexation is wrong. And there is no majority support for forced annexation. Since Putin is disproportionately using ethnic minorities as cannon fodder, Russia might splinter into several regional states. Medvedev is a comical figure and is highly unlikely to be Putin’s replacement.

    Those who held onto the notion that Russia was a great power and the West was in inexorable decline have been brought to their senses by the abject failure of Russia in Ukraine. The Chinese society, its economy, and the CCP likewise have many internal problems that aren’t obvious to outsiders.

    • 6
      1

      agnos

      i agree with you that russian speakers don’t necessarily mean russian supporters.Under the soviet union te ukrainian language was banned and russin language forced down the throat of the ukrainians.Many russian speakers may not be ethnically of russian descent but been forced to learn russian only.

      However when you look at the map that kumar has given here of the russian speakers you can see that when you move from the polish border to the russian border the percentage also moves from 3% to 70%,so the russian factor cannot be got rid of by stating they are just russian speakerss only.They may be ethnic russians who have traditionally settled in the provinces near the russian border and may be more russian in their culture and loyalty than ukrainian.The only way to find out whether they want to be a part of russia is to have a UN supervised referendum like the one they did in east timor.If they want to join russia at such a referendum thenn they should be permitted to do so because it is their right to join any country they wish to join.The fact that putin is having these referendums has no validity whatsoever because they are held in war torn conditions with many people displaced and many forced to vote at gun point.

      • 2
        0

        shankar,
        Here is a comment / argument that is to my liking. Pleasingly sensible.

      • 1
        1

        S
        “Under the soviet union te ukrainian language was banned “
        That is a gem of a howler.
        Even within the Russian Federal Soviet Republic minority languages enjoyed rights far better than any minority language in the rest of Europe.

    • 2
      1

      Dear Agnos and others,
      .
      I haven’t studied Kumar’s article yet, but it’s a good thing that he’s written it because many are totally unaware of what’s happening in Europe right now. A Third World War – and this time a devastating nuclear war – cannot be ruled out.
      .
      However, I feel that the caveats made by you and others (ten comments so far) are valid. Let’s hope that there is more serious discussion.

      • 0
        2

        Dear Kumar,
        .
        Although Sunil Abeyratne rightly points out that the West ought to have honoured the pledges made in 1991, I think that it is also true that Putin is a horrible man who is not to be trusted.
        .
        I have followed what’s been happening in Russia and Ukraine, although its impossible to follow all that is said. One source for me was this Professor Tim Wilson:
        .
        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RrnDCvXi5nE
        .
        I think his 5 minutes there is just about the right length to cater to my attention span. All his videos are to be found here, in reverse chronological order:
        .
        https://www.youtube.com/user/zontulfilmsltd/videos
        .
        This is in his “broken Russian” – he has taught English in Russia
        .
        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NAptCvGeEGA
        .
        He’s right wing himself, but very fair, and honest – even about being gay, and having a partner.
        .
        More to come.

      • 0
        1

        This is a pretty long account of how Tim caught out Putin’s Russian news service for giving fake versions of what Tim had said, through fake dubbing.
        .
        https://thebusinesscourier.com/en/tim-wilson-russias-ntv-channel-fake-interviews-and-zeynalova
        .
        And this is a shorter report on that fake dubbing:
        .
        https://monitoring.bbc.co.uk/product/c200wjny
        .
        I must return to this subject, but what I understand is that by now almost all Ukrainians by now hate Putin and his way of doing things. The two languages appear to be similar, and many Russians have rots in the Ukraine. The Russian dissident, Alexei Navalny had a grandparent in Ukraine and used to visit it often as a schoolboy.
        .
        These are impressions collected in my mind, so please fact check. I will try to put something better thought out tomorrow.
        .
        Panini Edirisinhe; Bandarawela, (NIC 483111444V)

    • 1
      1

      “The Chinese society, its economy, and the CCP likewise have many internal problems that aren’t obvious to outsiders.’
      That is why we have so many China experts making pronouncements on China.
      *
      What the post 2014 coup regime did to Russian ethnic minorities was part of the provocation for calling for secession.
      The fact is that four regions have overwhelmingly voted for uniting with Russia.

  • 10
    6

    I don’t think Kumar David reads or follows what George Galloway or Scott Ritter have recently expressed, clearly predicting that Russia is in fact winning the war against Ukraine, having incorporated much of its territory into Russia. The belligerent NATO, Biden et al are gasping for breath, panicking at what is now happening while corporate media, which Kumar seems to follow, is reporting the exact opposite of this reality. Russia’s Putin is no Saddam or Gaddafi. He is made of far sturdier stuff and his country has historically engaged effectively after being very patient with their opponents. Please do widen your perspectives before you write, even if its for the hoi polloi audience.

    • 5
      2

      The hoi polloi is a way of referring to common people, and it is an elitist term usually used by people who consider themselves to be above the masses. (Googled).

      ?? ?? !!

    • 1
      1

      LP
      I doubt if he bothers to read anything that contradicts his fixed views on be it Putin or Ranil or Vasu.
      Gadaffi erred by making concessions. Kim stood firm, and remains strong.
      Iran is not taking any nonsense.
      Venezuela stood its ground and the US is now begging for favours..
      The US is fast losing friends, and its regime of sanctions will destroy Europe before Kumar’s dream comes true.

  • 7
    3

    It is fascinating to read the many pundits giving us their interpretation of what’s happening in Ukraine, having harvested items from the Western billionaire presses, or so-called mainstream media, which is earnestly engaged in media activism, now on a level of war propaganda. So we are told that Russia has lost the Ukraine “war” because of a Ukrainian counterattack with so-called “superior Western arms” on a small part of the Donbass. The Western media became a cheering squad with stories and pictures of a supposed disaster that was happening which would bring down Mr Putin as well as Russia. The recent bombardment, which took out Ukrainian power and important military structures, has given pause to all such applause. The inexpert and bungling media writers, Western and Eastern, must now realise that war can be an extensive and diverse experience, that Russia is no soft touch. Seems some of us can get carried away because we read English and believe the US and UK cons and their version of reality, ignoring the many other versions. Putin and Russia, which must consider all this just a neighbourly tiff, has pledged there will be no further bombardments, that he will not destroy Ukraine. He will undoubtedly keep his word.

    • 6
      2

      Continued from above:
      He will undoubtedly keep his word. But only if the West too realise that promoting its military industrial complex at the expense of a simple-minded Ukrainian leader, a former comedian, is not such a good idea after all. The US and the West must also grasp that the US-dominated unipolar world is no longer a valid proposition.

  • 8
    4

    If Putin’s annexation of Donbass works, it will open the floodgates for other “reunifications” elsewhere. Even in these parts, what’s to stop India annexing the North (or Kachchativu at least) ? Not that it would be entirely a bad thing, given how the South is doing.
    Could the US annex Canada because the residents speak English? Or could China annex Singapore?
    There is no doubt that Russia is a great power and deserves its place in the world. But its leaders tend to be naive like Gorbachev or bullies like Putin. Ìn this age of total information, pictures of bloodied Ukrainian women and children under a hail of missiles reflect badly on Russia, not Ukraine.

    • 6
      5

      OC,
      “Ìn this age of total information, pictures of bloodied Ukrainian women and children under a hail of missiles reflect badly on Russia, not Ukraine.”

      That is a big understatement. Putin is today’s Hitler; his elimination and the utter destruction of the structures that enable him have now become a moral imperative.

  • 5
    11

    A very short, blunt comment from me.
    On February 24, Mr. Vladimir Putin launched a special military operation in Ukraine leaving Ukraine and the US led NATO countries dumbfounded. On September 30, he annexed Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhya leaving Ukraine and the US led NATO countries speechless. Then, on October 10, he belatedly acknowledged “Ukraine’s birthday gift” with a rain of missiles on over 40 cities in Ukraine for three days making Ukraine and the US led NATO waking up with nightmares. The recent utterances made by the SG/NATO, EU’s Foreign Policy Chief and a former US National Security Adviser prove that they are having nuclear war nightmares.
    Will Mr. Putin resorts to nuclear weapons? Yes, he will, making the US led NATO silent. (Dust particles can’t talk, can they?). Russia’s nuclear power is what protected their country so far. If not for Russia’s nuclear power, US led NATO would have bombed and destroyed Russia a long time ago. Therefore, it is no surprise if Russia used nuclear power, if threatened.
    I don’t believe a word about Ukraine regaining its territories. They are fighting an unwinnable war. All those who yearn for world peace will support Elon Musk’s ‘smart’ peace proposal.

    • 5
      5

      Why short Chimpa , make it large as usual. ASAP, call and advise both Putin and Xi. With your help , Putin seems to be reaping plenty. .

      • 3
        4

        To me 1) No war is won or lost . Involved parties suffer immensely to different proportions 2) Any amount of wealth in wrong hands is of no use to anyone. 3) The World still remembers how shocking it was , to see former Soviet ( also it’s Eastern allies) bankrupt, dysfunctional, failed and broken, at the time of split.

    • 3
      4

      Oi joker
      There is no need to offer any advice to Russia or China on war. Only once I offered advice to President Zelensky. This is what I said on February 23, 2022.
      “The top two arms sellers in the world; the USA and Russia are signaling war. What does that mean in astrology?
      The dwarf planet Pluto returned to the US after 248 years on 22/02/2022 (inspired by an article published in New York Times). Dwarf Pluto is the slow motion, miniature Mars; the planet of war and death, which means, if there is a war, it will remain a very long time.
      According to US Intelligence, if there is a war between Russia and Ukraine, approximately 25,000 to 50,000 civilians will be killed/wounded and roughly 1.5 million Ukranians will be displaced!!!! (Hello to the UN and the UNHRC). In addition to that, 3,000 to 10,000 Russian soldiers and 5,000 to 25,000 Ukrainian troops will be killed/wounded. The number of casualties from NATO’s side was not given. I guess it is ZERO.
      “If the Ukrainian President is wise, he will enter into a truce with Russia.”

      • 4
        4

        Then, I said this too.
        “Western countries seem to be surprised by Russia’s move in recognizing Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) and Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR )as independent regions. However, when DPR and LPR held general elections in 2018 to elect current Presidents, Ukraine or NATO didn’t declare DPR and LPR elections illegal. Although DPR and LPR depend on Russia for economic and military aid, the two regions have been enjoying sovereignty status since 2018.”

  • 4
    5

    Whether Russia is plentiful in natural resources of not, President Putin is only the dog in the middle of the ocean, by life it can only lick, cannot drink. Russians, for more than a century, (from Tsar’s time) Russians are suffering for food and struggling for freedom. Putin a geographically misplaced King. He should have been flourishing if he were in South Asia, “specifically in Цейлон (Tseylon). He would be having reliable relatives and brethren like Evil & Royals to help in the trade of ruling. By being located in the developed Europe, (the administrative area) now Russia is not in a ideal place for launcing wars, winning war or ruling countries.

    • 4
      4

      He should have born in the middle of Langkang, China, Borneo, Pakistan, India, Afghanistan, Maldives…..What a life time celebration for him that location.

  • 2
    3

    Kumar

    i know you wrote a lot about the russian resources but failed to mention that most of those are in very inhospitable regions where taking them out will easily kill any humans trying to do so.

  • 2
    0

    This war remains fluid with some nuclear involvement in the offing. With the very large stockpile of nuclear material in the possession of the Russians things could go awry rather rapidly and things getting out of control. With climate change, Covid, inflation, expensive gas and petrol the future seems bleak.

  • 4
    3

    Dear Readers,
    NATO expansion into Eastern Europe is something Jim Baker (Ronald Reagan’s time) promised would not happen.
    Ukraine is too tempting a target for the US.
    There is a piece in today’s Daily Telegraph (UK) that provide additional insights.
    It smells of petroleum!
    See the link below.
    https://www.telegraph.co.uk/business/2022/10/16/ukraines-vast-untapped-gas-reserves-lined-supply-energy-europe/

  • 4
    5

    I still couldn’t figure out why Mr. Putin wanted 300,000 (now 220,000) reservists in the battle in Ukraine. A foreign volunteer fighter in Ukraine has once revealed that he never saw Russian soldiers in the battleground. Because, unlike in any other war, Russia doesn’t send soldiers first. They first clear ‘all obstacles’ by using missiles, rockets, tanks, warplanes (and in the future drones) etc. Infantry troopers may be the last to visit the area. By that time, Ukrainian fighters may have retreated, surrendered or vanquished.
    According to media reports, this is Russia’s first mobilization after WWII. I have a feeling that everything will be quiet by December. But, how? A few months ago, Mr. Putin said that his ‘Sarmat’ hypersonic nuclear missile would be ready to deploy by December. His response to Ukraine’s birthday gift was only 10% of what I thought he would do. I thought he would flatten Kiev. I hope he will exercise restraint further. Ukraine is fighting NATO’s war using NATO’s weapons, thereby justifying Mr. Putin’s right to stop NATO in Ukraine. I hope the Kiev government will come to its senses and accept the reality.

  • 2
    0

    ekadevi

    This is what happens when frogs in a well write about another well a few villages over,

  • 2
    0

    We are very limited actual situation in Ukraine. It is no matter who wins the war. What is the matter is that the war affected almost all the developing and even developed nations and majority of the world poulation are unimaginable suffering. This also highlight that the power struggle between super powers is dangerous to the whole world. Similarly the power struggle between Rajapaksa family and Ranil Family destroyed Sri Lanka.

  • 3
    5

    What? Russia has resumed its attacks on Kiev? The other day, Mr. Putin said that there was no need to continue the massive air strikes on Ukraine. I hope he keeps his word.
    Western media and the Ukraine government itself are fully responsible for Russia’s attack on Kiev and other cities in Western Ukraine. The damage caused to Kerch Bridge which is a civilian infrastructure, killing 7 people, the large poster displayed in Central Kiev depicting the explosion, issuance of a postage stamp commemorating the blast and subsequent mockery and personal insult to Mr. Putin was a “direct invitation for retaliation” from Russia. I don’t understand why everybody is crying foul now. I expected the worst. That is why I wrote a quick note to Mr. Putin. His harsh response to the bridge blast offers us a glimpse of what to expect if there is a nuclear war. One sensible world leader has already distanced himself and his country from a nuclear war.
    On a separate matter, this is what Fareed Zakaria (CNN) says about the US’s economic fight with Russia.
    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=LxJZCcgwBTM

    • 2
      3

      See , you took my advise and made it large ( may be too large)

  • 3
    3

    Russia seems to be turning to a “Drone War”. Drones are like double sided swords. Therefore, they are very effective. Whether they manage to reach their military and energy targets or being hit on their way to the target, the end result is an explosion. I am not sure whether Russia already has a drone fleet. They are said to have a floating Chernobyl. It looks like nuclear drones will soon take the centre stage (not in Ukraine?). I think it is high time all powerful world leaders sit at a table and discuss how to prevent a nuclear war.

  • 2
    2

    I hail Russia’s decision to evacuate civilians from a part of Kherson region. Ukrainian forces may be planning a genocide in the area. The Ukraine government was always against evacuating people from battle zones which shows who cares about civilians. There is evidence that those who relocated to Russia were happy to live in peace.

    • 3
      2

      There is evidence that those who temporarily relocated to Russia were happy to live in peace

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