Vladimir Putin’s futility


Ukraine


“Destroyed Russian military vehicles located on the main street Khreshchatyk are seen as part of the celebration of the Independence Day of Ukraine in Kyiv, August 24.” Photograph by Gleb Garanich for Reuters, August 24, 2022,[14] fair use.

“Retreat is part of the art of war,” says Serhiy Kuzan, a military expert at the Ukrainian Security and Cooperation Center.[15] So, too, are maneuver, feint, and diversion, which the Ukrainians have recently done well, and which the Russians have recognized and reacted to poorly.[16] Incompetents remain in command of Russian forces:

“This is a significant event,” said Rob Lee, a military analyst at the Foreign Policy Research Institute. “It doesn’t mean Russia will be forced out of Ukraine anytime soon. But they keep not learning lessons right, keep not doing basic things right.”

“The overall situation now favors Ukraine, especially in the medium term,” Lee said.[17]

But at some point, you have to look further up the chain of command. A while ago, I wrote,

Isaac Chotiner’s interview with Andrei Soldatov[18] is the second I’ve seen in which the subject doubts that Vladimir Putin is indeed a madman.[19] But Soldatov also points to 1) Putin’s seemingly psychopathic reaction when questioned about deaths he is responsible for; 2) Putin’s increasingly small circle of people he trusts, suggesting paranoia; 3) a hierarchy of power in which underlings are afraid to report truthfully to their superiors; and 4) Putin’s apparent conviction that he knows better than anyone else,[20] something also observed by Stephen Kotkin in David Remnick’s interview.[21] I’m not a psychologist but neither are these otherwise extremely well-informed folks affirming Putin’s sanity, and I think there are definitely questions here to be asked of a psychologist.[22]

I don’t think we know precisely what information Vladimir Putin is getting. He must have some inkling that he is failing to achieve his objectives. He must have some inkling that his commanders are fools.[23] He must have some inkling that the general mobilization Russian right-wing bloggers call for[24] may be necessary[25] but will not be sufficient to solve these problems. He must have some inkling that he is losing.

And none of this can really be new to Putin. These failures have been apparent for months, indeed even from the failure to take Kyiv.[26] But whether because of delusion or because of inability, he has not solved the problem.

Robyn Dixon, Steve Hendrix and Liz Sly, “Russia confirms big retreat near Kharkiv as Ukraine offensive advances,” Washington Post, September 10, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/09/10/ukraine-kharkiv-russia-retreat-izyum/

Thomas Grove and Evan Gershkovich, “In Major Advance, Ukraine Drives Russians Out of Key Front-Line Cities,” Wall Street Journal, September 10, 2022, https://www.wsj.com/articles/in-major-advance-ukraine-drives-russians-out-of-key-eastern-city-11662807160

Steve Hendrix et al., “Russian troops in big retreat as Ukraine offensive advances in Kharkiv,” Washington Post, September 10, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/09/10/ukraine-kharkiv-russia-retreat-izyum/

Isobel Koshiw, Lorenzo Tondo, and Artem Mazhulin, “Ukraine’s southern offensive ‘was designed to trick Russia,’” Guardian, September 10, 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/sep/10/ukraines-publicised-southern-offensive-was-disinformation-campaign

Allison Quinn, “Moscow Officials Urge Putin to GTFO: ‘Everything Went Wrong,’” Daily Beast, September 10, 2022, https://www.thedailybeast.com/moscow-officials-urge-vladimir-putin-to-give-up-power

Associated Press, “Ukraine pushes major counteroffensive as war marks 200 days,” September 11, 2022, https://apnews.com/article/russia-ukraine-moscow-kharkiv-9e5363cd199fd7f01cba14efa4678e5f


  1. [14]Reuters, “Ukraine puts destroyed Russian tanks on display in Kyiv,” August 25, 2022, https://www.reuters.com/news/picture/ukraine-puts-destroyed-russian-tanks-on-idUSRTSALV9Q
  2. [15]Isobel Koshiw, Lorenzo Tondo, and Artem Mazhulin, “Ukraine’s southern offensive ‘was designed to trick Russia,’” Guardian, September 10, 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/sep/10/ukraines-publicised-southern-offensive-was-disinformation-campaign
  3. [16]Associated Press, “Ukraine pushes major counteroffensive as war marks 200 days,” September 11, 2022, https://apnews.com/article/russia-ukraine-moscow-kharkiv-9e5363cd199fd7f01cba14efa4678e5f; Robyn Dixon, Steve Hendrix and Liz Sly, “Russia confirms big retreat near Kharkiv as Ukraine offensive advances,” Washington Post, September 10, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/09/10/ukraine-kharkiv-russia-retreat-izyum/; Thomas Grove and Evan Gershkovich, “In Major Advance, Ukraine Drives Russians Out of Key Front-Line Cities,” Wall Street Journal, September 10, 2022, https://www.wsj.com/articles/in-major-advance-ukraine-drives-russians-out-of-key-eastern-city-11662807160; Steve Hendrix et al., “Russian troops in big retreat as Ukraine offensive advances in Kharkiv,” Washington Post, September 10, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/09/10/ukraine-kharkiv-russia-retreat-izyum/; Isobel Koshiw, Lorenzo Tondo, and Artem Mazhulin, “Ukraine’s southern offensive ‘was designed to trick Russia,’” Guardian, September 10, 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/sep/10/ukraines-publicised-southern-offensive-was-disinformation-campaign
  4. [17]Steve Hendrix et al., “Russian troops in big retreat as Ukraine offensive advances in Kharkiv,” Washington Post, September 10, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/09/10/ukraine-kharkiv-russia-retreat-izyum/
  5. [18]Isaac Chotiner, “The Purges in Putin’s Shrinking Inner Circle,” New Yorker, March 22, 2022, https://www.newyorker.com/news/q-and-a/the-purges-in-putins-shrinking-inner-circle
  6. [19]Isaac Chotiner, “The Purges in Putin’s Shrinking Inner Circle,” New Yorker, March 22, 2022, https://www.newyorker.com/news/q-and-a/the-purges-in-putins-shrinking-inner-circle; David Remnick, “The Weakness of the Despot,” New Yorker, March 11, 2022, https://www.newyorker.com/news/q-and-a/stephen-kotkin-putin-russia-ukraine-stalin
  7. [20]Isaac Chotiner, “The Purges in Putin’s Shrinking Inner Circle,” New Yorker, March 22, 2022, https://www.newyorker.com/news/q-and-a/the-purges-in-putins-shrinking-inner-circle
  8. [21]David Remnick, “The Weakness of the Despot,” New Yorker, March 11, 2022, https://www.newyorker.com/news/q-and-a/stephen-kotkin-putin-russia-ukraine-stalin
  9. [22]David Benfell, “Where does Vladimir Putin stop?” Not Housebroken, August 29, 2022, https://disunitedstates.org/2022/03/04/where-does-vladimir-putin-stop/
  10. [23]Max Boot, “Putin is trapped in a quagmire and doesn’t know how to get out,” Washington Post, May 9, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2022/05/09/putin-victory-day-russia-ukraine-quagmire/; Christian Esch, Susanne Koelbl, and Fritz Schaap, “Putin’s Disaster and What Could Happen Next,” Spiegel, May 6, 2022, https://www.spiegel.de/international/world/putin-s-disaster-and-what-could-happen-next-a-e8c89bfa-b7a3-4e32-908a-7642a301eda6
  11. [24]Pjotr Sauer, “‘We have already lost’: far-right Russian bloggers slam Kremlin over army response,” Guardian, September 8, 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/sep/08/we-have-already-lost-far-right-russian-bloggers-slam-kremlin-over-army-response
  12. [25]Christian Esch, Susanne Koelbl, and Fritz Schaap, “Putin’s Disaster and What Could Happen Next,” Spiegel, May 6, 2022, https://www.spiegel.de/international/world/putin-s-disaster-and-what-could-happen-next-a-e8c89bfa-b7a3-4e32-908a-7642a301eda6
  13. [26]Max Boot, “Putin is trapped in a quagmire and doesn’t know how to get out,” Washington Post, May 9, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2022/05/09/putin-victory-day-russia-ukraine-quagmire/; Christian Esch, Susanne Koelbl, and Fritz Schaap, “Putin’s Disaster and What Could Happen Next,” Spiegel, May 6, 2022, https://www.spiegel.de/international/world/putin-s-disaster-and-what-could-happen-next-a-e8c89bfa-b7a3-4e32-908a-7642a301eda6

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