The forced withdrawal of Russian troops from the west bank of the Kherson regions was the third major defeat for the Russian leadership since the beginning of the war. Even if there is official talk in Moscow of a “regrouping” to protect the soldiers, it is still a defeat.
Things have not been going well for Putin in recent weeks. Military offensives were no longer successful, and all that remained was the desperate attempt to hold the front lines. The attempt to instigate an economic and political crisis in the EU by severely curtailing gas supplies does not seem to be having an effect. According to polls, a majority of people in the EU are still in favor of continued support for Ukraine.
The implicit threats by the Russian leadership to use “all available means” to defend the conquered and annexed regions have so far remained an empty threat. Moscow has to accept one loss of territory after another. The message contained in the threat to also use nuclear weapons remains without effect.
There are Western governments that, due to such a risk of escalation, limit their arms deliveries to Ukraine. Most Western countries, on the other hand, are of the opinion that one should not allow oneself to be blackmailed with nuclear power and should support Ukraine with all the necessary military means.
On the contrary, close allies like China are threatening to back away from Russia should it use nuclear weapons to prevent a Russian defeat in Ukraine. Xi Jinping’s message during the German Chancellor’s visit was clear. The threat to use nuclear weapons is “irresponsible”. Perhaps that is why the Russian leadership is spelling something back in this regard. A statement by the State Department once again confirms the nuclear doctrine that Russia will only use nuclear weapons in a conventional war if its existence as a state is threatened.
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The old formula, according to which a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be waged, was also reaffirmed. Is that a cave-in to the Chinese attitude? Is Russia moving away from nuclear threats because the US has made it clear what military consequences Russia can expect if it uses nuclear weapons? It’s probably both. As reasonable as Russia’s new postulated stance is, it is ultimately a sign of weakness.
Putin’s position is tarnished. There is hardly any direct criticism of the President. But Putin must watch as insubordinate voices increase. It’s not just the right-wing nationalist military bloggers who, in view of the withdrawal from Cherson, speak of “treason” and the “black side in the history of the Russian army”. There are also actors who have their own military resources at their disposal – such as Chechnya’s ruler Ramzan Kadyrov and the financier of the Wagner mercenary group, Yevgeny Prigozin.
Both have approved the withdrawal from the west bank of the Dnieper. But they are taking more and more leeway for criticism, especially of the Russian military leadership. They want to continue climbing the career ladder of political power. Despite their military mercenary groups, they will soon hit the glass ceiling. The secret services will know how to block their rise to the top. Putin still controls these two, but both are taking advantage of Putin’s growing weakness.
But Putin seems politically unlucky in other areas at the moment. After Ukraine’s drone attack on ships of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, Russia suspended its participation in the agreement on the export of Ukrainian grain. All this only to make a U-turn just days later. Russia had had to see that the grain export ships continued unimpressed and ignored Russia.
The agreement will expire on November 19. Turkey and the UN are pushing for an extension. Putin still has conditions: Russia’s exports of grain and fertilizers should not be further hampered. Will Putin prevail this time? Or will he have to give in again because he realizes that his bargaining power is too weak?
There is no doubt that Putin’s access to power is not in jeopardy at the moment. But there are signs of a conditional loss of control. The ranks around Putin are getting restless. Many are increasingly asking the question of what price the country will have to pay for victory in Ukraine. More and more are counting on a Russian defeat in this war. Putin will have to find answers to this. Soon. The signs point to a storm.
Putin wants to tighten control of the flow of funds to equip the army. Trenches in Crimea can be seen on satellite images. According to a US general, more than 100,000 Russian soldiers have been killed or injured in Ukraine so far. All current voices and developments on the Ukraine war can be found in the ticker.
The Russian army flees from the southern Ukrainian city of Cherson. Thousands of soldiers are threatened with death. Because the retreat across the Dnipro River is difficult. So many fighters are caught in a trap of their own making.