Beleaguered Putin shows military strength



May 15, 2022

Beleaguered Putin

Izay Ayesha describes the tough position the Russian president

It has been an age-old tradition of the Beleaguered Putin regimes lording over arbitrary states to arouse patriotic feelings by exhibiting their military strength. This urge gets stronger when such states are experiencing some kind of conflict that is going against them and wish to enhance national morale by stage-managing portrayals of greatness. Putin is clearly feeling the pressure of his ill-advised adventure in Ukraine and tried to deflect some by organising grand military victory parade on the anniversary of Russian forces defeating Nazi forces in World War II that fell on 9 May, 2022. Despite all the pageantry, the military parade was modest compared to those of recent years. It was reported that 11,000 troops and 131 armored vehicles took part in the event. Russia’s widely celebrated Armata tanks were also seen though they are not yet considered combat-ready and have thus not been used in the war in Ukraine.
The parade witnessed Russians carrying portraits of their relatives – WWII soldiers – as they take part in the Immortal Regiment march on Red Square in central Moscow on 9 May, 2022. Many countries and circles were concerned that President Putin would take advantage of this day to either announce an escalation in the war in Ukraine or announce Russia’s victory in the country. There was also speculation that Putin would officially declare war on Ukraine on 9 May, which would allow him to fully mobilise forces and conscript more troops into the fight. Naturally, all eyes and ears were on Putin today when he gave his annual address. However, despite the rumors, Putin’s Victory Day speech wasn’t nearly as shocking or damaging as many thought it would be. Instead of a major announcement, Putin’s speech was mainly a justification for the war in Ukraine.
All said and done Russian people were anxious to know that the Ukraine special operation is going to plan and Putin conveyed precisely this message. However, most Russians are worried about the war though the Russian propaganda is effective since that shows 68% of Russians support the war and believe that is successful so far. In addition polls also show that Putin’s popularity has increased from 60% to 82% since invading Ukraine. However many observers emphatically point out that this data must not be taken too seriously since the Russian people are constantly being fed propaganda and dissent is not tolerated.
As was expected Putin linked the war in Ukraine to the victory the country saw in 1945 while at the same time blaming NATO and the West for rejecting security demands. Surrounded by those in the highest ranks of the Russian military, Putin referred to Ukrainians as fascists and once again repeated his claim that neo-Nazis run the Ukrainian government. Putin told the public that defending the motherland has always been sacred, referring to the eastern region in Ukraine, which is now Russia’s focus of attack. Putin encouraged his troops by saying that today they are fighting for their people in Donbas for the security of Russian homeland. The ceremony also included a minute of silence for all fallen soldiers, including those who lost their lives in Ukraine.
It was also reported that Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu has lost many troops in Putin’s war and has faced plenty of resentment for the high number of Russian troops who have died in Ukraine so far. Despite all the praise the motherland was receiving at the Red Square in Moscow, there are media reports of small acts of protest. It was reported that the TV guides on smart televisions were hacked with a message saying, “on your hands is the blood of thousands of Ukrainians.” In addition, the home page of Lenta, a Russian news website, was also hacked with ten different stories. Putin’s speech ended with the words, “Glory to our armed forces – for Russia, for victory, hoorah,” to which all those gathered at the event responded with a cheer.
Russia has certainly scaled up its attacks on Ukraine in recent days and having pulled back its forces from the north in recent weeks, has focused on seizing key strategic positions in southern and eastern Ukraine, especially in the Donbas region where it has backed separatist rebels for the last eight years. Despite the fears of increase in the level of conflict, the mass mobilisation of Russia’s population for wartime operations would be a big step for Putin, however, potentially putting him at risk of popular dissent, particularly if thousands of new, young Russian conscripts are sent to fight in the war despite having little training. In March, Putin signed a decree ordering 134,500 new conscripts into the army, raising eyebrows that they could be made to fight in Ukraine though Putin insisted they would not.
There are concerns that any mass mobilisation could be accompanied by the introduction of martial law in Russia, a move that would confer extraordinary powers on Putin, enabling a dramatic increase in his control over citizens’ lives and Russia’s economy. Not only would it give him the power to close Russia’s borders and censor communications but he could introduce curfews, control food supplies, seize private property and mobilise the population for wartime operations even to the point of forced labour for defense needs. Russia’s constitution allows martial law to be introduced if the country is under attack from an external force and there are concerns Russia could prepare a “false flag” attack to justify all-out war, and martial law. One of the big questions in this regards is how far Putin is willing to go to achieve his objectives in Ukraine.
It’s widely believed that Russia is focusing its attacks on the Donbas region in order to fully claim the territory and to enable it to create a land bridge from Russia to Crimea, which it annexed in 2014, on the southern Ukrainian coast. This would give it access to ports crucial to its economy and to its military fleet there on the Black Sea. The battered coastal city of Mariupol — home to some of the most intense fighting over recent weeks — appears to be a key part of this plan as its capture would help Russia secure the link between Crimea and the Donbas. Whether the capture of Mariupol and control of the Donbas region would satisfy Russia and whether Ukraine is prepared to concede any of its territory, though it says it is not, points to an open-ended conflict that could drag on for years. Strategists have warned that the conflict in Ukraine could become a war of attrition, with massive losses on both sides and no clear victor.
The Kremlin has been denied a quick victory and the Russian economy – squeezed hard by sanctions – is facing the worst contraction since the years following the fall of the Soviet Union. Putin casts the war in Ukraine as a battle to protect Russian speakers there from persecution by Nazis and to guard against what he terms the US threat to Russia posed by NATO enlargement. Ukraine and the West dismiss the fascism claim as nonsense and say Putin is waging an unprovoked war of aggression. Russia’s invasion has killed thousands of people and displaced nearly 10 million. It has also left Russia in the grip of tough Western sanctions and has raised fears of a wider confrontation between Russia and the United States – by far the world’s biggest nuclear powers. TW

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