Due to the unavailability of credible measure of public opinion in Russia the number of Russians informed and courageous enough to protest against the war in Ukraine are so far numbered in the thousands, not the hundreds of thousands, a fact that encourages Putin though the fact is conveniently ignored that the country is practically under martial law due to the war. It is widely reported that tens of thousands of affluent Russians, intellectuals and political critics have abandoned Russia rather than remain under the tight controls Putin has imposed, finding escape in Istanbul, Tbilisi or cities in the West. This brain drain no doubt will hurt Russia in the future but at the moment, their departure removes a possible nexus of opposition from the society, a welcome development for Putin and his circle.
Malik Nasir Mahmood Aslam is a seasoned social activist
Unlike the Soviet Union, there is little in the way of an institutional party structure that could intervene to topple him. Putin has cronies, yes men, and a coterie of people awash in hard-nosed nationalist thinking of the FSB and military and none of whom so far dare to show the least independence from Putin’s Ukraine war project. Despite all the public bravado, losses on the battlefield in Ukraine have already led to an apparent paring-down of military goals, angering and disappointing some anti-Ukraine pundits on Russian TV. While Putin’s coterie has every incentive to stay close for the time being or risk losing privileges and wealth, if the war in Ukraine drags on for months or years, and Putin’s adventure becomes the mammoth disaster that it appears to be so far, it is almost certain that cracks will emerge.
In case of lack of Russian victory in Ukraine that is fast becoming a possibility and in such a scenario it is difficult to imagine that the world would resume doing business with Russia on normal terms. Putin is already finding himself locked into a grinding, open-ended conflict on his border and facing a need to impose more and more repression at home to stifle dissent in a population paying the economic consequences of the invasion. It must be kept in view that aging leaders, deeply seeped in past glories, rarely last forever or have the luxury to leave office on their own terms as they develop an inability to consider such an eventuality. Despite appearing strongly entrenched in his position, to many discerning observers, Putin has come quite close to his end-game and the only factor that is not apparent is the way he will be ousted from power.
On the Ukrainian front, Moscow launched dozens of air strikes across eastern Ukraine unleashing a major new offensive in the Donbas region. It is reported that Russian high-precision air-based missiles had hit 13 Ukrainian positions in parts of the Donbas while other air strikes have hit 60 military assets including in towns close to the eastern frontline. Russians insist that Moscow was seeking to liberate east Ukraine but accused the West of dragging out the military operation by supplying Kyiv with arms. Ukraine’s armed forces also confirmed that fighting had increased throughout the east just hours after President Zelensky said Russia had kicked off the widely anticipated offensive in the Donbas region.
Ahead of the advance, Ukrainian authorities had urged people in Donbas to flee west to escape, even as officials called off evacuations for a third straight day from frontline cities due to ongoing fighting. Control of Donbas would allow Moscow to create a southern corridor to the occupied Crimean peninsula. However, Ukraine offered a slightly different take saying that the offensive in the Donbas had been ongoing for nearly two weeks. Russian forces have seized the city of Kreminna in eastern Ukraine and Ukrainian troops have withdrawn from the city. Kreminna, a city of more than 18,000 people about 100 km southeast of the capital Kyiv, appears to be the first city captured in a new Russian offensive in eastern Ukraine. In the south, Russia continued its push to capture the besieged port city of Mariupol, as Moscow issued a fresh call for the city’s defenders to surrender. It is however reported that Mauripol is still contested with first shipments of a new $800-million US military aid package arrived at Ukraine’s borders to be handed over in its fight against the Russian invasion.
While much of the focus has remained in Ukraine’s east, Moscow has also targeted the country’s west with air strikes on Lviv near the Polish border. Lviv has largely been spared bombardment since Russia invasion and the city and its surroundings had become a haven for those seeking safety from the war zone. Among the sites struck was a depot near Lviv that Moscow said held weapons recently delivered to Ukraine from the United States and Europe. Russian shelling killed at least eight civilians in eastern Ukraine and the Russian army has reportedly entered there, with a huge amount of military hardware. Putin lauded the 64th Motor Rifle Brigade — which is accused of committing atrocities near Kyiv — bestowing battle honours on them for heroism and valour, tenacity and courage. TW