Who is Russia at war with? Ten conclusions based on the first days of war.
Written by Leonid Gozman, Chairman of Union of Right Forces, an IDU member.
The images of people hiding in the subways of Kharkov and Kiev from bombing are familiar to everyone in Russia – we have seen this many times in Soviet war movies. Only now, it’s us throwing bombs instead of the Nazis. Those are our pilots over Ukraine, it’s our rocket pilots launching death, it’s our generals giving the decisive orders. There is no swastika on our flag, but everything else is the same as we have seen it during WW II.
That Russia will wage war against Ukraine, was clear to me for a long time. While many in and outside Russia did not believe it, as it seemed impossible; nevertheless, it happened.
After the first few days of war, some important conclusions can already be drawn:
- Russia’s goal is the complete destruction of Ukraine as an independent sovereign country, and not the stated rational by official Russia, which was that ofprotecting the Russian language, of preventing discrimination against Russians, or even of preventing Ukraine from joining NATO. For the Russian authorities, Ukraine is a rebellious territory that must either be incorporated into Russia or – and this is all they are willing to agree to – become a vassal state, as the Warsaw Pact countries were in relation to the USSR.
- The Russian leadership’s plan was a quick and bloodless victory, as in Crimea. They believed that Ukrainians would surrender en masse, and the inhabitants would greet the “liberators” with flowers.The Kremlin did not expect such effective and heroic resistance. Both officials and propaganda demonstrated apparent confusion. For example, for the first two or three days, the Ministry of Defense claimed that its troops had no casualties at all.
- From Moscow, we can assume that, faced with difficulties, the Russian Federation may shift (and is already gradually shifting) to another tactic – the destruction of Ukrainian cities and the remaining population there from the air. The goal of this tactic would be to break the resistance of the Ukrainians and force President Zelensky into a de facto surrender.
- The reaction of Russian society is far from unequivocal. Cities, young people, educated people, guided not by state television, but by independent sources of information, are sharply against the war. Every day, thousands of people take to the streets; they are dispersed, arrested, but the next day new protesters come out.It is important that everyone who takes to the streets understands that the authorities are ready to act as brutally as possible. Personally, I believe – though I would be pleased to be proven wrong– that they are already ready to shoot protesters. Therefore, credit must be given considering the courage of all these people demonstrating in Putin’s Russia.
- People in the provinces who are oriented to the state media and who still support Vladimir Putin believe that Russia was provoked into war by the policies of the West and, above all, of the United States. They share anti-Ukrainian prejudices and believe in discrimination against Russians. However, the consolidated reaction of the West and the apparent lack of success on the front also sow anxiety in them. This is nothing like the enthusiasm and consolidation during the annexation of Crimea.
- A change in attitudes towards the war in this social group can be expected once the scale of human losses is realized. If we are guided by the figures provided by Ukrainians (given that Russia does not provide any figures at all), the Russian losses in the first five days are already almost half of those suffered by the USSR during all the years of the war in Afghanistan. Vladimir Putin’s electorate will not forgive him for returning their sons and grandsons from Ukraine in coffins.Similarly, attitudes towards the West and Ukraine are unlikely to improve. Opinion of Putin and his actions will simply become negative.
- However, the political structure of Russian society is such that even mass protests cannot force the authorities to change their policies. The Parliament, the Constitutional Court, and other institutions are imitative in nature. There are no political parties, and the state media controls the vast majority of the information flow. But the protest makes moral sense and is important for building a new country after the end of Putin’s regime.
- The sanctions that are now destroying our economy and, to a large extent, the lives of all of us, will not stop Vladimir Putin – only a Ukrainian soldier can stop him while he is in power. But sanctions can alter the mood of the “upper thousand,” making it obvious to them that Putin is leading not only himself and the country to its grave, but also taking them long with him.
- Russia, too, is a victim of this war. The crisis ahead of us is so deep and systemic that it may entail not only the destruction of the regime, but also the disintegration and disappearance of the country.
- There are two simultaneous processes taking place currently: the collapse of the Putin system and the likely march towards World War III. What is unclear is which of these processes will be end present day Russia. Will Putin stick around to start World War III before Russia disappears from the political arena? It is impossible to predict this. But one must understand – and again I would like to be proven wrong– that Vladimir Putin is capable of resorting to nuclear weapons.