Putin has already lost his war against Ukraine, on the ground, in the air, and on its airwaves. It's just a matter of time before the consequences for him and his repellent regime become apparent
This may seem premature, but, it is not. The Putin regime is dead. It has been killed off because of the folly of the man that has sat at the top of the mafia pyramid for over two decades, Russian dictator Vladimir Putin himself. His barrage of missile strikes across Ukraine on 15 November was, as well as a war crime by depriving civilians of heat and electricity, a sign of desperation not a sign of strength.
Here’s the fundamental problem. There is absolutely nothing attractive about the model of rule that has evolved during the Putin era. It is not an alternative to how democracies, however imperfect, are managed. There is nothing about Russia today that attracts willing adherents. Certainly not in the parts of Ukraine that Putin has attempted to conquer by force this year.
That is also the main reason why, today, Russia fights alone. It cannot build a coalition of aligned like-minded states to work alongside it as it prosecutes this war, because there are no parallels. It is true that other former Soviet states are also run by authoritarian and the reason for not throwing their lot in with Putin now is more to do with fears about their own independence, but any objective look at Russia shows that it is an unprecedented mess, driven into the ground by decades of looting of state resources.
That same corruption that Putin and those around him have personally benefitted from, where theft is at the core of everything they do, has gutted the fighting machine that they’d fooled the world and themselves into believing Russia possessed.
Sign up for our weekly Behind the Headlines email and get a free copy of Byline Times posted to you
Corruption and Inequality
In Russia, the golden rule is that if you have power, you abuse it. This is true in all spheres and in all walks of life from those that relate to national security to the most mundane levels of how shops are robbed of their profits by false breakage and leakage allowances that are always miraculously met while the shop managers pocket cash for goods that were actually sold.
In the national security sphere, the now exposed profiteering of senior officers in the military comes in many forms, starting with phantom soldiers. They are “fighting” men that exist on paper only, to whom salaries are paid but who cannot be deployed to the battlefield because they simply don’t exist.
The corruption in the military extends to selling anything that can possibly be sold. Rations. Fuel. Weapons. Ammunition. All of it is seen as nothing more than the income men of rank feel entitled to. This is a major contributing factor to Russia’s military failures in Ukraine, from which all other failures now stem in a country that had become addicted to war.
How can you run supply lines without adequate quantities of fuel? Newly-mobilised soldiers complain of insufficient practice on the firing range, because of a lack of ammunition. Winter clothing is now being stitched in North Korea (one of the only allies Russia can speak to) because the warehouses have been emptied of supplies that were sold to the black market.
On the subject of rations, as one noted reporter recently said, “No wonder Russian soldiers are refusing to fight” when they are being given tinned water produced in 1988.
The corruption in the military has not only been a major contributing factor to Russia’s inability to secure any military success in the all-out war against Ukraine, it has highlighted also the depth of poverty and inequality that plight the country as a whole.
Poverty is what has been at the heart of the widespread looting that Russian soldiers have infamously become known for. The inequality of where Putin’s forces have been drawn from has shown how the Russian regime is perfectly happy to hoover up men from the poorer parts of Russia, and that these are areas made up of ethnic minorities, who are predominantly being used as expendable bodies who have little value to a country that shows they do not value life.
It is now almost an inevitability that after Ukraine’s victory this ethnic inequality is going to lead to the dissolution of the Russian Federation is it stands today.
Losing the Information War
But where Putin is most coming unstuck, a field where it had been thought he was an artful master, is in the realm of the parallel reality created by his own propaganda. This is where Putin has lost, and cannot regain, control.
The airwaves in Russia have been tightly controlled from the outset of Putin’s now-doomed rule. At first, he acted to take control over TV stations that mocked his stature with puppets in the style of Spitting Image. That morphed into absolute control over all media, and the final remaining independent outlets fell among the first casualties at the outset of this phase of the war.
All that was left in the media space were the sycophants who would laud Russia’s military might, an illusion now shattered, and those who would propagate the myths and lies about why the “Special Military Operation” were necessary.
Those pundits are now scrambling to explain one military defeat after another, deeming them to be goodwill gestures, regrouping, straightening the front line, and other excuses for failure. The hosts of TV shows are now to be seen sighing deeply, wondering where their military might is, asking when Russia is going to begin to fight properly, and openly arguing with one another.
The narrative is in disarray because the army is in disarray, and no amount of spin can fix either problem. The military problems cannot be fixed, and Russia’s ultimate defeat will not be something that can be whitewashed.
FEARLESS, INDEPENDENT JOURNALISM& INCREDIBLE VALUE
Receive the monthly Byline Times newspaper and support quality, investigative reporting.
The people of the Soviet Union came to know, at the time that the wheels were falling off that broken down bus, that their authorities were lying to them, a good few people in Russia today are realising that history is repeating itself. Nothing that the state tells them is true. Everything is a fabrication. And anyone who tries to tell them otherwise ends up dead or in jail or in exile.
Probably the final nail in Putin’s coffin is the rat race to succeed him. Within Russia, there are several groups of power. Putin had been adept at playing them off against each other, with himself the ultimate arbitrary authority, now with the war against Ukraine being lost and with Putin being the main driver of that war, there is infighting in Russia between those groups to see who will bring this disaster to an end and with that to stem the tide of enormous losses to Russia that have resulted from the war.
With the number of Russian war dead now inexorably inching towards the 100,000 mark, the architect of this war will be driven from power. Either by bereaved families, by the propagandists realising they too are fighting a lost cause, by the military hierarchy who want to salvage what will remain of Russia’s army, or by the oligarchs that seek to be able to return to their status quo ante, or by the calls for independence from subjects of the current federation. It is a perfect storm. And it can't be stopped.
Paul Niland is an Irish journalist based in Ukraine. He is the founder of the country’s national suicide prevention hotline, Lifeline Ukraine
OUR JOURNALISM RELIES ON YOU
Byline Times is funded by its subscribers. Receive our monthly print edition and help to support fearless, independent journalism.