Nearly one year into what promises to be a “long and draining war” in Ukraine, it’s fair to ask one simple question of Russian strongman Vladimir Putin: just how stupid and unnecessary was your decision to go to war, anyway?
The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday on a UK Ministry of Defence estimate that nearly the entire Russian Army is deployed to Ukraine. “We now estimate 97% of the whole Russian army is in Ukraine,” British Defence Secretary Ben Wallace told the BBC.
Even with one of the world’s mightiest militaries almost completely committed, forward progress against Ukraine’s defenders is a long, hard slog in a very few places like Bakhmut — and nonexistent everywhere else.
Nevertheless, that Reuters report that I linked above estimates that Putin is “secure in power,” despite Kremlin insiders who “fear he has committed his country to a long and fruitless drain on lives and resources.”
Both Russia and the West are having trouble producing enough munitions to keep pace with a war that is as desperate for Kyiv as it has been fruitless for Moscow.
The latest development is the Russian Ministry of Defense announcing that it would start recruiting prisoners, just as Russia’s Wagner Group mercenary (or terrorist, depending on whom you ask) organization has done, “despite convicts’ limited combat effectiveness,” according to ISW.
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Wagner has been using convict-soldiers in human wave attacks against Bakhmut for weeks, and yet “Bakhmut Holds!” is now Ukraine’s rallying cry.
Before we get into the guts of this thing, a couple of caveats.
I don’t pretend that Vladimir Putin is the New Hitler or that Volodymyr Zelenskyy is the Patron Saint of All Things Good and Noble. But I also refuse to entertain notions that Putin is the Lone Protector of Christendom and that Zelenskyy — a Jew — is the New Hitler, either.
The propaganda from both sides is cheap and obvious, and it saddens me how many people willfully fall for it.
I was about to write that Putin is the Vito Corleone of a mobster government, but that isn’t quite right. Putin poses like Vito, unflappable and determined, but he makes reckless decisions in anger and haste, as you’re about to see, like Vito’s oldest son, Sonny Corleone.
Ukraine has long been governed like one of those s***hole countries that Donald Trump warned you about, serving as the financial playground for the West’s well-connected. The Zelenskyy government, even before the war, seems to enjoy far more popular legitimacy than the pro-Moscow government that ruled before the Maidan Revolution. Then again, “popular legitimacy” is not congruent with “good government.”
There might not be any good guys, but since Putin has made Russia an enemy of the West, we’re practically duty-bound to help keep Ukraine in the fight. I’d much rather have Russia part of a massive Western coalition to contain Communist China, but that’s not currently an option.
No one knows how this war will turn out, but I can tell you for sure how stupid and unnecessary it is.
We’ll discuss the “stupid” in Part II on Thursday.