Historians will no doubt speculate as to the specific date that marked the peak of Vladimir Putin’s power and as time passes it becomes easier to pinpoint watershed moments then attempting to figure them out in real time. As of this writing, Putin’s regime survived what for now is collectively referred to as a mutiny. Historians may also decide upon a more fitting term but for the sake of clarity, I’ll stick with mutiny.
I must admit that when the full scale invasion of Ukraine started, I was scared. It’s not a great leap to imagine that most of the world was scared, too. In the first weeks of the war, most of the world simply wasn’t aware of the total incompetence of the Russian army. Even those who understood the Russian army lacked discipline were worried given the sheer size of its forces compared to its much smaller neighbor. It then came as quite a shock when Ukraine not only pushed the Russian army out of Kyiv but went on to amass a major counteroffensive some 6 months later. Putin’s failure to capture Kyiv and the subsequent quagmire his army still finds itself in will most likely go down in history the most sweeping military failure of the 21st century.
I would argue that the decision not to end the war completely after the failure to takeover Kyiv marked the peak of Putin’s ascension to power. The Western response to Putin’s full scale invasion has been admirable but the pace of assistance has caused the war to go on longer than it should. Looking at the slow pace of aid to Ukraine, I don’t beleive it is much of a leap to assume that Europe and the world as a whole would have wanted to return to the pre-Feb 2022 status quo as quickly as humanly possible had Putin put a stop to his failed conquest in early March. It’s important to highlight that Ukraine needed to prove to the world it could defeat Russia before the aid needed to do so was delivered to the country.
Any sane military commander in Russia’s position would have most likely cut their losses after Kyiv proved too difficult to conquer. A pause of the war at that stage would have given Putin time to rebuild his army and formulate a better strategy. And as I’ve outlined in the previous paragraph, given the West’s hesitancy to get directly involved in Russian affairs, most likely the failed invasion would have been swept under the carpet like Crimea was for so many years, giving Putin a second shot at Ukraine. A pause in the war at that stage would have also been deterimental to Ukraine as it would have been an uphill battle to argue for aid in a scenario where Russia decided to simply end the war.
Putin’s decision to double down after the failure to take Kyiv have led to a series of failures on the battlefield, domestically and abroad. It has been a downward spiral for Putin’s authority and Russia since Putin decided to continue the war which is why I argue his true blunder was not the invasion itself but the decision to continue the war. Since that decision there have been few Russian victories to celebrate. Furthermore, the events of the June 24th mutiny have seriously threatened Putin’s power like no time during his 23 year control of Russia.
2023 – A Series of Devastating Blows to Russia’s Power
English Twitter continues to hail Putin as a genuis but the facts don’t line up at all. What has taken place in Russia just in this year alone would have shocked the world some 3 or 4 years ago. With news flowing at such a rapid pace, it’s worth revisting some of the major blows to Putin’s authority in 2023. It’s my beleif that the events of 2023 have placed Vladimir Putin in a position he can never recover from and if he had a time machine he would go back to Feb 24th 2022.
To start, let’s consider the drone strike on the Kremlin. While the Kremlin structure was barely harmed, the symbolism and message such an attack delivers is signifcant. Like any authoritarian, Putin projects an auroa of Russia’s stregth, might, and infallibility. The fact that a drone could have somehow skirted the entire Russian army’s air defence and strike the Kremlin of all places should not be brushed aside as just another news event. It is only because our news cycle moves so quickly has the story, in my view, not been given the recognition it deserves. Rarely do we get foreshadowing in the world of non-fiction yet this was a clear sign of what we could expect to see unfold in Russia in the year to come.
Moving on from the Kremlin, we have Belgorod. In late May / early June, a rouge group of Russian seperatists rolled into Belgorod, temporarily occupying the city. The Russian propaganda outlets did their best to sweep the story under the carpet lest they give the group more attention. Similar to the drone strike on the Kremlin, the invasion itself did little harm to Russia but the implications I would argue are far worse. The fact that a group of seperatists can simply roll into parts of Russia unopposed, with little reaction from either the media or Russian community shows the sorry state of affairs in the country. The almost silent reaction of the Russian population is also worth highlighting. Could one imagine a response of total apathy by the population in any other country if a seperatist group tried to take over its
The invasion was barely commented upon by Russian news outlets, there was little uproar in the Russian community and it more or less faded into news. But once again, let’s consider the implications that the all mighty Russian empire suffered a direct invasion on its border with next to no pushback.
With history as a hindsight, is it any wonder that an event like the mutiny of June 24 unfolded?
This leads up to the Wagner mutiny of June 24th. If there was any temperature check on the health of Russia, this would be it. Putin failed to take immediate action and as of this writing the reprceussions remain uncler.
Rarely does it make sense for an army to outsource combat to 3rd parties. Many attribute the employment of mercenary groups as one of the reasons the Roman Empire fell. Putting that aside, I’ve never heard of a successful army in the past that relied heavily on convincts to conducts its military operations. Most likely is what we witnessed on June 24th, namely that ex-cons tend not to be loyal and often have the propsenity to cause significant damaga.
Putin’s reluctance to admit defeat in Ukraine and continue to double down is what brought this upon himself. The fact that Wagner was able to march up to Moscow also shows how much Putin really bet the farm on this war. Ukraine is more or less fighitng almost the entire mobilized Russian army in its land, this is why the counter offensive is going slowly. Bear in mind that each incremental gain for Ukraine is a devastating blow for Russia as the entire empire sits “naked” as Wagner so clearly demonstrated. As the failed war in Ukraine progresses, Russia will become ever more vulnerable.
The West and Ukraine are the clear winners of this mutiny. Only Lukashenko appears to have gained much from these events which also tells you how poorly the war is going for Putin. I would not have expected to see this type of drama less than 2 years into the war which is why I doubt it will last another 2 or 3.
The Fall of Putin – Not “If” but When
The future of Russia is unclear but what is certain is that it would be a miracle of sorts for Putin to somehow recover from this position. His hodepodge of various factions which one could call the Russian army is even more broken than before, on the world stage his image of strength has been shattered, and the war he started which placed him in this position is continuing to falter.
If that weren’t bad enough, NATO has expanded as a result of this war, Russia lost a major trading partner in Europe, and Ukraine is more united than ever. None of this would have happened were it not for Putin’s stubborn decision to fight a war he cannot possibly win.
While impossible to predict to future, one can imagine that Prigohzin’s flaunting of Putin’s power will lead others to test the system in the weeks and months to come. This doesn’t mean Putin is done for but his position has been weakened which can lead to a variety of outcomes. He may be replaced, asassinated, or slowly faded into the background by others. Regardless of the outcome, the almighty Putin as we know it is no more.