It seems that we are approaching the end game of sorts in Ukraine. Putin appears to have (almost) placed all his cards on the proverbial war table.
As the generals grapple with a losing strategy, Putin went all in with his ambitious mobilization that provides for up to one million extra troops on the front lines. Such a deployment at this stage will probably prove futile to the Russian war efforts. These soldiers will lack comprehensive battle training and the all essential combat experience necessary for translating numbers into victory in the field. Russian military doctrine is based upon the assumption that mere brute force of material and manpower are sufficient for executing a successful campaign. This is an outdated pre-information age notion of an industrial based war machine in the dimensions that were projected into the eastern European theatre of WW2. What worked in Minsk and Stalingrad, has failed in Kiev and Kharkiv. Meanwhile, American Himars coupled with precise real time GPS positioning intelligence have wreaked havoc and wrought alarm amongst the Russian command and control structure.
In desperation, the Russians have attempted to pre-empt rapidly changing facts on the ground by holding sudden referenda in the areas they currently hold tenuously. Such measures lay testament to Putin's fragile position. Putin framed himself as a champion of the ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine. According to outside observers, the turnout in the referendum conducted in this region largely proved mute. This was an embarrassing setback for Moscow. Putin nonetheless went ahead with annexing these areas. Doing so, enables Putin to absurdly claim that Ukrainian attempts to claw back this occupied land amounts to an assault on Russian sovereign territorial integrity - thus ostensibly justifying an ominous carte blanche response. As Putin finds himself backed into a corner, the prospects of the conflict escalating towards a more precarious trajectory looms large. The possibility that tactical nuclear weapons will be employed on the battlefield is no longer a remote theoretical proposition. Ukraine's military intelligence spokesperson Vadym Skibitsky said in an interview with The Guardian on Tuesday that Kyiv assesses the threat of Moscow using tactical weapons against the country as "very high". According to Skibitsky, the tactical strikes would likely target locations along the front lines where there is a high concentration of people, equipment, as well as command centers, and critical infrastructure.
The Russian sabotage of the Nord Stream pipelines ( which Putin denies doing) further exacerbates tensions. Europe's energy infrastructure remains vulnerable to deliberate attack. Indeed, energy security is Europe's Achilles' heel in the power dynamic with Moscow. Putin's leverage is to turn the gas off entirely. This would be shooting himself in the foot in terms of lost revenue. But it would hurt Europe more. It also alerts NATO and the EU that a remaining pipeline from Norway to Poland could likewise be sabatoged. Even in the event of a negotiated settlement allowing Russia to retain the four annexed oprovinces along with Crimea, the EU would be relectant to again place itself at the mercy of an energy dependency on Russia that Donald Trump tried to caution them of. Trump's warning now stands vindicated. This is to say nothing of the time factor and the echnical and legal hurdles to repairing the Nord Stream pipelines .
None of the options before Putin are promising. Events have curtailed his initial military objectives for a sweeping victory. Now Russia is even struggling to maintain control of the pre-invasion region held by its proxies. Amidst this quagmire the tendency is to resort to any steps that will postpone capitulation. The mobilization is intended to stabilize an impending further Russian retreat. But as the body bags pile higher, for the first time the Russian middle class will be hit. This bodes terribly for Putin, as this key constituency forms his power base. If he resorts to using tactical nuclear weapons, he faces (at a minimum) increased international isolation, if not an all out devastating military response directly from NATO. Low yield nukes won't win the war. Ukraine will simply disperse its forces and could not inconceivably respond with non nuclear weapons of mass cdestruction such as chemical agents.
Putin knows that unlike American and British reserves who did combat tours in Afgahnistan, and the Israeli milluim reserves, composed of hardened combat veterans who train more regularly and intensively than Russian reserves, Russian reserves are essentially, at best, a para military civilian militia with armaments and equipment far from being state of the art.
His staged elections and annexations are for domestic political consumption, hoping to have something to show for a costly war effort where he can media spin a defeat as a victory.
Zelensky is a Schwab globalist with EU and NATO ambitions whom many EU & NATO members did not want in membership due to the Ukraine's history of corruption (upon which Hunter Biden capitalized). Putin now realizes that his invasion has made the EU and NATO much more amicable towards the Ukraine. He knows that his efforts to prevent further NATO expansion eastward backfired when his adventurism drove Finland into NATO creating a new 740 mile border with a NATO country. He knows that his expectation of another easy victory in a sequel to his grab of Crimea has not materialized as anticipated. Despite his commensurate narcissism, Putin now is compelled to accept the fact that he has miscalculated nearly everrything to his own detriment. He also knows that his real military enemies are not primarily the Ukranian military itself, but the Western nations financing and equipping it. He finds himself in a de facto proxy war with the CIA, MI6, and almost certainly Israeli Mossad, who advise and all but animate the Ukranian forces aligned against him..
At its core, the Russian Army finds itself at an acute technological disadvantage. Nothing can compensate for the accuracy of American supplied equipment and intelligence. No amount of indiscriminate artillery shelling is going to tip the balance in this age of modern warfare. The under performance of Russian weapons systems such as the S300 and S400 will inevitably undermine the market for Russian arms exports, which after oil & natural gas are Russia's next largest source of foreign exchange. The strength of the US Dollar moreover is already impacting gold prices and devaluing the precious metal commodity value of Russian bullion. This in turn adversely affects both the Rupel and the BRIC as alternative currencies to the Euro Dollar and Petro Dollar as the global reserve currency. These effects compound the economic turbulence resulting from embargos, assett seizures, and other increased sanctions.Thus, while the strategic failures of Putin's Ukraine policy are indeed conspicuous, the fiscal , financial & monetary ramifications are no less obvious.
The best way things can go for Putin is a protracted war of attrition that grinds down Ukrainian morale, and Western resolve to support them. Above all else, Putin is motivated by the desire to cling onto power. Attrition however can also be a two way street as was witnessed in the prolonged Soviet conflict in Afgahnistan and its internal political, economic, and social consequences inside the former USSR.. Ideas of re-establishing the Soviet Union are a means of cementing his legacy. As Putin faces defeat, he is not unlikely to 'take the ship down' with him. Whether that entails the deranged deployment of a soft nuclear option depends upon the ability of those in his inner circle to reign him in, or alternatively all together remove him from power. Even on this note however, factored into the equation must be the consideration that Putin's firing of several Russian generals is not simply a reflection of his frutration at their tactical inadequasy as battlefield and senior staff commanders, but they were removed as a political prophylaxis against a possible junta style coup d'etat .