The One Ace in Putin's Hole



by Rubin Rother LL.B, LL,M 4th April 2022

As a nuclear power Russia cannot be called toothless but its military bite otherwise has been a relative facade. Russia is bogged down in its fight with Ukraine. Putin's style of fighting is not engaging armies, but rather to do as he did in Syria and Chechnya by attacking civilians. He does this well. After 38 days he has not been able to accomplish what he thought he could do in several days. Russian forces failed to take the northern major cities of Kharkiv and Kiev and have been compelled to regroup. It is heading for a protracted war of attrition. Prior to the conflict the Biden administration halted arms sales to the Ukraine that included Javelin missiles and anti aircraft ordinance - that could have deterred the Russian invasion. This in part led to a miscalculation by Putin. He saw Biden's withdrawal from Afghanistan, Biden's destruction of America's energy independence that benefited Russia, and Biden's perceived senility. In tandem with European reliance on Russian oil and natural gas, this created in his mind an opportunity to resurrect Sovietism. He would obviously be no match for NATO. He suspected the Ukrainians would cave the same way they did when he invaded Crimea. There's a sense in which Putin has already failed. He had no idea the Ukrainians would mount the resistance they have. He miscalculated that Ukraine is a unified country and far from extinguishing Ukraine as a nation, he is uniting it further. He's faced with the prospect of an asymmetrical war, knowing that Russia's own imbroglio in Afghanistan was similarly an asymmetrical quagmire that contributed to the downfall of the USSR. Ukraine could grind the Russians down on the battlefield or at the very least make an occupation impossible.

Desperate people do desperate things, including resorting to nuclear saber rattling. This happened during the cold war, following Krushchev's 'we will bury you' performance at the UN, and Nixon's Nuclear alert exploiting the Yom Kippur War in 1973, in a desperate attempt to save his political neck during the Watergate scandal. Both the Soviet and American political establishments quickly removed both Krushchev and Nixon. The question now is: "who can remove Putin"?

Putin's other strategy is to work through surrogates such as Belarus, Syria and potentially Iran - the prospect of this could be ominous for Israel and the Middle East in general.

Finally, the resolve of the Ukrainians and the unexpected united front of Europe that has seen staunchly neutral (with Finland applying to join Nato) and Switzerland supporting Ukraine after four centuries of staunch neutrality has shown that Putin's bear is nearly toothless. But the Russian bear's dentures are no ordinary pair of dentures, they are rather more akin to razor sharp fangs in the form of nuclear ordinance. Russian military doctrine does not regard the use of low yield strategic nuclear weapons as within the scope of its broader nuclear response to a 'first strike' scenario. In other words it is willing to deploy these low yield nuclear weapons in furtherance of its conventional military campaign if deemed pragmatic to do so. Let us pray that in his desperation he does not put in his dentures.

Meanwhile, the American hegemonic 'Washington consensus' is slipping behind in shaping the international rules based order. The future of global markets are increasingly cantered in Eurasia, yet China and Japan have serious problems in this regard of their own. This decline has accelerated under the current Biden administration. An alternative to the western liberal world order is emerging in China. As the economist reports "the war in Ukraine will determine how China sees the world and how threatening it will become". NATO has united under the shadow of Putin's war machine on its eastern periphery. But US leadership is notably largely absent. The EU has unexpectedly taken up the mantle of closing ranks behind Ukraine.The German preference for diplomacy and commerce, rather than deterrence and confrontation, seemed logical for decades. But now the coercive side of German policy - the military needs to be beefed up. To these ends Germany is investing $100 billion in its military, thereby doubling the annual budget. Yet Europe has not risen to the occasion of filling this vacuum of lack of American leadership under Biden due to dependence on Russian oil and natural gas, which France continues to buy and hence fund Putin's invasion. Had Trump's energy policies been pursued, the USA could have eventually replaced Russia as a source of energy. Putin's game is played in tandem with China, attempting to destabilize the petro dollar by pricing oil in rubles and China's agreement with Saudi Arabia to price it in Wuan, thus attacking the dollar as the world's reserve currency.

As Moscow's forces retreat from areas near Kiev there is mounting evidence that its attempt at a whole scale invasion of Ukraine has been a colossal failure. This 'special operation' lacked strategic and logistical planning. Putin will now more than likely concentrate his forces in the east of Ukraine in order to consolidate his hold on the Russian speaking areas of the country. It would appear that the Russian objective is now to 'Koreanize' Ukraine. The invasion can be characterized as a humiliation for Putin. The Russians have erred in their strategy and sustained heavy losses. Morale has dived. Bungled strategy has been matched by intelligence failures. Putin underestimated the power of Ukraine's western backed forces. It failed to perceive the impetus that an invasion would have on galvanizing the EU and NATO. What will Putin resort to as to him utter failure is not an option?
His one 'Ace In The Hole' is a weak, inept, and scandal plagued American President, whom in the view of Putin of many people, suffers incipient dimentia. European reliance on Russian oil and natural gas , aggravated by Biden's reversal of American energy independence, is one Rook in the Chess Game Putin plays. His other Rook is the threat of tactical nuclear ordinance, Biden's Obamaesque spinelessness and inability, compounded by geriatrically deficient cognitive skills however, is Putin's Queen.

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