Does Zelenskyy Have Putin on the Ropes?
Any day now, the Ukraine military will mount an official counteroffensive against the Russian military. The OFFICIAL counteroffensive that is. It appears that there is already ongoing preparatory action taking place to soften up the Russian war machine.
Some military experts see the battle over Bakhmut as an initial phase of the pre-offensive offensive. To justify its claims of a highly touted Spring offensive, Putin had to put all his effort into the minimally strategic city of Bakhmut. Furthermore, Putin had to rely heavily on the mercenary Wagner Group to shore up his overextended and underperforming military. The commander of the Group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, has expressed his dissatisfaction with the Russian military in the strongest of terms. Even as they claim victory in Bakhmut, Prigozhin is reported to be concerned about getting surrounded by the Ukrainian forces in the region.
That may be the reason that Prigozhin has announced the withdrawal of his troops from Bakhmut. That will leave the defense of the city up to the Russian military, which Prigozhin conceded will not be able to hold the city. He went on to criticize Putin’s handling of the war, and expressed his belief that Ukraine would likely win. Some analysts believe Prigozhin is angling to be Putin’s successor.
Bakhmut was a lopsided battle with all the odds in Russia’s favor. But rather than cede that ground to Putin, the Ukraine military put up a major defense of the city.
While it was not a winning the initial battle for Ukraine, they forced Russia to expend a lot of resources – human and weaponry – on what in retrospect seems to be a pyrrhic victory. Russia lost major military resources and an estimated 100,000 wounded or killed soldiers – resources Putin needs against the yet-to-come official Ukrainian offensive. And now the city will be essentially surrendered to the Ukrainian military.
It is unlikely to be a coincidence that there is a sudden increase in rearguard actions and incidents on Russian soil. There were two drone attacks on the Kremlin. They were not a serious threat to Putin, who is bunkered in his office. They did, however, serve as a symbol of a counteroffensive to the heart of Moscow. It demonstrated that Putin’s enemies – whether Ukrainian or domestic – can reach the Kremlin.
More recently, there was a fire at the Russian Ministry of Defense. Despite the obvious presence of smoke, the official Kremlin line is that there was no fire. From outside observations, it appeared that there was a small fire on one of the balconies of the MoD. What can be said is that no one in the building – or the building itself – was significantly impacted by the incident. Perhaps this was just another symbolic attack to show that Putin’s enemies are not 400 miles away.
More important have been the more serious attacks on Russian assets on both sides of the Ukrainian/Russian border. In a major cross-border attack, pro-Ukrainian Russian fighters mounted a two-day attack on Belgorod – causing considerable damage to military assets, buildings, and infrastructure. It was described as the “most brazen” attack on Russian soil since the onset of the Russian invasion.
The attack was carried out by one or two anti-Putin Russian organizations – the Free Russia Legion and the International Legion. Both took credit and have indicated that their goal was to destabilize the Putin government and draw military resources from the frontline.
Putin has accused Ukraine of promoting and organizing the attack. Ukraine has disavowed any involvement. Uh huh! However, it was planned and carried out; it revealed a major vulnerability and weakness in the Russian offensive and defensive operations.
While Belgorod was a major event, there have been literally hundreds – perhaps thousands – of organic or spontaneous domestic attacks on Russian facilities. They have ranged from firebombs to general vandalism. Since Russian media censors prevent the reporting of these events, a precise number cannot be confirmed. However, there are sufficient indications from witnesses and Western reporting to believe that the number of self-motivated attacks is significant and widespread.
In addition to the physical damage, these attacks tend to counter the propaganda from the Kremlin as to the purpose of the invasion – and its progress. They reveal increasing domestic dissatisfaction with Putin’s dirty little war.
Russia is also more vulnerable to direct Ukrainian attacks when the counteroffensive launches. There has been a softening of the ban on attacking inside Russia by Western allies. It now allows for attacks on military installations and assets inside Russia that are directly associated with the war effort. In addition, Ukraine is being provided with long range missiles that can reach a hundred and fifty miles into Russia – not enough to reach Moscow but enough to attack Russian forces and facilities along the border.
The recent agreement by NATO nations – not the United States, however — to give Ukraine fighter jets is a significant game-changer. Given the sophistication of Western weaponry, this could essentially ground the Russian air force.
It is entirely possible that the upcoming counteroffensive will be the beginning of the end for Vladimir Putin. The man may be on the ropes. We can only hope so.
So, there ‘tis.