By Rudy Barnes, Jr., September 24, 2022
The West, led by the U.S., is facing an escalation of violence by Putin in Ukraine with a lethal game of Russian Roulette, and there’s little certainty of its outcome. Russia claims to be a democracy, but up to last week the Russian people have given Putin a free hand to conduct his aggression in Ukraine. President Biden will have to answer to a more demanding constituency.
The strategic factors in the escalation of the Ukrainian conflict are means and motivation. Putin seems to have both, with little public opposition in the past to his escalation of aggression in Ukraine. Western democracies led by the U.S. have the means to counter Putin, but their motivation is subject to an American election in November and a worsening world economy.
The facts are fluid. After Ukrainian forces liberated territory previously occupied by Russia, Putin called up Russian reserves, asserted his right to annex territories under Russian control, and threatened nuclear war if the West continued to support Ukraine. The U.S. and NATO have vowed to continue to defend Ukraine, but not against a Russian nuclear attack.
Putin has the full support of Patriarch Kirill (Cyril) of the Russian Orthodox Church for his invasion of Ukraine to restore the Russian Empire of Peter the Great. Kirill leads a Christian nationalist church similar to white nationalist churches in America, and within Russia Kirill has given legitimacy to Putin’s aggression. Even so, in Russia public opposition to Putin is growing.
The strategic options for Ukraine and its supporters are to continue conventional combat to liberate Ukraine; and if Russia tries to annex any part of Ukraine, to transition to partisan unconventional warfare in annexed areas. Any annexation would be unlawful, but Putin could be expected to claim that any partisan activities in annexed areas would be an attack on Russia.
If the Russian people don’t reject Putin’s atavistic strategy to restore the Russian Empire with his escalation of aggression in Ukraine, continued U.S. and NATO support for Ukraine will be necessary and will likely continue; but U.S. elections in November and a possible worldwide recession are wild cards that could undermine Western motivation to support Ukraine.
Recent demonstrations in Russia against Putin’s escalation in Ukraine are a hopeful sign of public opposition to Putin’s aggression. Putin has to stand for election in March, 2024. In the U.S. and NATO the motivation to continue supporting Ukraine against Putin’s aggression will depend on public support and the economy--and whether Putin exercises his nuclear option.
Up to now, Putin’s means and motivation to continue Russian aggression in Ukraine has depended on superior Russian military power and the lack of public opposition; but that could be changing. Ukrainian military successes and Putin’s commitment to escalate the conflict could awaken the sleeping giant of Russian public opposition to Putin. Otherwise, the outcome will depend on a continuation of Putin’s lethal game of Russian roulette--with a nuclear weapon.
This past week Putin changed the dynamics of the Ukraine war in several particulars that indicated he lacked confidence in Russia’s ultimate victory after Ukraine’s military successes:
See Putin took a big risk by mobilizing greater force for the Ukraine War, in the Hill at https://thehill.com/policy/international/3654548-putin-takes-big-risk-by-mobilizing-greater-force-for-ukraine-war/?email.
In the Washington Post, see How Putin’s partial mobilization could backfire, at https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2022/09/22/putin-russia-mobilization-troops-ukraine/; also, Over 1,300 arrests reported as Russians protest military mobilization, at https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/09/22/russia-ukraine-war-latest-updates/?utm; also Russia pushes the panic button and raises the risk of nuclear war at https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/09/21/russia-referendums-ukraine-occupied-nuclear/; also Putin drafts up to 300,000 reservists, backs annexation amid war losses at https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/09/21/putin-speech-annexation-ukraine-russia/?utm.
In the New York Times, see Three Paths Toward an Endgame for Putin’s War at https://www.nytimes.com/2022/09/20/opinion/ukraine-putin.html.
For commentary on Christian nationalism in the Russian Orthodox Church and the Ukraine War, see Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Obsolescence of Christianity in Politics, at http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2022/04/musings-of-maverick-methodist-on.html; also.
Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Ascendancy of Evil in Politics and Religion, at http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2022/05/musings-of-maverick-methodist-on.html.
See also, Musings on Shifting Strategies Against Russian Aggression in Ukraine, at http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2022/06/musings-on-shifting-strategies-against.html.