With Mariupol in ruins and other cities in the Donbas region of Eastern Ukraine being subjected to relentless Russian bombardment, what, one may ask, is Putin’s objective in laying waste city after city? Clearly he wants to force President Zelensky to make territorial concessions to Russia and by devastating Ukrainian cities, so no-one would wish to live in them, Putin anticipates that the Ukrainians will cede the Donbas region to Russia. And this seems to be at the heart of the Russian President’s strategy, a tactic that was employed in Syria in support of the Assad regime: massive bombing and artillery fire to utterly destroy the infrastructure of the opposition. Assuming Ukrainian land is surrendered to Russia as part of a peace agreement, the question is what does Putin do with his Ill-gotten gains? Will Russia rebuild cities that have been razed to the ground; will Russians be encourage, or more accurately, forced to live in Eastern Ukraine, to swell the Russian political presence; and what assurances does Zelensky and his Western allies have that Putin will respect the integrity of a smaller Ukraine?
The Ukrainian War has exposed considerable weaknesses in Russian military intelligence, strategy and poor morale, particularly among conscripts. These are the “fodder”, dragooned into a woefully inadequate fighting machine, whose claim to fame is reducing buildings, mostly those occupied by civilians, to rubble! and yet despite this unsophisticated warfare, the Russians have made progress, albeit painfully slowly, in realising what may be the first stage in Putin’s dream to make Russia great again. This is a war of attrition, with the balance of power very much in Russia’s favour, and the longer it goes on the more likely Putin will emerge triumphant.
It is unlikely Putin will set his sights at the conquest of the entire Ukraine; the cost would be too heavy to bear. So a limited victory will achieve what he wants: resurgence of Russian nationalism, and a claim to parity with the West. Having control of the media, he will orchestrate Russia’s new self-confidence, demonstrating her power to crush those who “threaten” the Motherland. The reality is a little different: none of Russia’s neighbours has posed a threat and have any ambitions for territorial aggrandisement. This Soviet-style distortion of truth, ratcheting up imagined western intended aggression goes back to the founding fathers of the Russian Revolution. After over a hundred years of Russian doublespeak, the West should be more than capable of countering these mind-games and hybrid warfare.