The counteroffensive operation brilliantly conducted by the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) has made it possible to liberate the Kharkiv region and inflict a crushing defeat on the Russian occupying forces.
Ukraine’s victory in the region has also shaken Russia’s domestic political establishment and caused a crisis among the Russian elite.
It now also looks likely to determine the architecture of post-war global security.
Read on to find out more about last week’s events in Ukraine from the analysis of international defense experts.
Russia unable to build up reserves
The AFU’s defeat of Russian occupying forces highlights a clear problem for Russia: it is running out of volunteers and contract workers ready to fight in Ukraine.
Since June, the Russian authorities have been trying to recruit and build troops from right across Russia to form the Third Army Corps. At the same time, they have been scouring and repairing old equipment from countless warehouses used for long-term storage.
However, the hope that the corps would significantly strengthen Russia’s troops went unfulfilled. In August, it became clear that the corps would comprise no more than 10,000-15,000 servicemen It simply “dissolved” in the Ukrainian steppes without having any impact on the operational situation at the front.
Following the defeat of the Russian occupying troops near Izium and Kupiansk, the issue of replenishing Russian personnel became even more acute.
The most obvious way out for the Russian authorities would be to declare martial law and carry out general or partial mobilization. But the most obvious move does not necessarily mean the right one for the Russian regime.
Such a decision, according to Kremlin analysts, would lead to mass dissatisfaction among a population that was promised a “fun and fast ride” in the form of a “special military operation.” As a result, Russia has become the architect of a protracted and devastating war with Ukraine.
The Kremlin is also openly afraid of handing out weapons to its citizens, which could lead to unforeseen consequences for the authorities.
This week, the issue of mobilization was considered at a meeting of the Security Council of the Russian Federation, but no decision was made.
As a result, palliative and strange proposals are now emerging, such as “self-mobilization”, through which the authors of the idea imagine a mass of volunteers standing in line at the military commissariat. Taking account of the social situation in Russia, this is highly unlikely to materialize and will instead most likely lead to mass queues at the borders.
Ramzan Kadyrov, head of the Chechen Republic, was called upon to organize the mobilization and formation of reserves across the Russian regions. But there are no fools sitting in the Kremlin, who understand that this means putting the baton of power in the hands of regional leaders and strengthening them with military units that are not under central control.
Therefore, as always, “time-tested” decisions were made. Oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin, who is close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, has been traveling around correctional colonies and recruiting incarcerated recidivists and rapists to the army. In return for their services, they are promised amnesty after six months of service.
Russia has therefore revealed once again the full glory of its military and political incompetence. It can no longer form sufficient reserves for its war in Ukraine. Ordinary Russians are ready to support the “special military operation” from the couch, but they are not ready to fight and die for the illusory ideals imposed by Russian propagandists.
Crisis of the internal elite in Russia
Russia’s defeat in Kharkiv has also provoked an internal crisis among its elite.
Firstly, Russian generals no longer want to mindlessly follow the sometimes completely unrealistic orders of the country’s political leaders, including Putin. Indeed, military combatants are increasingly thinking about the post-war world and their personal place within it.
Secondly, at first in whispers and now publicly (municipal deputies from Moscow and St. Petersburg even appealed to the State Duma to arrest Putin), it has been said that “Putin has changed drastically,” that “a replacement must be found,” and that “someone is personally guilty of this whole military adventure.”
The most intelligent representatives of the elite have already thought about the creation of legitimate mechanisms for the transfer of power, for example through the same Security Council of Russia.
Thirdly, the intra-elite are struggling for survival in the Russian Olympus, with the military and the Federal Security Service (FSB) trading blame with one another for the devastating failures in Ukraine.
The Russian autocratic political system, which is largely based on the personality of Putin, is showing its first cracks. This does not mean that it will fall apart tomorrow, and it would be unwise to predict such revolutionary changes in the conditions of autocracy.
Let’s remember that there were no single events that triggered he downfalls of Nicolae Ceaușescu, Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi respectively. Changes in public attitudes and the intentions of the elite tend to accumulate gradually, then manifest themselves in a sudden avalanche.
But one morning, Russians may wake up in a completely different country.
Russia’s problems in the international arena
As a result of crushing military defeats and failures in Ukraine, Russia’s influence in the international arena is decreasing, even in those regions of the world where it has traditionally dominated.
- Russia unable to act as guarantor in the post-Soviet space
Last week, the military conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan escalated and once again entered a “hot” phase.
This cannot be detached from events in the spring, which saw Russia forced to move its most combat-ready military contingent from its 102nd base in Gyumri to Ukraine. As a result, it was no longer able to fulfill its obligations as a guarantor of the truce between these two Transcaucasian countries.
- Impotence of the CSTO
The Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) military bloc, originally created by Russia, has turned out to be ineffective and unable to even prevent military conflict between CSTO member countries.
Last week for instance, a new stage of armed confrontation began between Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, both countries of which are members of the CSTO. The bloc also refused to provide real military assistance to Armenia in its war with Azerbaijan.
- Rising influence of Turkey and China
In the post-Soviet Asian space, the influence of Turkey and China is increasing, while the authority of Russia is noticeably waning.
The holding of another conference among countries party to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) vividly testified that two super leaders have emerged in the arena – China and Turkey. In particular, Kazakhstan now views an alliance with China as a counterbalance to Russia’s influence.
- China’s lip–service to Russia
Added to the above, China is not ready to risk plummeting to the geopolitical depths with Putin. Furthermore, Chinese analysts are already working on scenarios for Russia’s defeat in Ukraine.
The country’s leader Xi Jinping continues to officially assure the world that China will support Russia, but upon asking Putin on the sidelines: “Has the Kremlin achieved the goals it declared for its military operation in Ukraine? he has, to date, not received a clear answer.
What all this means
Russia’s war in Ukraine not only has internal political consequences for Ukraine. In many ways, it is also determining the architecture of future world security, including the post-war role and place of Ukraine.
Following our victory in this war, we we will have reaffirmed our right to future peace.
Ihor Zhdanov is a co-founder of the Open Policy Foundation, a National Government Organization (NGO) in Ukraine.
The views expressed are the author’s and not necessarily those of the Kyiv Post
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