“We cannot know further ways Of our word — how it’ll be drifted, —Compassion from above is giftedAs we are given sacred grace.”  F.M. Tyutchev

On 11 May Kyiv Post published my opinion piece “A Personal Duel,” addressing how the French President, Emmanuel Macron was able to instruct the West in two and a half months that it need not fear Putin's nuclear blackmail and it had to stop placing absurd limitations on itself with red lines.

My words (not mine, of course, but those of Macron) have drifted far and wide it seems.  

On 12 May, Putin moved both his Minister of Defense, Sergei Shoigu, and his Secretary of the Security Council, Nikolai Patrushev sideways. 

In my view Patrushev's removal and subsequent appointment to the seemingly humiliating post of Nautical Engineering Advisor, was the more significant of the two.  He has been the main ideological force behind Russia's strategy of nuclear blackmail as an essential tool for the country in its war with the West.  For a long time, this strategy worked - paralyzing any semblance of Western decisiveness. 

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 But the West couldn’t go on quivering in fear forever in the face of these two-bit Petersburg gangsters and their nuclear crowbar – first Ukraine, then the Baltics, and then where?  The West was not going to simply disappear from the pages of history with a smile on its face like the Cheshire cat.  At some point things had to change, although the US seems to have run out of any politicians with the cojones needed to stand up to Moscow.

Video: Partisan Sabotage Attack in Smolensk Shuts Down Russian Air Defenses
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Video: Partisan Sabotage Attack in Smolensk Shuts Down Russian Air Defenses

A member of the Atesh guerrilla movement destroyed telecommunications equipment near Smolensk which resulted in the shutdown of the Russian air defense system.

It was left to the President of France to face up to his Russian counterpart using the type of language Putin would understand.  And, for good measure, he did a little saber-rattling of his own by mentioning France's own 880 strategic nuclear warheads.  In doing so, Macron effectively nullified Putin's nuclear threats, and naturally, put an end to Patrushev and his “strategic thinking.” 

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It is telling how Kremlin propaganda  has shifted its focus of late.  Gone are the threats of nuclear apocalypse directed at France and the UK; now we hear only that their troops will perish on a massive scale on the conventional battlefields of Ukraine.

The abject failure of the nuclear blackmail strategy has deprived Putin of any chance of the victory that he and Patrushev envisioned - the complete destruction of the Ukrainian state.  From this point on Putin will scramble to bring this conflict to some kind of a draw, one “honorable” enough that he is able to stay in power – by, for instance, securing  some territorial gains.

In any case the fact that Russia has had to walk back some of its announced goals in this war, one of which was ordering NATO to “take your stuff and get the hell out of here,” calls for a reckoning:  several high-ranking officials should be declared guilty and punished.  

The highly publicized arrest of Timur Ivanov, Shoigu's personal embezzler and Yuri Kuznetsov, the head of Russia’s Defense Ministry personnel branch, demonstrates that Putin has already planned a “Grand Trial of thieves and traitors” within its Arbatskaya Square headquarters.

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And now the “Honest Old Man” Belousov has been appointed as a civilian Minister of Defense.  His role: to become appalled by and then reveal to the populace at large the horrific levels of thievery, decay, and betrayal by a significant number of generals. In such a way, Putin hopes to escape the blame for a war that has, for all intents and purposes, already been lost.

The Kremlin is now pushing two talking points for international consumption: “a long war” or a “Korea scenario.” From the activity of Kremlin assets in Washington, that I have seen, this time Moscow would suggest a true Korea scenario, with no restrictions placed on Pyongyang’s equivalent in “South” Ukraine, something different from the spring 2022 negotiations.  

Russia would like to annex parts of Ukrainian territory while the rest of the country would remain an independent state free to ensure its security with both its own military capabilities and a military-political alliance of its choosing - whether it be NATO membership, an Entente Cordiale, or the EU. 

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The Kremlin hopes to use this “Korea scenario” to seduce that portion of Ukrainian society tired of the war and (current and future) US administration’s position that the only alternative to this scenario would be “a long war of attrition.” 

I am not sure just how long, but the Russians have at least another month and a half to conduct devastating strikes on Ukrainian cities and use their soldiers as cannon fodder to attack Ukrainian positions before some sort of balance is restored as Western aircraft arrive and more missiles and ammunition are delivered.

If the Russian-Ukrainian war had been really a war of attrition along a 1,000-kilometer line of contact, then we could have a conversation about a “Korea scenario.”  In fact this particular war has a different center of gravity (cf. Clausewitz) - the Crimean Peninsula, the most vulnerable area of the Russian military machine.  Ukraine was able to boot the Russian navy out of Crimean ports with virtually no air force and no navy of its own.

What a betrayal, what a colossal mistake it would be to give up the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and its wonderful inhabitants to some Russian equivalent of North Korea.  This is especially true if we consider that it would take only a small increase in logistical help for Kyiv, from a coalition of the willing, for Ukraine to conduct an audacious land, sea, air military operation to liberate Crimea.  Then there would be no basis for a long war of attrition.

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The views expressed in this opinion article are the author’s and not necessarily those of Kyiv Post.

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