When making the decision to invade Ukraine in February, Vladimir Putin made two false assumptions – the strength of his own army and the strength of the resistance he would encounter in Ukraine. He overestimated the first, and underestimated the second. The assessment could not have been different, because it was based on a densely intertwined network of spreading fake news within the system and an even denser network of corruption on which Russian society traditionally rests. After the initial shock caused by the entry of Russian troops into Ukraine, it only took a few days for it to become clear that even the highest level of the Russian state was receiving wrong information on the basis of which it could only make wrong decisions.

The two key misconceptions with which Putin entered the war were followed by other bad assessments, which made the Russian conquest campaign even more difficult and reduced the chances of its success. For example, the West would be deeply divided about the conflict, and it would not pay much attention to it, therefore, it would not help Ukraine to defend itself. This assessment was brought to Putin by someone in fear of the ruler’s anger when he hears bad news. Favourable assessments piled up on Putin’s desk and all suggested the same thing – attack, the time is right, victory would be quick and easy.

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But all were just a bunch of lies to satisfy the goal that was set a long time ago, which was also not based on objective information, but on mythical and esoteric rambling about the return of “historical Russia”. Nothing with which Russia entered the conquest of Ukraine has come to pass. Starting from the so-called “demilitarization and denazification” that Putin spoke of as the main goals of the invasion the night it began. The overthrow of Kyiv’s “Nazi” and “drug addict” regime (Putin’s words) did not transpire, and the 60-kilometre-long military column that marched to fulfil that task got stuck as soon as it entered Ukraine, partly due to strong resistance, partly due to its own disorganization.

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It didn’t help that the goals of the war changed overnight on the basis of military defeats. The proclaimed “liberation” of regions in Eastern Ukraine has lasted for months; it was supposed to be crowned with the declaration of their independence and annexation to Russia through bizarre and fake referendums. But it was destroyed in just a few days by the Ukrainian counter-offensive, which returned large parts of these occupied regions.

These events brought the bubble of self-deception that has been growing in the Kremlin for seven months to bursting point, because things were not going the way they were convinced they would go. Regardless of the growing discontent among the population  due to defeats, casualties and economic isolation, the Kremlin is immune to what people think.

The real problems arise when conflicts start within the Kremlin’s walls, threats and accusations of who is to blame for the collapse of the historic mission that everyone entered into together. It must be borne in mind that these are not ordinary, democratically-elected civil servants, who make decisions by implementing the country’s constitution and laws. Most of them are dollar billionaires, who perceive the state as a company of which they are shareholders, but whose business decisions depend only on the will and judgment of the supreme owner, not on the objective state of affairs within the “company” and on the “market”.

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Some of them have even publicly threatened to leave the Ukrainian endeavour if no changes occurred in the way the war was  conducted. For example, Ramzan Kadyrov, head of the Chechen Republic. Along with the victories of the Ukrainian army in the east of the country and the withdrawal of Russia towards its borders, insider rumours about great dissatisfaction among the “shareholders” towards the military leadership, especially towards Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov, became more and more frequent.

The Washington Post wrote last week that a member of Putin’s “inner circle” complained and protested to Putin himself about the poor leadership in Ukraine, which resulted in heavy losses in the east.

Putin once again found himself in a situation where he has to make forced decisions, but once again he gets deception, flattery and fake news on the table. In Russia, there is simply no different material from which decisions are made, and Putin’s Russia is no exception in this regard compared to all the previous ones. Russia consists of a series of lies and fabrications. That is why these latest ones will also be wrong and will lead his army, his country and himself and his whole environment even deeper into ruin.

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The issue here is the carrying out of retaliatory missile strikes on major Ukrainian cities, including Kyiv. These were attacks without any military logic, calculated only to demoralize the opponent after great success, instil fear and threaten new similar reprisals. Those attacks are Putin’s response to his closest environment, which has become dissatisfied and upset, showing that he is still strong and cruel, the real Putin they know and love to see, the president under whose rule they acquired power and money. Kadyrov was satisfied with the bombing of civilians in Ukraine. “Now I am one hundred percent satisfied with the way the special military operation is being conducted!”, he said.

But, just like seven months ago, Putin is making decisions based on wrong assumptions. By radicalizing his invasion, by bringing in General Sergei Surovikin, known for his brutality in Syria, as the commander on the ground, and by sidelining Shoigu, Putin may be able to appease his closest accomplices.

But his army will not gain new victories; it will not be more organized, equipped or motivated. It just showed that it can vent its anger by shooting, from a distance, on civilian targets, shutting down electricity and water. It is not a reflection of power, on the contrary!

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In the end, with this retaliation, Russia also destroyed its important project, which it had been working on for a long time and began to achieve success, which is to anesthetize the West to give up Ukraine and to turn to itself and its problems with supply and rising prices. The missile strike on the centre of Kyiv is an image that has deeply shaken the Western world, and it cannot “digest” it.

Western governments are under pressure from their public, to which they are sensitive, unlike Putin and Russia, to increase their support for Ukraine and to end any hesitation about sending weapons to Kyiv. This applies primarily to Germany.

Olaf Scholz’s plan to create a fund of EUR 200 billion to subsidize gas prices even before Russian attacks on Ukrainian cities was criticized by Europeans as selfish abandonment of military solidarity with Ukraine. After the Russian retaliation, it will be even more difficult to sustain, especially if the scenes of the destruction of Ukrainian cities, the suffering of civilians and a new wave of refugees are repeated.

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Putin’s decisions have once again led to mobilization and raising morale, but not where he expected. Backed into a corner, he will continue to make the wrong decisions in the future, more often and more disastrous for his conquering endeavour. I’m sure, but not for long. The end of Putin and his fake Russian world is rapidly changing from contours to a clear picture.

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

 

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