Putin’s Desperate Gambit

A phony annexation doesn't hide that he's badly losing his illegal war.

WSJ (“Russia Announces Annexation of Four Regions of Ukraine“):

Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed occupied territories in Ukraine as part of the Russian Federation, blasting the U.S. and its allies as “satanic,” hinting at his willingness to use nuclear weapons, and signaling a sharp escalation in the war as Kyiv vowed to recover its occupied lands.

Bringing Russian-controlled Luhansk and areas of Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia under Moscow’s control after a series of disputed referendums is a pivotal part of the Russian leader’s war goals. It effectively provides Moscow a land bridge to Crimea, the peninsula that Russia annexed in 2014, which is home to its Black Sea fleet. Seizing Crimea represented the first action of its kind in Europe since the end of World War II, triggering Western sanctions against Russia and upending long-held assumptions about security on the continent.

Claiming the new territories intensifies the crisis in a way that could leave Mr. Putin short of viable off-ramps as the ground war begins to turn against Russia, analysts said.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has already pledged to retake the occupied areas, driving Russian forces from lands that he says are rightfully Ukraine’s. On Friday he asked NATO to expedite his country’s application to join the security bloc, saying Ukraine was already a de facto ally of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, though U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Ukraine would have to follow the established process.

Western leaders, including President Biden, have been quick to condemn Mr. Putin’s move, however.

“He can’t seize his neighbor’s territory and get away with it. It’s as simple as that,” Mr. Biden said at the White House on Friday as the U.S. government announced fresh sanctions. “America is fully prepared with our NATO allies to defend every single inch of NATO territory. Every single inch. So, Mr. Putin: Don’t misunderstand what I’m saying. Every inch.”

British Prime Minister Liz Truss earlier Friday said the U.K. will never accept the annexation of Ukrainian regions as Russian territory. “Putin cannot be allowed to alter international borders using brute force. We will ensure he loses this illegal war,” she said.

“None of this shows strength. It shows weakness,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said. “It is an admission that the war is not going to plan.”

Mr. Putin used the move as a set-piece event to show off what he said was Russia’s progress. “People who live in Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson, now they have become citizens forever,” Mr. Putin said in a televised address inside the Grand Kremlin Palace. “The choice was made and Russia will not betray this choice.”

YahooNews (“Putin’s ‘annexation’ announcement changes little on the ground in Ukraine“):

Even by his own fire-and-brimstone standards, Russian President Vladimir Putin seemed angry on Friday as he addressed hundreds of Russian parliamentarians and governors in St. George Hall in the Kremlin.

The event had been called so that Putin could triumphantly announce his latest gambit in Ukraine, the annexation of four regions of that country into the Russian Federation. But as he rattled off a litany of reasons as to why this land grab was necessary, the mood was more apocalyptic than jubilant.

The rules-based international order was a sinister Western design, he told his audience, one that was rooted in Russophobia. The West itself has “embraced Satanism,” forced drug addiction, gender ambiguity and “the organized hunts of people as if they’re animals” — the latter either a strange reference to American mass shootings or the popularity of Netflix’s “Squid Game.” Nevertheless, such a fallen civilization still had the wherewithal to try and colonize Russia and steal its precious natural resources, he continued before comparing the United States to Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels, accusing it of setting a “precedent” in being the only nation to use nuclear weapons. Then he quoted from his favorite Russian fascist philosopher, Ivan Ilyin: “I believe in the spiritual forces of the Russian people, their spirit — my spirit, its fate is my fate, its suffering is my grief, its flowering is my joy.”

A crowd in Red Square had gathered to watch the widely anticipated news broadcast on a Jumbotron, wave the Russian tricolor and herald the invasion as a new “holy war.” “We won’t care about the price,” they chanted in a tacit admission that the war in Ukraine was, in fact, costing Russia a great deal.

[…]

Following Putin’s theatrics, Ukraine announced it was applying for fast-track membership to NATO — exactly the contingency the Russian government has for years claimed it sought to avoid. However symbolic this declaration is (Ukraine’s accession is still a distant prospect), it deftly stole the international spotlight away from Putin.

[…]

Putin’s attempts to consolidate minimal Russian gains stand in marked contrast to the fact that his war of conquest is faltering, something even he subtly recognizes. Following his decree to gobble up four of Ukraine’s oblasts, he immediately suggested a “ceasefire” with Kyiv, which for weeks has been pressing the fight to the invaders.

Ukraine has continued its incredibly successful Kharkiv offensive by pushing across the Oskil River in an attempt to liberate the entirety of the oblast. Social media accounts have been overflowing with videos and pictures showing jubilant Ukrainian soldiers hoisting their flag’s blue-and-gold colors over recently liberated settlements. On Thursday, Ukrainian forces were said to have encircled the strategic city of Lyman in Donetsk, one of the oblasts Putin thinks is now going to be part of Russia. A few thousand Russian forces there have been cut off from the north, west and south, with only a narrow means of escaping eastward from advancing Ukrainian columns, according to pro-Russian military bloggers, whose pessimistic assessments are always more fact-based than anything emanating from the Russian Ministry of Defense. There are further indications that Lyman may be completely surrounded by Ukrainian forces.

For the Ukrainians, taking Lyman would not only secure the northern approach to the cities of Slovyansk and Kramatorsk, both also in Kyiv’s hands, but it would also enable them to push toward retaking Severodonetsk and Lysychansk, the twin cities Russia captured in June after months of grueling attritional warfare.

Recapturing Lyman would also allow the Ukrainians to potentially outflank the Russian soldiers who have been attempting to sack the city of Bakhmut for several weeks. The U.S.- and EU-sanctioned Igor Girkin, a former FSB officer implicated in the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in 2014, has been complaining loudly to anyone who will listen that Russian forces near Bakhmut are in danger of being outflanked by the most recent Ukrainian advances. “If the enemy manages to take Lyman, if the enemy manages to reach Svatove, then even if in the meantime our forces take Bakhmut, this will have no benefit for our forces.”

Pro-Russian observers have long been warning of the risk to Lyman, which the Russian army is seemingly determined to hold even though it’s in their strategic interest to withdraw, given the outsize cost of trying to hold it. Many analysts have speculated that Putin has given his own version of Stalin’s “not one step back” order, forcing the Russian army to defend an increasingly untenable position for political reasons against all strategic sense. If and when the Ukrainian army takes Lyman, it will likely capture a significant number of Russian POWs and another treasure trove of abandoned Russian war matériel, a welcome boon to the Ukrainian war effort, and a virtual repeat of scenes earlier in the Kharkiv offensive when the Ukrainian military overran Izium.

As the situation on the ground currently stands, Kyiv has a better chance of eventually acceding to NATO than Putin has of ever getting his forcible seizure of sovereign soil, the largest since World War II, legitimized even by many of his allies, who have bridled at Russian losses in recent weeks and demonstrably distanced themselves from him. These include China and the Central Asian republics. When Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi recently met with his Ukrainian counterpart, Dmytro Kuleba, the Ukrainian foreign minister praised Wang’s reaffirmation of China’s “respect for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.” Kazakhstan, a once stalwart ally of Russia, has absorbed thousands of Russians fleeing Putin’s disastrously implemented “partial mobilization” and affirmed its willingness to grant them asylum.

Nor is anyone much fooled by Russia’s transparently rigged plebiscites for “independence” in the Ukrainian regions of Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson, all conducted at gunpoint, in territories largely depopulated by war. In a nod to Soviet-era totalitarianism, the voting “results” saw nearly 100% of all participants choosing to join Russia, while numerous figures not eligible to vote even under Moscow’s shambolic rules, including pro-Russian foreign fighters and Russian journalists, were also videotaped casting ballots. The Russian annexation plans were especially farcical in Zaporizhzhia, considering that Ukrainian forces currently control the regional capital there.

One senior Ukrainian military intelligence officer told Yahoo News that Putin’s stage-managed “Anschluss” changes nothing. “​​We have had Crimea occupied since 2014, but this fact has not altered our strategy,” the officer said. “We are fighting for our existence, for our victory over the enemy regardless of whether or not they call occupied territories Russia or Timbuktu.”

Whatever imaginary lines Vladimir Putin may draw on a map of Ukraine, the official said, the force of Ukrainian arms will decide the outcome of this war. And Washington is signaling that, if anything, it is only investing more in Ukraine’s longevity and cohesion as an independent state.

There’s no face-saving way out of this for Putin. He has lost his war and the humiliations only increase as it drags on. Every war aim he had has failed. Indeed, it has backfired: NATO is stronger than it has been in decades and Russia’s international prestige is at its lowest point in memory. His attempt to reconstitute the empire has demonstrated rather decisively that the country is no longer a great power.

That Putin and Russia have lost doesn’t mean that Ukraine or the West have won. The Ukrainians have suffered devasting losses along the route to victory. Further, an increasingly desperate and unstable narcissist with control of a vast nuclear arsenal isn’t exactly comforting.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. IAC says:

    So the invasion of Ukraine is the West’s fault; and anyone Pro Russian with a pulse could vote for annexation to Russia.
    How very 1930s of Putin !

    2
  2. OzarkHillbilly says:

    To repeat myself from this AM’s open forum, From the New Yorker: How the War in Ukraine Might End

    Goemans, who now teaches political science at the University of Rochester, wrote his dissertation on war-termination theory—that is, the study of how wars end. A great deal of work, Goemans learned, had been done on how wars start, but very little on how they might conclude.
    ……………………………
    When we first spoke, in early September, Goemans predicted a protracted conflict. None of the three main variables of war-termination theory—information, credible commitment, and domestic politics—had been resolved. Both sides still believed that they could win, and their distrust for each other was deepening by the day. As for domestic politics, Putin was exactly the sort of leader that Goemans had warned about. Despite his significant repressive apparatus, he did not have total control of the country. He kept calling the war a “special military operation” and delaying a mass mobilization, so as not to have to face domestic unrest. If he started losing, Goemans predicted, he would simply escalate.

    And then, in the weeks after Goemans and I first spoke, events accelerated rapidly. Ukraine launched a remarkably successful counter-offensive, retaking large swaths of territory in the Kharkiv region and threatening to retake the occupied city of Kherson. Putin, as predicted, struck back, declaring a “partial mobilization” of troops and staging hasty “referendums” on joining the Russian Federation in the occupied territories. The partial mobilization was carried out in a chaotic fashion, and, as at the beginning of the war, caused tens of thousands of people to flee Russia. There were sporadic protests across the nation, and these threatened to grow in size. Meanwhile, Ukrainian forces continued to advance in the east of their country.

    In a terrifying blog post, Goemans’s former student Branislav Slantchev laid out a few potential scenarios. He believes that the Russian front in the Donbas is still in danger of imminent collapse. If this were to happen, Putin would need to escalate even further. This could take the form of more attacks on Ukrainian infrastructure, but, if the goal is to stop Ukrainian advances, a likelier option would be a small tactical nuclear strike. Slantchev suggests that it would be under one kiloton—that is, about fifteen times smaller than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. It would nonetheless be devastating, and would almost certainly lead to an intense reaction from the West. Slantchev does not think that NATO would respond with nuclear strikes of its own, but it could, for example, destroy the Russian Black Sea Fleet. This could lead to yet another round of escalation. In such a situation, the West may be tempted, finally, to retreat. Slantchev urged them not to. “This is it now,” he wrote. “This is for all the marbles.”

    It’s a thought provoking read, not too long.

    6
  3. Sleeping Dog says:

    At some point there will be a negotiated settlement, what that will be is anyone’s guess. Quite likely, one of the terms of the agreement will be Ukraine joining NATO. No one trusts that Putin or any other Russian leader won’t re-arm and retrain the military and give conquering Ukraine another try. The Russian dream of a return to the glory of the Russian empire is too widespread and too deeply ingrained in the Russian myth to trust that in 10, 20 or 30 years we won’t be back at war over the same territory.

  4. Stormy Dragon says:

    The Russian appointed governor of Sevastopol’s plane was shit down on the way back from Moscow :

    The claim by Russian-appointed Governor of Sevastopol is that a plane overshot runway. If it did, it seems then have run into an arms dump. pic.twitter.com/JR9aHGHpxJ— Oliver Carroll (@olliecarroll) October 1, 2022

  5. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    Sorry misread that, the “governor” wasn’t actually on the plane

  6. JohnSF says:
  7. dazedandconfused says:

    I see a lot of the press is convinced the reason behind the annexations is so Putin can “legally” use nukes. IMO it’s more likely a desire to be able to legally use Russian conscripts and gather conscripts from those areas.

    I suspect the noise Putin is making about nukes is just a cover for that, as he should be smart enough to know nothing less than actually using a nuke will cause the Ukrainians or any of their supporters to quit and conscription is not popular among Russians so he doesn’t want to mention it. Threats will not serve unless they are made in the form of unequivocally specific ultimatums. Unless Putin has gone mad we will see one before he uses a nuke in Ukraine.

    Perhaps the nuke-trolling reflects knowledge that with the Moscow show-piece parade army (4th Guards) shredded in Ukraine, should his army in Ukraine collapse or trapped there would be nothing between Moscow and Ukraine’s now nearly million man army except nukes.

  8. Lost in Quebec says:

    A very macabre joke:

    Interviewer- Vladimir Putin, you have lost the war in the Ukraine. What are you going to do next?

    Putin- I’m going to nuke Disney World.

    We all should be very scared right now. If Russia is doing badly in the Ukraine and it gets worse, I see Putin using nuclear weapons. I think the war there is only going to get worse for Russia.

    The only thing preventing Putin from lashing out in that case is a coup.

  9. Gustopher says:

    I would like to congratulate the Biden administration on showing restraint and not announcing that we are annexing Putin’s Black Sea vacation home.

    1
  10. JohnSF says:

    @dazedandconfused:
    I suspect you are partially correct.
    That Putin wants to get out of political/legal bind he placed himself in re. conscripts when he declared this a “special military operation”.
    However, there seems also to be an element of “game of chicken” game-theory nonsense at play here also.
    That to convince your opponent they have no option but to swerve, you throw the steering wheel out the window.

    If Putin was bound by law not to compel conscripts to take part, now he is bound by law not to negotiate on territory, as the Russian constitution specifies that any transfer of Russian territory is illegal.
    He is even, arguably, obligated by law to continue to pursue the conquest of all parts of the four oblasts Russia does not yet occupy.

    And Putin emphasized this in his speech, which he certainly did not have to do:

    ….people living in Lugansk and Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporozhye become our citizens forever.
    … we will not discuss the choice of the people in Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporozhye and Kherson, it has been made, Russia will not betray it.
    …This is the only way to peace.
    …We will protect our land with all the forces and means at our disposal and will do everything to ensure the safe life of our people. This is the great liberation mission of our people.
    …I believe in the spiritual strength of the Russian people. His spirit is my spirit; his fate is my fate; his suffering is my grief; its flowering is my joy.”
    Behind these words is a great spiritual choice, which for more than a thousand years of Russian statehood was followed by many generations of our ancestors. Today we are making this choice, the citizens of the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics, the residents of Zaporozhye and Kherson regions have made this choice. They made the choice to be with their people, to be with the Motherland, to live its destiny, to win together with it.

    And again he explicitly references nuclear weapons, which he had no need to do:

    The United States is the only country in the world to use nuclear weapons twice, destroying the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. By the way, they set a precedent.

    Plus some extra Qanon-adjacent loony tunes, and Campist shout-outs, thrown in for the lulz:

    They call … the development of biological weapons, experiments on living people, including in Ukraine, noble medical research.

    do we want to have, here, in our country, in Russia, parent number one, number two, number three instead of mom and dad – have they gone made out there? Do we really want perversions that lead to degradation and extinction to be imposed on children in our schools from the primary grades? To be drummed into them that there are various supposed genders besides women and men, and to be offered a sex change operation? Do we want all this for our country and our children? For us, all this is unacceptable, we have a different future, our own future

    Such a complete denial of man, the overthrow of faith and traditional values, the suppression of freedom acquiring the features of a “reverse religion” [the opposite of what the religion is] – outright Satanism.

    It is known that plans for interventions in Russia were repeatedly made, they tried to use the Time of Troubles at the beginning of the 17th century, and the period of upheavals after 1917 failed. The West nevertheless managed to seize the wealth of Russia at the end of the 20th century, when the state was destroyed.

    In fact, they spit on the natural right of billions of people, most of humanity, to freedom and justice, to determine their own future on their own. Now they have completely moved to a radical denial of moral norms, religion, and family.

    Putin seems to still be rolling the dice for a collapse of western solidarity this Winter, and then a betrayal of Ukraine.
    And meanwhile is rolling out the FSB’s social media greatest hits.

    OTOH, maybe he actually has got high on his own supply, and is genuinely out there, howling at the moon.
    Citing Ivan Ilyin is not a good sign.

    As before the invasion, and at several points since, there are indications that Putin likes to inhabit the cosier reality that some of his advisers and analysts serve up to him.

  11. dazedandconfused says:

    @JohnSF:

    I think it more likely attempts to gin up his people for war than evidence of insanity. It’s a logical move that should be viewed as predictable more than shocking.

    Note to aspiring dictators: Gin up your people with BS for war BEFORE starting one.

    1
  12. Michael Reynolds says:

    @JohnSF:

    As before the invasion, and at several points since, there are indications that Putin likes to inhabit the cosier reality that some of his advisers and analysts serve up to him.

    It’s very much against human nature to honestly face one’s fuck-ups, and this is an absolutely epic, changing-the-course-of-history, fuck-up. Vlad’s busy creating narratives in his head, how he’s secretly clever, how he’s going to win in the end and then everyone will eat their words and bow to his genius. I suspect he’s like Trump – a fragile ego in need of constant praise. He cannot fail, he can only be failed.

    What’s interesting however is that he’s already swallowed a large serving of defeat: he doesn’t have Kiev, he controls about 15% of a country he set out to conquer and rule by proxy. He wanted 100%, he’s got 15%. And it seems as if that’s the new limit of his aspirations in Ukraine. At least for the near future.

    I’m sure he’ll find a way to convince himself that’s a win, but it’s not. Look at all the man has lost so far – Sweden and Finland in NATO, sanctions that have set his economy back years, the loss of his single biggest export market, the humiliation of his pitiful army, the exposure of Russian weapons, the brain drain. He’s excluded from the Big Boy’s club. That is a hell of a lot to take on-board when you’re a guy who has his ass kissed 24/7/365.

    1
  13. JohnSF says:

    @Michael Reynolds:
    Thing is: the areas he has claimed are “Russian forever” include massive chunks Russia has never held and now has no hope of taking.
    The NW half of Donetsk, and in Zaporizhzhia oblast, Russians don’t even hold Zaporizhzhia city itself.
    Talk about setting yourself up for a fail.
    It’s strategic masochism.
    Jaw dropping foolishness.

    Not to mention the Russians just got routed out of Lyman, with losses into the thousands, again.
    (Some of the images resemble the “Highway of Death” from Kuwait in 1991.)
    Ukraine MoD statement:

    Almost all Russian troops deployed to Lyman were successfully redeployed either into body bags or into captivity.
    We have one question for you:
    Would you like a repeat?

  14. JohnSF says:

    Thing is, Lyman was NOT a breakthrough exploitation of a thinly defended line.

    This was a full-on combined arms assault operation, against one of Russia’s key strong points, held by 5000-odd Russian regulars.
    And there seems a fair possibility that it has now unhinged the Russian front in a large area of north Luhansk.
    Reasonable odds that Vova will be losing a whole new big slice of “eternal Russia” quite soon.

    1
  15. Michael Reynolds says:

    @JohnSF:

    Thing is, Lyman was NOT a breakthrough exploitation of a thinly defended line.

    This had to have been a stand-or-die order from Putin himself. I’ve been able to watch the encirclement on YouTube, FFS. It wasn’t a surprise. Someone in the Russian Army hierarchy should have been able to prevail on Putin to allow a withdrawal. We may be closer to Hitler’s bunker than we think – this was military malpractice.

    1
  16. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @JohnSF: On the other hand, if you throw the steering wheel out of the car, your opponent really doesn’t have any alternative to swerve if said opponent wishes to survive. It’s a knotty problem.

  17. JohnSF says:

    @Michael Reynolds:
    I’d argue maybe Kherson NW of the river is an even bigger bit of pup-pokery, in the fuhrerbunker cosplay stakes, if only because even more (c. 20k?) Russians in the pocket there.
    But OTOH, Lyman might leave a whole 50 mile area open.
    Possibly.

    The combat looks to have been really bloody:
    Account here (warning: pretty graphic)

    Reminds me of some of the (less graphic) accounts of an uncle re. the fighting around Caen in 1944.
    Murderous business.

    Sometimes I’d really like there to be a judging deity, if only so someone like Vladimir Putin could receive his just desserts for the damnable pain he’s inflicted due to his nasty little egotistic twisting of national interest.

    In the absence of the Lord of Judgement, I suppose the Ukrainian people and Zelensky will just have to fill in.

    1
  18. JohnSF says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:
    Always an alternative: hit the silly SOB with an RPG.
    Problemo solvedo.

    (My inclination is to never fight fair)

  19. Jay L Gischer says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: Except that, as far as I can see, he hasn’t actually thrown the steering wheel out the window.

    Because, you see, the same body that makes the laws is the one that would have to ratify a peace treaty. They can, you know, make new laws, or repeal old ones.

    I mean, this looks pretty desperate to me.

    This sort of thing is why Lincoln held off on the Emancipation Proclamation until he had a solid win. (Antietam was disappointing in some ways, but it was a win for the Federals.)

  20. Gustopher says:

    @JohnSF:

    Do we really want perversions that lead to degradation and extinction to be imposed on children in our schools from the primary grades? To be drummed into them that there are various supposed genders besides women and men, and to be offered a sex change operation? Do we want all this for our country and our children? For us, all this is unacceptable

    Once they realize that the word is more complicated than “Tab A goes into Slot B,” some people tend to go insane. I really have a hard time thinking of anyone who is an otherwise good person who gets deeply offended by the various slot and tabs of everyone else.

    And it’s corrosive shit. As soon as someone starts spouting it, even to just appeal to the right wing freak brigade, they begin to believe it. (ETA: And then the brain worms take hold, and everything goes off)

    Anyway, if the cephalopods take over after the nuclear holocaust, I have great pity for their paleoanthropologists who are trying to explain that the primates killed themselves over who was an innie and an outie. Octopi have enough of their own weird issues with gender roles, they will never understand ours.

    1
  21. JohnSF says:

    @Jay L Gischer:

    They can, you know, make new laws, or repeal old ones.

    Except, the provision re. not conceding territory, which was my original steering chucking reference, isn’t just a law.
    It’s a part of the Russian constitution, as amended 2020.

    Amendments require 2/3 vote in the State Duma, a 3/4 vote in the Federation Council, and ratification by 2/3 of the Regional legislatures.

    Doable, but not easily doable (easier than a US amendment I suspect; but not just an easy vote).

  22. Michael Reynolds says:

    @JohnSF:
    I’ve read/seen very little about Kherson lately. I wonder if Russian troops are leaving on foot. I wonder if they’re being allowed.

  23. JohnSF says:
  24. JohnSF says:

    @Michael Reynolds:
    Kherson.
    Looks like Putin has refused military pleas to pull back and Russian forces are digging in.
    Probably having growing supply issues esp. re ammunition as Ukrainians are still zeroed in on the bridges.

    NW bank zone being steadily hammered by Ukrainian artillery.
    HIMARS gets the glory, but it appears the guns are doing bloody work there.

    Ukrainians are in no hurry.
    Let the fruit rot on the vine, as it were.

    Russian exit prob. more stopped down, due to policing of the few exit routes over the river.
    Large scale surrender more likely, perhaps, one the frog comes to the boil.
    “How did you go bankrupt?”
    “Two ways. Gradually, then suddenly.”

  25. JohnSF says:
  26. Gustopher says:

    @JohnSF: You are assuming that Russia is a nation of laws.

    Change the person on top and it is trivial — “the territories were not correctly annexed, and a filthy chunk of Ukraine is not worth Russian lives,” Yuri Masturbov says, holding a smoking gun over Putin’s corpse. “Latin was a great man before he began listening to that man over there who I also want to remove, who is probably a secret Jewish Nazi.”

    Harder without a change at the top, but where there is a will there is a way. It is a dictatorship after all.

  27. JohnSF says:

    @Gustopher:
    It’s not entirely a dictatorship.
    Russia is … odd
    It’s sort of, a thoroughly corrupted republic.

    As @dazedandconfused: pointed out, Putin has an peculiar regard for the legalities of not using non-volunteering conscripts in Ukraine.
    And of direct state expropriation or direction of businesses.

    And Putin sits atop a pyramid of competing siloviki nastiness.
    Like a Tsar: he can execute any individual noble who annoys him; but he cannot alienate the nobles as a group.
    And needs to maneuver among competing factions.
    Seriously: more I look at it, the more I think the best primer for understanding Russian politics is the late Roman republic, or the medieval European monarchies.

    Triple balance of legalism, factionalism, and absolutism.

  28. DAllenABQ says:

    @Lost in Quebec: I am reading this late, but this a LOT how I feel. We are walking on ice of unknown density.