The Blitzkrieg Failed. What’s Next?

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The special operation in Ukraine was conceived by Putin and his entourage as a way to turn the political situation around. The Kremlin strategists weren’t the least bit interested in the fate of the people in Lugansk and Donetsk, or even in the future of Ukraine. At a historical impasse, with no way to revive the economy, cope with the burden of growing problems, or raise the approval ratings now rolling into the abyss, they found no better way to solve all their issues at once but with the help of a small victorious war — a classic mistake that governments make when they are not ready to embark on urgent and inevitable reforms.

The outbreak of hostilities was a fatal step that irreversibly changed the situation, but not in the way that the Kremlin expected. It was a gamble that only could have worked if Ukraine had been defeated in 96 hours, which, apparently, they were counting on.  But, Ukraine is no longer the same as it was 8 years ago. There was clearly no plan B. They did not prepare for a prolonged armed struggle in hostile territory.

Even if the occupation of the neighboring country was successful, it would be impossible to hold on to. In Germany, at the end of World War II, the Allied and Soviet forces had a ratio of approximately 90 soldiers per 1,000 local residents. In the case of Ukraine, the Russians have no more than 4 soldiers per 1,000 local residents. In order to effectively occupy Ukraine, this must be increased at least 20 times! The Russian army does not have such forces.

The Blitzkrieg failed, and Russia finds itself in a tough confrontation not only with the united West, but practically with the whole world. Even China, whose help some perhaps naively hoped for, does not show us the slightest pity, and instead, cynically profits off our difficulties.

It is significant that the hostilities, which began under the pretext of the need to move NATO away from our borders, have already led to the opposite result: two of our neighboring countries – Sweden and Finland – have decided to abandon their neutral status. Moreover, in Finland this happened at the request of the people. Now NATO can, if desired, deploy missiles a few tens of kilometers from St. Petersburg. The requirements regarding the neutrality of Ukraine have lost all meaning. NATO has already come closer to Russia than it would be even if Kyiv joined; from the Finnish border to St. Petersburg, the distance is several times less than from Kharkiv to Moscow.

And note that in the case of Ukraine, before February 24th, the fear was of the “potential possibility” of the country joining the North Atlantic Alliance, a possibility that could still be counteracted by diplomatic and political measures. In the case of Finland and Sweden, this, against the backdrop of hostilities in Ukraine, has already become fact. Both countries, who carefully guarded their neutral status for decades, decided to abandon it after the strikes on Ukraine. A worthy “result” of the special operation!

All this indicates both the complete collapse of foreign policy and the failure of the economic course pursued over the past 30 years. Now we are reaping the fruits of the development of the financial and raw materials economy, deindustrialization and privatization. Even the defense sector is not able to work stably without imported components. Kremlin propagandists can console us with stories that everything is for the best, that we will now begin to develop industry, support our own technologies and strengthen the domestic market (the same was promised after the first round of sanctions). All this can and must be done. But here’s the problem: to achieve significant success, it will take 10-15 years, and more importantly, this can become a reality only under a completely different social and political system.

The scale of necessary reforms under even the most conservative scenario should be no less than what was undertaken in Russia after the defeat in the Crimean War. In the short term, the balance of power is such that our government has no chance of success.

The combination of technological backwardness with economic dependence negates even the superiority of the Russian armed forces over their Ukrainian opponents, because they can count on the almost unlimited resources of all the countries of the world with which Russia, thanks to the remarkable diplomatic talents of the Lavrov team, has managed to quarrel. We are not the only ones who know how to play the game invented by Kremlin strategists called “they are not there.” The question is how many thousands of professionally trained and highly motivated people will be put up by the other side.

There are only two options for getting out of this situation: negotiate or cause a nuclear apocalypse. And even if some part of humanity has a chance of survival, most Russians will not. Not everyone will die. But we shouldn’t delude ourselves about a paradise either. First, there will be hell.

The negotiations in Gomel seemed to be an encouraging step. But they immediately hit a dead end. And not even because of the stubbornness of the parties, but because the Russian authorities do not know how to “sell” the actual results of the military operation to the population.

The adventure failed. And the sooner this is recognized, the lower its price will be. Prolonging the conflict only increases the damage that Russia will suffer. Maintaining power in its current madness is not patriotism, but national betrayal.

Greatness must be confirmed not by the bragging of propaganda, but by constructive deeds, not by boorish statements and threats, but by social and economic achievements. Our country was restoring its status as a great power after the defeat in the Crimean War and after the disastrous failures of the First World War. But in order to do this, it was necessary to change the leadership and radically change the system.

This essay first appeared on the Russian Dissent Substack page


Boris Kagarlitsky PhD is a historian and sociologist who lives in Moscow. He is a prolific author of books on the history and current politics of the Soviet Union and Russia and of books on the rise of globalized capitalism. Fourteen of his books have been translated into English. The most recent book in English is ‘From Empires to Imperialism: The State and the Rise of Bourgeois Civilisation’ (Routledge, 2014). Kagarlitsky is chief editor of the Russian-language online journal (The Worker). He is the director of the Institute for Globalization and Social Movements, located in Moscow.