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Tag: vladimir putin

Ukraine Thumbs Its Nose At Putin, His 'Annexations' -- And His Threats

First came the phony referendums; then came the phony annexation; then came the very real re-taking by Ukraine of the strategic hub Lyman, lying within the “annexed” territories; then came a prominent Russian leader threatening the use of tactical nuclear weapons; then came another Ukrainian victory in an area held by Russian military forces near Kherson in the South; and then came a new Ukrainian push, taking the village of Torske on the main road leading east out of Lyman.

It's been a busy few days in Ukraine, and reports from the front indicate it’s going to get even busier. The Ukrainian offensive in Kherson has taken more land in the area “annexed” by Russia last week, ignoring Vladimir Putin’s threat that he won’t stand for what he calls “New Russia” being attacked by Ukraine.

Putin’s threats are pure bullshit and contrast with the facts on the ground in Ukraine, where his army is in retreat, and his own political standing in Russia, where his back is against the wall from both left and right.

Ramzan Kadyrov, the leader of Russia's southern Chechnya region and a close ally of Putin’s, hasn’t been happy with the performance of the Russian army in Ukraine for quite a while. Just before Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addressed his country by video announcing the gains in the east and south, Kadyrov went on Telegram to proclaim, "In my personal opinion, more drastic measures should be taken, right up to the declaration of martial law in the border areas and the use of low-yield nuclear weapons.”

Putin is facing increased opposition from arch-conservative supporters of his war as well as continued, if quieter, opposition from the left. Right-wing so-called “war bloggers,” some of whom are embedded with Russian units in Ukraine, have complained steadily of late about their troops on the front lines, shortage of ammunition, food, medical supplies, and their lack of discipline and morale. Their complaints were shown to be accurate in Ukraine’s rout of Lyman. Russian forces abandoned tanks, armored personnel carriers, mobile howitzers, and ammunition stores as they fled from the Ukrainian advance to the east of Kharkiv.

Reuters reported that Kadyrov called the commander of Russian forces in Lyman a “mediocrity who should be stripped of his medals and sent to the front.” He claimed to have warned the Russian army chief Valery Gerasimov of “a looming disaster” in Lyman, according to Reuters. Russia had used Lyman, a major rail hub in the region, as the central location of its resupply efforts in the Luhansk province of the north Donbas region.


Map by George Barros, Kateryna Stepanenko, Noel Mikkelsen, Daniel Mealie, and Will Kielm2022 by Institute for the Study of War and AEI's Critical Threats Project


Re-taking Lyman is an important psychological boost for Ukraine and a strategic victory in its campaign to re-take the Luhansk and Donetsk provinces of the Donbas, which Russia has held since early in the war.

In the south, Ukrainian media have shown troops raising Ukrainian flags over the village of Khreshchenivka, west and a little north of Kherson itself, according to the Associated Press. Ukraine’s army has been using American-supplied HIMARS rocket systems to hit a bridge over the Dnipro River in Kherson and has been attacking pontoon bridges used by Russian forces to resupply their troops on the west bank of the Dnipro, the AP reported.

Russia used a suicide drone to strike Zelensky’s hometown of Krivyi Rih, destroying two floors of a school on Sunday. The Ukrainian Air Force said that it had shot down five Iranian-made drones. Two others made it through Ukrainian air defenses, according to the AP, which reported that not all accounts of Ukrainian military activity could be verified.

The Ukrainian victory in Lyman came just one day after Putin held a rally in Moscow to celebrate his fake annexation of four regions of eastern Ukraine. In an unhinged speech on Friday, Putin had described Lyman as part of “Novorossiya.” He was talking about a sliver of Ukraine he claimed as part of Russia’s “historic heartland.” Russia is the world’s largest country, spanning 11 time zones, not including Ukraine, although Putin has asserted control of eastern Ukraine’s time of day as well, including it within the westernmost time zone of Russia.

The New York Times reported that “Yevgeny Primakov, the head of a government agency managing ties with Russians abroad, wrote on Telegram that ‘we have given a Russian city to the enemy’ for the first time since World War II.”

Boo-fucking-hoo, Yevgeny.

Lucian K. Truscott IV, a graduate of West Point, has had a 50-year career as a journalist, novelist, and screenwriter. He has covered Watergate, the Stonewall riots, and wars in Lebanon, Iraq, and Afghanistan. He is also the author of five bestselling novels. You can subscribe to his daily columns at luciantruscott.substack.com and follow him on Twitter @LucianKTruscott and on Facebook at Lucian K. Truscott IV.

Reprinted with permission from Lucian Truscott Newsletter

Why Putin's Desperate Fixes To His War Machine Aren't Working

It’s never a good sign when a president, following the progress of his war – or lack thereof – starts consulting maps and making decisions for the combat commanders on the ground. It’s happened before in this country, always with disastrous results: Lyndon Johnson picking bombing targets for the Air Force in North Vietnam, Richard Nixon doing the same thing for B-52 strikes in Cambodia and Laos, George W. Bush ordering front line units in Iraq to stop sending out patrols so he could reduce the casualty count in advance of the 2004 presidential election.

Putin suddenly decided he knew more about what was happening on the ground in Ukraine in the days after his army in the country’s northeast was pushed back into Russia with such decisive attacks and so rapidly that units abandoned tanks, ammunition, foodstuffs, armored personnel carriers, and mobile howitzers. You can almost see him in the Kremlin pacing a basement bunker with a clutch of frightened generals at one end of the room and his maps of Ukraine pinned to the wall at the other end.

His latest act of military genius – he must have taken Strategy 101 and 102 at the KGB academy as a young man – was to order troops to hold their positions near the port of Kherson on the Black Sea and not to retreat across the Dnipro River, even though this will mean a disastrous loss of equipment, stores, and severe casualties under heavy Ukrainian artillery and rocket attack.

In other news from the Putin bunker, he has been stage-managing “referendums” in areas of eastern Ukraine occupied by Russian forces, with predictable results: between 98 and 99 percent of Ukrainian citizens have “voted” to join the Russian Federation, which is doubtful for multiple reasons, among them the fact that many young and middle-aged Ukrainian males are in hiding or have fled their towns and villages in order to avoid the Russian draft, so it would be unlikely that they would show up at polling places manned by the Russian army.

Putin has also ordered that Ukrainian cities be hit with ballistic missiles, artillery and rocket attacks, because, you know, when you’re losing the war on the ground, why not kill civilians in their apartments hundreds of miles from the front lines? There’s a winning strategy for you! Worked in Kyiv and Kharkiv and Odessa, didn’t it?

Not.

Of course, the other big thing General Putin did was order 300,000-plus men drafted into his limping army, with plans to send some of them to the front in Ukraine with only 15 days training. There’s a solution never thought of by the leader of a country fighting a losing war! Cannon fodder! Let’s throw some warm young bodies into the fray and see what happens! Worked so well for Johnson and Nixon in Vietnam that Nixon finally abandoned the draft altogether and came up with the “All Volunteer Army” concept in 1973. Two years later, North Vietnam raised its flag over the American embassy in Saigon and renamed it Ho Chi Minh City.

Putin’s efforts with his draft are working just about as well. This week he ordered paramilitary forces in armored vehicles to Russia’s borders with Georgia, Kazakhstan, and Mongolia to round up men fleeing from the draft. The U.S. Embassy in Moscow warned people with dual U.S.-Russian citizenship to get out of Russia before they, too, are rounded up and drafted. Cars, trucks, and buses are lined up for miles at Russia’s border with Georgia, with reports of 48-hour waits just to reach the checkpoints.

Back in his bunker, Putin has been overseeing a series of threats to use nuclear weapons if Ukraine tries to attack the regions in the country’s east that Russia is set to annex. There’s another brilliant strategy! When you’re losing on the battlefield, remind the other side that you’ve got thousands of nukes and an itchy trigger finger! That’ll scare ‘em!

Not.

Ukraine has responded to all the nuclear saber-rattling by oligarchs, Putin aides, and even former Russian President Dimitry Medvedev by redoubling its attacks on Kherson and shoring up the gains it has made east and south of Kharkiv by destroying Russian resupply routes and laying on barrage after barrage of precision 155 mm artillery and HIMARS rocket attacks. The U.S. recently sent Ukraine $639 million to be used to buy updated military equipment and ammunition, and there has been no let-up in support by NATO and European Union nations.

Meanwhile, U.S. and NATO intelligence agencies have stepped-up their surveillance of moves by Russian military forces that might indicate Putin is getting ready to deploy or even use nuclear weapons. The State Department and Department of Defense have issued private, backchannel warnings to Putin of the consequences Russia would face if he decided to use nukes. In the public sphere, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan went on NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday and said it “would be catastrophic if Russia went down the dark road of nuclear weapons use."

Losing the ground war in Ukraine, a good portion of his male workforce fleeing the country to avoid the draft, his defense industries and economy staggering under sanctions, ground commanders warning him that his recent strategic decisions could end up causing battlefield catastrophes, his own troops being told to use their wives’ tampons as first aid for wounds -- it can’t be fun to wake up in the morning if your name is Vladimir Putin.

Lucian K. Truscott IV, a graduate of West Point, has had a 50-year career as a journalist, novelist, and screenwriter. He has covered Watergate, the Stonewall riots, and wars in Lebanon, Iraq, and Afghanistan. He is also the author of five bestselling novels. You can subscribe to his daily columns at luciantruscott.substack.com and follow him on Twitter @LucianKTruscott and on Facebook at Lucian K. Truscott IV.

Reprinted with permission from Lucian Truscott Newsletter

Putin's Desperate Draft: Head To The Ukraine Front -- Or The Gulag

Intelligence officials in Great Britain are telling reporters that “the Kremlin’s real goal is to mobilize 1 million,” in the planned conscription announced by Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday, according to The Guardian newspaper in London. British defense officials “reiterated in a briefing on Friday that it was their belief it will be very hard for Russia to reach 300,000, never mind any larger figure.”

Another official, speaking anonymously, told the Guardian that Putin’s announced goal of drafting 300,000 into the Russian army is “an immense number of people to then try to get in any sense of semblance to be able to fight in Ukraine. The authorities will face major challenges even in mustering this number of personnel…and we think that they will be very challenged in training, let alone equipping such a large force quickly.”

The Washington Post reported yesterday that conscripts are being told they are to be sent for 15 days of training before potential deployment to the front lines in Ukraine.

Allow me to put this into perspective for you. At West Point during our first-year summer training in what was in those days called Beast Barracks, we didn’t handle a rifle for anything other than close-order drill for the first three weeks. When we finally began instruction on the M-14 and M-16 rifles, we spent the first part of a week learning safety procedures when handling firearms and the second part learning to disassemble, clean, and reassemble both weapons. Only then were we trucked out to the firing range to begin learning to shoot the things.

We were issued one bullet at a time when firing the weapons from the standing, kneeling, sitting, and prone positions at first. Finally, after several days of this, we were given clips (for the M-14) and magazines (for the M-16) and taught to use the weapons for more rapid fire at targets downrange. All in all, our weapons training took two weeks, off anD on, with time out for meals, physical training, parades, and classroom instruction on tactics and other subjects.

Then we were given several weeks of tactical training in the field, learning squad and platoon maneuver, planning for combat attacks, how to execute orderly repositioning of forces, and how to defend fixed positions.

The U.S. Army spends about 10 weeks in Basic Training of new recruits and then puts them through another two to three months of what is called Advanced Individual Training for the various combat arms, like Infantry, Armor, Signal Corps, Field Artillery, Engineers, Air Defense, and Aviation. Training for service in non-combat specialties like Ordnance (ammunition), Transportation, Civil Affairs, Military Intelligence, and Psychological Operations can take longer. Soldiers can also be sent for training in Airborne Operations, Special Forces, and Rangers, all of which can add months to the total time necessary to train a soldier to be ready for combat.

Fifteen days? Putin isn’t training soldiers, he’s preparing to send human beings to be live targets for the Ukrainian army.

And what is he going to do to arm and supply his ill-prepared recruits? New battalions and regiments comprised of hundreds of thousands of recruits will need thousands of new armored vehicles, resupply trucks, howitzers, tanks, and other combat equipment Russia does not have after the loss of multiple battalions of such equipment in Ukraine since February.

The last time Russia experienced this level of mobilization was during World War II when the Soviet Union sent millions of barely-trained coNscripts into combat against the forces of Nazi Germany, which had invaded from the west and reached positions just outside of Leningrad and Moscow by the winter of 1941. The Soviets were able to push back the German armies during that winter and into January of 1942 by being more prepared than the Germans were for the brutal Russian winter, and by sending hordes of soldiers to counter the German offensive and regain land that they had taken.

Soviet casualties over a four-month period were estimated at more than 650,000. Soviet NKVD units (Commissariat for Internal Affairs – a kind of state police force) were positioned behind the Soviet front lines with orders to shoot any Soviet soldiers attempting to retreat, and they even went to field hospitals and executed soldiers who had shot themselves in the foot or the hand to get off the front lines.

In other words, a good part of the Soviet strategy to win the war on the Eastern Front during World War II depended on their army being willing to suffer far more casualties than the German army -- in other words, to spend bodies to take land.

Putin appears to be readying Russia to use similar tactics against the army of Ukraine, which is much smaller than even the Russian army as currently constituted. Putin may be preparing to send so-called human waves against Ukrainian forces to retake territory he has lost and take more of Ukraine than his forces now occupy.

It is a tactic of desperation, evident by his call-up of reserves and drafting of young Russians almost immediately after his army suffered the severe defeat they were dealt by Ukraine in its northeast recently, when the Ukrainian army retook more than 3,500 square miles that had been occupied by Russia since last March.

Putin’s desperate gamble is not going over well within Russia. His draft has been focused on poorer regions in the country’s east and north and has not yet encompassed the largely middle class cities of Moscow and St. Peterburg. The Washington Post reported yesterday that “more than 1,300 people were arrested at anti-mobilization protests in cities and towns across Russia on Wednesday and Thursday, in the largest public protests since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24.” Reports from inside Russia describe scenes of men being rounded up and forced onto buses headed for military bases. The Post reported that there have been “dozens” of attacks on military recruitment offices across Russia, with some being set on fire.

One scene I saw on the news last night showed recruits being loaded onto buses while their families, including wives, mothers, and children, were held at bay by SWAT-equipped Russian state police wearing helmets, bullet-proof vests and face shields, and wielding automatic weapons. In fact, the state police seen in news footage putting down riots and defending buses filled with recruits from demonstrating families look to be better equipped than many of the soldiers in Ukraine, who have in the past few weeks been reported to be laying down their arms and taking off their uniforms and heading away from the front lines, attempting to disappear into the civilian population ahead of the Ukrainian offensive.

Kremlin spokesman Dimitri Peskov was quoted in the Post saying, “The information about a certain feverish situation in airports is very much exaggerated.” He was referring to multiple reports from Russia that flights out of Moscow and other cities have been overbooked over the past few days, and ticket prices have skyrocketed as thousands of mostly male Russians are attempting to flee the country ahead of Putin’s mass mobilization. I saw a “Flight-Aware” video on Twitter last night showing what looked like at least a hundred flights leaving Moscow and St. Petersburg, heading south toward Turkey and Azerbaijan and east toward India and other Asian nations that still accept flights from Russia.

It is looking more and more like Putin is preparing for a kind of last stand to protect the areas Russian forces have already taken in Ukraine. “Russian red lines are not necessarily where they say they are,” a British defense official told the Guardian. “There are parts of the territory that Russia now controls which are of greater strategic significance to Moscow than others.” The defense official was referring to Crimea and the parts of Luhansk and Donetsk in the east that Russian forces and Ukrainians friendly to Russia have occupied since 2014.

Former Russian President Dimitri Medvedev threatened yesterday that Russia might use tactical nuclear weapons to defend Ukrainian territory Russia now holds. "Russia has announced that not only mobilization capabilities, but also any Russian weapons, including strategic nuclear weapons and weapons based on new principles, could be used for such protection. The Donbas (Donetsk and Luhansk) republics and other territories will be accepted into Russia. There is no going back,” Medvedev said.

He currently serves as the deputy chairman of Russia’s Security Council and is thought to be close to Putin. He is at least the third former Russian official who has been quoted over the last three days as threatening the use of nuclear weapons to defend territories within Ukraine that Russia is using referendums to force into the Russian Federation. There are reports out of Ukrainian cities in the east that local police working with the occupation governments and the Russian military are taking down names of people who have voted against referendums on joining Russia.

Meanwhile, Putin is facing increasing criticism from his right within Russia of his losses in the war and his failure to have taken Kyiv and conquered the country in the short time he had predicted before he launched his attack on Ukraine last February. To pacify his internal opposition, Putin gave a speech on Wednesday saying that he would annex the regions over which Russia does not have full control. He issued a vague threat to use nuclear weapons to defend the annexed regions as part of “Russian soil.”

It's a bad situation over there in Russia, and it’s getting worse. Putin is making more promises that he very likely cannot keep, and his mobilization of reserves is turning into a full-fledge draft that many Russians do not like at all. A country that only a generation ago had breadlines around the block in downtown Moscow and rampant poverty in its outlying regions got used to the luxury of eating regularly and using their cellphones and having the freedom to travel outside of Russia.

Sanctions are causing shortages outside of Moscow and St. Petersburg, and much of the lifestyle Russians enjoyed before this year is now endangered by Putin’s war on Ukraine and by his crackdowns inside Russia. Some Russian experts in this country are wondering how much longer Putin can last. Others point to his KGB-trained expertise in political oppression and speculate that his dictatorial strength should not be underestimated.

Historians disagree about exact figures, but as many as 10 million civilians died in the last Russian Revolution and civil war in 1917. Putin’s will to power in this century has already cost his economy dearly and could be just as expensive in human terms.

Watch this space.

Lucian K. Truscott IV, a graduate of West Point, has had a 50-year career as a journalist, novelist, and screenwriter. He has covered Watergate, the Stonewall riots, and wars in Lebanon, Iraq, and Afghanistan. He is also the author of five bestselling novels. You can subscribe to his daily columns at luciantruscott.substack.com and follow him on Twitter @LucianKTruscott and on Facebook at Lucian K. Truscott IV.

Reprinted with permission from Lucian Truscott Newsletter

Right-Wing Propagandists For Putin Bring Disgrace On 'Conservatism'

At the moment when freedom-loving people around the world are elated (if on tenterhooks) at the progress of Ukrainian forces in pushing back the Russian invaders, Heritage Action, the political arm of the conservative Heritage Foundation, has joined with other self-styled conservative groups to oppose helping Ukraine fight for its life. I know, I know, the Trumpification of the GOP has been a fact for six years, and yet this heel turn is remarkable. It's as if People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals announced that they support puppy mills for medical research.

The pro-Putin, pro-authoritarian voices in the GOP are not yet a majority — about a quarter of House Republicans and 11 of 50 Senators voted against the $40 billion aid package for Ukraine in May — but they're not a small minority either, and the wind is at their backs. The Conservative Political Action Conference has all but canonized Hungary's strongman Viktor Orban, and in the first hours after Putin rolled into Ukraine, Trump reveled in the murderer's "savvy" and "genius." The 2022 election could bring more authoritarian-friendly Republicans to Congress, and meanwhile, hatcheries of conservative orthodoxy like Fox News and The Federalist are doing the spade work of persuading the base that Kremlin propaganda is more trustworthy — pravda, if you will — than The New York Times.

Just two weeks ago, Tucker Carlson, Putin's favorite American broadcaster (clips from his show are routinely featured on Russian state TV), told viewers that Biden's steadfast support of Ukraine was absurd: "Biden is calling for an unconditional surrender from Vladimir Putin. Here's the weird thing: By any actual reality-based measure, Vladimir Putin is not losing the war in Ukraine."

Poor timing. But that's the least of it. It was bad enough to excuse Putin before February 24 on the risible grounds that he represented some sort of Christian champion and scourge of wokeness. But after? That a spokesman for a so-called conservative TV network can cheer the rape of a free country (Carlson has said he "roots" for Russia to win) is not just morally depraved, it violates the basic tenets of what used to be conservatism. American conservatives once believed that freedom was our most precious inheritance. We were friends to all freedom-loving people and foes of all tyrants. Speaking on the 40th anniversary of D-Day, Ronald Reagan said this to the aging soldiers who had scaled the cliffs of Pointe du Hoc:

"You were here to liberate, not to conquer, and so you and those others did not doubt your cause. And you were right not to doubt. You all knew that some things are worth dying for. One's country is worth dying for, and democracy is worth dying for, because it's the most deeply honorable form of government ever devised by man."

Now it's goodbye to all that apparently. J.D. Vance, Trump's hand-picked candidate for an Ohio Senate seat has said he doesn't care one way or the other what happens to Ukraine. The Federalist denounces Mitch McConnell (who traveled to Ukraine to show support) and other "swamp creatures" for putting Ukraine's security needs ahead of America's. The vapidity of this new "conservatism" is bottomless. They haven't bothered to consider that brutal aggression by a larger against a smaller state invites a Hobbesian international disorder in which no one is safe.

A number of Republicans have seized on the talking point that Biden is more concerned with Ukraine's border than with our southern border. Blake Masters, the Peter Thiel-conjured Republican nominee for US Senate in Arizona, sneered that America's leaders are "buffoons who hate you so ... they'll keep defending Ukraine's borders while turning their backs on ours." Rep. Mary Miller (R-IL) and her ilk found this irresistibly witty and repeated it.

As if thousands of would-be immigrants attempting to cross the Rio Grande for work represent a comparable threat to tanks and missiles destroying cities, murdering men, women, and children, creating millions of refugees, and cutting off food and electricity. This talk of "invasion" of our southern border was always hyperbolic, but to cling to it at a time when our screens are full of images of a true invasion becomes vile.

These supposed conservatives are strangers to the most important themes of traditional conservatism. They dishonor the name. Conservatism was a worldview intimately bound up with opposition to tyranny. Of course we fell short of our aspirations from time to time, but love of freedom was in our DNA — or so it seemed. Our hearts were with oppressed peoples from Lithuania to Tibet to Tehran. We cheered the fall of the Berlin Wall because the USSR was a comprehensive, seven-decade assault on human dignity. We hated it for its repression of speech, thought, religion, movement, and enterprise. We hated it for its torrent of lies.

Putin's Russia differs from the USSR in ideology, but in repression and rapacity, it is comparable. And it's scarcely believable that the "useful idiots" who make excuses for it today — who actually root for its success — are "conservatives."

Mona Charen is policy editor of The Bulwark and host of the "Beg to Differ" podcast. Her most recent book is Sex Matters: How Modern Feminism Lost Touch with Science, Love, and Common Sense. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.

Reprinted with permission from Creators.

Is The End Coming For Putin? Analysts Says He's in Trouble

A new analysis is explaining how this time period may suggest the end is near for Russian President Vladamir Putin.

According to Newsweek's William M. Arkin, the authoritarian president may be running out of options as he fights to maintain his grasp on the country.

To support his arguments, Arkin included assessments from army and intelligence officials familiar with all of the events transpiring in Russia.

"Putin's options for the future are bleak, particularly as he increasingly feels the heat of domestic opposition," the first intelligence official said. Per Arkin, the official also noted "the impact of 60,000-plus Russian casualties and as well as the bite of sanctions and the controls on travel as challenges to Putin."

Another official also weighed in with what they are witnessing.

"We're seeing more and more blaming of Western weapons," says the second official, "as if it is an excuse for why Russia is losing. It's ironic, given that Putin-and-company normally argues that it can defeat NATO. Now it's, 'we couldn't have won because of Western intervention' that is seeking to deflect responsibility from Moscow."

So, how is Putin maintaining? Former World Champion chess player Garry Kasparov recently weighed in with an assessment of Putin's leadership and how he may be holding his position.

Speaking to the Kyiv Post, Kasparov said, "Putin has never dealt with situations like this one." He also noted that Putin has "been lucky that he has always been able to escape.

"Continuing the war is the only way for Putin to stay in power," Kasparov said in the interview. "

He wants to create extra chaos in the free world hoping that a new window will open for him. It's really just a protracted agony. It is cynical and stupid, but Putin is willing to put thousands of civilians into graves in the months to come before the whole of Ukraine is liberated, if that will allow him to maintain power."

An army officer also shared his prediction of what's to come as he also pondered the limited long-term options Putin has.

"I'm not so sure I agree with the 'long war' predictions," the Army officer said as he suggested that Putin is running out of options for a viable conversion. "Everyone's talking about Putin's hold over Europe with his control of gas, that this is his ace in the hole. But if the heat intensifies back home, Putin may have to shift his attention to a winter disaster of his own making."

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

With Ukraine Retreats And Restless Russians, These Are Bad Days For Putin

They’re coming at Vladimir Putin from the left, what there is of it, anyway, and the right and above and below for that matter. Even before the huge losses Russia suffered over the weekend – experts now say Russia lost 3,400 square miles of Ukraine it had held since close to the beginning of the war – seven Russian lawmakers in Putin’s hometown of St. Petersburg demanded that Putin be charged with high treason in a letter they sent to the State Duma, the lower chamber in Russia’s government. The letter claimed that Putin’s war in Ukraine had compromised Russia’s security, caused NATO’s expansion into Finland and Sweden, damaged the country’s economy, and strengthened Ukraine by causing an infusion of military aid into the country from western nations.

The letter, sent to five political factions in the Duma and to the Russian Security Council, didn’t get very far. The seven lawmakers were quickly summoned to the St. Petersburg police station and charged with discrediting the Russian military, a law Putin passed in March after he ordered the invasion of Ukraine.

Sure, it’s not much, but it’s a chink in the heretofore impenetrable armor of the Russian President. Yesterday, Chechnyan leader Ramzan Kadyrov criticized the Russian military after Ukrainian forces swept the Russian army from a huge swath of territory in Ukraine’s northeast. "They have made mistakes and I think they will draw the necessary conclusions," Kadyrov said on his Telegram channel, the Russian equivalent of Twitter. "If today or tomorrow no changes in strategy are made, I will be forced to speak with the leadership of the Defense Ministry and the leadership of the country to explain the real situation on the ground to them," Kadyrov added. That’s about as close to real criticism as it gets in Russia, especially from a man described as a “key ally” of the Russian president.

Chechnya has a significant number of its citizens in the Russian military on the front lines of the war in Ukraine. Kadyrov was appointed as leader of Chechnya by Putin in 2007.

Putin is appearing increasingly tone-deaf to the combat losses being suffered by the Russian military and to the political consequences of the avalanche of body-bags that have been shipped back home. On Saturday, as Ukraine overran key military strongholds in the towns of Kupyansk and Izyum, Putin was in a park in central Moscow celebrating the opening of a gigantic new Ferris wheel which he trumpeted as being larger than the one in London.

Right-wing Russian social media exploded in fury at the contrast between Putin’s merry-making in Moscow and the savage battles being fought by his army in Ukraine. “You’re throwing a billion-ruble party,” one infuriated blogger posted on Saturday. “What is wrong with you? Not at the time of such a horrible failure.” The Washington Post went on to report that the blogger claimed the Russian Army was lacking such basic military equipment as first aid kits, flak jackets, night vision goggles, and drones. “The authorities in Moscow carried on with their festive weekend, with fireworks and state television showing hundreds lined up to ride the new, 460-foot-tall Ferris wheel,” the Post reported.

The Russian media, much of it state-owned, has continued to push the fiction that the Kremlin's “special military operation” in Ukraine is going swimmingly. But back at home, and sometimes from soldiers on the front lines themselves, on the social media platform Telegram, opposition to the cluelessness being shown in Moscow has been growing, the Post reports.

Russian bloggers on Telegram, some of whom are embedded with Russian units in Ukraine and appear to be largely pro-Russian military, have fed their readers a steady diet of news from the front that conflicts with the lies being pushed by the government back home. According to the Post, they have claimed that “the Russian Defense Ministry is…underestimating the enemy and withholding bad news from the public. One of the bloggers, Yuri Podolyaka, who is from Ukraine but moved to Сrimea following its annexation in 2014, told his 2.3 million Telegram followers on Friday that if the military continued to play down its battlefield setbacks, Russians would ‘cease to trust the Ministry of Defense and soon the government as a whole.’”

“It’s time to punish the commanders who allowed these kinds of things,” one pro-Russian blogger from eastern Ukraine said last week, as Ukrainian forces massed across northeastern Ukraine preparing for their offensive. He went on to claim in a video posted on Telegram that Russian forces did not even put up a defense as Ukrainian forces moved on Balakliya and other Ukrainian towns in that region.

That was last week. By Saturday Balakliya, Izyum, and other Russian-held towns had fallen.

This is not good for Putin. He can control Russian TV and print media, but he is showing signs of having completely lost control of the unregulated Telegram platform on which much of the negative news about the war is appearing. One Telegram poster on Saturday called Russia’s flight from the onslaught of the Ukrainian attack a “catastrophe,” the Post noted, pointing out that the retreat left Ukrainian citizens who had collaborated with the Russian military at the mercy of Ukraine’s army as it moved into captured towns.

Meanwhile, back in the west, experts and military officials in the U.S. and Europe were calling the Ukrainian offensive a turning point in the war. One U.S. military official told the Post, “The Russians are in trouble. The question will be how the Russians will react, but their weaknesses have been exposed and they don’t have great manpower reserves or equipment reserves.” He was echoing reports from the front lines in Ukraine that Russian forces had abandoned small arms, ammunition, artillery pieces, trucks and even tanks as they retreated in the face of the Ukrainian attack.

Military experts warn it’s too soon to say if Ukraine will be able to continue to exploit its gains, but the Ukrainian tactical victory over the weekend is the largest setback for Russia since they pulled out of areas around Kyiv in April and were forced to retreat back into Russia.

Russia still holds a large swath of Ukrainian territory in the east and across the south, connecting Russian territory to Crimea in a so-called land bridge. But Ukrainian forces were said to have made significant gains in areas around the port city of Kherson in the south, and by taking Izyum and the rail lines supplying Russian forces in the east and towards the south, Ukraine is making it more difficult for Russia to resupply its forces there.

Military experts have been lamenting the “static battlefront” across eastern Ukraine for months. But Ukraine’s army just gave Putin and those same western experts a lesson in military tactics they should have remembered, if they even knew it before. At West Point, they teach Plebes in first-year tactics classes that the army that moves first and most decisively and best concentrates its power according to its own strengths on the enemy’s weak points has the best chance of victory.

Ukraine proved that elemental tactical truth last weekend. Now we’ll see if they can turn a tactical victory into a strategic one and force Putin to recalculate what his chances are in Ukraine.

Not only the west, but Putin’s own people in Russia are watching what he does next, and a lot of them are showing that they are not happy with him at all right now.

Lucian K. Truscott IV, a graduate of West Point, has had a 50-year career as a journalist, novelist, and screenwriter. He has covered Watergate, the Stonewall riots, and wars in Lebanon, Iraq, and Afghanistan. He is also the author of five bestselling novels. You can subscribe to his daily columns at luciantruscott.substack.com and follow him on Twitter @LucianKTruscott and on Facebook at Lucian K. Truscott IV.

Reprinted with permission from Lucian Truscott Newsletter

Amid Ukraine Setbacks, Local Russian Officials Urge Putin To Step Down

Halfway through his invasion of Ukraine's sixth bloody month, Russian President Vladimir Putin's grip on power in Moscow is imploding as scores of Kremlin officials are calling upon the 69 year-old autocrat to quit.

Putin had anticipated his February 24th "special military operation" to be a cakewalk through the Russian-controlled East into the Ukrainian capitol of Kyiv. But with the aid of a Western coalition led by the United States, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's unshatterable resistance campaign has decimated Putin's combat forces and depleted his military's offensive capabilities.

Casualties have climbed into the tens of thousands. Numerous allegations of genocide committed against Ukrainian civilians have flooded international watchdog organizations. The global economy has suffered major setbacks. Europe quivers on the brink of potentially multiple atomic disasters. And Moscow's finest are either bogged down or on the run.

On Saturday, The Daily Beast reported that "just one day after several municipal deputies in Putin’s hometown of St. Petersburg called on the State Duma to try the Russian leader for treason, their colleagues in Moscow joined in and demanded he steps down because his views are 'hopelessly outdated.'"

In an open letter to Putin, deputies from Moscow's Lomonosovsky district recalled that Putin's leadership began with "good reforms" but that as time marched onward, “everything went wrong.”

While the deepening quagmire in Ukraine was not specifically mentioned, the authors stressed that the status quo under Putin is untenable.

“The rhetoric that you and your subordinates use has been riddled with intolerance and aggression for a long time, which in the end effectively threw our country back into the Cold War era. Russia has again begun to be feared and hated, we are once again threatening the whole world with nuclear weapons,” the officials wrote. “We ask you to relieve yourself of your post due to the fact that your views and your governance model are hopelessly outdated and hinder the development of Russia and its human potential."

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

Danziger Draws

Jeff Danziger lives in New York City. He is represented by CWS Syndicate and the Washington Post Writers Group. He is the recipient of the Herblock Prize and the Thomas Nast (Landau) Prize. He served in the US Army in Vietnam and was awarded the Bronze Star and the Air Medal. He has published eleven books of cartoons, a novel and a memoir. Visit him at DanzigerCartoons.