U.S. authorities warned that the world’s peace would be at risk if Russian President Vladimir Putin were permitted to blatantly occupy another sovereign country even before Russian forces entered Ukraine.
Analysts have cautioned that the consequence may be much more difficult, a so-called “cornered Putin,” if he had no choice but to lose that campaign.
Ukrainian battlefield victories not just pushed Russian troops back, but have also pushed Putin further into a corner, forcing him to make a number of dramatic steps to revitalize his brutal war: a sweeping military draught, labeled as a “partial mobilization,” to surge thousands of troops to the fight, and orchestrating just what West has called “sham” referenda throughout occupied territories in Ukraine — meant to lead to for them to be “annexed”
Most concerning, Putin made a new round of thinly disguised nuclear threats in a rare broadcast address, saying that Russia will use “all possible means” to safeguard what he now presents as the Russian people and land.
While some of the rhetoric isn’t new, the conflict’s changing conditions are. ABC News spoke with academics and former US officials on why Putin’s recent threats heighten dangers – for both Putin and the rest of the globe.
Putin’s “partial mobilization” of Russians who have undergone military training to serve in Ukraine is widely interpreted as a veiled admission that his force is failing to achieve Moscow’s aims in Ukraine.
However, Max Bergmann, a former Secretary of State official and head of the Europe Program just at the Center for Strategic and Foreign Studies, believes it also calls into doubt Putin’s grip over his own country.
“Clearly, what is occurring here is that Russia’s military presence in Ukraine is eroding,” he stated. “Forcing people to fight in Ukraine is a high-risk political move. This is among the most highly disruptive things a civilization can do.”
Although the economic costs of the invasion continue to climb, Bergmann believes the move will bring the conflict home to several Russians for the first time. Worse, he says, Putin hasn’t even formally declared his invasion of Ukraine a war, instead referring to it as a “special military operation.”
“There’s a total disconnect between the Russian government sending messages that this is simply some sort of strategic military effort in Ukraine, and the need to suddenly rip men who may have served in the military for a year at some point in their lives away from their families — several with children — or from their jobs, to a battlefield in which tens of thousands of people have been dying,” he said.
Bergmann claims that despite the Kremlin’s efforts to suppress protest, if enough unrest grows, Putin runs the risk of losing popular support and, with it, his hold on power.
He said that “he is betting his entire dictatorship on Ukraine.”
Putin’s official media apparatus is a potent weapon, but Bergmann thinks Putin still has a long way to go before the conflict can be justified as defending the country.
“Putin feels he can draw upon Russia’s history of fending off invaders, whether they were Napoleon’s or Hitler’s armies. But shortly after, Russia was invaded. It was a battle for existence. “Imperial ambition is driving this conflict,” he declared. He’s going to have to work very hard to persuade the Russian people that losing their dads, husbands, and sons in a Ukrainian region is worthwhile.
Bergmann cautions that while the Russian president still seems to have complete power, things can change rapidly.
He said that autocratic governments first appear to be extremely stable.
In his address to the UN General Assembly this week, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky warned that Moscow was attempting to delay his fighters.
In a taped message, he stated, “Russia intends to spend the winter on the seized territory of Ukraine and organize forces to try a fresh attack.”
Analysts also speculate that other components of Putin’s approach may have been motivated by gaining time to deploy recently enlisted troops to the front.
According to John Hardie, deputy director of a Foundation on Defense to Democracies’ Russia Program, “those forces will take some time to get to the battlefield.” It’s unquestionably a ruse on his behalf.
According to Hardie and Bergmann, Putin’s most recent attempts at annexation, together with pledges to protect its territory, are probably intended to make Ukraine reconsider mounting a counteroffensive and to have the West reconsider backing it. But they claim that its likelihood of success is low.
Putin’s hope is that this causes Ukraine and the West to freak out to give some pause about further advances,” Bergmann said. “But I think support for Ukraine will remain strong. And that Ukraine is going to advance militarily as it sees fit.”
One senior administration official called the referenda a “crass and desperate” maneuver that would not alter the U.S. outlook on the conflict and predicted that other powers around the world — even those more closely aligned with Russia — would not be significantly swayed.
If Putin’s efforts to stall Ukraine’s military development are unsuccessful, the most important question is whether he will follow through on his threats to use nuclear weapons, and if so, what the United States and its allies would do in response.
“It’s something you need to take extremely seriously. Russia has the greatest nuclear arsenal in the world “Bergmann stated. And everyone needs to pay attention when the Russian president starts threatening to use nuclear weapons.
Hardie and Bergmann both that Putin doesn’t seem prepared to use the nuclear option, but they both insist that deterrence must come first. American officials have quietly and publicly urged Moscow against deploying nuclear weapons, but Hardie said that they should also pressure other nations to do the same, particularly China and India, since they may be more likely to be heard by Moscow.
The repercussions Russia could encounter, though, are less obvious.
“Are we genuinely prepared to take action beyond imposing sanctions? I prefer to believe that we probably are not. I believe the government has a valid desire to prevent World War III “Hardie remarked.
Because of this, he contends, the Biden government’s “strategic ambiguity” on consequences is the best option.
It has the advantage of casting doubt on Putin’s mind, according to Hardie.
Putin may choose to ignore any skepticism in the end, but Hardie thinks it will likely need Putin to become much more desperate.
He noted that the Kremlin may try things out first with protests before attacking crucial infrastructure or army concentrations and declared, “I think this is very much the last choice.” But I believe that we are still far from there.
The Crimean peninsula, which Russia acquired from Ukraine in 2014, would shift the needle far more, according to Hardie, and it’s probable that Putin may opt to defend any fresh gained area with the same fury.
We’re in unknown territory, he declared.