WHAT WILL PUTIN DO NEXT?

Vladimir Putin is in trouble. His unwarranted but massive invasion of Ukraine has been repudiated by all the world’s most repulsive governments and, more immediately, on the battlefield.

The liberation of Kherson from Russian occupation was a serious psychological blow for President Putin that has left him fearing for his life, a senior military adviser in President Zelensky’s office has said.

Last week’s surrender of Kherson, the only regional capital that Putin’s army had captured, triggered shock and despair among hardliners in Moscow, including state television presenters.

“[Putin] is very afraid because there is no forgiveness in Russia for tsars who lose wars,” Oleksiy Arestovich, an adviser to the Ukrainian president’s chief of staff, said. “He is fighting for his life now. If he loses the war, at least in the minds of the Russians, it means the end. The end of him as a political figure. And possibly in the physical sense.”

Vladimir Putin’s troops in Ukraine are being hampered by severe shortages of munitions and skilled personnel, British officials have said.

The Ministry of Defence said intense fire has been exchanged between Russian troops and Ukrainian forces around the Svatove sector in Luhansk Oblast in north-eastern Ukraine over the past week.

“As on other parts of the front, Russian forces continue to prioritise constructing defensive positions, almost certainly partially manned by poorly trained mobilized reservists,” said officials.

The recent defeat of Russian forces across a wide front has demonstrated the weakness of the Russian military and the ineptitude of its commanders.

Former US Army general Ben Hodges predicts failure in Ukraine could lead to the collapse of the Russian Federation.

Putin continues to boast about such weaponry as hypersonic missiles and Russia’s military held an international arms show in Moscow, and yet the Russian army is in near collapse. Military analyst George Barros reports that the “conventional ground army ground force that the Kremlin has spent the last two decades on creating … has been largely degraded and in a large part destroyed in the past six months of the war in Ukraine.”

Vladimir Putin is nothing if not proud of Mother Russia. A major reason for his invasion of Ukraine was his desire to restore some of what the defunct Soviet empire lost. His outrage at the botched invasion of a weaker power and what was, for Putin and his advisors, the apparently unanticipated military support Ukraine has received from the U.S. and our allies, has pushed Putin into a corner from which there is no clear path out.

So, what are his options? A mature leader would make an attempt at face-saving (“Russia let the world know we are a great power!”) and pull its army back into home territory. Yet a mature leader would never have invaded a peaceful neighbor and conducted brutal warfare against its people.

Putin could “pull a Hitler,” blame his generals and bring his soldiers home. Unlike the rantings of the Fuhrer, however, Putin would be partially correct. Neither Russian strategy nor tactics have been effective. The loss of as many as 4,000 armored vehicles means a severe depletion of Russia’s capacity to wage a successful war. That Russia’s top commanders so underestimated the resolve of Ukraine and the willingness of the NATO alliance to provide extensive and high-quality military aid to the Zelensky government indicates severe political miscalculation as well as defective military planning.

Yet Putin’s pride and what likely is irrational indignation probably will grip his better judgment. To admit defeat would be not only a concession of military weakness but also provide the West with yet another victory over Russia, this time in what is, in part, a test of NATO (and especially American) weaponry against Russian weaponry.

The most likely outcome is Russia’s doubling-down of its efforts to conquer Ukraine. The Ukrainian government reports that “after strikes on power plants plunged large areas of Ukraine into darkness”, “Russia (has) stepped up the number of ships and submarines in the Black Sea carrying its Kalibr cruise missiles.” This means more attacks on Ukrainian infrastructure and, probably, civilian targets. Since the Russian invasion began in February, 5,600 Ukrainian civilians have been killed and about 8,000 injured. In Putin’s probable calculus, a few (or many) thousand more shouldn’t be allowed to stand in the way of total victory.

How the West will respond if the conflict escalates, especially if Putin resorts to battlefield nuclear weapons (even if relatively small, their devastation would be profound and their long-term impact immeasurable), is hard to know. Christians need to pray that God would, through whatever means He chooses, soon bring peace to the battered people of a violated nation.

Ultimately, Vladimir Putin will face an unimaginably greater power than anything Ukraine, NATO, or anyone else can create. The psalmist warns “the kings of the earth” that God “will speak to them in His wrath, and terrify them in his fury” (2:5). How particularly true this will be for those whose grasp on power is crusted with the blood of the innocent. Like the current president of Russia.

Adapted from an article in The Washington Stand by Rob Schwarzwalder.