The war of attrition that began after the failure of the blitzkrieg against kyiv has ended. The balanced situation along the 1,100-kilometre front separating Russian and Ukrainian troops has lasted barely six months. The Ukraine suddenly announced with great fanfare an autumn offensive for the reconquest of Kherson. The Russian commanders reinforced this region with their best troops, which constitutes a strategic link between Donbas and Crimea, where Putin intended to hold an annexation referendum before the end of the year. That is when the Ukrainian army suddenly attacked in the north, in Kharkiv, in a counteroffensive that has engulfed at least 3,000 square kilometers and forced a disorderly and even shameful Russian withdrawal.
It has been a masterful tactical coup, which has played with deception facilitated by very good military intelligence, highly effective weapons supplied by the allies, very well-trained troops and very high combat morale, which contrasts with the miserable situation of the Russian troops, poorly prepared, poorly commanded and without any motivation for combat. Heads will fall in Moscow, of that there is no doubt, as the truculent military commentators already demand in the covens more than talk shows on official television. Putin has entered a warlike slope that is difficult to reverse.
Everything now plays in favor of Zelensky. The Kremlin has lost an initiative that was fully its from day one and that it still maintained thanks to the balance of forces at the front, while economic weapons, especially energy and food, acted on the morale of Ukraine’s friends. Ukrainian superiority is on display with increasing force, tactically in maneuver, and strategically in the refusal to negotiate a single inch of its sovereign territory from a position of weakness. Now it is Ukraine that can choose where to strike, when to advance and when to stop, even when to negotiate, and not Russia as it had been since February 24, and even before when it came to gaining political advantage from the mere threat of invasion.
The euphemism of the ‘military-technical special operation’, with which the war was intended to be hidden from Russian opinion and from the global moral balance, could have been useful for the assault on kyiv if it had been successful and overthrew the Zelensky government in four days. If it was already difficult to sustain in the terrible erosion of an immovable front in the style of the first great European war, now there is nowhere to hold on to it. It is an open war that Russia is losing and in which it will continue to retreat unless it makes use of all the human resources at its disposal, with the highly unpopular and dangerous decision to decree the general mobilization demanded by the most hawkish in the Kremlin, even risk of provoking protests and riots.
Putin wanted to win in Ukraine without affecting either the economy or recruitment among the middle classes in the big cities, and especially in St. Petersburg and Moscow. The corrupt and mafia business elite that emerged from the old KGB, suddenly expelled from the West, has been silenced by the Kremlin or has taken refuge in the cynical equidistant or friendly countries such as Turkey or the Arab monarchies. Censorship, repression and propaganda in brutal doses have been responsible for silencing discontent among the remnants of Russian civil society that survived Putinism. Also in all these efforts to hide his defeats, Putin exhibits a strategic failure that can end his power.
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Now, so that the collapse reaches the Kremlin as soon as possible and it is Putin himself who calls for a ceasefire and negotiation, Ukraine must not give up its counteroffensive, nor its allies in supplying weapons, training its soldiers and how much military and economic aid is needed.
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