Russia’s tactical failures in Ukraine, which completely crossed out the original plan of invasion and occupation, forced the Russian army to shift its focus: the main efforts are now aimed at the seizure of territories in the south and east of Ukraine, which Russia can hypothetically later unite with the “LPR/DPR” and try to pass it off as a victory to “save face.” The Kremlin has also abandoned significant offensive operations in an attempt to secure a line of defense and move on to prolonged warfare in trenches.
The obvious failures of Russia at the front are a shock to the whole world – as well as to Putin. The international community has realized that the notorious, deliberately exaggerated power of the Russian army is purely a myth. This means that Russia no longer enjoys the status of a military superpower that cannot be attacked with conventional weapons. In turn, the Kremlin must search for ways to justify its moves before the Russians, who are already beginning to suspect that “not everything is going according to plan.”
Russian propaganda has dramatically changed its narratives: if on the eve of the invasion, the Russian audience was fed with the idea of an imminent inevitable defeat of Ukraine, now against the backdrop of the obvious failures of the Russian army, the thesis was voiced that “Russia is at war with Europe’s second military power.” Now there is a further shift in the Russian emphasis: the thesis is being replicated that this is not a war with Ukraine at all, but with all the “world evil,” which Russia must selflessly resist for the sake of the good. This is an extreme manifestation of propaganda narratives aimed at a domestic audience and a direct indication that the Kremlin has chosen to continue the war at any cost.
Even against the backdrop of failures at the front lines, unthinkable for Russia’s recent image, the Kremlin will not agree to a truce or compromise because this will be tantamount to defeat. But Russia also cannot pursue the war in its current form due to its futility and unacceptability of military losses. Therefore, Russia’s military strategy will further tilt towards the need for a direct clash with Europe. The Russian audience is already being prepared for this through a wide range of propaganda tools. In addition, covert mobilization is among Russia’s plans, set to be carried out across the country. This is direct evidence that the Kremlin is plotting to attack Europe, targeting the Baltic States or Poland.
The attack on Europe will be accompanied by a flurry of lies and insinuations in the media, under the pretext of the declared “protection of Russia and Russians.” Putin can justify any aggression with unthinkable lies and double standards – a classic trait of the Soviet propaganda school. The U.S. and Europe are already portrayed as universal “evil,” a source of direct threat. Any exhortations on the part of the West, as well as calls for peace, the Kremlin will present as yet another confirmation of malice. This will be followed by a hybrid or full-scale military attack on the most vulnerable nations. Europe will see the bloodiest war on its territory since 1945.
Putin still cannot believe in his tactical defeat so he is developing plans for further confrontation. Given his character and worldview, formed in the Soviet times, he will regard the West as the key culprit for the complex losses that Russia suffered in the first month of the war, including unprecedented death toll at the front line. Ukraine is viewed only as an intermediate target on the path of the restoration of “greatness” of the 21st-century Russian Empire, and the West – as a key enemy and strategic adversary on the battlefield, helping Ukraine kill Russian soldiers. The Kremlin dictator believes that a relatively sparsely populated Russia, with limited ability to draft combat-ready men, is forced to stand alone against the whole world, who took up arms against Russia. This is a very dangerous situation developing at the moment, as Europe is facing a real military threat. In this sense, Ukraine, at the cost of the lives of its citizens, protects the entire civilized world from Russian aggression.
The West is faced with a choice: to take effective steps towards Ukraine and hand the country the required weapons, or tomorrow to see the war come to their homes, on the peaceful and civilized streets of Berlin and Paris. If Putin nevertheless captures Ukraine at the cost of huge losses, then he will add the materiel of the Ukrainian army to the Russian force and move into the nearest European countries, which will turn out to be absolutely defenseless.
There is still a chance to avoid this catastrophe and help Ukraine with weapons as long as there’s time to do that. If the United States provided Ukraine with at least a quarter of the weapons that they eventually left behind in Afghanistan in 2021, Ukraine’s victory would be much closer, and the West could feel safe and confident in their future.