This is no victory day for Vladimir Putin

At the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, May 9 was seen by many analysts as the likely end of the operation. The assumption was that Moscow’s overwhelming military would soon subjugate its neighbor and force a surrender and the ouster of the government in Kyiv, which would be replaced by a pro-Kremlin leadership. This should be completed by today, when Russia commemorates the victory of Soviet forces over Nazi Germany in 1945.

Not only did Vladimir Putin fail to conquer Ukraine, but his army is bogged down in a war of attrition in the east and is losing ground there, too. He underestimated the resilience and courage of the Ukrainian people and the unity of the West in the face of aggression, while grossly overestimating the competence of its military.

Putin was not alone in this. NATO also thought that Ukraine would not last long, but all this old wisdom must now be revised – with major geopolitical consequences.

Despite what is a disaster for the Kremlin, the regime has so far managed to convince a gullible populace that the “military special operation” went according to plan and that any setbacks are the result of the confrontation with the Kremlin’s power, NATO , not only Ukraine. But that line is difficult to maintain as casualties mount and Russia counts the cost of destroyed hardware. Soon the effects of economic sanctions will be felt on the Russian people.

Many mothers have already had to bury their sons, and as the death toll mounts, it is becoming increasingly difficult for Putin to claim military success in Ukraine. No doubt Russia will use large numbers of soldiers to march through Red Square at today’s Victory Day parade, but are they capable of fighting effectively?

Western planners fear that Putin will officially declare war on Ukraine to mobilize reservists to significantly up the ante in the Ukrainian war. But that would be acknowledging to his people that the tales they’d been fed for weeks about a Russian triumph were wrong.

As the atrocities continue – with scores of people killed, most recently taking shelter in a school – the Kremlin stands at a crossroads. It must decide whether to reduce its casualties or increase both the misery of the Ukrainian people it ostensibly defends and the enormous cost to Russia. Whatever Putin is doing, this is not his victory day. This is no victory day for Vladimir Putin

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