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Date: 2024-05-21 Page is: DBtxt001.php txt00022037

For Putin, Invasion Is the Latest in a Long String of Failures in Ukraine

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia at a ceremony in Volgograd in 2018 marking the 75th anniversary of the battle of Stalingrad.Credit...Maxim Shemetov

Original article:

Peter Burgess
For Putin, Invasion Is the Latest in a Long String of Failures in Ukraine Beginning in 2004, the Russian leader’s repeated efforts to subjugate his neighbor have been defeated, frustrating his imperial ambitions. By Neil MacFarquhar Published April 2, 2022 ... Updated April 4, 2022 The signs of failure in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine are readily apparent: the tattered reputation of its military as a modernized, overpowering fighting force; its tattered economy; and a Western alliance more unified than at any time since the worst tensions of the Cold War. But what is less appreciated is that this is only the latest and potentially the most spectacular in a series of failures suffered by President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia in Ukraine. If Afghanistan is the “graveyard of empires,” Ukraine is where Mr. Putin’s imperial ambitions consistently flounder. In fact, the main reason the Russian leader took such a potentially self-destructive step as a whole scale invasion, some analysts believe, was to reverse a long line of fiascos dating back to Ukraine’s so-called Orange Revolution in 2004, during the early years of Mr. Putin’s presidency. “He has been obsessed with Ukraine since the early 2000s because Ukraine became the field where he kept losing, the only field where he kept losing,” said Mikhail Fishman, the former host of a political talk show on TV Rain, the now shuttered independent television network. Mr. Putin has long plotted to undermine Ukraine, overtly and covertly, and has notched some wins along the way. He has kept the country bogged down in a grinding war in the east, sowed discord among the political class and damaged its infrastructure with experimental cyberattacks — techniques later exported to the United States and elsewhere. But on at least three significant occasions when Mr. Putin intervened directly to bring Ukraine under Russia’s heel, he was thwarted. There is always the chance that he could prevail this time, whether by reducing Ukraine’s cities to rubble or seizing a large chunk of the country in the east and south and declaring victory. Support for the war at home seems to be strong. But even those outcomes would bring costs, reinforcing Ukrainians’ hatred for Russia, cementing Moscow’s status as a pariah to the West and almost certainly requiring a lengthy and expensive occupation. Image Destroyed Russian armoured vehicles at a frontline position in the northern region of Kyiv last week. Destroyed Russian armoured vehicles at a frontline position in the northern region of Kyiv last week.Credit...Ivor Prickett for The New York Times History has tended to smite Russian leaders who launched what they wrongly anticipated would be short, victorious wars. The Russian Revolution that ended 300 years of Romanov rule erupted a few years after Czar Nicholas II lost a disastrous war against the Japanese, while the Soviet Union collapsed in the wake of its debacle in Afghanistan. Some analysts believe that Mr. Putin is risking a similar fate. “He will lose Russia because of Ukraine,” said Mr. Fishman, who has just finished a book about why democracy failed to take hold in Russia after the Soviet collapse. Others are less emphatic, especially in the short term, and note the popular signs of support for him inside Russia. Still, they caution that Mr. Putin is uncharacteristically playing a poker game with an unpredictable ending. “This has been a major failure in Europe’s biggest land war since 1945, and that is a big failure,” said Clifford Kupchan, chairman of the Eurasia Group, a political risk assessment firm. “I would not bet futures in Russian political stability over a five-year period.” While Mr. Putin has publicly emphasized the security threat posed by a westward leaning Ukraine as a reason for going to war, others say his deepest concern is the possible political fallout from living next door to a boisterous democracy with decent economic prospects. “Putin’s ultimate nightmare is a color revolution in Russia, and that is the lens through which he views people voting in Ukraine,” said Mr. Kupchan. “Because it is so close, culturally, the threat of contagion as he perceives it is even greater.” Mr. Putin’s successes are legion, especially his entire career arc from an obscure, midlevel intelligence agent — forced to drive a taxi to make ends meet after the collapse of the Soviet Bloc — to becoming one of the longest-running leaders ever to occupy the Kremlin. Yet in Ukraine, Mr. Putin, 69, has taken repeated missteps. In 2004, he campaigned personally in the presidential election on behalf of his preferred candidate, Viktor F. Yanukovych, whom he twice congratulated on his win. But widespread accusations of voting fraud sparked a nationalist backlash and the Orange Revolution, with street protests culminating ultimately in the election of Viktor A. Yushchenko (who was poisoned during the campaign) as president in a Western-oriented government. Image The 2004 Orange Revolution in Ukraine ousted the Kremlin’s handpicked candidate and culminated in the election of Viktor A. Yushchenko in 2005. The 2004 Orange Revolution in Ukraine ousted the Kremlin’s handpicked candidate and culminated in the election of Viktor A. Yushchenko in 2005.Credit...James Hill for The New York Times In 2006, Mr. Putin tried to wrest greater control over — and profits from — the natural gas distribution system carrying Russian supplies across Ukraine to Europe, creating an uproar by cutting the flow in the middle of winter. He backed down when it became apparent that he risked losing energy markets in Europe if supplies of Russian gas could not be relied upon. Why Germany can’t just pull the plug on Russian energy. In 2009, he attempted to effect a cabinet reshuffle in Kyiv that would have allowed his allies to dominate the government, but the effort collapsed. Mr. Putin made his gravest error before now in 2013, when it looked like Ukraine would successfully slip Russia’s orbit by signing an association agreement with the European Union. To head that off, he dangled a $15 billion loan that Mr. Yanukovych — by then the legitimately elected but incorrigibly corrupt president — accepted. As in 2003, that triggered massive street protests on Kyiv’s Independence Square, or Maidan. After police violence encouraged by Moscow failed to deter the demonstrators, Mr. Yanukovych fled to Russia in February 2014. Mr. Putin called it an American-inspired coup and invaded Crimea, eventually annexing it, and kindled a separatist war in the Donbas region, the resource-rich rust belt of eastern Ukraine. He thought he had found a means to dominate Kyiv in a proposed treaty called the Minsk agreements, which would have given the separatists veto power over important central government decisions. But the deal was never implemented, and the war became a grinding impasse that by 2022 had killed 14,000 people, many of them civilians. Image Russian troops without insignia, like these at a Ukrainian military compound outside of Sevastopol, seized Crimea in 2014 against only token resistance. Russian troops without insignia, like these at a Ukrainian military compound outside of Sevastopol, seized Crimea in 2014 against only token resistance. Credit...Mauricio Lima for The New York Times As the failures piled up, Mr. Putin began to denigrate Ukraine. He claimed that it was not a real country, but an artifice cobbled together by Lenin using different bits of Russian land, and in recent years said it was presided over by a “Nazi” government that Ukrainians — particularly ethnic Russians in the country’s eastern parts — would be glad to see overthrown. Curiously, Mr. Putin sketched out his ultimate plans for Ukraine in 2014, after he annexed Crimea. While holding court at his annual televised town hall meeting, he made a surprise pronouncement about “Novorossiya,” or New Russia, an arc stretching along the entire coast and eastern side of Ukraine. “I would like to remind you that what was called Novorossiya back in the czarist days — Kharkiv, Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson, Nikolayev and Odesa — were not part of Ukraine back then,” he said. “Russia lost those territories for various reasons, but the people remained.” Russia-Ukraine War: Key Developments Card 1 of 3 Russian atrocities. The growing evidence that Russian soldiers killed scores of civilians in the Kyiv suburb of Bucha, leaving their bodies behind as they withdrew, spurred calls by Western leaders to hold Russia accountable. A Times analysis of satellite imagery refuted claims by Russia that the killings occurred after its soldiers had left. Pushing for more sanctions. The images of dead Ukrainians prompted some E.U. leaders to demand a total ban on Russian gas imports, though the bloc is divided over taking such a drastic step. President Biden said what happened in Bucha was a “war crime” and that the United States would bring “more sanctions” against Moscow. On the ground. As Russian forces have retreated around Kyiv, Ukrainian and Western officials said that Russia appeared to be positioning troops for an intensified assault in the eastern Donbas region, where the port city of Mariupol remains under a brutal siege. In the current invasion, the Russian military has attacked all six cities he mentioned. Yet, leaving aside Luhansk and Donetsk in the separatist regions, Russian troops have managed to capture only Kherson, with the rest resisting fiercely, apparently to Mr. Putin’s surprise. The example of Novorossiya provides a clue to as to why Mr. Putin failed so consistently in his efforts to subjugate Ukraine. In the late 18th century, when Catherine the Great toured the same newly conquered lands of Novorossiya, the phrase “Potemkin village” was born to describe the facades erected by one of her generals to conceal the region’s grinding poverty and backwardness. Image Having failed to take Ukraine in a lightning dash, Mr. Putin kas taken to pulverizing Ukrainian cities, producing scenes like this one at the regional headquarters building in Kharkiv. Having failed to take Ukraine in a lightning dash, Mr. Putin kas taken to pulverizing Ukrainian cities, producing scenes like this one at the regional headquarters building in Kharkiv.Credit...Aris Messinis/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images When it comes to Ukraine, analysts say, Mr. Putin seems to have constructed a Potemkin village in his own mind, deluding himself that Russian-speaking, southeastern Ukraine, home to millions of ethnic Russians, yearned to be part of the Motherland again. What Mr. Putin failed to recognize is that 30 years of democratic elections had gradually engendered a sense of nationhood among Ukrainians, analysts said. People realized that they enjoyed far greater freedoms in their new country, despite its corruption, than under the oppressive autocracy that Mr. Putin sought to impose. When the invasion failed to produce the quick results Mr. Putin envisioned, bogging down amid numerous self-inflicted wounds, analysts say Mr. Putin turned to the wanton destruction of Ukraine — punishing its 44 million citizens for their long history of rejecting his attempts to incorporate the country into his Russki Mir, or Russian World. “I think he sees Ukrainians as traitors now, because they are not falling into his vision of Russki Mir,” said Fiona Hill, an adviser on Russia to President Trump and his two predecessors, as well as the co-author of a biography on Mr. Putin and currently a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. Mr. Putin and his Kremlin cronies have long blamed their failures on American arrogance, deceit and manipulation, the standard fallback position for anyone from the Soviet-trained establishment. In the current disaster, they have again raised phantom fears of NATO missile bases and chemical weapons labs in Ukraine. Image Volunteers using sandbags to fortify the Princess Olga Monument in Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, on Wednesday. Mr. Putin badly underestimated the strength of Ukrainian nationalism in planning for the war. Volunteers using sandbags to fortify the Princess Olga Monument in Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, on Wednesday. Mr. Putin badly underestimated the strength of Ukrainian nationalism in planning for the war.Credit...Daniel Berehulak for The New York Times But as many analysts have observed, powerful people who spread such fictions often come to believe their own lies, and in the absence of dissenting voices, blind themselves to the realities they need to grapple with. For Mr. Putin, his greatest blind spot has arguably been Ukraine. “If you live in the world where people actually matter and their voice matters, that is a different world from Putin,” said Mr. Fishman. “It is always about some secret deals that the powerful running the world achieve.” Ultimately, the invasion seems already to represent another failure for Mr. Putin in Ukraine, perhaps his greatest, wrecking his quest to become the historical hero who reconstituted the Russian Empire. “Without Ukraine it means nothing,” said Mr. Fishman of Mr. Putin’s quest. “He will never get political control over Ukraine, it is out of the question.” Mr. Putin’s War The Making of Vladimir Putin March 26, 2022 Shaken at First, Many Russians Now Rally Behind Putin’s Invasion April 1, 2022 Mariupol Mass Evacuation Falters as Red Cross Judges It Too Dangerous April 1, 2022 Neil MacFarquhar is a national correspondent. Previously, as Moscow bureau chief, he was on the team awarded the 2017 Pulitzer Prize in International Reporting. He spent more than 15 years reporting from around the Mideast, including five as Cairo bureau chief, and wrote two books about the region. @NeilMacFarquhar A version of this article appears in print on April 3, 2022, Section A, Page 14 of the New York edition with the headline: Putin’s Failures Pile Up Over the Subjugation of His Neighbor. Our Coverage of the Russia-Ukraine War Ukrainians and the War Badly frightened and hungry, residents of the liberated Ukrainian town of Nova Basan described living through the terrifying ordeal of the Russian occupation. Vladyslav Heraskevych, a skeleton competitor from Ukraine at the Beijing Olympics, is finding ways to make himself useful in the war effort as he waits to be called to military duty. Russians and the War Polls and interviews show that many Russians, after the initial shock of the invasion, now accept the Kremlin’s assertion that their country is under siege from the West. Life for climate activists in Russia, often targeted by the police and facing restrictions to their right to protest, was already tough. When Russian tanks rolled into Ukraine, it got worse. On the Diplomatic Front Beijing is mounting a campaign aimed at officials and students to rally domestic support for Russia. The message: China will not turn its back on Moscow. Turkey expects to bring together the foreign ministers of Russia and Ukraine in the coming weeks, after hosting talks between representatives of both sides. How We Verify Our Reporting The Times has deployed dozens of journalists to report on the ground in Ukraine, to cut through the fog of misinformation. Our team of visual journalists analyzes satellite images, photographs,videos and radio transmissions to independently confirm troop movements and other details. We monitor and authenticate reports on social media, corroborating these with eyewitness accounts and interviews. Read more about our reporting efforts. Understand What Is Going On Avoiding Misinformation: Here are warning signs to look for before you retweet information about the war. Dig Deeper: Understand the history of the relationship between Russia and Ukraine, the causes of the conflict and the weapons that are being used. Potential Impact: The fate of Ukraine could have enormous implications for the world. Learn more about what’s at stake and how the energy sector is already affected by the war. Outside Pressures: Governments and businesses are taking steps to punish Russia. Here are some of the sanctions adopted so far and a list of companies pulling out of the country. Stay Updated: To receive the latest updates on the war in your inbox, sign up here. The Times has also launched a Telegram channel to make its journalism more accessible around the world. Live Updates: Russia-Ukraine War Updated April 5, 2022, 9:48 a.m. ET2 hours ago 2 hours ago The E.U. moves to ban Russian coal in new sanctions. The U.N. Security Council meets as Ukraine accuses Russia of atrocities.

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