Vladimir Putin said that he was launching his “special military operation” in order to deal with “neo-nazis” who persecuted a peaceable ethnic Russian minority. In his speech on the day of the invasion (February 24, 2022), he said “We will strive for the demilitarization and denazification of Ukraine.” We will “stop this nightmare, this genocide of millions of people who rely only on Russia, only on us”. On the second day of Russia’s “special operation”, an ambulance brought a small boy to a children’s hospital in Kiev. His parents died in the shrapnel of exploding shells, as they drove through the city. The boy survived the attack but needed emergency surgery to stabilized him. Even so, he was not in good shape, showing little sign of brain activity. It’s not clear whether the boy survived.
Since coming to power as the chosen successor to an enfeebled Boris Yeltsin at the end of 1999, Vladimir Putin has succeeding in building a fascist state. This statement is supported by the two-element definition provided by British historian Roger Griffin: creation/exploitation of populist ultra-nationalism and promoting the idea of regeneration of a great nation that his been under threat. Putin’s favourite tactic is to accuse the West of disrespect and aggression against the Motherland, in order to build Russian fear and outrage. This plays on both elements of the definition.
Further, Putin claims that Ukraine is historically one with Russia – with roots as far back as the 9th century. Harking back to medieval roots is a favourite tune of fascists and other right-wingers in Europe and beyond. Other former USSR states with significant Russian minorities (such as the Baltic states) are worried that, a Putin success in absorbing Ukraine might make them next. This pattern was exploited in the late 1930s by the Nazis who claimed to be saving persecuted ethnic Germans when they stole a chunk of Czechoslovakia.
So Putin is, in some ways, following in Hitler’s path. That said, there are fascists who are good at war, and fascists who are not. Hitler spent years building a military mindset in his people, establishing their belief in their duty to fight and fight well for the Fatherland. He built a formidable fighting machine. Putin, we are told, also spent a decade in reforming the Russian military. And yet, the Russian air force is absent from the skies of Ukraine. A 40-mile convoy of tanks and other military equipment was stalled for weeks on the road to Kiev, before turning back to Belarus in disgrace.
More recently, Ukraine regained thousands of square kilometers in a couple weeks. It doesn’t yet feel like the Soviets chasing the Nazis out of Ukraine, but it’s getting there. And just last week, someone – maybe using marine drones – blew up part of Putin’s favourite bridge (joining Crimea to Russia’s north Caucasus). In retaliation, Putin used 83 cruise missiles, worth an estimated $500M USD, in a single day, on non-military targets. Western military experts have, since July, pointed to evidence that Russian supplies of such missiles is limited. Does that sound like a wise use of resources by a leader focused on winning a “special military operation”? No, it sounds like a wounded leader trying to demonstrate strength to his people, in the most effective way he can manage.
Speaking of the home front, Putin and his defence minister announced plans on September 21 to mobilize reserve troops, numbering up to 300,000. This seems motivated by the unexpected loss of large numbers of troops in the conflict to this point. Polls quoted at this time showed a majority of Russians in favour of the “special operation”, but only a minority supporting mobilization. Demonstrations against the mobilization and the war broke out in Moscow and over 30 other cities in the following days. 1300 people were arrested and some apparently were issued draft notices. Assuming that the most-eager and best-trained soldiers were already fighting, what can be expected from the next wave of soldiers? Two videos circulating in Russia in October showed men in uniform who claimed to be a group of 500 recent draftees. “They complain of ‘animal-like’ conditions, of having to buy their own food and bulletproof vests.”
Ukraine has a demonstrated will to fight, and the support of a united West. As per CNN, Russia has “poor and inflexible leadership, sour troop morale, inadequate logistics and hardware beset by maintenance issues”. It won’t happen soon, but Russia will lose this war.