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Did Kherson Crack the Kremlin’s Cohesion?

Did Kherson Crack the Kremlin’s Cohesion?

Thursday, 17 November, 2022 - 07:00

Hours of tension followed what was said to be a Russian missile landing in Poland. This was before the true source of the projectile was identified. Like many others in the Russian war on Ukraine, the ambiguous incident raises concern about similar events taking a tragic turn for the worse as uncertainty continues to shroud what is happening inside the Kremlin. It also raised criticism of how the war is being conducted.


Some of the questions that spurred out of the missile hitting a NATO country included: Was it an intended message and a warning against expanding the war after the Russian defeat in Kherson? Did the missile accidentally deviate from its path due to a technical defect or a lack of competence of the operating officer?


All this happened a few hours before reports confirmed that the missile was Ukrainian and was launched in the context of an air defense operation.


Nevertheless, these questions have been associated with the war since its early days.


The mystery surrounding the huge Russian convoy’s stop at the Kyiv entrances is still a typical example of the multiplicity of explanations for the movement and work of the Russian forces.


On that day, it was said that the muddy ground had forced the convoy to stop and that a lack of logistical supplies of fuel and spare parts made thousands of armored vehicles, personnel carriers, and tanks stand exposed under the lenses of Western satellites.


Speculations persisted until Ukrainian drones destroyed the bulk of the convoy, and Russia’s plans to storm Kyiv were finally brought to a screeching halt.


War has its logic and takes its course. It’s not always restricted to decisions made by officers in operation rooms. This is because the area of the land on which the fighting is taking place, the endurance of the forces, and the failures or victories that are not well calculated, often cause leaders to make drastic decisions.


The ability to control the course and outcome of battles is almost impossible after cannon fire is unleashed. This mostly appears in regimes that lack transparency and in which the individual plays a pivotal role, reducing the ability to retreat or admit mistakes.


Another troubling possibility is that the expansion of the war, in the form of a ferocious Russian campaign to destroy the power grid before winter arrives and make Ukrainians bear the brunt of the bitter cold without heating or light, means that Moscow’s orchestration of the war has shifted.


After several Western media outlets praised the “proper behavior” by which Russian leadership worked to withdraw soldiers from Kherson and its surroundings, the systematic Russian destruction of the Ukrainian infrastructure ensued.


Withdrawal from Kherson was interpreted as a victory for rationality in the Kremlin over the hot-headed people who demanded to fight to the last breath and not withdraw from the strategic Ukrainian city.


The political interpretation of the withdrawal from Kherson suggests that the Russians want to start negotiating with the Ukrainians and the West. They are counting on the US, especially since the Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman, General Mark Milley, advised taking advantage of the winter slowdown of combat operations to initiate peaceful diplomatic efforts.


Although the Biden administration denied its intention to pressure Kyiv into accepting negotiations with Russia, the search for how to use the withdrawal from Kherson to launch the diplomatic track has begun.


As for the heavy bombardment of Ukrainian facilities, this does not necessarily mean that the Russians do not want to start negotiations.


Rather, they most likely want to send a message that, despite their continuous military setbacks, they possess enough power to inflict costly destruction on the Ukrainian state, which will have to confront its citizens’ discontent with the collapse of basic services such as electricity, related transportation, and medicine.


Another problem facing Russian watchers concerns the cohesion of the ruling group surrounding President Vladimir Putin.


Insults directed by the head of the Wagner company for mercenaries, Yevgeny Prigozhin, and the Chechen leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, to senior officers of the Russian army, accusing them of failure, were placed in the context of conflict erupting among wings at the top of the pyramid overseeing the war.


It is necessary to pay attention to the statement by Alexander Dugin, a Russian philosopher who lost his daughter a few months ago in an explosion for which the Ukrainian authorities were blamed.


The statement is full of veiled threats directed at Putin. Dugin also says that the incitement to war against the West has reached limits that deviate from sound thinking. He also warns that such provocation could call for world destruction.


Dugin isn’t a decision-maker in Russia. But pro-Kremlin media painted him as a genuine thinker and a mirror of the conscience of the Russian people.


This leads to the contemplation of two matters.


The first is the need for the ruling group in the Kremlin for war as a justification for its existence, thus leading to an inability to retreat from positions, whether through peace negotiations or a presidential decision to stop the fighting.


The other matter is that the war, which Putin started voluntarily, has generated mechanisms close to getting out of control.


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