War without a chance for victory: how ressentiment is killing Russia

Georgi Chizhov, coordinator of the “European Dialogue” expert group in Ukraine, says why the invasion of Ukraine was a failed idea from the very beginning.

The political tensions, which preceded the Russian invasion into Ukraine, produced quite a lot of forecasts. Nearly all experts (myself included) came to the conclusion that direct military aggression is unlikely, and if it does happen, it will be in the format of a rapid operation in the East of Ukraine, possibly supported by bombing and missile strikes against the country’s defense infrastructure. So why did the scenario of a full-scale war, which was not foreseen by the overwhelming majority of political scientists, come to fruition?

Let me begin by stating that it is quite difficult for a resident of Ukraine to preserve an academically objective tone even on paper, when bombs are dropping on my compatriots’s heads, bomb shelters and surgery rooms are overflowing, hundreds of thousands of people have to leave their homes, and many of my colleagues have put on uniforms and took up weapons. However, there is sufficient evidence of the suffering and heroism of the Ukrainian people in the global media as of now. The author of these words attempts to understand the rationale behind and the consequences of the fatal decision that was made in the Kremlin and implemented on February 24th.

The first thought that comes to mind is that the Russian leadership was misguided. Either it became a victim to unscrupulous counselors, analysts and special service officers, or it intentionally shut its eyes and ears when it came to “uncomfortable” information. Let us set the moral, legal and humanitarian aspects of the aggression aside. Even from a purely pragmatic point of view, Russia’s actions leave no chances for an outcome that would be beneficial to the Kremlin, neither in the moderate-term nor, even more-so, long-term perspective. The current surge in ressentiment will lead to even more national humiliation for Russians. In fact, this is already happening before our eyes, it is just not as evident inside the borders of the Russian Federation.

The current surge in ressentiment will lead to even more national humiliation for Russians. In fact, this is already happening before our eyes

Based on evaluative data, over the past three weeks several hundreds of thousands of people have left Russia – approximately 10 times less than the number of Ukrainian refugees who fled to the EU member countries. First and foremost, those are the so-called “Russian Europeans” – people who are sensing a direct threat from the regime which has made a qualitative leap, or who are simply not ready to continue to be complicit with their country and live under the conditions of propaganda of war and violence, all-encompassing lies and the final nullification of all civic freedoms. Vladimir Putin called their exodus “a natural and necessary self-purge of the community”.

Out of those who have stayed, only a minority continues searching for alternative sources of information and understands the menacing meaning and inevitability of changes, which are already noticeable in the consumer market. There is still a certain reserve of affluence; however, everything can be blamed on the scheming of the malicious America only for a restricted period of time.

The scale of internal repressions remains moderate as of now, but that, most likely, is the case only because the state is currently busy dealing with more pressing affairs. Today the only task on the agenda is to put a muzzle on the protesters lest they have a way of influencing the public opinion. However, the logic behind the “updated” Kremlin regime lies in the search for external and internal enemies, and therefore the transition of the repressions’ scale from occasional to mass, as well as their severization, is only a question of time; and a short time, at that.

The archaization of Russian society under the regime of “late” Putin was widely discussed in the previous years as well. However, the archaization that was just crawling before has now attained the character of an avalanche: on the account of dehumanization, as well as giving up the concepts of human rights and a fair trial. On the account of the population’s descent into poverty, unavoidable in the aftermath of sanctions. On the account of the country’s complete exemption from all international projects and programs, which are oriented at the future. The technological lag of the “failed superpower” behind the truly developed countries, which was never compensated for over the three post-Soviet decades, is now worsening and solidifying for a term that is longer than both the human lifespan and the limitations of forecasting.

Betting on a partnership with China seems like nothing more than putting on a brave face. Speaking objectively, before the war, China was a bigger threat to Russian security than the entire collective West, headed by the menacing Ukraine. In the nearest perspective, the Russian Federation is becoming easy prey for its Eastern neighbor. The Chinese will not even need brutal actions similar to Moscow’s “military operation”. Russia that is isolated and weakened by sanctions will be quite comfortable for their needs.

The Russian Federation is not too affluent when it comes to technologies. And, if the Celestial Empire factually becomes the sole buyer of Russian raw materials and, at the same time, has the monopoly on technology export, Beijing will have all the manipulation levers for ⅙ of the continent. The West, however, will likely not allow for this scenario to come to fruition; but it will not come to the aid of Putin’s regime either.

Caught up in its illusory aims to attain more international agency, [the Kremlin strategists] are turning their country into a pathetic object of negotiations between the world players

The Kremlin strategists seem to simply not think what kind of a world they will wake up in once the war in Ukraine is finished or somehow paused. Caught up in its illusory aims to attain more international agency, they are turning their country into a pathetic object of negotiations between the world players.

Coming back to the motives behind the Russian aggression, it is quite difficult to find a single realistic one among them. We can only suppose that Vladimir Putin truly believed that his soldiers will be met as liberators at least in the Ukrainian Southeast which has been constructed by the Moscow propagandists (in reality, researchers never highlighted such a particular macroregion of Ukraine). Even if the Russian army actually proved itself to be powerful and modern (another myth that has been busted and spread over the waters of Dnieper), and the Ukrainians were not able to organize an effective maneuvering defense, the seizure of Kiev – or the entire territory up to the Carpathian mountains at that – would not have given anything to the Kremlin either.

Any puppet administration made up of Ukrainian collaborants would have zero support, would only be propped up by Russian weapons, and would face systematic sabotage every step it took. The failed attempts to convince the mayors of the “liberated” Pryazovske cities to join the aggressor’s side and to organize a Kherson People’s Republic in the single regional center that was captured is the best attestation to this.

All the while, the guerilla actions of the population (for which Ukrainians remain prepared now – in case of the increasingly less likely defeat of the country’s Armed Forces) would cause the occupants losses which would be significantly more intense that the ones that the Soviet Union had to sustain in Afghanistan.

Instead of a schism in the West, which was likely expected in the Kremlin, we are witnessing its unity in proportions unheard of since the Cold War. And do not let the NATO member countries’ hesitation to “close off” the Ukrainian air space (i.e., become directly involved in the war) and immediately introduce an oil embargo fool anybody. Nobody expected this in all seriousness. What is more important is that now Americans and Europeans have finally realized the nature of the Russian regime.

There is no upper threshold at which the regime would be willing to stop in case of success – even if today the Kremlin decisionmakers earnestly believe otherwise. Being internally unsound, it will collapse without a constant increase in tension and fresh bloody meals. This circumstance sealed the fate of the Third Reich; it will be what destroys Putinism as well. Western (and not just Western) countries perceive the war–waging Russia as a fatal threat to the naturally created sensible world order. The current master of the Kremlin will not be allowed to leave unscathed, even if it takes several years to remove him. The West has enough economical and other kinds of power (even if exempting military), and now there is plenty of political will to go around as well. Obviously, Ukraine is hoping for more fast–paced processes, but, in any case, the historical fate of imperial post–Soviet Russia is predetermined.

One can suppose that it is those oligarchs and not the Ukrainian missile launchers that the Kremlin master fears, as he self-isolates in the infamous “bunker”

So far the Kremlin demonstrates the readiness to go through with its actions, even though the success criteria for the “military operation” remain unclear. Despite the Russian army’s lacking effectiveness, it is quite populous and has access to numerous military technologies, which has been saved up since the Soviet period. Modern Western armaments and the selflessness of Ukrainian fighters allow them to successfully turn these technologies into scrap metal; however, the Russian state traditionally views human losses quite indifferently, unlike the aforementioned Ukraine. Kiev is forced to enter a painful war of attrition, but it does so with a doubtless ace – its foreign support.

The final goal of the growing Western sanctions is the destruction of the Russian economy; however, they unavoidably obstruct the development of Moscow’s former economic partners. That is why a glimmer of hope for a change of regime in the Kremlin comes up every now and then in the speeches of various country officials.

Truly, today the wealthiest and most influential people of the Russian Federation are forced to watch as Vladimir Putin gradually nullifies their influence and capitals, at the same time as he nullifies himself. Whether this situation pushes them towards action is unknown; however, one can suppose that it is those oligarchs and not the Ukrainian missile launchers that the Kremlin master fears, as he self-isolates in the infamous “bunker” – which is, according to some sources, located quite far from Moscow. A change of regime in Russia in the aftermath of a coup d’etat would mean that humanity has paid the minimal price for the liquidation of the global Russian threat. Prolonged scenarios, however, remain more likely.