Russian society and leadership has an obsession with size. Its land mass is proof of the greatness and glory of Russian culture, with their most celebrated Tsars being the ones who gobbled up the most land.
This obsession over land isn’t unique to Russia. The United States built its country by pushing westward, wiping out entire civilizations that stood in the way, as well as instigating wars with Mexico and Spain in order to expand southward. But the U.S. has at least stopped encroaching on its neighbors. Mexico and Canada don’t need to fear losing territory, and independence is there for Puerto Rico and other American island territories if they want it. There has been some progress in our own notions of empire.
And for all the singing about “sea to shining sea,” Americans don’t take pride in our country’s size, but in its accomplishments. Russia has few of those to point to, hence the obsession with land, and hunger for more of it.
The irony is that the standard world map grossly exaggerates Russia’s size. I already wrote about this map thread today, but this part is even more relevant here:
Russia’s notions of greatness are based, in large part, on the standard-issue distorted Eurocentric map of the world. In reality, it’s more like this:
Yes, Russia is big, but it’s no longer the globe-dominating behemoth we’ve been conditioned to expect. But when a country bases its self worth on the amount of land that it holds, it certainly has all the wrong incentives when dealing with its neighbors.
Hence, the U.S. is happy to work with its allies toward common goals—the Europeans, Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada. Those countries all have a close working relationship with the U.S., but the Americans can’t dictate terms. It can lead by example, or by persuasion, but it can’t coerce.
Russia can’t fathom such an arrangement. Hence, its alliance with Belarus isn’t a close working relationship with a valued partner, but an interim step toward full integration of Belarus back into the Russian Federation. And there’s Ukraine, of course, where Russia has already annexed the parts of the country it had conquered (and even some it has subsequently lost, like Kherson oblast north of the Dnipro).
Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the criminal mercenary Wagner Group, is ready to call it quits, content with Russia simply swallowing the territory it has already captured. (All quotes are from the Google translate version of the linked article.)
First, I’ll share this passage because it demonstrates just how weird Prigozhin is:
Why did Zelensky rest so much on Bakhmut? Why, starting from December 20, when I challenged him from the artillery guns of PMC Wagner, Zelensky seduced like a boy and rested on Bakhmut? And our intimate dialogue with him has been going on for four months. We both have fun, but the orgasm never came.
Interestingly, Prigozhin himself argues that Bakhmut is strategically insignificant, and that his efforts to capture it are bleeding Ukraine dry. It’s a version of the childish “I know you are but what am I?” game, as it is Russia who has been bled dry. How do we know? Because this is one of only two corners of the map in which mighty Russia is left attempting to advance, and doing a poor job of it.
We’ve long argued about the wisdom of defending the city, and military historians will argue over it for years. But no one is arguing about the wisdom of attacking it. There is none.
Anyway, I’m burying the lede. In short, Prigozhin is saying that Vladimir Putin should declare victory and end the war.
For the authorities and society as a whole, today it is necessary to put some fat end to the [Special Military Operation]. The ideal option is to announce the end of the [Special Military Operation], inform everyone that Russia has achieved the results it planned, and in a sense we have really achieved them. We have ground a huge number of APU [Ukrainian armed forces] fighters and can report to ourselves that the tasks of the [Special Military Operation] have been completed.
Of course, “grinding a large number of Ukrainian soldiers” to the ground was never one of Putin’s goals. It was all about subjugating Ukraine and expanding Russia’s lands, and Ukraine keeps fighting.
Theoretically, Russia has already received this fat point by destroying a large part of the active male population of Ukraine, by intimidating another part of it, which fled to Europe. Russia cut off the Azov and a large piece of the Black Sea, captured a fat piece of Ukraine's territory and created a land corridor to Crimea. Now there is only one thing left: to gain a firm foothold, to clog in those territories that already exist. But there is cunning - if Ukraine used to be part of the former Russia, now it is an absolutely nationally-oriented state.
Hilarious, he thinks Ukrainian men are “intimidated.” He is right, however, that Russia currently has its “land bridge” from mainland Russia to Crimea—a key strategic war goal. And he knows that Ukraine’s ties to Russia, once bonded by language and some common history, is now fully severed.
If until February 24, 2022 the European Union was greedy to give Ukraine tens of millions of dollars, now tens of billions of billions are being waged for the war. Of course, some of these funds please the pockets of the ruling elite of Ukraine, which benefits from the conflict. Many of those who were forgotten yesterday today got a new chance for self-realization and enrichment.
Like American conservatives, every accusation is a confession. Russia is pulling 70-year-old tanks out of storage because of greed, grift, and pilfering. Heck, Prigozhin himself has benefited from Russia’s mafia-style oligarchy. Yet in this rambling essay, he goes after those oligarchs, labeling them the “Deep State,” and defining them as “a community of near-state elites that operate independently of the political leadership of the state and have close ties and their own agenda.” He thinks their lives of luxury are threatened, and would thus ally with the United States in an effort to break up Russia.
Why do the Anglo-Saxons restrain Zelensky by arranging internal conflicts and slowing down the offensive? Just to break the main jackpot - the collapse of Russia into many principalities. The U.S. doesn't need a quick war. They need a war that will lead to the persuasion of the "deep state" and its victory.
I won’t pretend to fully understand this conspiracy theory—Russia’s oligarchs wouldn’t necessarily benefit from a splintered Russian Federation. Quite the opposite, in fact. They serve at the leisure of a Putin-style strongman, allowing them to continue sucking the riches from the provinces to Moscow and St. Petersburg. If the war was a threat to their fortunes (and it is), they would most benefit from replacing Putin with another strongman, but one willing to end the war.
Perhaps this paranoia, that Russian oligarchs are allying themselves with the U.S., that is leading to so many of them flying from skyscraper windows.
Point is, Prigozhin sees enemies all around, eager to splinter Russia. So he argues that a “dramatic pause” (interesting translation of “ceasefire”) is needed in order to freeze the conflict at the current lines, otherwise the situation may “worsen” during a Ukrainian counteroffensive.
If the authorities refuse, the Armed Forces of Ukraine will go on the offensive. In this situation, there may be various scenarios. One of them - the Armed Forces of Ukraine will rest on the defense of the Russian Federation, incur serious losses, after which a colossal counteroffensive of Russian troops to the borders of [Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts in the Donbas), or to the [Dnipro], or in general to Poland will begin. But, given today's dynamics and problems, such a counteroffensive, to put it mildly, is not very likely. The second option, the Ukrainian army will take a counteroffensive and somewhere will be able to break through the defense.
Prigozhin’s reference to Poland seems to be an oblique slam at the propagandists on state Russian media who hilariously boast that Russia will push beyond Ukraine and into Poland and the Baltic states. His reference to “today’s dynamics and problems” are a reference to the sorry state of Russia’s armed forces.
In this case, in the army, which for years considered itself one of the best armies in the world, decaying moods can begin first, and then the situation deteriorates, as it was after the defeatist wars of the early twentieth century - Finnish, Japanese - and the tragic events of 1917.
He’s never been too shy to criticize the Russian army. Much can be lost or added in translation, obviously, but “which for years considered itself one of the best armies in the world” reads quite sarcastic to me. The reference to morale is a stark admission that his mercenaries have been carrying the military load because Russia’s armed forces are close to breaking.
This can lead to global changes in Russian society. The people are already looking for those responsible for the fact that we are not the strongest army in the world, and in this situation they will look for "extreme". And these "extreme" will certainly be representatives of the "deep state." That is, those people who today, without making efforts in the military operation, are as far as possible from the theater of operations, try not to lose their capital, to live their usual lives, and this is absolutely unacceptable for the people tired of war and losing the taste of victory.
Patriots' craving for justice can have a hard impact on the very deepest state mired in luxury and bureaucracy.
Again, Prigozhin is worried about the collapse of the Russian federation at the hand of the oligarch “deep state” and its American allies/instigators/handlers.
Prigozhin then launches into seemingly endless pontification about the dangers of negotiation, how the U.S. would work with those “deep state” oligarchs to slowly weaken and humiliate Russia. That Russia’s return to military superpower would be hampered and delayed.
Therefore, he argues, “Russia cannot accept any agreement, only a fair fight. And if we get out of this fight shabby, there's nothing wrong with that.” He’s happy with Russia’s ill-gotten gains, and that’s good enough. Therefore, he wants an end to all offensive efforts, and the establishment of defensive fortifications to protect what they captured, at least until Russia is able to rebuild its armed forces.
To summarize. Ukrainians are ready for an offensive. We are ready to repel the blow. The best scenario of Russia's healing in order to unite and become the Strongest State is the offensive of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, in which no handiments and negotiations will be possible.
And either the Armed Forces of Ukraine will be defeated in a fair fight, or Russia will lick wounds, accumulate muscles and again tear up rivals in a fair fight. Therefore, I believe that the option of the agreements is impossible for the future of Russia.
He’s actually not wrong. Russia clearly lacks the firepower for offensive operations. If it really wants to bleed Ukraine, it needs to do it on the defensive. Yet Prigozhin is also right to worry that Russia’s morale is so low, that the chances of a Ukrainian breakthrough are real. Hence, he wants to stop all offensive actions to preserve fodder to man the vast network of trenches they’ve built on occupied territory.
But weirdly, he doesn’t take his own advice. This is Bakhmut currently:
That video is freakin’ insane.
To be clear, Prigozhin claims his attack on Bakhmut is bleeding Ukraine dry, yet it is the defenders that have an advantage in this situation. Bullets may be flying all around those two soldiers, but they can hunker down. Wagner’s cannon fodder have to run headlong into that fire. It’s clear who takes the heavier casualties.
And he wants all offensive operations to cease, lest Russia lose the manpower it needs to man defensive trenches, but he continues to throw wave after wave of his cannon fodder into that wall of flying steel.
Is it futile to try and make it all make sense?
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