Since Feb. 24, 2022, every week has been a bad week for Russian dictator Vladimir Putin. But this past week was next-level bad.
Let us count the ways.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan betrays Putin IN multiple ways
After a year of obstructing Sweden’s NATO membership, and threatening to continue withholding support if the European Union didn’t take up Turkey’s bid for membership, Erdoğan flip-flopped and agreed to ratify the bid. While autocratic Hungary still stands in the way, its opposition is expected to crumble now that powerhouse Turkey is onboard.
After pretending that Russia’s war was, in part, predicated on stopping NATO expansion, Russia now has two new NATO members on its eastern flank—Finland and Sweden. Finland’s border with Russia, at 1,340 kilometers, is by far the longest of any NATO nation.
Erdoğan also tossed aside an agreement with Russia to host the commanders of the Azov detachment that defended Mariupol and the Azovstal plant until the end of the war. The best Russia could muster in response? To whine that it had not been consulted in advance.
As the tweet above says, Erdoğan also announced his support for Ukraine becoming a member of NATO, which now seems like a done deal after the war is over. That doesn’t just mean Ukraine in NATO, sharing an even longer border with Russian than Finland, but also Crimea in NATO, which would further squeeze Russia’s water access on its European side.
Finally, after playing footsie with Russia for several years, angering the U.S. by purchasing a Russian air defense system, and his European allies by being an autocratic a-hole, Erdoğan is quite clearly pivoting back to the West. It’s a sign that he realizes that North America and Europe are the path toward economic development and security, not the supposed “global south” that Russia wanted to lead.
More Turkey! Erdoğan forces Russia to maintain grain corridor deal
Despite demands that Russia get concessions for renewing the grain corridor deal that allows Ukraine to export grain, Erdoğan announced that after talking to Putin, Russia would agree to its extension.
The calculus seems simple: Turkey was prepared to personally guarantee the safety of those vessels, and there wasn’t a damn thing Putin could do about it. Any attack on Turkish naval vessels would drag NATO into the war. So rather than sit by, humiliated and impotent as the grain continued to flow, Putin was forced to pretend to look magnanimous by renewing the agreement.
Also, guess who the biggest buyer of the Ukrainian grain is?
BRICS isn’t Russia’s savior
Speaking of the global south, Russia has been a driving force of the BRICS alliance—Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa. Its key organizing rationale is that it’s a counterweight to the West and the former colonial powers that continue to destabilize and exploit much of the developing world.
The problem is that China and India hate each other, and have engaged in a low-intensity border war for several years. India is slowly pivoting away from Russia as it seeks not just more modern and effective Western weaponry to counter China’s aggression, but also closer defense ties with the United States for the same reason—and no one wants to be seen with Putin.
Tying this in to Vlad’s very bad week, South Africa is hosting a BRICS summit August 22-24, and as a signatory to the International Criminal Court, it is obligated to arrest Putin if he steps foot in the country. The South African government floated the possibility of pulling out of the ICC treaty, but the blowback was fierce and Pretoria backed off. This week, it meekly requested that Russia not send Putin.
“It’s a big dilemma for us. Of course, we cannot arrest him,” [South Africa Deputy President Paul] Mashatile said. “It’s almost like you invite your friend to your house, and then arrest them. That’s why for us, his not coming is the best solution. The Russians are not happy, though. They want him to come.”
South Africa suggested moving the summit to China, but Russia weirdly rejected to that (as did Brazil). A proposal to hold the summit virtually was rejected by all the other members.
Meanwhile, as Russia faces increasing difficulties with ammunition and equipment, military behemoth China has refused to come to its aid. And at the United Nations, the BRICS nations have mostly abstained in resolutions condemning the war, none of them backing up their supposed ally.
And by buying Ukrainian grain, China is a key source of foreign currency for the cash-starved Ukrainian government.
Ukraine will not need an action plan to join NATO
Ukraine didn’t get the iron-clad commitment to join NATO it desperately wanted at last week’s summit, but it was never going to get it. If nothing else, NATO membership requires the ratification of all members, and that’s not something you can guarantee years before any such votes would take place. But the NATO allies did announce that Ukraine would not need to execute one key part of that process, the Membership Action Plan, thus accelerating its inclusion after the end of the war.
Ukraine’s NATO ascension isn’t a matter of if, but when.
Cluster munitions arrived in Ukraine
American-delivered cluster munitions have made it to Ukraine.
We’ve extensively covered the debate about the ammunition here, here, here, and here.
No matter where you stand on the issue, it’s bad news from Putin’s forces trying to hold the lines.
France is sending long-range cruise missiles
Following in the United Kingdom’s footsteps, France is sending around 50 of its version of Storm Shadow missiles, called SCALPs, to Ukraine. That would double up the number Ukraine has already reportedly used—to huge effect on Russian leadership and logistics.
The United States will likely send ATACMS long-range rockets
But it’s not a done deal.
Ukraine really doesn’t have an ATACMS equivalent, and even if it did, more is better. The point here, however, is that last year, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said ATACMS could lead to a broader war, and definitively ruled them out. But Biden opened the door. And as we’ve seen this entire war, once a door is open, and someone says a weapons system is “being considered,” it usually means it’ll be green lit soon thereafter.
Putin locked up his generals
One way to degrade Russia’s command and control capabilities is to kill generals on the battlefield, like the one above. Another way is for Putin to take care of it himself. General Sergey Surovikin was the war’s supreme commander not too long ago, and was behind the vast fortifications that are slowing down Ukraine’s full liberation. But he was also close to Wagner founder Yevgeny Prigozhin, and has disappeared following the mutiny of June 23-24.
Why this arrest didn’t happen last week, but rather two weeks ago, questions about his whereabouts, and those of other generals and officers close to Prigozhin, have swirled around Russia all week. It adds to the post-Wagner revolt chaos.
One general resigns, and unloads on artillery woes
General Ivan Popov was forced to resign from his command in charge of Russian forces in Zaporizhzhia, the location of one of Ukraine’s biggest counteroffensive pushes.
He didn’t go quietly.
A difficult situation with the leadership emerged. It was a choice between remaining silent and afraid and saying what they wanted to hear, or calling things for what they are. In your name, in the name of all perished comrades-in-arms, I didn’t have the right to lie. Hence I named all the problems that exist today in the army regarding operations, supply. I pointed the attention to the most important tragedy of the modern war—the lack of counter-battery fire, lack of artillery reconnaissance stations, and mass casualties and injuries of our brothers from enemy artillery.
I also raised a number of other issues, expressed them to the highest levels, did it openly and very brutally. Due to this, the seniors likely felt some danger in me and instantly, in one day, put together an order to the Minister of Defence and got rid of me.
As many commanders of regiments and divisions said today, our army was not broken through the front, but our most senior commander hit us in the back, thus treacherously beheading the army in the most difficult period.
This message confirms Ukrainian claims of massive success in destroying Russian artillery. The next general to succeed Popov now knows he can’t open his mouth to improve the situation at the front. Russia’s The Bell further expands on the artillery situation:
[A]s for counter-battery combat, this is a systemic weak point of the Russian Armed Forces: they have been writing about it for literally decades. Artillery systems supplied by NATO to Ukraine are superior to Russian ones in terms of accuracy and range, and artillery reconnaissance radars—in terms of mass and parameters. Russia is losing 1:4 to Ukraine in terms of destroyed howitzers and MLRS, and the Russian numerical advantage in these weapons is disappearing.
Prigozhin, meanwhile is running around free, and refuses to cede control of his mercenaries
Prigozhin is likely alive, free, and still commanding Wagner forces. How is he still alive? Russian war criminal Igor Girkin thinks that Prigozhin’s rebellion was successful, and the balance of power is shifting in his direction.
THE COUP WAS SUCCESSFUL. The powers within the ruling mafia are currently being redistributed as (or close to) planned by the conspirators behind Prigozhin. The "Shoigu-Vorobiev-Sobyanin Tower" has lost some of its positions (although not completely demolished), and part of its influence and resources "flows" into the group of oligarchs of the "Ozero Cooperative" (Rotenbergs, Kovalchuks and Co.). This group, vitally interested in ending the war "on any terms" - will not let us win in any case and will lead the president to realize the need to accept defeat and transfer supreme power to a successor nominated from this group
Don’t accept that guy’s word as gospel. Right now, Kremlin politics are a mess, and it’s fertile ground for conspiracists to spin their yarns—perhaps as disinformation campaigns to further one faction over another.
Still, how the hell is Prigozhin still alive?
Meanwhile, Putin says that Wagner forces, at Prigozhin’s direction, refused his order to return to the front lines. What a weird admission of weakness—one that seemingly confirms that Prigozhin is still calling the shots. If he was dead, he wouldn't be blocking Wagner’s return to the front.
The ruble collapses
Well, the ruble has been on a free-fall all year.
But the Prigozhin rebellion caused another 12% drop. The consequences? Nothing good for the Russian economy.
Finland and Estonia announce combined coastal defenses
Russia’s Baltic fleet is already effectively bottled up by the NATO lake, but Finland and Estonia are combining their coastal defense commands, more tightly integrating any defense of that waterway. Check out how tightly squeezed Russia’s access to St. Petersburg is, its second-biggest city and home to part of its Baltic Fleet.
Russia also hosts elements of its Baltic fleet at Kaliningrad—the gray blotch between Poland and Lithuania.
This comes on top of the agreement by the Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden) to put their air force under unified command—something that can now move forward with Sweden’s imminent NATO membership.
Meanwhile, most (if not all) NATO members confirmed their intention to hit the required 2% of GDP in defense spending, after slacking for much of the past few decades.
Master strategist Putin really nailed it, didn’t he?