Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a concert marking the eighth anniversary of Russia’s annexation of Crimea at Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow March 18, 2022.
Mikhail Klimentyev | AFP | Getty Images
Russian President Vladimir Putin has been in power for more than two decades, during which time he has carefully cultivated an image of himself as a tough, strong leader fighting for Russia’s interests and restoring the country as a geopolitical and economic superpower.
But analysts say that Putin’s decision to invade neighboring Ukraine made the biggest mistake of his political career and weakened Russia for years to come.
“Everything he’s done up to this point [conferred] Reputational damage for Russia, but it has also boosted power. And he just kept going and going and going,” Kurt Volker, former US ambassador to NATO, told CNBC.
“But now he has actually dramatically weakened Russia in every respect,” he said, adding that he can’t think of anything similar to what Putin has done in his political career.
World leaders gather in Europe on Thursday to discuss the war in Ukraine and how to help the country survive Russia’s onslaught. An extraordinary NATO summit and meetings of EU and G-7 heads of state and government are taking place in Brussels.
NATO is expected to commit to a “significant increase” in troop levels along its eastern flank, as well as more arms and humanitarian aid to Ukraine, although the military alliance has been reluctant to go further amid a direct confrontation with the nuclear power Russia feared.
Speaking to CNBC on Thursday, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told CNBC, “President Putin made a big mistake and that is to start a war, to fight a war, against an independent sovereign nation.”
“He underestimated the strength of the Ukrainian people, the bravery of the Ukrainian people and the armed forces,” he told CNBC’s Hadley Gamble on Thursday.
NATO’s plans to increase support for Ukraine and deployment in Eastern Europe would allow it to respond to “any threat, any challenge to our security.”
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has prompted over 3.5 million civilians to flee the country in a month, with hundreds of thousands losing their homes to relentless bombardment by Russian forces.
The southern city of Mariupol has been the worst hit so far, as the port — a key export hub for Ukraine — was still besieged and badly damaged.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said around 100,000 civilians were still trapped in the city, where water, food, electricity and medical supplies are in short supply.
This image, provided by the Azov Battalion, shows the drama theater damaged after shelling in Mariupol, Ukraine, on Thursday, March 17, 2022.
Azov Battalion | AP
Despite almost constantly using shelling and siege tactics in some areas, Russian forces have only taken one city – Kherson – and a much-feared assault on the capital, Kyiv, has yet to begin. Additionally, the country’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, continues to resist Russian attacks, and the western city of Lviv is currently relatively unscathed.
Britain’s Defense Ministry said on Wednesday that Russian forces had gained little despite attempts to encircle Ukrainian troops in the east of the country.
In a statement, Blinken compared the destruction in Mariupol to similar Russian campaigns against Grozny in the Second Chechen War and Aleppo during the Syrian Civil War.
“Russia’s armed forces have destroyed homes, schools, hospitals, critical infrastructure, civilian vehicles, shopping malls and ambulances, killing or wounding thousands of innocent civilians,” he said.
Russia has repeatedly stated that it is not attacking civilian infrastructure, despite much evidence to the contrary. CNBC has asked the Kremlin for a response to US allegations that Russia committed war crimes and is awaiting a response.
Under Putin’s leadership – and up until now – Russia’s economy has prospered.
Attracting much foreign direct investment to the country, Putin exploited its natural resources, particularly its wealth in oil and gas, and sought to diversify the economy.
However, during his tenure, Russia has also been hit by self-inflicted economic calamities – such as international sanctions following Ukraine’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, a nerve gas attack in Britain and its interference in the 2016 US election – and on some it had no control, like the 2008 financial crash, the 2014 oil price crash and most recently the Covid-19 pandemic.
Now, Russia’s economic misfortune is once again one that Putin himself brought upon the country by invading Ukraine.
The economy is already crunching under the weight of international sanctions and more sanctions could be rolled out on Thursday, putting hard pressure on energy exporter Russia, when US President Joe Biden meets with European and NATO leaders in Brussels.
A convoy of army trucks moves through the city of Armyansk in northern Crimea. Early on February 24, President Putin announced a special military operation to be carried out by Russian forces in response to calls for help from the leaders of the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics.
Sergei Malgavko | TASS | Getty Images
The Institute of International Finance expects the Russian economy to contract by 15% in 2022, due to both official sanctions and “self-sanctioning” by foreign companies that have pulled out of Russia.
The IIF forecast another 3% economic contraction in 2023 and said on Wednesday that the war will “wipe out fifteen years of economic growth”. In addition, the impact on the medium and long-term prospects is likely to be even more severe, as brain drain and underinvestment are likely to weigh heavily.
Though Putin has made limited progress on his invasion so far, he doesn’t seem to be deterred.
Russian forces are now believed to be undergoing a period of reorganization before resuming full-scale offensive operations in and around Kyiv.
Taras Kuzio, research fellow at the Henry Jackson Society, wrote in an article for the Atlantic Council on Tuesday that it is “becoming increasingly evident that Russian President Vladimir Putin has grossly miscalculated.”
“He seems to have sincerely believed the Kremlin’s propaganda tales about the weakness of the Ukrainian military and the willingness of ordinary Ukrainians to welcome his invading forces with cakes and flowers,” Kuzio said, explaining that Putin had the “Kool help” of the drunk in the Kremlin.
Furthermore, Putin appears to have been unprepared for the ferocity of the international reaction or the level of domestic resistance to his invasion, Kuzio noted. “Thanks to these catastrophic miscalculations, Putin is left with no good options to end a war that threatens to hasten Russia’s geopolitical decline as a great power.”
Russia has few friends left on the global stage, and the invasion is almost universally condemned. Even Russia’s ally China is concerned about the possible ongoing conflict in Ukraine and its impact on the global economy.
At a UN General Assembly in early March, 141 countries passed a resolution demanding that Russia immediately end its military operations in Ukraine. Only a handful of countries — a rogue gallery of Belarus, North Korea, Eritrea and Syria, all ruled by dictators — support Russia’s invasion. Russia’s allies Cuba, Nicaragua and China abstained from the vote.
Is Russia finished?
Close observers of Putin say there are increasing signs of desperation in Russia’s military campaign and have questioned how far Putin will go to achieve his goals.
“There are deep mysteries about Russian intentions,” Ian Lesser, vice president of the US’s German Marshall Fund, told CNBC earlier this month. “How far will you go? What would you consider a win?”
“There are all sorts of possibilities, from a full occupation of Ukraine, which I think most observers would say isn’t possible, to taking control of a few critical political centers in Ukraine, including Kyiv and possibly including Odessa, or maybe they took it on with a larger territorial move in mind.”
In such a scenario, he said, Russia would be “very exposed” to a sustained insurgency, with ongoing humanitarian costs as well. “So there are big dilemmas here,” Lesser added.
Michal Baranowski, senior fellow and director of the Warsaw office of the German Marshall Fund, told CNBC on Tuesday that Putin was “really overwhelmed.”
“We could be looking at the end of Russia as we know it,” he said. “But if he survives that, I think we could be dealing with the onset of a new Cold War.”
https://www.cnbc.com/2022/03/24/putins-invasion-of-ukraine-is-his-biggest-mistake-and-weakens-russia.html Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is his biggest mistake and weakens Russia