Putin prepares a victory parade, ignoring its reality

Publisher’s note: Frida Ghitis, (@fridaghitis) A former producer and correspondent for CNN, she is a columnist on world affairs. She is a weekly opinion contributor for CNN, a columnist for The Washington Post, and a columnist for the World Politics Review. The opinions expressed in this comment belong solely to the author of it.

(CNN) — When Ukrainian forces repelled Russian troops seeking to capture the capital Kyiv, they said they found something interesting in what the Russians left behind after their retreat: abandoned ammunition and weaponsand inside military vehicles, Russian parade uniforms. “They hoped to take control of Kyiv in two days and have a parade here,” said Oleksandr Hruzevychdeputy chief of the General Staff of the Ukrainian ground forces.

Russian President Vladimir Putin was unable to get a parade in the Ukrainian capital, but there will be a parade in Moscow soon and, whatever happens on the battlefield, he is likely to declare victory during that event in three weeks’ time. .

May 9 is when Russia celebrates one of its most important national holidays, Victory Day, the anniversary of Germany’s surrender at the end of World War II. The Kremlin has used that anniversary for more than 70 years to commemorate successful heroism against the Nazis, but, just as importantly, to proclaim to the Russian people and to the country’s friends and enemies alike that the leaders of Moscow rule a great and powerful power.

Victory Day is all about military muscle, and when it comes in the middle of a war, even one the Russians have forbidden to call “war” and that state propaganda falsely claims that is proceeding perfectly according to plan, there is no choice but to take advantage of the occasion to boast of victory.

The evaluations of the intelligence services of the United States, analysts of Russian foreign policy and common sense indicate that Putin will use May 9 as a kind of self-imposed deadline in Ukraine. This is not a deadline to win the war, which probably won’t happen by then, but to pretend that Russia has won something. Something critical. Something important.

The next three weeks’ campaign will focus on eastern Ukraine, in the Donbas region, along the Russian border, where there is a higher concentration of ethnic Russians and Russian-speakers, and where Russian-backed separatists have been waging a war against the Ukrainian state for eight years.

That is where Putin will look for a success that will help him save face, a concrete victory that can lead the Russian people to tell them that he is still the mythical leader whose “special military operation”, with all the difficulties it is causing the Russians, not to mention the hardship it is inflicting on Ukraine, has been worth it. Unfortunately, their desperation to win means that the next three weeks are sure to bring even worse death and destruction to Ukraine.

So far, Putin’s war has produced almost the exact opposite of what he wanted: to strengthen Ukraine’s nationhood, fortify and unify NATO and the West, tarnish the image of Russia’s military and strategists, and so on. successively. And yet Putin has succeeded hide those facts to the Russian people, shutting down independent media outlets and causing genuine Russian journalists to flee the country. This has left almost all Russians consuming only the state-controlled media, which is little more than propaganda.

But even dictators have to worry about their internal position. If the Russian people see Putin’s Ukrainian adventure as the disaster he has been so far, his grip on power could be weakened.

Even under information controlled by the state, some facts may become impossible to hide. Soldiers will return home to tell their stories to friends and family. Thousands of them will not return. And a small segment of the population can continue to receive news from abroad. Meanwhile, the Russian people, who are in dire straits due to sanctions and the departure of many foreign companies from their country, may soon reach an economic breaking point. In any case, the truth will filter little by little.

That is why Putin urgently needs to show his campaign as triumphant.

On May 9, Putin will almost certainly stand in Red Square, on a stage built in front of the mausoleum where the embalmed body of Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin has been on display. for over 90 years, and he will pretend that all is well on his western front. He will ceremonially review the troops, no matter how many the army may command from the massive deployment in Ukraine.

We’ll see if Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu makes an appearance. Until last year, he played an important role, with his chest adorned with medalsshining behind the bloody victories in Syria and Chechnya. Today, he leads a humiliated force and the persistent rumors of his demise refuse to die.

On that day, Putin will probably announce something about the Donbas region. Perhaps he will declare that she has been “liberated” from the “Nazis” he claims rule Ukraine (an absurdly false claim, given that the country’s president himself is Jewish). Perhaps Russia will hold a fake referendum, as it did after capturing Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in 2014. If Russia publishes a referendum that shows most Donbass are willing to join Russia, remember that a recent independent poll does not supports that claim.

Shortly after the 2021 Victory Day parade, Putin published an article in which he stated that Russians and Ukrainians are the same people. she was a ominous sign that Putin would try to erase Ukraine’s identity, nationality and borders soon after. Most residents of Donbas, the only area of ​​Ukraine where one might expect sympathy for Putin’s historical analysis, flatly reject that view. In a exclusive CNN poll, less than one in five agreed that Russians and Ukrainians are “one people”. Still, that is a key element or justification for Putin’s war.

Another strategic victory for Putin could come if the port city of Mariupol falls, as Russian forces try to establish a land corridor between territories they control in Donbas and Crimea. That would tighten Moscow’s control over a large segment of Ukraine, which would amount to much more than a symbolic victory. It would be a moral, strategic and economic blow to Ukraine’s sovereignty.

To ensure any such victory by May 9, Putin will almost certainly unleash even more fury on eastern Ukraine. This will be met with unyielding ferocity from the Ukraine. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told CNN that Ukraine will not give up territory in the east to stop the war. If Donbas falls, believe Putin will target Kyiv again.

To resist the new attack, Ukraine needs even more help from the West. And Ukraine needs it fast. Putin’s desire to declare victory in three weeks will bring more suffering. But he has also put the Russian leader in potential danger. What he announces on May 9 has to be credible. Otherwise, Putin knows that he will become dangerously vulnerable.

After all, the parade will be held in Moscow, not Kyiv.

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