Putinova polovičarska vojna taktika, ki bega analitike na Zahodu

Tokratna nova številka Foreign Affairs, ki velja za nekakšen outlet ameriške uradne zunanje politike, za spremembo od propagandističnih člankov v zadnjih mesecih prinaša nekaj presenetljivo zanimivih razmišljanj. Prvi je članek Andreia Soldatova in Irine Borogan, ki se sprašujeta, zakaj Putin navkljub vsem nastavkom še ni začel s totalno smrtonosno vojno v Ukrajini. Denimo, zakaj je Putin izvedel lansko mobilizacijo, pa teh vojakov ni uporabil na fronti in pušča, da se namesto ruske vojske na fronti borijo Wagnerjevi plačanci? Zakaj Putin ni začel vojaške operacije v celotni Ukrajini in namesto tega uporablja zgolj ciljane napade na ukrajinsko kritično infrastrukturo? Zakaj Putin še ni uporabil najmočnejšega vojaškega arzenala (od polne uporabe letalstva, hipersoničnih raket do taktičnega jedrskega orožja) in zakaj samo grozi s tem? Zakaj Putin ni uporabil Stalinovega pristopa s totalno represijo v Rusiji, da bi tako zastrašil ljudi in poenotil vseh trdorokcev? Zakaj Putin ni naredil masakra nad šibkejšimi členi v poveljniški garnituri in je celo vrnil nazaj na položaje nekatere posameznike, ki so bili okrivljeni slabe presoje pred začetkom vojaške operacije v Ukrajini in zakaj ni inštaliral najbolj militantnih trdorokcev? Zakaj je Putin pustil odprte meje? Zakaj Putin ni nacionaliziral premoženja tujih družb, pač pa je prepustil njihovim lastnikom, da se sami odločijo, da ostanejo ali zapustijo Rusijo? Zakaj Putin ni začel nove ofenzive na Ukrajino, ki jo zahodne obveščevalne službe napovedujejo že nekaj mesecev? Zakaj takšna polovičarska vojna taktika?

Avtorja nimata konkluzivnih odgovorov na ta vprašanja, pač pa bolj špekulirata v smeri, da si Putin pušča odprte vse opcije. Kadarkoli lahko eskalira in uporabi polno vojaško tehniko in kadarkoli lahko sede za pogajalsko mizo. Kadarkoli lahko eskalira, medtem pa popravlja plinovod Severni tok. Iz tega vidika je Putinova taktika bolj namenjena zahodnim državam, daje jim vedeti, da lahko naredi bistveno več, če bi hotel. V notranji politiki pa si Putin gradi imidž kot predsednika Putina in ne kot generala Putina. Ohranja polno podporo ruskega naroda za svojo politiko. Pri čemer je šel celo tako daleč, da omogoča vrnitev brez sankcij vsem, ki so pobegnili pred mobilizacijo in mnogi, predvsem strokovnjaki v IT sektorju,  so se že vrnili.

Jaz vidim to Putinovo taktiko, pri čemer se seveda lahko motim, še najbolj kot politiko izčrpavanja zahodnih držav. Očitno je, da Rusija nima težav s financiranjem zelo dolgotrajne vojne, saj je brez težav presumerila izvoz svojih energentov v Azijo, kjer jih prodaja po enakovrednih cenah, kot veljajo za arabsko in zahodno nafto. Očitno je, da Rusija lahko zdrži dlje časa to vojno, kot bodo zahodne države voljne finančno podpirati Ukrajino. V ZDA se čez leto in pol obeta politična sprememba, kar najverjetneje pomeni konec finančnega podpiranja Ukrajine (oziroma vsaj v tem obsegu). Evropske države pa so že ves čas na robu odločitve, koliko časa še podpirati Ukrajino.

Ob Ukrajini, ki jo ta vojna povsem uničuje, pa vojna najbolj škodi evropskim državam. Ob tej negotovosti in teh cenah energentov evropska energetsko intenzivna podjetja ne morejo dolgo vztrajati. Sprejeti morajo odločitve ne o tem, ali bodo zaprla svojo dejavnost v Evropi, pač pa kam jo bodo prenesla. Mnoga so te odločitve že sprejela in očitno so se glede na geopolitične trende v smeri multipolarizacije odločila za hedganje – del dejavnosti in vse nove investicije prenašajo v Kitajsko, del pa v ZDA. Torej tja, kjer so veliki trgi, kjer je na voljo dovolj  energije in po sprejemljivih cenah in kjer si povrh lahko obetajo še subvencije. Glede na verjetnost dolgotrajne vojne in glede na poglabljanje hladne vojne med ZDA in Kitajsko, ki prinaša oster protekcionizem med obema, se zdi delni umik iz Evrope in hedganje optimalna opcija za evropska podjetja. Ne samo za energetsko intenzivna, pač pa tudi za tista v avtomobilski dejavnosti in visokih tehnologijah. Toda se zavedamo, kaj to pomeni za prihodnost evropskega gospodarstva, delovna mesta in blaginjo?

Ta vojna, ob Ukrajini, ubija predvsem Evropo. In očitno se Putin tega dobro zaveda, zato bo s taktiko dolgotrajnega izčrpavanja nadaljeval. Glavna profiterja te vojne pa sta ZDA in Kitajska, čeprav slednja bolj po sili razmer.

On September 21, 2022, when Russian President Vladimir Putin announced his large-scale mobilization of fighting-age men, it was seen as a dramatic move toward total war. No longer could the Kremlin downplay the war in Ukraine as a mere “special operation” in which ordinary Russians had little involvement. Fearful of what was to come, hundreds of thousands of young men fled the country as rumors circulated that the security services were going to close the borders to prevent more people from leaving—and take drastic measures to pressure those who had left to return and fight. Many also assumed that Putin’s order would be followed by a second, even broader draft, and that all of Russian society would soon be put on a continual war footing.

Yet few of these rumors proved true. For the remainder of 2022, and even through the first anniversary of the war in late February, Russia’s borders remained open, and a second mobilization never happened. Instead, the country was left in a state of “partial mobilization,” as Putin had called it. Indeed, despite huge numbers of Russian casualties in Ukraine, not every family has been affected, and for many middle-class Russians, life has continued much as it did before.

The surprising reality of the September mobilization has highlighted a larger feature of Putin’s war in Ukraine. Often, the Kremlin has initially appeared to take a maximalist course. Instead of invading eastern Ukraine, it launched a full-scale assault on the whole country and tried to take Kyiv. In addition to deploying tanks, missiles, and heavy artillery, Putin has repeatedly made threats about using nuclear weapons. And he has seemingly been willing to sacrifice tens of thousands of men to fuel his war. At home, meanwhile, the government has announced extreme measures to clamp down on the Russian media and popular dissent as well as to put the Russian economy on a war footing.

Yet many of these moves have been considerably less severe in practice than they seem on paper. In Ukraine, despite increasing attacks on civilian areas, Russia has held back from using its full arsenal. And although Putin has done much to tighten his grip on Russian society in the year since the invasion, many of his most far-reaching domestic measures have been incompletely implemented. Again and again, the Kremlin has stopped short of total militarization and total mobilization—whether of the economy or of society at large.

By many indications, this partial approach to total war is not haphazard, nor is it simply the result of failed execution. Instead, Russia appears to be pursuing a deliberate strategy aimed at both the West and its own population. By staking out a maximalist stance on the war, the Kremlin can suggest to the West that it is prepared to do whatever it takes to win in Ukraine, without necessarily having to make good on its threats. At home, meanwhile, the Russian government can convey to ordinary Russians that it has the option of tightening the screws further, but that it is not going out of its way to alienate the population. In both cases, the strategy offers Putin an open path toward further escalation, but without the immediate costs.

A similar pattern has unfolded with Putin’s economic policies. In the spring of 2022, the Kremlin seemed prepared to take far-reaching steps to expand government control of the economy. Draft legislation on a nationalization program was promptly prepared and sent to the Duma, and foreign companies worried that their assets and operations would be seized. To many observers, there was also a logic for such moves: foreign companies were rapidly leaving the country, raising the specter of massive layoffs and possible social unrest—a scenario the Kremlin was anxious to avoid. It was for much the same reasons that the Bolsheviks had initially nationalized factories and banks after the Russian Revolution in 1917. 

Yet the 2022 draft legislation was never signed into law, and foreign companies were mostly left to make their own arrangements about their Russian assets. In October, the government did order industries that were crucial for the war effort to come under direct state control via a new special coordinating council on military supplies. But fears of a completely militarized economy have proved to be overblown.

PRESIDENT PUTIN, NOT GENERAL STALIN

To the extent that Russia is seeking to fight a total war, as many Western commentators have suggested, Putin’s handling of the mobilization question has been especially striking. Not only has the Kremlin avoided a second wave of mobilization, despite significant manpower demands, but it has also made extensive use of mercenaries from the Wagner paramilitary organization, some of whom have been recruited from Russian prisons. In this way, rather than pursue a full-scale mobilization, the Russian government has for the time being opted to use other resources while keeping the mobilization only partial. The tactic appears to be serving its purpose: in recent weeks, Wagner has been the only unit that was on the offensive, and although it has suffered heavy casualties, its losses are not of concern to the military.

At the same time, Putin has shown relative restraint toward officials or agencies within the government that are implicated in some of the war’s failures or that seem to disagree with his own policies. Historically, when authoritarian regimes go to war, they almost always use repression to make the country more unified, usually by ruthlessly attacking perceived internal enemies. Typically, such crackdowns are aimed at those who dissent from the leader’s views, as well as elites, to make sure they do not waiver from the official line. Such repression can sometimes be systematic, as for example in Russia itself under Stalin and other leaders. Indeed, Putin seemed to be firmly on this path even before the invasion, sending high-level officials and governors, as well as officers of Russia’s FSB security service, to jail by the dozens.

Yet when the invasion started, and quickly went badly, Putin limited his anger toward the siloviki, the security elite. The FSB’s Fifth Service, the arm of the agency in charge of keeping an eye on Russia’s immediate neighbors, was the first to receive the president’s wrath. It was the Fifth Service that had briefed Putin about the political situation in Ukraine and suggested, incorrectly, that the government in Kyiv would quickly collapse. In March 2022, the head of the service, Sergei Beseda, was secretly placed under house arrest and was soon shuffled off to the Lefortovo Prison—the notorious prison where leading political prisoners and spies have long been sent.

Next, it was the National Guard’s turn: in the same month, the deputy head of the National Guard, Roman Gavrilov, was forced into early retirement: he had been in charge of supplying the National Guard’s special forces, which had been sent to war woefully underequipped. Some units had been given anti-riot gear instead of armor and ammunition, as if they had expected to meet protesters, not Ukrainian troops, on the streets of Kyiv. There were rumors that Gavrilov had been arrested and that various army generals would soon be fired or imprisoned as retribution for the army’s poor performance on the battlefield.

But then, within a few weeks, the repressions suddenly stopped. Some were even undone: Sergei Beseda was released and returned to his office in Lubyanka and then deliberately displayed at several public events. What is more, in February 2023, his son, Alexander Beseda, was given a remarkable promotion to become the head of the government department that oversees all the security agencies.

Yet judging by Russia’s actions, it has in practice sought to do something different from wage total war. Throughout 2022, the Kremlin made a point of showing that more drastic options were available to it: it could always do more. But it also showed that, for the time being, it was content to go only so far. The point here was that by laying out these extreme options—nationalizing industry, mobilizing the economy, pursuing systematic repression, or even using tactical nuclear attacks—the Kremlin has staked out space to escalate. It has already announced, in effect, what more it could do, whether on the battlefield or in conducting repressions at home.

For Putin, this approach serves multiple purposes. The primary target may be Western governments, which are deeply concerned about the possibility of uncontrollable escalation. The Kremlin is adamant about showing them that it has many options but has thus far kept things under control—unlike Kyiv, which in its desperation is, according to Russia, prone to escalation. At home, Moscow’s approach also serves another purpose: to demonstrate that it is capable of calibrating its response to Western sanctions and military failures, and that it does not need to go all the way until it truly must.

Putin’s halfway strategy has scored some notable successes. Throughout 2022, for example, the Russian economy was not hobbled by excessive militarization or government control. To the contrary, Russia’s economic contraction was smaller than most Western analysts predicted. Moreover, the strategy also helped Putin maintain a fine balance between tightening the rules and not alienating Russia’s economically active urban middle class. For their part, many ordinary Russians have been glad to ignore the war as much as possible, and the Kremlin’s strategy has skillfully played on these feelings: it has allowed many Russians to pretend that they will not be affected by the war.

Indeed, the strategy has also been aimed at those who fled into exile. Many Russian men who went abroad to avoid being mobilized have since been signaled that they will not be punished at home if they return. On February 1, for example, Russia’s Prosecutor General Igor Krasnov reported to Putin that 9,000 “illegally mobilized citizens”—people who are supposed to be exempt from mobilization because they perform critical jobs in IT or in the banking and financial system—had already been returned home. The Russian authorities are also seeking ways to lure the country’s exiled IT specialists—which it needs to sustain the war effort—back to Russia. The government has promised workers in this category exemption from the draft and a free plane ticket home. Putin knows his people well: some Russians, desperate to believe there is a way back to prewar reality, are returning to Russia thanks to this strategy.

Nevertheless, in the first year of war, Putin’s partial escalation strategy has generally served him well. It has allowed him to maintain political stability through a combination of intimidation and indifference. Internationally and domestically, it has helped him prepare Russia for a very long war without making the kinds of sacrifices that might ultimately cause the population to rebel. And above all, it has given him flexibility. The more radical options—including economic nationalization and full mobilization—are still open, and the country’s bureaucracy is already prepared to set them in motion.

Vir: Andrei Soldatov in Irina Borogan, Foreign Affairs

En odgovor

  1. Ruska elita je mojstrsko nadigrala zahodno, o čemer pišem vse od začetka te vojne. V neskončnem napuhu Zahod šele zdaj po enem letu počasi in deloma dojema zakaj se gre.

    Avtorja nista uspela priti do ključne ugotovitve (ali pa se še ne upata), namreč kaj je ultimativni cilj te vojne? Zakaj jo tudi Kitajska podpira? To ni samo Ukrajina, temveč iztrganje Evrope iz ameriškega (angolsaksonskega) vpliva. Vključitev Evrope v Evrazijo, kot bi rekel Orwell oz. njena odcepitev od Oceanije (ZDA, Velika britanija). Kriza v Evropi služi temu. Putin noče uničiti Evrope, Putin jo hoče priklopiti k Evraziji.

    Z neskončno pohlepnostjo Anglosasi sami prispevajo k temu. Namesto, da bi delili breme sankcij z Evropo, so jo v krizi neusmiljeno oskubili. Spomnite se navdušene podpore francoskega ministra za gospodarstvo Le Maire-a na začetku vojne:

    “WE’RE WAGING AN ALL-OUT ECONOMIC AND FINANCIAL WAR ON RUSSIA. WE WILL CAUSE THE COLLAPSE OF THE RUSSIAN ECONOMY”,
    said the French Finance Minister, Le Maire (words, he later said, he regretted).

    Pol leta kasneje se je pritoževal nad cenami ameriškega plina za Evropo.

    Samo profiti anglosaksonskih naftnih družb (da oboroževalnih niti ne omenjamo) daleč presegajo vso pomoč Ukrajini. (koliko te pomoči gre v resnici v Ukrajino je drugo vprašanje). In resnica o tem počasi prihaja v zavest evropskih gospodarstvenikov, prebivalstva in deloma politike. Resnica, da so jih Anglosasi nategnili ko mačke.

    Amerika tukaj pospešno izgublja še tisto malo “softpower” kar jo ima. Posledice utegnejo biti hude in dolgoročne.

    Všeč mi je

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