When Vladimir Putin stood up to speak at this week’s Victory Day parade in Moscow’s Red Square, there was an expectation – around the world and in Russia – that he would decisively seek to escalate the war in Ukraine towards a conclusion.
But as Moscow correspondent Andrew Roth tells Michael Safi, Putin did nothing of the kind. He did not even claim the victories that were available to him: there were no announcements regarding defeated cities in Ukraine now under Russian control. Instead, he spoke of helping the military families who had sacrificed their sons to the conflict.
The muted tone of the speech was revealing: it shows, says Roth, that Putin is faced with a dilemma that could make or break his presidency and his legacy in Russia. If he escalates the conflict he stands more chance of winning the kind of victory he initially hoped for. But should that fail, he would face humiliation. Alternatively, he could claim victory now and seek to de-escalate the conflict. But would a limited, compromised declaration of victory be regarded as anything but a retreat?
The decision cannot be delayed indefinitely. Russia’s elite fighting units are nearing exhaustion. And the limited ‘operation’ does not yet allow for a full-scale mobilisation. But there is growing recognition in Moscow and elsewhere that Ukraine’s fighters should not be underestimated. Putin does not hold all the aces in this conflict.
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