Opinion: How Putin is running out of time

Editor’s note: David A. Andelman, a CNN contributor, two-time Deadline Club Award winner, a Chevalier of the French Legion of Honor, author of “A Red Line in the Sand: Diplomacy, Strategy, and the History of Wars That Might Still Happen” and blogs. Andelman in Unleashed. He was previously a correspondent for The New York Times and CBS News in Europe and Asia. The opinions expressed in this comment are his own. See more reviews on CNN.


Russian President Vladimir Putin is doing his best to achieve two immediate goals. The goal of the West should be to stop it.

First, he wants to distract his nation from the obvious, namely that it is losing badly on the battlefield and failing to achieve even the minor goals of its invasion.

Second, and at the same time, Putin is desperately playing for time: the political clock and the onset of winter in Europe will frustrate the will and energy of the Western powers that have dismantled his military-industrial machine and destroyed Russia’s armed forces.

Both sides – Russia and its western backer Ukraine – are doing their best to turn the screws ahead of a winter that will ultimately decide who will win Europe’s most titanic clash of forces since World War II. It’s worth taking a closer look at what’s in play now.

European energy concerns

First, there is the West and its ability to continue supplying the Ukrainian war machine that has been so effective in this David vs. Goliath battle.

That ability to continue depends on many variables, from the availability of critical and affordable energy supplies for the coming winter to the popular will of several countries with conflicting priorities.

In the early hours of Friday in Brussels, the powers of the European Union agreed to a roadmap To control energy prices that are rising due to Russian imports and the Kremlin’s capricious cutting of natural gas supplies.

Among them, one emergency hat In the reference center for European gas trade – the Dutch Title Transfer Facility – and permission to create a cartel for EU gas companies to buy gas on the international market.

While French President Emmanuel Macron was euphoric as he left the summit, which he described as having “maintained European unity”, he admitted there was only a “clear mandate” for the European Commission to start working on a gas cap mechanism.

However, divisions remain, with Europe’s largest economy, Germany, skeptical of a price cap. Now energy ministers must work out the details with Germany, as the limits would encourage higher consumption, putting more burden on limited supplies.

Putin’s useful friends in Europe

These divisions are part of Putin’s fondest dream. A range of forces in Europe may be critical to success from the Kremlin’s point of view, which means that the continent cannot agree on the essentials.

Germany and France are already at loggerheads on many of these issues. Despite efforts to reach some accommodation, Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz have scheduled a conference call for Wednesday.

And now a new government has taken power in Italy. Giorgia Meloni was sworn in as Italy’s prime minister on Saturday and has tried to shed her party’s post-fascist aura. One of the members of his far-right coalition, on the other hand, has expressed deep appreciation for Putin.

Silvio Berlusconi, the four-time prime minister of Italy, was filmed at a gathering of his party members, enjoying 20 bottles of vodka sent to him by Putin on his 86th birthday.

Berlusconi, in a secretly recorded audio tape, said he returned Putin’s gesture with bottles of Lambrusco wine, adding, “I knew him as a peaceful and sensible person,” in the LaPresse audio clip.

The other main member of Italy’s ruling coalition, Matteo Salvini, who was named deputy prime minister on Saturday, said on the campaign trail: “I would not want to be punished [on Russia] harming those who impose more than those who are struck.”

At the same time, Poland and Hungary, long-time far-rights united against liberal EU policies that seemed calculated to reduce their influence, are at odds over Ukraine. Poland has been deeply troubled by Hungarian populist leader Viktor Orban’s pro-Putin sentiments.

The limits of America’s “white check”.

Similar forces appear to be at work in Washington, where House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, poised to become speaker of the House if Republicans take control after next month’s election, told an interviewer: “I think people are going to be sitting in a recession and not writing blank checks.” to Ukraine They will do nothing.”

Meanwhile, on Monday, a 30-member progressive group in Congress called on Biden to open talks with Russia to end the conflict, while its troops occupy large swaths of the country and its missiles and drones are pounding inland.

Hours later, caucus chairwoman Mia Jacob, facing a firestorm of criticism, sent an email to reporters that “clarified” her pro-Ukraine statements. Secretary of State Antony Blinken also called his Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba to renew America’s support.

In fact, although the US has provided more than 60,000 billion dollars since Biden took office, when Congress authorized 40,000 billion dollars for Ukraine last May, only the Republicans voted against the latest aid package.

In short, Putin has every incentive to prolong the conflict as much as possible to initiate many of these Western forces. A long and cold winter in Europe, persistent inflation and higher interest rates will lead to a recession in both. The trans-Atlantic side could put unbearable pressure on already skeptical leaders to withdraw financial and military aid.

This support for arms, materiel and now training of Ukrainian forces has been the basis of significant battlefield successes against a weakened, under-equipped and ill-prepared Russian military.

At the same time, the West is increasing the pressure against Russia. Last Thursday, the State Department released a detailed report on the impact of sanctions and export controls strangling Russia’s military-industrial complex.

Production of Russian hypersonic missiles has been halted due to a “lack of the necessary semiconductors,” the report said. Aircraft are being cannibalized for spare parts, factories producing anti-aircraft systems have been shut down and “Russia has reverted to Soviet-era defense stocks” for upgrades. The Soviet era ended more than 30 years ago.

A day before this report, the US announced the seizure of all assets of a top Russian procurement agent, Yury Orekhov, and his agencies “responsible for the acquisition of US-origin technologies for Russian end users…including advanced semiconductors and microprocessors.”

The Justice Department also announced charges against individuals and companies trying to smuggle high-tech equipment into Russia in violation of sanctions.

All of these actions signal Russia’s growing desperation to acquire components vital to high-tech weapons production stalled by Western sanctions and embargoes that have begun to strangle the Kremlin’s military-industrial complex.

Where does Russia come from?

This Western pressure is finally giving real results. Putin’s announced martial law on Ukrainian territory is now only partially controlled by Russia, attacks on civilian targets inside Ukraine and a hard-line new Ukrainian commander, General Sergei Shurokin, nicknamed “General Armageddon” by colleagues, all suggest growing frustration. fear that the Russian people may begin to notice what has been obvious for a long time: Putin is losing.

This is a time when Ukraine and their Western supporters must move forward with determination.

Shurokin appeared on Moscow television last week to suggest the Kremlin’s new – decades-old – goal. force Ukraine into Russia’s orbit and to prevent it from joining the EU and especially NATO. Shurokin said: “We want only one thing, Ukraine to be independent from the West and NATO and be friendly with the Russian state.”

However, Pavel Gubarev, the leader of Russia’s puppets in Donetsk, is being doggedly pursued. pronounce his real intention towards the Ukrainians: “We are not coming to kill you, but to convince you. But if you don’t want to be convinced, we will kill you. We will kill as many as we need: 1 million, 5 million or we will exterminate all of you”.

This should be the real fear of anyone in the West who is willing to give 100% support to Ukraine and its people.