Opinion: Putin’s dream comes to an ignominious end

Editor’s note: Peter Bergen is a CNN national security analyst, vice president of New America, and professor of practice at Arizona State University. Bergen is the author of “The Cost of Chaos: The Trump Administration and the World.” The opinions expressed in this comment are his own. See more reviews on CNN.


Russian President Vladimir Putin had a plan to quickly take over Ukraine. From the first days of the Russian invasion, these plans fell apart with the failure to capture Kyiv.

Putin’s problems have only intensified in recent days with the escalation of the Ukrainian counteroffensive that has taken over key pockets of Russian-controlled territory, such as the Lyman transit hub.

The timing couldn’t be worse. Putin lost Lyman when he was declaring that the Donetsk region – in which Lyman sits – was now annexed by Russia.

At home, Putin is facing growing criticism from both the Russian left and right, who are taking huge risks considering the draconian penalties he could face for speaking out against “special military operations” in Ukraine.

With his allies expressing concern, and hundreds of thousands of citizens fleeing the partial mobilization, an increasingly isolated Putin has resumed his rambling speeches that offer a distorted view of history.

(Indeed, his revisionist narrative pinpoints the cause of the war in Ukraine, which he says has historically been part of Russia, even though Ukraine declared its independence from the Soviet Union more than three decades ago.)

But Putin – an ardent student of Russian history – knows for sure that defeat in a foreign war has brought down some of his predecessors.

When the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in December 1979, they planned to install a puppet government and get out of the country as soon as it was done, as explained in the latest authoritative book on the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan by the historian “Afghan Crucible”. Elisabeth Leake.

Leak writes that the Soviets’ “intention was a quick regime change”, which “was not meant to be a long military encounter”.

That playbook didn’t work for the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s any more than it works for Putin in Ukraine today.

During the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan, the United States initially refused to increase its support for the Afghan resistance, fearing a wider conflict with the Soviet Union. It took until 1986 for the CIA to arm the Afghans with highly effective Stinger anti-aircraft missiles, which ended the Soviets’ complete air superiority, eventually forcing them out of Afghanistan three years later.

In 2022, American weapons are once again playing a decisive role on the battlefield in Russia’s fortunes. At the start of the war in Ukraine, the US was also initially eyeing deeper involvement, fearing a wider conflict with the Russians.

But the US put those fears to rest fairly quickly, and US-supplied Javelin anti-tank missiles and the High Mobility Artillery Missile System (HIMARS), GPS-guided missiles, have helped the Ukrainians push back against the Russians.

Putin also knows for sure that the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 was accelerated by the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan two years earlier.

Looking further into the history books, one must also know that the Russian defeat in the Russo-Japanese War of 1905 weakened the Romanov monarchy. Czar Nicholas II’s infamous leadership during World War I fueled the Russian Revolution of 1917. Later, a large part of the Romanov family was killed by a Bolshevik firing squad.

Putin, understandably, does not want to go the way of either the Soviets or the Romanovs. This may explain his latest desperate moves: the mobilization of 300,000 additional troops—a measure he had long avoided—and the saber rattling of nuclear weapons.

On February 22, two days before Russia’s invasion, former US President Donald Trump, who has always resented Putin, publicly called the Russian autocrat a “genius” and “intelligence” for declaring two independent regions in eastern Ukraine and moving his troops. there in a prelude to a full invasion.

Putin saw the war in Ukraine as the key to his dream of making Russia Great Again. Instead, Russia can no longer pretend to be a great power because it cannot defeat an enemy on its borders.

More than seven months after the start of the war, the myth of the “genius” has been unraveled. In the past two weeks, at least 200,000 Russian men have voted with their feet to escape Putin’s partial mobilization order. They understand that – despite the herculean efforts of Putin’s propagandists – this war is a bloodbath that Russia is losing.

Lawrence Freedman, emeritus professor of war studies at King’s College London, recently published his book “Command: The Politics of Military Operations from Korea to Ukraine” on how Putin plunged his countrymen into the Ukrainian quagmire.

Freedman writes that Putin “is a tragic example of how an individual can adapt to the whims and fancies without any critical challenge to the facts. Autocrats who put their cronies in key positions, control the media to drown out dissenting voices… are able to order their subjects to follow the most stupid orders. .

Putin’s gamble could lead to the third dissolution of the Russian empire, which occurred in 1917 at the end of World War I, and again in 1991 after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

It could unfold once again as Putin’s dream of taking over Ukraine appears to be ending.

Weakening Russia, on the other hand.