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The horrors that Putin is wreaking on the Ukrainian people are increasing, but this news is no longer at the forefront. Though the fading attention is understandable and probably inevitable, it’s just what Putin is counting on.

He is playing the long game, figuring that once the forbidding winter weather sets in, the Ukrainians won’t be able to keep fighting back as they have been doing. And if the Allies stop providing Ukraine with the weaponry it so desperately needs, he knows it’s “game over.”

Yet the question arises: beyond all the Putin bluster, can we get a more accurate picture of what’s going on in Ukraine? I am far from an expert on Russia and Putin, but I’ve been reading about and listening to someone who is.

Remember Fiona Hill? You may recall her no-nonsense testimony against the former guy in his first impeachment trial. From 2017 to 2019, she served as deputy assistant to the president and senior director for European Affairs on the National Security Council. She’s now a senior fellow in the Center on the United States and Europe in the Brookings Institution’s Foreign Policy program.

Hill was recently interviewed by Foreign Policy Magazine’s editor-in-chief, Ravi Agrawal. He described Hill as “an expert who has studied what makes Putin tick more than perhaps any other western analyst.” Among her books is Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin (2015).

She also participated in a podcast I listened to on Ukraine: “Talking Feds: Blood and Gasoline.” In both discussions, her message was the same.

Yes, Putin and his henchmen talk as though they’re just getting started: the worst is yet to come. But the story they’re presenting to the world omits Russia’s own vulnerabilities and the fact that the ticking clock is very worrisome to them as well.

According to Hill, when Western analysts suggest “time is not on our side,” that view “hides the fact that Putin, himself, may also be running against time limits.” It’s to his advantage to have us wonder if we can persevere. “This is part of an information war.”

Hill notes that although Russia is now flush with oil cash, after the winter, the sanctions will begin to bite. And Russia’s military hardware and infrastructure have been badly degraded: they depend upon the West for the computer circuits and components needed for their systems. It will take them four years to replace the tanks they’ve lost. They also have serious manpower issues.

Here is what I found most important—and potentially hopeful: just as our 2024 election is critical, Putin also faces election in 2024. He begins his election effort two years earlier—as in now. He thought his Ukraine gambit would be a quick win that would solidify his people’s devotion. “The West has capitulated to me,” was the narrative he expected to be enacting.

When Agrawal asks why a dictator should be worried about reelection, Hill responds:

“Because he’s fearful of a repetition of what happened when he last returned to the presidency in 2011 and 2012, where we had protests in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and other major [Russian] cities. Putin knows that there is a lot of dissatisfaction hidden beneath the surface. People seem to be supportive of this special military operation as long as the children of the elite are not being sent off as cannon fodder to the front lines.

“We’re starting to see some backlash from the marginal areas of Russia: Buryatia, for example, where there’s been an awful lot of Buryats sent to the front lines. You start to see protests of women wanting their husbands and sons brought home. They’re starting to have a hard time recruiting in places like Dagestan, not so much as Chechnya, where there’s a lot of compulsion for people to fight in the war. Putin knows that this grind is having an impact.

“We have to look out for when things start to hurt people in their pocketbook. The biggest demonstrations or protests in Putin’s long tenure as president and prime minister of Russia since 2000 have been over economic issues. And then also over this sense of unfairness of him keeping himself in power. He’s not that popular in Moscow and St. Petersburg. When you get down into the depths of the polling, it looks a little bit like the new polling about Donald Trump right now. People would actually like an alternative.”

Hill is forthright about the worldwide damage Putin is creating, including the impact on the global economy and the prospect of famine. And she’s emphatic that left to his own devices, he’ll never stop. Peter the Great—even Catherine the Great—are his models.

Her timely and forceful message is that we must not allow ourselves to buy into Putin’s rhetoric. “We can defeat ourselves here,” she said. “We are falling into a trap. We keep falling for their narrative all the time.”

I don’t know how the Ukrainians continue to mount their super-human effort, barraged as they are by such unspeakable cruelty. But yesterday, BBC News (World) reported: “Ukraine war: West’s modern weapons halt Russia’s advance in Donbas.”

And today, The New York Times described Ukraine’s preparations for “one of the most ambitious and significant military actions of the war: retaking Kherson,” which has been the “Russian beachhead, from which its military continuously launches attacks across a broad swath of Ukrainian territory.”

So I hope that Americans will continue supporting Ukraine in every way possible for as long as they need us. Putin is depending on our dysfunction. Let’s hope the Russian people will soon say “Nyet!” to his dysfunction—and to him.

Your thoughts?


16 thoughts on “A Russia Expert on Ukraine: WE MUST NOT BUY INTO PUTIN’S NARRATIVE

    1. I’d welcome humiliation on the battlefield, followed by his political enemies’ hauling him before the world to be tried and convicted as a war criminal and forced to languish in jail for the rest of his life. Putin the Great? Nyet!!

      Liked by 2 people

  1. A consensus seems to be emerging that the tide is turning in Ukraine. The US-supplied HIMARS system has been a real game-changer, hugely degrading the Russians’ fighting ability. Russian shelling is down to a fraction of its former intensity, and Ukrainian casualties have decreased correspondingly. More HIMARS systems are on the way, and the UK and Germany are also supplying highly advanced weaponry. I have a summary and links here.

    It’s interesting that there have been protests in Buryatia due to large numbers of Buryats being sent to fight. The Buryats are an ethnic minority, related to the Mongols and racially and culturally different from Russians. It’s hardly surprising that Putin is using ethnic minorities as cannon fodder, but heavy casualties among ethnic Russians are unavoidable. There have been several firebomb attacks on military recruiting centers in various parts of Russia. People are getting unhappy.

    How long can the Ukrainians keep up the fight? I don’t think they really have the option of giving up. They’re facing cultural and political extinction if they lose. The Russians’ brutality is only hardening their will to resist. Remember the German bombing campaign against British cities in World War II. Terrorizing civilians with attacks like that doesn’t break their will, it makes them angry and more determined to fight back. And so, far, at least, the West’s support is holding firm.

    The fact that Putin’s authoritarian religio-nationalist regime is most popular in rural areas and unpopular in big cities parallels the distribution of political attitudes in the US, if you think about it. But it’s dangerous for Putin. Big cities are where revolutions happen.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Infidel. I thought I was revisiting an important issue that hasn’t been getting enough attention, and there you were two days ago!

      Good links; the missile info is especially encouraging.

      And I like your last two lines a lot!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Here’s some more info and links on the sudden change in the military situation. Russia’s advantage in power over Ukraine isn’t as large as most Americans think. Russia is huge on the map, but its population is only three times Ukraine’s. It has a lot of border to defend (including with China), so it can’t deploy its entire military capacity in Ukraine. There’s no reason Ukraine can’t actually win this, with the advanced weaponry the West can supply.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There is no wining this. With luck they might be able to mourn in peace. Russia like always will mourn in silence.


  3. Aside from the Russian population (and their motivations are complicated- so let’s not go there), you can guarantee three sets of supporters:
    1. Folk in the Third World who are hostile to the West and see anyone fighting them as good. Never mind the fact that Russian Mercenaries have committed a long list of human rights abuses in the Third World.
    2. The section of European Left (aka Useful Idiots) who are locked into some decades old, arcane, long held mish-mosh of Anti-Americanism, Anti-Capitalism, Anti-Their-Own Government and are wilfully blind and deaf to Putin’s regime.
    3. Oddly, when thinking of ‘2’, the American Right; who celebrate Putin’s Human Rights Abuses, for reasons which can only be described as immature and reactionary.
    In short The Uninformed, The Ignorant and The Bigoted.
    Were Putin to take control in their nations and they tried to complain about anything, there would be no one there to help them.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Sadly Annie one of the constant follies of Human Nature is a willingness to embrace something distasteful because the people or outlook you dislike/ hate don’t.
        It seems that at the end of the day a dose of pragmatism is needed by all sides, to ‘get the job done’

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I can understand your point, Roger. But this horrible worldwide mess appears attributable to Putin’s grandiosity. If he’d been pragmatic and built up his country instead of robbing the people and indulging the oligarchs, things would be very different today, IMO.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. He is one in a long line Annie. You could say evidence of a flaw in Human Nature.
        Regrettably he gave way to the insular brooding facet of Russian nationalism. Claims to link with Peter the Great, forgetting Peter the Great took Russia out of its insularity and made it more European; that Peter the Great achieved much by reaching out to European states he could work with.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I appreciate a better sense of Putin’s grandiosity as broken down by Fiona Hill and your post here. I recall her testimony a while back, and boy, she knows her stuff.

    Liked by 1 person

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