Putin Cannot Kill The Idea Of Ukraine
But Ukraine can kill Russians
It looks worse than it is.
Amateur historian Vladimir Putin has ignored the totality of urban warfare developments in the modern period. Although his bombardment is destructive, it is disconnected from any military objective that might defeat Ukraine. Moral suasion through large amounts of high explosives delivered by airplane or artillery has turned out to be a delusional side quest since 1914.
Bomb someone a little bit, and they will be afraid. Bomb them all the time, and you only make them mad.
Kherson and Mariupol have been flattened. Civilian casualties are high. Yet neither city has stopped resisting. On the contrary: reducing cities to rubble is like demolishing an anthill. Whole societies will move underground, swarming out like fire ants to bite any attackers who tread on them.
What explains this Russian strategy of maximal boom and minimal conquest is the Putinian obsession with denying Ukraine the separate, equal status of a Westphalian nation-state. Ukraine cannot be allowed to elect a Jewish president and turn away from right wing reactionary politics on their own. Ukraine cannot be allowed to give up corrupt oligarchy on the St. Petersburg model — Putin’s economic and political operating system. Most of all, Putin wants to stop Ukrainians from forming a separate Greek Orthodox church and for them to keep speaking Russian. Putin invaded Ukraine because he does not want Ukrainians forging the national identity that has been denied for so long under various Russian imperial projects and promoted piecemeal by others.
Ukrainians cannot be allowed to think of themselves as Ukrainians instead of Russians. It hurts Putin too much. But this is a problematic goal for a Russian army. To paraphrase Alan Moore’s antihero V, the idea of Ukraine cannot be destroyed by bullets or bombs or rockets or shells. As long as the idea of Ukraine exists, every city or town is an anthill of resistance — another First Battle of Grozny.
Rather than avenues of approach, paved roads through the muddy flats and boglands of Ukraine become death traps for Russian armored columns in a spring thaw. Convoys carrying food, fuel, and ammunition are vulnerable to flanking attacks by light infantry armed with drones and rockets.
Ukrainians can systematically target the radars, then the surface-to-air missiles, then the artillery, and then the trucks, leaving Russian tank crews ‘naked and afraid.’ Isolated Russian units panic and retreat after taking fire, or else become vulnerable to Ukrainian PSYOPS on their open radio channels. As seen on social media, Russians are being talked into surrender. As hunger begins to affect Ukrainian cities, the next humanitarian crisis will be all the Russian prisoners held in Ukraine.
I have been writing about all of this for more than a month now and Russia is no closer to victory today than it was at the dawn of Day Two. Indeed, at this very hour it appears that Ukrainian counterattacks have forced Russians out of Makariv (see above photo), the eastern Kyivan suburb, as well as the port city of Kherson, which was the only significant city center to fall thus far. Strikes on Russian ships at the port of Berdyansk are a sign that Ukrainian force is about to eject Putin from his “land bridge” to Crimea and extend their anti-ship missile envelope over the Sea of Azov.
For a moment this week, analysts worried that Belarus would join the invasion. Forces did indeed seem to stand up, but never mobilized, and now the Pentagon sees no indication of an offensive in the west. Rumors that up to 80 percent of Russian units are refusing orders — while the aggressive 20 percent get destroyed — have probably made an impression on erstwhile allies of Putin. The much-ballyhooed Chechen formations limped home with heavy casualties weeks ago. The more “elite” or “feared” the Russian unit, the more total its destruction has been.
Clearly, Russia’s army cannot annihilate Ukrainian will to resist, cannot attack the idea of Ukraine, only its structures and the inhabitants thereof. But this is not enough to kill the idea of Ukraine.
Hilariously, Russian propaganda is minimizing casualties and declaring victory in Luhansk and Donetsk not far from their starting line. Ukraine has a green light to win as much as they want inside of Ukraine. Vladimir becomes less and less demanding with every disaster.
Of course that does not mean this is over. If the corner is turned in this war, it portends a long struggle. Russian generals have shown no ability to focus force or concentrate reserves, throwing reinforcements into battle piecemeal instead. By contrast, Ukrainians seem to be calmly, resolutely pushing back against the Russian juggernaut until it shatters into pieces, and who knows where that might lead.
This could be worse than it looks.