CEPA commentary: The Beginning of the End of Russia’s War on Ukraine

2023-06-24 | Expert publications

By Kurt Volker.

With Russian forces fighting each other – no matter what Yevgeny Prigozhin says about continuing the war – it will be clear to Russian fighters in Ukraine there is no point risking their lives for a losing cause.

Much is unclear in Russia since the June 23 Wagner Group mutiny against the military command began. But some things have become much clearer.

For months, it has been evident that Vladimir Putin had staked out a position that he was unable to achieve: conquering all of Ukraine and changing its government, or at least seizing all of the four additional provinces he had claimed to annex. Having staked his legacy on rebuilding the Russian Empire, he had nowhere else to go when his scheme failed.

Pursuing that failing course has meant higher and higher costs for the Russian forces involved. We have seen the elevation of the Wagner Group private militia, the recruitment of convicts as soldiers, the general conscription that prompted over a million to flee Russia, the ammunition shortages, the attacks by pro-Ukrainian Russian groups in Belgorod oblast, the public arguments between Wagner and the Ministry of Defense, the beginnings of direct criticism of Putin in social media, television, and the Duma, and the massive casualties (now possibly exceeding 360,000 dead and wounded) and failures of the Russian military on the ground.

It has been clear for months that this is unsustainable and yet no one could have predicted what element of the system would snap. Now we know.

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