The Strange Defeat

June 26, 2023 0 By Michel Santi

Clearly, for Russia, it was a chronicle of an announced debacle. They invaded the largest country in Europe with barely 150,000 soldiers, while the USSR mobilized nearly a million men in 1968 to occupy a country (Czechoslovakia) that represented only one-fifth of Ukraine’s territory and a quarter of its population at that time. Stalin would have acted differently. He didn’t hesitate to dismiss and even execute his favorite Marshal, Kulik, when the Red Army was crushed in Ukraine in 1941 by the Germans, who could then leisurely march towards Moscow. Understanding that it was not wise, at least from a military perspective, to surround oneself with sycophants, Stalin did not hesitate to entrust significant responsibilities to disgraced generals, some of whom were imprisoned in concentration camps but were competent and ultimately secured victory for him.

In our days, the lamentable failure of the Russian army and its pitiful retreat from Kyiv and Kharkiv has not been followed by the typical reaction of autocrats who have ruled Russia since the distant era of the Tsars, where incapable generals ended up facing a firing squad. This time, Putin did not use his (theoretical) absolute power to remove the incompetent individuals lacking military and strategic talent, unworthy of commanding troops. It is inexplicable! Especially coming from someone who was believed to have a zero-tolerance policy towards failure, a character he had cultivated over the decades without any qualms.

The reaction against the high-ranking officials who had captured power in Moscow came from an incredulous Prigozhin in the face of his master’s passivity. Sergei Shoigu, promoted to Defense Minister -even though he had never served in the military – because he was an unconditional servant of Putin? Valery Gerasimov, chief of staff and theorist of cyber warfare, who believed that it had supplanted the good old infantry? Prigozhin incessantly sent all kinds of messages, direct and subliminal, urging his Tsar to promptly replace the eminent members of his court with these young individuals who, against their will, distinguished themselves on the front lines. For our friend Prigozhin, the choice is simple: either execute Shoigu, Gerasimov, and the like—traitors due to incompetence or laziness, who have never bloodied their tunics like him—or abandon his Ukrainian territorial ambitions.

Does Putin have control over his shop? The distant and indifferent observer, somewhat knowledgeable about history, understands that the Kremlin owes its mythical eternity only to the war of clans. This particular Tsar has lost some of his splendor and his monopoly on the use of force. Indeed, Putin is not Stalin. Putin is, after all, just a bureaucrat. This internal struggle—pancreatic struggle—between Prigozhin and Putin is reminiscent of a remark by the unforgettable Kissinger regarding the war between Iran and Iraq: “What a pity that both cannot lose.”

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