Russia Goes Full Scorched Earth
Is this desperate destruction by rain of fire the signature of victory or failure?
After months of losing badly in Bakhmut, Wagner CEO and commander, Yevgeny Prigozhin, sent a video of scathing ridicule, fully presented in one of today’s news articles, to the Russian elite whom he accused, in short, of sitting and shaking their fat bellies as they let Wagner forces face unrelinquished death in Bakhmut. Prigozhin went so far as to threaten a full retreat from the region on May 10th — the day after Putin’s major, annual, Victory-Day, Soviet-style, military parade — if he did not get more ammo immediately.
Prigozhin said his troops were thrown into the "Bakhmut Meat Grinder" and then abandoned by "near-military bureaucrats" who cut off the ammunition flow and "sit and shake their fat bellies and think that they will go down in history as winners.”
Ukraine’s military leaders, however, said they were not buying Prigozhin’s threat to pull out because he doesn’t have the authority or power to do that. Putin would never allow him to return home!
“The Wagnerites will simply not be allowed to leave the city because [Yevgeny] Prigozhin does not decide anything here,” [said] Serhiy Cherevaty, spokesman for the Eastern Group of Forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine….
Ukraine also stated that Wagner was merely pulling a CYA by blaming his unrelenting losses in Bakhmut and month-after-month failure to capture the small town on the lack of artillery shells. According to Ukraine, Wagner has plenty of ammo and is taking heavy losses because of the strength of the bombardment against them, which has left Wagner forces unable to capture this mining town of almost zero military significance for many months. Unable to admit his failures, Prigozhin seeks to cast the blame on Russia’s top military leaders, which would include Putin.
Today, Prigozhin retracted his threat of a full retreat by claiming that Russia agreed to supply the shells he demanded so his forces will stay and fight to the last man standing. Is that just a clever out to cover his inability to retreat? After all, the weapons have not arrived yet, as is clear from the fact that even Prigozhin speaks of their delivery as a promise. Why would Prigozhin trust mere promises of the politicians and military brass he has just reamed out as inept and lazy by taking away the leverage of a threat of retreat before he has actually attained the weapons? It would appear that, as Ukraine stated, he didn’t really have the capacity to go anywhere in the first place, surrounded by fire as he is and with no hope of Putin allowing him back into Russia if he did retreat and bring great humiliation to Russia after all of his boasting over this Bakhmut. He may have chosen the hill he is going to die on.
On the other hand, Russia’s air force has responded by literally moving to a scorched-earth policy, carpeting civilian parts of the city that include several schools, a medical college and multi-story apartment buildings with incendiary bombs that scatter flames across broad areas when they explode. This likely brings the city Russia wanted to capture to ruin. So, is it a full delivery of what Prigozhin sought in a much bigger way than just shells, or is it the last move before retreat?
Scorched-earth policies are typically desperate measures when an invader realizes it will never take full control of the area in a way that makes any future use of it; so, if the invader cannot have it to use, it will utterly destroy the area in a fit of rage on the way out to make sure no one can use it. (The story includes dramatic video of the intense and widespread destruction by fire raining down on civilian areas.)
Ukraine has yet to begin the major onslaught against Russian forces in the region, which it has promised for May, and some say it is concerned the onslaught will not live up to the hype.
Russia has also created civilian alarm by ordering the evacuation of a town near the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, resulting in a “mad panic” of fleeing people and long lines of “thousands” of cars vying for the limited exits.
The UN's nuclear watchdog warned a "severe nuclear accident" could occur….
Earlier, the IAEA warned in a statement that the situation at the Zaporizhzhia facility was "becoming increasingly unpredictable and potentially dangerous.”
Operating staff were still at the site but there was "deep concern about the increasingly tense, stressful, and challenging conditions for personnel and their families."
Meanwhile, back at home, some of Putin’s people are openly lamenting that things are worse than in Russia’s former Soviet days:
Many decent Russians feel that Mr. Putin’s Russia — their Russia — is worse than the Soviet state whose demise he laments. They had thought their nation free of the horrible tyranny of its past, and Mr. Putin is not only reviving that but also bringing shame and alienation to their nation.
The Soviet Union that these Russians hark back to is the one in its final years, not Stalin’s hell. In their time, the 1970s and early 1980s, the Soviet Union was still a repressive police state that maintained a jealous and iron control on information, art, enterprise and just about every other human endeavor. It was a far more intrusive level of repression than Mr. Putin and his security apparatus could ever replicate, given the reach of the internet and the continuing ability of Russians to travel abroad. No old Soviet dissident would deny that the physical quality of life in Russia is far higher than it was in those Spartan times….
“The generation of Soviet people in the 1970s and 1980s lived in a closed society that was opening, discovering that things that had been impossible were becoming possible. Putin’s is a period of radical closings. People are losing things they felt had finally been granted them. Openings led to hope; this system leads to hopelessness….”
What [Putin] has done … is create a system in which everything — the government, the political police, the legislature, the military — depends personally on him….
But those who resist and those who leave do not find themselves accorded the respect that Soviet dissidents were met with…. This is a war waged by Russia against Ukraine in the name of a Russian imperial claim, and it is hard for anyone or anything Russian — language, culture, background — to fully escape the stigma. It is especially galling for Russians of conscience to hear Mr. Putin using the antifascist language of World War II — the one feat of Soviet history that all its people are proud of — in the effort to destroy Ukraine….
It is too early to predict how the Ukraine war will end. What is clear is that Mr. Putin, in the name of an ephemeral Russian greatness, has done great and lasting harm to his people and their culture.
One may agree with those summary observations or disagree as an outsider looking in, and perhaps we see only the parts each of us want to see, but it is evident over the expanse of Putin’s reign, which included a rewriting of Russia’s constitution to keep himself in power, that Putin infamously and repeatedly kills his opponents in old Soviet KGB style, walking them out high windows or poisoning them, outlaws media and even private statements against his war at the price of imprisonment in gulags, and has forced hundreds of thousands of completely unwilling participants into his war while hundreds of thousands have defected from Russia to avoid becoming canon fodder.
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