Why I Expect Putin To Lose, & Why That Scares The Hell Out Of Me

Watch the videos on CNN, YouTube, wherever you like, and you are likely to see the same things I do. A Ukrainian soldier, who might have come into the field as a volunteer with minimal training, aims a shoulder-mounted system. Suddenly, a rocket is pushed out of it. The rocket goes about 50 feet, its engine ignites, and its trajectory curves sharply upward. Seconds later, far in the distance, it suddenly takes a new path downward. It gets close to a tank and explodes. In the blink of an eye, the tank explodes so violently that its turret is thrown hundreds of feet into the air. It happens over and over. I acknowledge that videos of failure are not often put up on YouTube, but the pictures that go up are impressive.

Another type of image that comes up at media sites is the wreckage of Ukrainian cities. Looking down a street with lines of apartment buildings, we see one after another missing chunks of architecture that have been bombed out, and we see marks of fires that have gutted apartments. We see hospitals that have been bombed. A theater, where people took refuge because it was widely separated from legitimate targets, is bombed out, killing scores of people inside. Schools and churches have been bombed. One video I saw included an interview of a Ukrainian farmer — in the background, incendiary bombs were falling on his wheat field, setting the crop he had planted on fire.

It seems clear that Ukraine is fighting a war in a new way, with amazing new weapons. But it is nevertheless a war that is in some respects very conventional, with strategies that would be recognized by the Duke of Wellington, if he were alive today. Targets are carefully chosen to do damage to the Russian war machine.

The contrasting Russian strategy may be lost to many people, because we are used to seeing the damage done to London, Hamburg, or Berlin in World War II. In those days, the average distance between a bomb’s target and its explosion ranged from over a mile, early in the war, to about 150 yards, later on.

The explanation of the damage done by Russian artillery might be that their projectiles are really stupid, compared to Ukraine’s. Or it might be that Russian strategy is really stupid. Personally, I think it is the second of those choices, because I know Russia has its own cruise missiles. I believe Russian strategy is guided by Putin, who is a really stupid man, who lacks any semblance of compassion and only knows how to get anything done by bullying people. It seems most likely that Russia’s considered strategy is to terrorize the Ukrainian civilian population, and it has used whatever smart projectiles it had to do that job.

Putin clearly did not think the EU or US would offer the levels of support they do to Ukraine. He thought people in the West were too enthralled with the nice cars they drive to give them up, and were too comfortable in their homes to turn the thermostat down. In June, he called the sanctions imposed by the West on Russia “insane,” according to a report in The Guardian. My suspicion is that he really believed that average people living in Europe or the US would rather watch other people be murdered than turn their heat to a less comfortable setting. Why would he think that? Well, possibly because he, himself, would rather watch people murdered than put the heat on a less comfortable setting.

So I believe he will certainly lose the war. He will lose it because his strategy is to terrify civilians, and this will not work against Ukrainian strategy, which is to destroy the Russian ability to wage war. So while Russia bombs museums and cropland, Ukraine is bombing tanks, supply trucks, and weapons depots.

Now comes the hard part. While I believe Putin will lose, this really scares me. The reason it has me so upset is that Putin, and important members of his military staff, are so completely lacking in a normal inventory of human emotions that they are openly talking about a variety of nuclear options being put to use.

Dmitry Medvedev, who might be the most pleasant-looking thug in Putin’s Gang, has been both President and Prime Minister of Russia, at one time or another. Back in early July, a report in U.S. News said he told the US that any attempt to punish Russia for its terrorist attacks in Ukraine was folly. He made clear that the reason it was folly is that Russia has nuclear bombs.

That really is astonishing, especially because the logic of Medvedev would indicate that messing with the US, UK, or France is also folly for the same reason, so Russia should know better. And this shows clearly the insanity of Medvedev’s reasoning. Unfortunately, however, the story gets worse.

Early in the invasion, Russia took over control of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant. The plant was operating and fully staffed when Russian soldiers moved in, and the staff has not been allowed to leave the plant since. The result is that the plant, which has six reactors of 900 megawatts each and is the largest nuclear plant in Europe, is being operated by a staff that is far beyond exhaustion. (And, believe it or not, it has been supplying electricity to Ukraine, though Putin says he expects to be paid for that when the war ends.) The staff are being kept on the job by soldiers who are quite willing to remind them that they could be shot at any time.

On August 8 reports emerged that Russian forces had set up explosives in the Zaporizhzhia plant and were prepared to blow it up. That would mean blowing up six reactors, each of which is, by itself, nearly the size of the reactor that blew up at Chernobyl. Since those reports emerged, there has been a scramble to assess the truth of the matter, and the Institute for the Study of War has said it believes the reports may be false. If course, their opinion could be wrong. One report on this was published by The Brussels Times.

Be that as it may, it is widely understood that Russia has been installing artillery at the nuclear plant and seems to have been using it to bombard Ukrainian cities. The West has accused Russia of using the plant as a shield so it can use the artillery with impunity, as Ukraine would not be willing to return fire, taking the risk of wrecking the plant, and, with it, much or all of its country.

For whatever reason, the nuclear plant has been hit by artillery. Ukraine accuses Russia of this and Russia accuses Ukraine. Personally, I am not willing to say I believe either side, because I can see reasons why either side would bomb the plant, and I think each would certainly lie, if it did.

Clearly, the thing that scares me about this is that I really believe Russia, on Putin’s orders, could destroy the plant. It could also destroy it by accident as it withdraws, as the purveyors of war in that country may be too ignorant, too stupid, or too evil, to see to its safety.

This is a problem for the entire world. Ukraine and the countries it borders on, including Russia, are among the most productive farming regions in the world. If the Zaporizhzhia plant is destroyed, so will the agriculture of all those regions. Purely apart from the damage the radioactivity would do to people in the region, that could ensure ongoing, worldwide famine.

I might not have any ability to have any effect on the politics, diplomacy, or war in Ukraine. But I do have an ability to point things out here in the US, with a hope of having people take note. And what I want to say is this:

A nuclear power plant is a dirty bomb that only needs a simple detonator to be destructive.

A dirty bomb does not need a nuclear explosion to be destructive. It just throws dangerous radioactive material around, rendering an area unliveable for many, many years. Any nuclear plant could be made into a dirty bomb. Elon Musk, Secretary Granholm, and Warren Buffet please take notice.

Please take note of one last thing: As much as the prospect of Putin losing frightens me, the thought of him winning is clearly worse.

Image: Ralf1969, CC-BY-SA 3.0


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