Putin Reshuffles the Cards

While the Kremlin adapts and intensifies its attacks both on the battlefield in Ukraine and with covert operations in the West, also works on ameliorating its weaknesses

Izzet Enünlü

Izzet Enünlü



Putin Reshuffles the Cards

The Russian offensive that began on May 10th towards Kharkiv continues with slow advances. While Russia claimed five villages to be overtaken, Ukraine insists that the fight is ongoing. Despite the approval of the US military aid package by the congress, Ukrainian troops still suffer from lack of ammunition and weapons.  

The other chronic problem for Ukraine is the shortage of manpower. Recently a new conscription law passed by the parliament lowered the draft age to 25 and also another proposed bill intends allowing a specific category of  prisoners to join the military. According to the new proposition, on a strictly voluntary basis, individuals that are convicted of sexual violence, multiple homicides, severe corruption, and also former high-ranking officials that are excluded from the conscription will be allowed to enlist.

Although the new conscription law enters into effect from May 18th, Ukraine still needs to overcome draft dodging and the inevitable lag that will arise from training the newly enlisted. Moreover, even in peace times, conscription age for many countries with a military service obligation begins by the age 18. For a country like Ukraine which fights a defensive war against an aggressor with immense man power, even the current amended age of conscription is neither realistic for their purpose nor good for the morale of the servicemen who fight on the front.

Majority of the military analysts agree that the ongoing Russian offensive does not pose an imminent danger on Kharkiv, but strains the Ukrainian defences. To alleviate the pressure, the enforcement will be drawn from already wide stretched lines putting other strategic targets into jeopardy. A similar strategy had been advised by the US experts to Ukraine for their counter-offensive in 2023. Instead of concentrating on a few strategic points on the Russian defences, Ukraine preferred to attack all over the frontline hoping to find a weak spot and exhausted valuable material and manpower.

Meanwhile, there are warnings from US and European intelligence services that Russia plots to undermine Western support for Ukraine. Allegedly, Russia plots physical attacks on warehouses, military bases and attempts to hack Europe’s railway signal network and the jamming of GPS systems for civil aviation. Several such incidents are attributed to the Russian intelligence service. For example, on March 21st a fire broke out in a warehouse which was owned by a Ukrainian businessman who was using it for shipping weapons to Ukraine in east London. The perpetrators are accused of being hired by the Wagner group.

Another claim has been made by the Czech authorities accusing Russia of hacking attempts to sabotage European railway systems to disrupt transportation of the Western arms and material to Ukraine.

Maybe more sinister plots involve propaganda and disinformation campaigns to boost far-right parties that oppose arming Ukraine in the European Union elections in June. An example is the case that is revealed by VIGINUM - a French state agency that is in charge of the protection against foreign digital interference. In February they revealed a Moscow-based network of 193 websites to inseminate pro-Russian bias - nicknamed Portal Kombat.

While the Kremlin adapts and intensifies its attacks both on the battlefield in Ukraine and with covert operations in the West, also works on ameliorating its weaknesses. Arguably, the biggest ally of Ukraine against the Russian aggression was President Putin and his corrupt administrators. Indeed during the two years of their aggression, failed logistical lines and malfunctioning military equipment could be compensated with only meat grinding tactics at the expense of military personnel.

With his recent reelection as the President of the Russian Federation, Mr. Putin found the opportunity to reshuffle his cabinet of ministers to replace inefficient administrators without losing face. The surprise in the decision was to replace the defence minister Sergei Shoigu with a relatively less known Andrei Belousov.  

The new minister is a Keynesian economist who advocates strict regulation of the market, increased government investment and extensive state presence in the economy. The aim of appointing an economist for the defence ministry is to synchronise the military industry with the needs of the army instead of securing a healthy economical growth. The economic view of  Mr. Belousov is in harmony with the current needs of the Russian Federation whose economic growth is based on military production mainly financed by the state.

The defence minister is also a Putin loyalist and hardliner who supported the 2014 annexation of Crimea. He is also  known for his suggestion of seizing excess profits from 14 large metallurgical and chemical companies in 2018. His state first approach shows that the defence ministry won’t shy away putting the burden of the war on the shoulders of the private sector.

Reportedly Mr. Belousov enthusiastically believes that “innovation happens because the government invests in innovation, and that economic growth happens because the government forces businesses to make investments" and this is the direct opposite of the Western economic system. The superiority of the free market system over a state controlled economy has been already proven in the example of the Soviet Union.

This should mean that while the new defence minister brings competence to the position, will add little in terms of efficiency and corruption. However, history is the real judge of the decisions, we can only live through the times and decide if they were right or wrong.

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