Putin is running out of excuses as Ukraine expands the war to Crimea

An explosion in the village of Novofedorivka in Russian-occupied Crimea
The explosions at the Saki airbase in western Crimea shook nerves in Moscow and sparked panic in the Russian-held Ukrainian peninsula. Traffic jams were reported on routes to the Crimean Bridge as Russian holidaymakers scramble to cut short their holiday.
The exact nature of the alleged Ukrainian attack is still unclear. The Washington Post quoted unnamed Ukrainian officials as saying it was a special forces operation. Other international media reports confirmed Ukraine's responsibility without providing specific details. In the hours after the blasts, much of the debate among military analysts revolved around whether the damage was caused by missiles, airstrikes, or combat drones. Satellite images have since shown widespread destruction at the site.
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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy paused Tuesday night to confirm the involvement of the Ukrainian military. However, in an apparent allusion to the airbase attack, he noted that Russia's war against Ukraine had begun with the occupation of Crimea and would end with its liberation.
Also read: 98% of Ukrainians believe that Ukraine will win the war against Russia
In Moscow, the reaction to the attack on the airbase was characteristically negative. Instead of blaming Ukraine, Russian officials tried to downplay the incident, instead insisting that the multiple explosions were caused by an accidental detonation of aircraft ammunition. This dubious claim is entirely consistent with a series of equally implausible excuses Russia has offered over the past six months as the Kremlin tried to explain away a series of similarly embarrassing setbacks in the country's faltering invasion of Ukraine.
Moscow's record of absurd excuses began in late March, when Kremlin officials attempted to rebrand Russia's withdrawal from northern Ukraine as a "goodwill gesture," despite the fact that it came immediately after the country's defeat in the Battle of Kyiv.
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Russia used the same "goodwill gesture" again in late June to describe the equally shameful Russian withdrawal from Snake Island. Unsurprisingly, the whole concept of Russian “goodwill gestures” has now become fodder for social media memes, as Ukrainians poke fun at the often absurd alternate reality created by Kremlin propaganda.
When Ukraine sank the flagship of Russia's Black Sea Fleet in the early months of the war, the Kremlin was predictably quick to offer face-saving excuses. The Mosvka sank in the Black Sea on April 14 after reportedly being hit by two Ukrainian anti-ship missiles.
However, according to the Russian-sponsored version of events, Putin's prized flagship actually sank while being towed in stormy seas after an accidental fire on board. This unconvincing explanation raised eyebrows, not least because the weather reports at the time of the sinking gave little indication of choppy seas.
Moscow's excuses sometimes border on the surreal.
In an apparent attempt to explain why the much-vaunted Russian military has so far failed to overcome Ukrainian resistance, members of a Russian parliamentary commission said in mid-July that Ukraine was using mutant soldiers that American scientists had turned into superhuman killing machines. The commission's co-chairs and incumbent Russian MPs Konstantin Kosachev and Irina Yarovaya were quoted in the Russian newspaper Kommersant as saying they had uncovered evidence of Ukrainian soldiers being turned into "deadly monsters" in US-supervised laboratories.
Russia's reluctance to publicly acknowledge achievements on the Ukrainian battlefield is, of course, hardly unprecedented. Deception has always played a key role in armed conflict, and Moscow has long been known as an innovator in information warfare. Russia also has a number of very good military reasons for downplaying its setbacks in Ukraine.
Any public acknowledgment of the Ukrainian military's ability to strike high-level targets deep within Kremlin-controlled territory would validate the ineffectiveness of Russia's air defense systems and further undermine the fighting spirit within the ranks of an invading force already suffering the demoralization due to heavy casualties.
At the same time, there is something obsessive about Vladimir Putin's apparent willingness to accept even the most damaging disinformation rather than admit Ukrainian victories. The Russian dictator has repeatedly chosen to portray his own troops as incompetent and ridiculed nonsensical stories of voluntary withdrawals, rather than acknowledging the humiliating truth of defeat at the hands of a country he claims does not exist.
Read also: Russia does not accuse Ukraine of attacking the airfield in Crimea so as not to admit the shortcomings of air defense – ISW
As his invasion nears half a year, Putin is now quickly running out of excuses. Initial expectations of a swift and victorious war have long since given way to the reality of brutal conflict against a determined and capable enemy backed by the might of the democratic world.
Despite using much of the Russian military's available manpower, its armies were all but brought to a standstill while it paid a terrible price in men and machines. This poor performance has proved devastating to Moscow's superpower claims. In fact, it's safe to say that anyone still talking about Russia as the second largest army in the world is almost certainly being sarcastic.
The effects of this loss of military prestige are already visible in Moscow's old imperial backyard. Kazakhstan is now in open confrontation with the Kremlin and Azerbaijan no longer feels constrained by the presence of Russian peacekeepers in the South Caucasus. Tiny Lithuania recently resisted Russia over the transit of goods to Kaliningrad for weeks, while even loyal Belarus has so far resisted intense pressure from the Kremlin to join the invasion of Ukraine.
Unless Russia is able to transform its military assets in Ukraine, these negative trends will only intensify. More countries will lose their fear of the toothless Russian bear, while potential allies will begin to question the value of such a geopolitically and militarily compromised partner. Russia, already reconciled to a prolonged period of isolation from the Western world, may find itself increasingly locked out of the top table of world affairs and relegated to a secondary role in its unequal partnership with China.
Also Read: US reiterates support for Ukraine's efforts to defend its sovereignty, including in Crimea
Putin's perilous position means we could now face one of the most dangerous periods in modern European history as the Russo-Ukrainian war enters a potentially crucial phase. In the coming months, we should expect everything from desperate offensives and escalating terrorist tactics to power shutdowns and nuclear blackmail.
However, as long as Ukraine's western allies can remain united in their support for the country, there is good reason to believe that these efforts will ultimately fail. Putin's criminal invasion has exposed the diminished reality behind the myth of Russian military power. The ridiculous talk of "goodwill gestures" and "accidental fires" only serves to underline the point.
This column was first published by the Atlantic Council. NV publishes it with permission.
Read the original article on The New Voice of Ukraine
Wladimir Putin
President of Russia

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