Igor Girkin, aka Strelkov, delivers a press conference on 28 July 2014 in Donetsk. (Source: BULENT KILIC/AFP via Getty Images) In 2014 Igor Girkin, aka ‘Strelkov’ (the shooter), became the face of the rebellion in Ukraine’s Donbas region against the new government in Kyiv. He was not actually Ukrainian, but a Russian with strong nationalist views, who enjoyed historical re-enactments of past Russian wars, and had worked for the FSB (the successor to the KGB). He was a veteran of the conflicts that erupted in the former Soviet Union after its collapse, including in Chechnya. In February 2014, after a popular movement had led the pro-Russian president Yanukovych to flee, Girkin helped to create the conditions for the annexation of Crimea before moving on to the supposedly Russophile Donbas, becoming the Defence Minister of the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk Peoples Republic’.
I’m going to be flying tonight so can’t attend the Q&A.
Most of the thinking that we have see so far suggests that Putin is in a hole - see above.
Putin obviously doesn’t want to stay there. How is he going to look for and find strategic paths to safety. Speculation about what these are is less interesting in the processes that can be used.
If I put it in startup terms, it appears that he has a relatively short runway, before structural problems increase to a point where he is at risk. How can he find ways to get airborne fast? Or is he no longer in control of what is happening in any meaningful way?
As an aside - what happens when Ukraine starts hitting objectives in Russia?
Question for tonight. Does China have a better or worse chance of a quick takeover of Taiwan compared to Russia with Ukraine (excluding the possibility of US help)?
Great article. I’d forgotten about Mr Girkin and the news of his present situation seriously over-stimulated my Schadenfreude sensors. If Putin has him arrested, as a member of Amnesty I guess I’d have to write on his behalf…but it would be hard, really hard!
I don’t think it’s fear of the reaction of ultra-nationalists that keeps Putin reinforcing failure in Ukraine. I can’t recall him ever embracing strategic retreat once he’s committed and he’s seriously committed here. I’d say his army would need to be near ground to dust before he gives up on conquering Ukraine. Reversing the Cold War and expanding Russian power has dominated his foreign policy for decades and I can’t see him changing.
I’m puzzled by people’s obsession with the ‘peace’ talks as though they offer lasting settlements rather than agreed pauses for rest/rotation/resupply. If Putin agrees to go to pre-invasion boundaries or Zelensky agrees to Russian occupation of parts of Ukraine than I’ll start scanning the skies for flying pigs.
PS ‘(Russians) are not known for honest portrayals of their policies’ was a delicious under-statement and alone made this article worth reading!
Where does cheerleader Kadyrov's recent promotion fit into this narrative? Does he exemplify the kind of talk Putin wants to hear, and rewards accordingly?
Thanks for such interesting analysis. What I would be interested in is more information on the capacity of both sides to sustain a much longer war of attrition in terms of military supplies and plain financial cost. I hope that Ukraine will receive enough military and other economic support from America and the EU to continue to resist. Although I assume analysis of exactly how much military hardware is being supplied is confidential. But equally important is whether the Russians can continue to bear the military and economic costs of the war, given the damage to their economy caused by sanctions which is likely to increase as time goes on.
I can't make it this evening but I would be interested to know what he thinks of the idea of a mini-alliance for offensive action (by US, UK, Canada and Poland) talked about on news this morning, seemingly independently of NATO.
Can't say how long it will take, but this is likely to end in partition, much like what happened between India and the then created Pakistan in 1947. I don't see another solution that can extricate both sides from the worse alternative of this impossibly expensive blood-letting continue indefinitely. Neither of them can afford it.
It makes you wonder what Putin could have achieved had he made a charm offensive on Ukraine. Do you remember the fable of the traveller and his coat, and how the North Wind and the Sun vied to remove it ?
The overlooked consequence of 2 out of 5 breadbaskets going down and Ukraine's inability to ship will soon be a factor in this war that most are not now considering. How will the world view Putin when millions die from famine? Will the pressure from India/China become a larger concern when food and other resources diminish? However, we must also account for the fact that Narcissist/Megalomaniacs could care less about the masses. The US can't bail out this big of a famine. One must have grain to deliver grain and world cereal grains will be down over 50% with drought, lack of fertilizer and war. Will this have an effect on war ending? We have our freedom, it is only right to let Ukrainians fight for theirs as well. Putin lied to the UN about invading and occupying Ukraine, so let Putin account for this starvation. He must be brought to the Hague ASAP.
As always it's an interesting read and again I hope it's more right than wrong. The two major questions I have concern the effectiveness of Ukraine's supply lines to the east and south and, also, how far east can Ukraine realistically install anti-aircraft systems? Both of these surely are essential to Ukraine being able to successfully prosecute the war for an extended period of time. Presumably Russia will target these supply lines and air defences ruthlessly? So, what can Ukraine do and what should it do in this regard? Thanks for your reportage.
Honestly, I don't understand. I've worked with Russians on software projects for 20 years. Many things you see, such as in google maps have some of this software at their core. In the last 5 months, 75% of these engineers have moved to the West -- Cypress, Israel, Ireland, US. Putin might as well have blown up the Kremlin in Moscow. There is no conceivable NATO force that would invade, or would want to invade Russia. But Putin allies himself with China ... who has 100M people bordering on Outer Manchuria. The population there is already shifting to heavily Chinese and China needs that land. That's who Putin makes an ally of??
I cannot imagine a Russian patriot who does not pray every day for total defeat of Russia in Ukraine because it will lead to total defeat of Putin. Russia is now doing poorly because it has no smart people, it has excellent universities and great engineers. It is doing poorly, for centuries because of its criminal thug political class. This should be used to destroy them and implement the only form of government that works long term: A rational balance of power between private and public good always weighted towards the private. This is not the ideal of "the West", it is the universal ideal of humanity. Prosperity and peace go where this idea is implemented, disaster and horror the further a society moves from that ideal. Always.
People were fooled that the "Big Daddy" "Strongmen" were making places like Russia and China strong. No, they were maggots on the carcass of the society. You will watch them decay and fall again in the next 20 years. The age of Putin and Xi cannot end fast enough, every cm gained by Ukraine helps make Russia strong again.
Many many variables. Understanding which paths are to be taken by Putin is problematic. That may in itself be the point. Russia’s access to far right nationalists, South American Dictators and the various interests across Africa, including training, military support and government contracts; mining rights etc, causes many issues. Understanding the KGB instinct is to understand the principles upon which they set out their plan of attack. It has been in motion for decades. It is to turn democracies on their heads. The first visual manifestation of such a devious scheme would be a little company called Cambridge Analytica. CEO Alexander Nix came up with the business model of a lifetime: The use of military grade psychological warfare upon an unsuspecting population during peacetime. A company declared war on the democratic world, and won. Queue Brexit, Queue Trump... the rest, as they say, is history.
If his maximalist (Kiev) and minimalist (Donbas) strategies are as you describe, what would you say Putin's break point now is, and how will we know if/when he reaches it? Is the Golden Bridge exit strategy a dead duck? Does this lead to another 'frozen' conflict?
Thank you, Lawrence - this is the most coherent analysis, I have seen to date. As a Russian/Ukrainian language speaker , I can put my signature under your every word, especially the Girkin/Strelkov part, which is widely misunderstood in the US journalists and analytical circles
Very timely, thank you again