At the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, Putin has just revealed Russia’s strategy for ending the Ukraine conflict.
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President Vladimir Putin was asked again last Friday at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum about Russia’s nuclear strategy. Recently, Moscow began to deploy nuclear weapons in Belarus. Meanwhile, domestically, a public debate has started over the possibility of a first use of nuclear weapons against NATO in the context of the ongoing proxy war in Ukraine.
Putin’s answer brought no surprises. In summary: nuclear weapons remain in the toolbox of Moscow’s strategy, and there is a doctrine that stipulates conditions for their use. Should the existence of the Russian state be threatened, they will be used. However, there is no need to resort to such instruments currently.
For all the expectations in the United States and Western Europe that Russia will suffer a strategic defeat in the conflict – the Pentagon’s stated goal – Putin doesn’t believe things are moving in that direction. The long-awaited and much-advertised Ukrainian counter-offensive is spluttering so far, resulting in heavy losses for Kiev. The Russian military, for its part, has learned from past mistakes and is holding firm.
Western deliveries of artillery systems, tanks, and missiles, which Ukrainians hoped would turn the tide of the war, have failed to make a decisive impact. According to Putin, Russia has managed to almost triple its production of arms and munitions and is gathering momentum. Meanwhile, Ukraine’s once-powerful defense industry has been all but destroyed.
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After the failure of both Russia’s and the West’s initial moves to achieve a quick victory last year, both sides have settled for strategies of attrition. The US and its allies have banked on tightening economic sanctions on Russia, trying to orchestrate the political isolation of Moscow, and hoping that domestic disgruntlement will rise due to multiple daily privations and mounting war casualties. In principle, this is the obvious strategic approach in a long war, where success is achieved not so much on the battlefield as by undermining the enemy’s rear.
The problem for the West is that this strategy isn’t working. Russia has found ways not only to reduce the effect of Western restrictions, but has used them to revive and stimulate domestic production. Indeed, the sanctions have done what many considered impossible: they jolted the country’s economy out of the well-trodden path of oil and gas dependency. Russians are re-learning to manufacture what they once could but no longer bothered with – passenger planes, trains, ships, and the like, not to speak of garments and furniture. The Russian government has set sights even higher, toward regaining the level of technological sovereignty that was abandoned in the wake of the Soviet Union’s demise.
According to Acting Kherson Governor Vladimir Saldo, Ukraine’s military has conducted strikes on bridges near the village of Chongar on the border with Crimea.