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The ‘Madman Despot’ Theory Only Serves to Embolden Vladimir Putin – Byline Times

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Dimitris Dimitriadis and Iain Overton explore how accusations of insanity serve to strengthen the Russian President’s hand in Ukraine

The Russian President, if commentators are to be believed, is “deranged”, “possibly crazed”, and in the grips of “hubris syndrome” and “COVID brain fog”. But to what degree has this psychological profiling of Vladimir Putin inadvertently strengthened the tyrant’s hand?

Quite a bit, potentially.

In the MacManus theory – a concept published in 2021 by Roseanne W McManus, a professor at Pennsylvania State University, following a major review of leaders’ reputations for madness – it was found that perceived madness could be harmful in crisis bargaining. A widespread perception of madness was an advantage, especially with an autocrat backed by a giant military, she wrote.

Admittedly, some see Putin as anything but a wild dictator with a loose finger on the nuclear button. Former Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev has described him as “a rational actor” whose invasion of Ukraine is “horrific but not irrational”. But many others have depicted a man on the edge of lunacy, and such attempts cast a long shadow over his words and deeds. 

Such armchair psychoanalysis must be resisted.

These attempts to put Putin on the couch are, at best, speculative leaps that make him look more erratic, unstable and unpredictable than warranted. And this may be in his interest: because as long as the Western press – and to an extent its leaders – perceive him to be unhinged and fundamentally irrational, Putin will know that he can (probably) get away with more. 

Indeed, depicting the Russian leader as deranged is an exercise in speculation that arguably says more about his commentators than their subject. It suggests one of two things: either that they do not understand him – or that they do not want to. The former perhaps cannot be helped (we never fully divine the contents of another person’s mind), the latter is obviously more problematic. 

The framing of a despot as mad has a long tradition but is all too often reductive and offensive to people with real mental health challenges. The depiction can also produce grotesque, irrational foreign villains and therefore geopolitical mistakes.

Saddam Hussein was painted as erratic and unpredictable, despised by his own people. And when the ‘weapons of mass destruction’ lie was used as a reason to invade Iraq, much of the Western press took it at face-value – a case of collective confirmation bias owing to a widespread investment in Hussein’s madness.

Today, the truth is that Putin’s motivation in invading Ukraine is more nuanced and strategic than madness permits. And, while a great deal has also been made of his obscure ideological convictions, his antediluvian desire to reunite the two countries and his strange obsession with Kyiv (often described as the “mother of Russian cities”), these are not in themselves indications of mental instability – even if they are entirely wrong-headed.

In the end, Putin is reduced by some to a caricature of mental pathology and warped ideology.


The Russian Rationale

Some leaders knew all too well the virtues of being seen as slightly unhinged. Yet, when former US President Richard Nixon tried to persuade the world that he was mad – and wasn’t above pressing the nuclear button to stop communist aggression – no one bought it. Nixon was outed as a hard pragmatist. Why not Putin?

For all the unspeakable atrocities and war crimes that many say have been committed in the past two months, there was nothing fundamentally irrational about the invasion of Ukraine. Desperate? Maybe. Abhorrent? Undoubtedly. But not unthinkable, and certainly not deranged. 

The invasion must be seen in the context of a country running out of options. Russia is a petrochemical state – a pariah among an increasingly broad tent of countries committing to net zero and renewable energy. Global politics and climate change dictate that fossil fuels, which currently fill the Russian state’s coffers, are a dwindling source of revenue. Meanwhile, climate change, the same phenomenon that Russia is refusing to tackle, is threatening to devour three-quarters of its territory that lies in the arctic north. 

Invading Ukraine does not solve climate change but it could, in theory, win Russia immense geopolitical leverage over global food and energy markets. Indeed, Ukraine is one of the world’s largest exporters of wheat, with reliable year-round access to the Black Sea, a key trade route.  

Known as the ‘breadbasket of Europe’, the country is also home to incredibly fertile ‘black earth’ (chernozem) covering an area larger than Italy – and vast, sprawling flatlands which, for decades if not centuries, have been part of the nationalist dream of Russian invaders.

This type of nationalism is not rooted in history or jingoism but hard-nosed pragmatism.

Together with Ukraine, Russia could control a-quarter of globally traded wheat, and even larger chunks of the global barley and maize markets – a dependency that threatens to bring countries in middle Africa and north Africa to their knees, with the World Trade Organisation foreshadowing bread riots, violence and social unrest. 

Meanwhile, Russia is already weaponising oil and gas – its main export – as a means of economic warfare. This is a response, in the Kremlin’s narrative, to Western sanctions and a stark reminder of just how dependent Europe still is on Russia to keep the heating on. Putin knows that Europe’s attempt to wean itself off Russian energy will be long and painful for its electorates, and he is pressing leaders where it hurts the most.  

It seems as if it will simply be a matter of time before he decides to do the same with wheat and other critical food stuffs, including barley and cereal. In a world in which climate change has rendered food security ever-more elusive, an autocrat who can credibly threaten starvation – at least among certain countries – or serious food upheaval, is a force to be reckoned with. 

While that may seem like a far-cry from the current realities of the conflict, it is in line with a broader, long-term strategic plan – one that a deranged mind would simply not be capable of hatching. But, as Niccolò Machiavelli remarked, “at times it is a very wise thing to simulate madness”.

Unless Western journalists resist the sensationalist urge to depict Putin as a madman – and seriously engage with the nuances of Russian aggression – he may yet succeed.

This article was produced by the Byline Intelligence Team – a collaborative investigative project formed by Byline Times with The Citizens. If you would like to find out more about the Intelligence Team and how to fund its work, click on the button below.

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Ukraine’s Donbas ‘destroyed’ as Russian artillery and aircraft step up strikes

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  • Russia intensifies offensive in Donbas
  • Zelenskiy says region is completely destroyed
  • Group of Seven sends billions more to Ukraine
  • Civilian infrastructure hit
  • U.S. Senate approves $40 bln in further aid

KYIV, Ukraine, May 20 (Reuters) – Russian forces have bombarded areas of Ukraine’s eastern Donbas from land and air, killing at least 13 civilians, Ukraine’s military said on Friday, and President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said the assaults had turned the region into “hell”.

As the war neared the three-month mark, the Russians were intensifying their efforts to subdue the Donbas region, the Ukrainian general staff said.

They had hit civilian infrastructure with “massive” artillery shelling, including multiple rocket-launchers, the general staff said in a statement. Russian aircraft had also struck at targets.

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Russian shelling in the Luhansk area of Donbas killed 13 civilians over the past 24 hours, regional governor Serhiy Gaidai said. Twelve of those deaths were in the town of Sievierodonesk but a Russian assault there had been unsuccessful, he said.

Reuters could not independently verify the reports and Russia denies targeting civilians.

“The Donbas is completely destroyed,” President Zelenskiy said in an address on Thursday night. “It is hell there – and that is not an exaggeration.”

There were also constant strikes on the Odesa region in the south, he said.

Reuters could not independently verify the reports and Russia denies targeting civilians.

Russia’s focus on Donbas follows its failure to capture the capital Kyiv in the early stages of the invasion launched by Russian President Vladimir Putin on Feb. 24.

Thousands of people – many of them civilians – have been killed and whole towns and cities razed in the gravest crisis in Europe in decades.

Almost a third of the Ukraine’s people have fled their homes, including more than 6 million who have left the country in a refugee exodus, while others remain trapped in cities pulverised by Russian bombardments.

British military intelligence said on Friday that Russia is likely to further reinforce its operations in Donbas once it finally secures the southern port city of Mariupol – scene of a weeks-long siege and Russia’s most significant success in an otherwise faltering campaign.

The region, an industrial powerhouse, compromises the Donetsk and Luhansk areas, which Moscow claims on behalf of separatists.

Putin calls the invasion of Ukraine a “special military operation” to rid the country of fascists – an assertion Kyiv and its Western allies say is a baseless pretext for an unprovoked war.

The Kremlin leader was due to hold a security council meeting later on Friday.

View of the rubble after a building was hit by what was reported to be an air strike, during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, in Bakhmut, Donetsk Region, Ukraine, in this handout picture released May 19, 2022. State Emergency Service of Ukraine/Handout via REUTERS

WESTERN SUPPORT

Western powers, who have strongly condemned Russia’s actions and sought to isolate Moscow with an array of sanctions, were stepping up their support for Ukraine.

The Group of Seven rich nations on Thursday agreed to provide Ukraine with $18.4 billion to make up for lost revenues as the war wrecks its economy.

The U.S. Senate approved nearly $40 billion in new aid for Ukraine, by far the largest U.S. aid package to date.

The White House is also working to put advanced anti-ship missiles in the hands of Ukrainian fighters to help defeat Russia’s naval blockade, which has largely stopped Ukraine’s exports of food. read more

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken accused Russia of using food as a weapon by holding “hostage” supplies for not just Ukrainians, but also millions around the world. read more The war has caused global prices for grains, cooking oils, fuel and fertiliser to soar.

The EU said it is looking into ways of using the frozen assets of Russian oligarchs to fund the reconstruction of Ukraine, while the United States has not ruled out possibly placing sanctions on countries that purchase Russian oil.

HOLD OUT

The past week has seen Russia secure its biggest victory since the invasion began, with the Kyiv government ordering the defenders of a steelworks in Mariupol to stand down after a protracted siege.

British military intelligence said as many as 1,700 soldiers were likely to have surrendered at the Azovstal steel factory, matching a similar number released on Thursday by Moscow.

Ukrainian officials, who have tried to arrange a prisoner swap, have declined to comment on the number, saying it could endanger rescue efforts.

Late on Thursday, Sviatoslav Palamar, deputy head of the Azov Regiment defending the steelworks, released an 18-second video in which he said he and other commanders were still inside the plant.

“A certain operation is going on, the details of which I will not disclose,” he said.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said it had registered hundreds of prisoners from Azovstal now held by Russia, but it has not given a precise number.

The leader of Russian-backed separatists in control of the area said nearly half of the fighters remained inside the steelworks.

The wounded were given medical treatment while those who were fit were taken to a penal colony and were being treated well, he said.

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Reporting by Natalia Zinets and Max Hunder in Kyiv and a Reuters journalist in Mariupol; Additional reporting by Reuters bureaux; Writing by Stephen Coates and Angus MacSwan; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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U.S. may take a hugely controversial step to stop Russian oil exports funding the war in Ukraine

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Sanctions are supposed to hurt their targets more than those deploying them, which is why embargoes on Russian oil are—so far—not working out so well for the West.

The U.S., the U.K. and Canada have all stopped importing Russian energy, but they were never major customers of Vladimir Putin’s anyway, and their actions have fed into spiraling energy costs that are in turn worsening inflation back home.

Russia’s biggest oil customer, Europe, still can’t agree on a unified oil embargo because of EU member Hungary, which says such a move would have a “nuclear bomb effect” on its economy.

“Obviously, some EU states, in whose energy balance the share of Russian hydrocarbons is especially high, will not be able to do this for a long time, to ditch our oil,” Russian President Putin crowed earlier this week—as well he might, given that the EU is sending him an estimated $450 million a day for Russian oil, thus effectively working alongside high oil prices to keep his economy afloat and fund his Ukrainian war effort.

To fix this situation, the U.S. is reportedly preparing to take a drastic step that could step up tensions with countries such as China, India, and Turkey.

According to a Thursday report in the New York Times, the Biden administration plans to impose a global price cap on Russian oil, to be enforced with secondary sanctions that would stop countries and companies buying the stuff at higher prices, for fear of being blocked from commerce with U.S. companies and allies.

“That means we tell other countries: If you do business with Russia, you can’t do business with the U.S.,” former U.S. sanctions official Richard Nephew told the newspaper.

The idea is that this would largely maintain the supply of Russian oil to the world—thus avoiding general price hikes—while depriving the Kremlin of the bumper revenues it is currently enjoying.

While the level of the proposed cap is yet to be determined, the idea would be to keep it above the roughly $40 per barrel that allows Russia to break even on its production, but far below the current market prices for oil, which are north of $100 per barrel.

However, secondary sanctions are massively controversial because they essentially involve bullying the world into doing what the U.S. says, by affecting even transactions that don’t touch the U.S. itself. The German government has complained bitterly about the practice before, arguing that it is illegal under international law.

Oil exports are particularly vulnerable to secondary sanctions, because unless the exporter is selling its oil via pipeline—as is the case with a large proportion of Russia’s exports to China—it has to be sent by ship.

And there are many players in that business who would be enormously exposed to secondary sanctions, from shipping companies and port operators to banks and insurers.

India. Turkey, and increasingly China too, are major customers who receive Russian oil via ship, and who have thus far refused to join in international sanctions on Russia.

The U.S. has taken the secondary sanctions route before, notably with Iran, whose oil exports became subject to Trump administration sanctions in 2019 that put further pressure on already-strained relations between the U.S. and China, a major Iranian-oil customer. China is reportedly still receiving Iranian oil shipments on the sly.

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi last week floated the idea of tackling the oil-price-and-supply conundrum by creating “a cartel of buyers, or to persuade the big producers, and OPEC in particular, to increase production.”

“Think of it like a reverse OPEC: instead of wielding control over supply to set prices, the allies could leverage their control over demand to do the same,” wrote former U.S. Russia-sanctions lead Edward Fishman and Fletcher School assistant professor Chris Miller in a Foreign Affairs piece earlier this week, arguing for a global price cap on Russian oil.

According to the Times, the White House hasn’t settled on the most appropriate type of secondary sanctions.

However, Fishman and Miller suggested “imposing full-blocking sanctions on vital nodes in Russia’s oil sales, including Rosneft, the state-owned oil giant; Gazprombank, the main bank serving Russia’s energy sector; and Sovcomflot, Russia’s largest shipping company [while] at the same time, the United States and others could provide exemptions for oil shipments that comply with the price cap.”


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US Intel Shows Russians Fear Mariupol Abuse Will Backfire

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WASHINGTON — The U.S. has gathered intelligence that shows some Russian officials have become concerned that Russian forces in the ravaged port city of Mariupol are carrying out grievous abuses, a U.S official familiar with the findings said Wednesday.

The Russian officials are concerned that the abuses will backfire and further inspire Mariupol residents to resist the Russian occupation. The U.S. official, who was not authorized to comment publicly and spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that the Russians, who were not identified, also feared that the abuses will undercut Russia’s claim that they’ve liberated the Russian-speaking city.

The abuses include beating and electrocuting city officials and robbing homes, according to the intelligence finding.

The new intelligence has been declassified and was shared by a U.S. official as some of the last Ukrainian fighters in the devastated city emerged from the ruined Azovstal steelworks. The fighters were ordered by their military to abandon the last stronghold of resistance in the now-flattened port city and face an uncertain fate.

Hundreds of the fighters had held out for months under relentless bombardment in the last bastion of resistance in the devastated city.

The city has been reduced to rubble and has seen some of the most intense fighting of the war.

The seaside city captured worldwide attention after a March 9 Russian airstrike on a maternity hospital, and then after another airstrike a week later on a theater that was serving as the city’s largest bomb shelter. At the theater, the word “CHILDREN” was written in Russian on the pavement outside to deter an attack. Nearly 600 people were killed, inside and outside the theater, by some estimates.

It was unclear the extent of the suspected abuse gleaned in the U.S. intelligence finding, but it comes on the heels of widespread human rights abuses in and around Bucha and the suburbs of Kyiv.

Evidence of the massacre in Bucha emerged early last month after Russian forces withdrew from the city.( Photographs and video from Bucha showed body bags piled in trenches, lifeless limbs protruding from hastily dug graves, and corpses scattered in streets where they fell.

Meanwhile, the first captured Russian soldier to be put on trial by Ukraine on war-crimes charges pleaded guilty on Wednesday to killing a civilian and could face life in prison.

Russian Sgt. Vadim Shishimarin, a 21-year-old member of a tank unit, pleaded guilty to shooting an unarmed 62-year-old Ukrainian man in the head through a car window in the opening days of the war. Ukraine’s top prosecutor has said some 40 more war-crimes cases are being readied.

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Sanctions slow burn gives Putin more time to be defiant, for now

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Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers his annual news conference in Moscow in December 2021. Three months after Putin sent his troops into Ukraine, sparking a series of sanctions, signs of strain are spreading across the economy, from the shuttered stores of foreign brands that fled to steep plunges in car sales, mortgage applications and many tax collections.

Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers his annual news conference in Moscow in December 2021. Three months after Putin sent his troops into Ukraine, sparking a series of sanctions, signs of strain are spreading across the economy, from the shuttered stores of foreign brands that fled to steep plunges in car sales, mortgage applications and many tax collections. (Andrey Rudakov/Bloomberg)

Nearly three months after Vladimir Putin sent his troops into Ukraine, Russia faces more sanctions than any other country. But thanks to surging prices for its exports of oil and gas, the Kremlin has been able to steady the ruble and limit the impact on consumers and the war effort.

For now.

Signs of strain are spreading across the economy, from the shuttered stores of foreign brands that fled to steep plunges in car sales, mortgage applications and many tax collections. Though they won’t say so publicly, Finance Ministry officials have foreseen the biggest economic contraction in a generation this year as sanctions starve companies of key components, technologies and capital.

While that slow-motion shock still may not be enough to force Putin to change course over Ukraine, the economic pressure on the Kremlin is set to rise sharply later this year, particularly with the European Union now discussing an embargo on Russian oil.

“Sanctions alone would not stop Putin’s war, but sanctions combined with the military pressure puts him in a difficult position,” said Daniel Fried, a former top U.S. State Department official. “Not impossible but it does change the odds.”

So far, it’s the steady flow of weapons and other assistance for Kyiv that’s had the most decisive impact in helping Ukraine repulse Russian attacks. Kremlin officials admit privately that they didn’t expect the U.S. and its allies to move so quickly to offer Ukraine such broad support.

Putin isn’t concerned about the economic cost, these people said, as he pursues what he views as an existential struggle for Russia’s geopolitical survival with the U.S. and its allies.

“The economy has ceased to be a source of legitimacy for him,” said Sergei Guriev, a Paris-based Russian economist who’s advocated tougher sanctions. “To force him to think about the economy, you’d have to impose an oil-and-gas embargo.”

That’s a tall order, especially given Europe’s dependence on Russian fuels, but oil restrictions are under active discussion.

“All of us share the objective of diminishing the revenues that Russia will have to buy goods and services to help their economy and enable them to wage war,” U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said Wednesday ahead of a gathering of Group of Seven finance chiefs. “We’re doing a lot of things that are effective in diminishing their access to the goods and services they need.”

Russia managed to limit the initial fallout at the beginning of the war, heading off a financial crisis by hiking interest rates and imposing strict restrictions on taking money out of the country after the U.S. and its allies sanctioned the central bank and its $600 billion war chest.

“Sanctions are forcing a reconfiguration of the Russian economy that will leave it poorer and slower-growing, though the full cost will take time to materialize. What remains to be seen is whether the pain for households and businesses has any significant bearing on the Kremlin’s foreign policy,” said Russia economist Scott Johnson of Bloomberg Economics.

But while Putin brags that Russia is “confidently coping” with the impact of sanctions, touting the the ruble’s rebound from the lows hit shortly after the invasion, his own officials aren’t as upbeat.

A central bank report on May 11 said the ruble’s rally is in fact a reflection of the impact of sanctions, not the opposite.

The restrictions, combined with foreign companies cutting off business with Russia, caused imports to drop, the bank said. As a result, demand for foreign-exchange has all but dried up in a market where capital controls had banned other would-be buyers from participating.

A poll released this week by Bank Otkritie found 58% of Russians said they’d noticed shortages of foods in stores since the war started, and a third said they’re stocking up. Another survey by the independent Levada Center, found 85% of those surveyed said now is a bad time for big purchases or taking out a loan, the highest level in more than a decade.

“Reverse industrialization” was the term central bank economists coined in a recent report for what Russia’s facing. Long-forgotten phenomena like shuttle-trading — the 1990’s-era business when Russians flew in large groups to places like China and Turkey to bring back huge sacks of clothes and other consumer goods to sell — are likely to return, they said.

Import limits “are like a slow-acting poison,” said Tatiana Orlova, economist at Oxford Economics. “Over time, these sanctions will take out lots of equipment for which it won’t be possible to replace parts.”

Russia has stopped publishing much of the detailed data on trade flows that would give indications of the impact of the restrictions. But figures from Russia’s biggest trading partners show imports plunged 45% in March, according to Capital Economics.

The embargo on Russian oil now under discussion by the EU would cost Russia as much as $155 billion over the next three years, according to the Institute of International Finance.

The auto industry gives a cautionary look at what may be to come. Once a showcase of Putin’s efforts to draw foreign companies and diversify away from oil and gas, the sector has largely ground to a halt since the war as the overseas giants have closed factories and cut off supplies of vital components.

Car sales in April fell almost 80%, the largest drop on record. Even Chinese companies, which Russia was hoping would step in to fill the gap as European and U.S. producers left, reported plunging volumes.

The Kremlin has responded by nationalizing some plants and promising to revive Soviet-era brands. Aside from lifting restrictions on grey-market, unauthorized supplies, officials have given no indication where the parts will come from.

Here’s a look at three key elements of the sanctions’ impact on Russia:

Financial crisis. Russia has so far been able to avoid a repeat of the blow-out seen in late 2014 after earlier waves of Ukraine-related sanctions combined with a collapse in oil prices to send the ruble plunging and triggered a wave of bank failures.

This time around, “the central bank closed all the external channels” with capital controls, which — together with the decision by Visa and Mastercard to cut off Russians’ use of their cards overseas — stanched the capital outflow, according to Oleg Vyugin, a former top central bank and Finance Ministry official.

“Now everything is holding up thanks to energy exports,” he said. “If there are serious limits imposed here, then we’ll see the effect of financial sanctions.”

Budget squeeze. Any hopes the U.S. and its allies may have had that sanctions would starve the Kremlin of the cash it needs to fund the war don’t seem to be coming true just yet. Budget revenues so far this year are near record levels, thanks to high energy prices, and the International Monetary Fund forecasts only modest deficits in the next few years. Just how much the Kremlin is spending on the war is classified, making it difficult to gauge the impact.

A deeper economic crisis that required much heavier spending on unemployment and other benefits could strain the Kremlin’s resources, but not in the short term, according to economists.

“Russians will start to feel impoverishment when they start to lose their jobs,” said Oxford’s Orlova, warning that as Europe moves to eliminate Russian energy supplies, export volumes and thus budget revenues are also likely to fall over the next few years.

Stunted growth. The central bank’s official forecast expects Russia’s economy to contract 8%-10% this year, with the drop in the fourth quarter as much as 16.5%. It warned that sanctions and isolation will lower the country’s growth potential, as well as its actual performance.

Just how deep and lasting that hobbling will be depends on the success of the Kremlin’s ability to find alternative suppliers for the millions of things it can no longer import from the U.S. and its allies. Chips and other high-tech goods, will be particularly hard to replace, officials and economists say.

The Economy Ministry warned this week that the recession would extend into next year, the first time in memory Russia has seen a contraction with prices for its commodity exports high, Tass reported.

So far, the government has resisted calls from hardliners for sweeping nationalization of previously foreign-owned factories, hoping to maintain a modicum of competition and avoid the legendary stagnation of the Soviet era.

Europe’s plans for dropping Russian energy supplies mean Moscow will have to spend billions on new infrastructure to divert supplies to clients in Asia. “Everything’s already stretched thin,” said Orlova.

Whether this squeeze will be enough to erode Putin’s resolve remains a question, however.

“We’ve seen examples from other countries like Iran and Venezuela where even prolonged application of very extreme sanctions have not substantially changed the decision-making,” said Oksana Antonenko, director at Control Risks in London. “That is very much understood in the West.”


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President Putin punishes senior commanders for Moskva sinking and Kharkiv failure

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Russian President Vladimir Putin has fired senior commanders who he considered to have performed poorly during the opening stages of its invasion of Ukraine, the MoD reported on Thursday, May 18.

Intel has suggested that Lieutenant General Serhiy Kisel, who commanded the elite 1st Guards Tank Army, was suspended for his failure to capture Kharkiv – which recently saw desperate Russian troops “destroying bridges” in order to try to “complicate the counteroffensive of Ukrainian troops”.

The MoD also said that Vice Admiral Igor Osipov, who commanded Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, has also “likely been suspended” following the sinking of the cruiser Moskva in April.

The loss of the Moskva (Moscow) was considered a huge dent in Russian offensives in Ukraine.

The Moskva was sunk by two Ukrainian missiles in the Black Sea, off the coast of Ukraine on Wednesday, April 13.

The sinking of the Moskva was noted as “a significant loss,” by US officials, who said at the time, “It’s going to be a blow to their pride, and we would expect it will be a blow to their morale.”

The British Ministry of Defence said that Russian Chief of the General Staff Valeriy Gerasimov likely remains in post, but it is unclear whether he “retains the confidence of President Putin.”

The report continued: “A culture of cover-ups and scape-goating is probably prevalent within the Russian military and security system.

“Many officials involved in the invasion of Ukraine will likely be increasingly distracted by efforts to avoid personal culpability for Russia’s operational set-backs.

“This will likely place further strain on Russia’s centralised model of command and control, as officers increasingly seek to defer key decisions to their superiors. It will be difficult for Russia to regain the initiative under these conditions.”

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky recently suggested that recent failures by Russian forces failures in the east and south of Ukraine resulted in the “missile shelling of the Lviv region, Sumy region, Chernihiv region and the recent airstrikes in the Luhansk region.”

“The 83rd day of our defence began with a rather powerful combination of Russian strikes at Ukraine,” he said on Tuesday, May 17.

“Specific sabotage activity in the border areas of Ukraine, and the missile attacks, are not just creating tension for our state, not just testing our strength. This is a kind of attempt of the Russian army to compensate for a series of failures in the east and south of our country.”

He added: “They cannot demonstrate success with general military action in the areas where they are trying to advance. So they are trying to show success through their missiles and other activities. To no avail as well.

“These strikes, like many previous ones, do not change anything radically. Especially since our air defence and anti-sabotage measures are becoming stronger.”


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