Dangerous moments for the killer in the Kremlin

Published by The Mail on Sunday (18th September, 2022)

Vladimir Putin built his dictatorship on two core foundations: ruthless control of his nation, whether fleecing its wealth with his pals or silencing dissident voices, and restoration of Russian glory in the wake of the Soviet Union unravelling.

So the diminutive despot posed as the modern-day successor to Peter the Great, that 18th Century giant who created the Russian empire, while rehabilitating Joseph Stalin, stepping up repression and strengthening his armed forces.

Six of the first 11 decrees he passed after becoming President in 2000 focused on the military – and since then he has almost tripled defence spending to fund his aggressive foreign policy.

Yet Putin faces humiliation following his bungled invasion of Ukraine. First, his plan to take Kyiv in a few days was defeated. Now his cherished military has collapsed in Kharkiv, reportedly losing 3,000 square miles in just six days.

This is a pivotal moment – and a significant morale boost for both the nation under attack, suffering so much pain, and for its allies in the West as the energy crisis sparked by this crisis starts to bite.

Once again, we see the trademark atrocities of Russian troops with the discovery of two mass graves in the recaptured city of Izyum, one containing soldiers, the other civilians. Some corpses are bound, showing signs of execution and torture. And we have seen the incredible bravery of a nation fighting both for survival and for the cause of democracy in this epic confrontation with dictatorship.

Like any bully, Putin responds with threats. He warns of a ‘more serious’ response, which is chilling given his stock of nuclear and chemical weapons – although this most likely means more hideous attacks targeting Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure. And while pretending his ‘special military operation’ is going to plan, the killer in the Kremlin hints that he might have to mobilise more forces by calling up conscripts after seeing massive loss of men and weaponry.

Ukraine claims almost 25 per cent of Russia’s troops have been killed, injured or captured, with two-thirds of Moscow’s tanks and a fifth of military aircraft put out of action. One division alone lost 90 tanks in the panicked retreat from Izyum.

No wonder there are signs that Putin’s stranglehold on Russia is beginning to loosen. Rumblings of discontent are suddenly being heard from his most extreme supporters, including hardline nationalists, talking heads on state television and bloggers with ties to the military.

These distraught former allies fear that their nation faces defeat so they push the Russian President to escalate the war while blaming other military and political leaders for the ‘catastrophe’. But some elected politicians, including those from Putin’s home city of St Petersburg, dared to back a statement earlier this month demanding he resign.

There has been bloodshed with fresh border clashes in two troubled parts of the former Soviet empire. Is this another sign of the President’s waning power – and possibly, a portent of the future if the Russian empire collapses in wake of his stupid war?

The West must step up support to speed the end of this terrible conflict since there can be no sustainable peace until Putin is driven off all of Ukraine’s terrain.

Russia is losing, but it has not yet lost. Putin’s power is waning, but he remains in command. This is a dangerous moment in our history – and we need to show the same fortitude as the Ukrainians in defending democracy.

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