While Americans enjoy the raptures and sounds of the 96th Macy’s Parade in New York, Russian President Vladimir Putin is busy trying to play his own malevolent charade in Moscow. Putin’s “special operation” in Ukraine is rapidly unfolding, and he is running for cover. After nine months of bloody fighting, defeats and retreats, coupled with harsh Western economic sanctions, Putin has nothing to show but more than 100,000 Russian casualties, 8,047 pieces of military equipment destroyed, damaged, abandoned or captured, and horribly, in huge numbers. violation of the Geneva Convention, more than 40,000 civilian deaths.
If you look at Putin’s official calendar, you won’t know that he is the current wartime president and that both he and Russia are losing the war in Ukraine. Instead, Putin’s calendar looks more like that of a small-town mayor running for re-election: he sends greetings to a Russian youth symphony orchestra. Baptism of the new nuclear icebreakers “Ural” and “Yakutia”. Opening of a new turkey breeding center in the Tyumen region. Poster of the 12th International ATOMEXPO in Sochi and the opening of the 17th Vladimir Menshov International Film Festival.
The carefully crafted message the Kremlin is trying to convey is simple: Everything in Ukraine is going according to plan, allowing the “Supreme Leader” to focus on solving and doing the people’s work. Putin follows the age-old political mantra: “If you explain, you lose.” It doesn’t matter, of course, that Russia loses in everything.
If only reality reflected Putin’s fantasy world. This is not true. No amount of Kremlin myopia of “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” will prevent Russian society from eventually seeing through Putin’s charade of lies and misdirections. Not when newly mobilized soldiers sent to the front line in the Luhansk region are supposedly given military clothing taken from dead or wounded soldiers who fought before them. Not when there are reports of the burning and burial of the remains of Russian soldiers, uniforms and equipment at the Kherson training grounds.
Putin’s performance art will fool no one, except those who need to be voluntarily fooled or misled in Russia. Even guest commentators in Russian state media are beginning to openly question Putin’s official line that all the defeats in Ukraine actually mask the victories of Russia. Hesitantly, Putin’s chief propagandist Vladimir Solovyov, in an attempt to maintain a pretense, laments, in the words of Russian media expert Julia Davis, that “it would be strange not to use [nuclear weapons]; otherwise why did we make them at all?”
Solovyov’s tacit admission, even that he is raising the threat of using nuclear weapons, is that a conventional military measure is already prepared in Ukraine. Other analysts, according to Davis, reacted sharply to Solovyov, noting that threatening “to wipe Kyiv or Kharkov off the face of the earth” would be “criminal.” Sanity, at least for the moment, is slowly creeping back into late-night Russian talk shows, wielding combative truth in the face of Putin’s lies and charades.
If this gradual awakening of conscience can be sustained, today will indeed be a universal day of thanksgiving. State-organized propaganda only works when others willingly buy into the wrong direction or are deceived into blindly believing it. Once these two channels of disinformation are cut off, the emperor – or, in Putin’s case, the equivalent of a modern-day tsar – becomes completely exposed and, just as importantly, very vulnerable. Charades only work as long as you are not exposed.
We are approaching this moment; however, we are not there yet. Putin is still dangerous and he still has military options, including helping Belarus. People who voluntarily commit war crimes and crimes against humanity, including those tragically uncovered in Kherson, do not give up power so easily.
However, they become desperate and fallible, often to the point of publicly contradicting themselves. These signs are present. For example, Putin, now largely banished from the world stage, was forced to unveil a monument to Fidel Castro in Moscow, along with Miguel Diaz-Canel y Bermudez, the first secretary of the Cuban Communist Party. This is despite Putin’s repeated denunciations of communist Soviet leaders for handing over Ukraine, Poland and the rest of Eastern Europe.
On a global scale, walls are closing between Putin and Russia. Finally, China and India may be refusing to see Putin’s charade, no doubt for selfish reasons – China for its future plans in Taiwan, and India for its need for global trade with the West. Be that as it may, their resistance to Putin at the recent G20 summit in Indonesia was significant in the sense that they continue to fight Russia on the world stage, which is fed up with his adventures in Ukraine.
Domestically, the Kremlin walls are also fast approaching Putin and his regime. Even members of Putin’s inner circle, including Wagner Group founder Yevgeny Prigozhin and Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, are openly critical of the “Russian war machine.” For now, they remain superficially loyal to Putin.
However, their criticism of the Russian Ministry of Defense and close associate and friend of Putin, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, is gaining momentum among Russian Telegram bloggers and security officials. Over time, whether by design or out of a need to avoid being pushed out the window, Prigozhin may find himself embarrassingly touted as Putin’s successor, if not Putin’s Brutus.
Enough of Putin’s charades already. The act is tired. In Stanley Donen’s 1963 classic Charade, no one is what they seem, except for the film’s heroine, Reggie Lampert, played by Audrey Hepburn. Even the film’s other character, Peter Joshua, played by Cary Grant. Putin is also probably no longer sure what he needs to be in order to survive.
At least for now, this Thanksgiving in America, Putin, about 5,000 miles from Moscow, is trying to pretend to be someone other than what he is: a failed Russian leader and a war criminal who deserves a date at the International Court of Justice. in The Hague.
Mark Toth is a former economist, historian, and entrepreneur who has worked in banking, insurance, publishing, and international trade. He is a former board member of the St. Louis World Trade Center and has lived in US diplomatic and military circles around the world, including London, Tel Aviv, Augsburg and Nagoya. Follow him on Twitter @MCTothSTL.
Jonathan Sweet, retired Army colonel, served 30 years as a military intelligence officer. His track record includes service with the 101st Airborne Division and the Intelligence and Security Command. From 2012 to 2014, he was Head of Intelligence Operations at US European Command, working with NATO partners in the Black Sea and the Baltic States. Follow him on Twitter @JESweet2022.