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Analysis | The annexations show the depth of Putin’s imperial deception


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On the ground, Russia’s war effort is faltering. Ukrainian forces accelerated their advances on territories held by Russian troops and their separatist proxies, liberating towns in the southern Kherson region while also advancing towards Luhansk in the east. After retaking Russian-held areas in the northeastern Kharkiv region in a blitzkrieg campaign last month, Ukraine hopes to remove Russia’s last footholds north and west of the Dnieper River, crippling the Kremlin’s ability to it is already winding down, to mount its own campaign in the strategic Ukrainian port of Odessa.

“Ukrainian armed forces commanders in the south and east are throwing problems up the Russian chain of command faster than the Russians can respond effectively,” said a Western official who briefed my colleagues on sensitive information from security under condition of anonymity. “And this is compounding existing dysfunction within the Russian invasion force.”

Morale and unit cohesion among the Russian brigades at the front are in tatters, and Ukrainian attacks on Russian ammunition and supply depots take a critical toll. At home, it’s turning equally bleak. Some estimates found that 700,000 people — about 1 in 200 Russians — left the country less than two weeks after President Vladimir Putin ordered a “partial mobilization” of troops to bolster his faltering invasion.

The current state of affairs follows the Ukrainian recapture over the weekend of the town of Lyman, a key transit hub in eastern Donetsk. My colleagues traveled there and talked to the locals as gunshots rang out in the distance. “Well, they’re either hunting pheasants, or rabbits, or Russians,” a retired school teacher joked to them.

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Refuting annexation, Ukrainian forces advance from Lyman towards Lugansk

Putin is trying to create his own facts on the ground. By Tuesday, motions approved by the Russian parliament accepted the “accession treaties” that Putin signed last week and announced the absorption of the Ukrainian regions of Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia, all partially occupied by Russian troops, into the Russian Federation. . Russian-backed separatists in these four so-called republics staged bogus referendums to join Russia, outraging Kyiv and the international community.

See also  'Global Catastrophe' and Other Vladimir Putin Quotes of the Day

The annexations only add to the discomfort of Kremlin officials, who until now were unable to detail where their borders lay as Ukrainian forces pushed through weakened Russian defenses.

“Ukraine’s victory at Lyman will remain symbolic for the message it sent to the Kremlin: Putin’s annexation of the partially occupied regions was a farce,” my colleagues from the front reported. “Lyman was a large part of the land that Putin claimed in a ceremony in Moscow on Friday, but only a day later his soldiers left in a hurry, some dying on the way out.”

Putin, of course, does not seem fazed. His 37-minute speech on Friday rejected criticism of Russia’s violations of international law and repeated his conspiratorial fury at the agendas of the United States and its European allies. He called for “an anti-colonial liberation movement against unipolar hegemony”, presenting the annexations as an act of resistance to the West’s “parasitic” “neo-colonial system”, while detailing the historical legacies of “looting” and “genocide”. ” carried out by various Western powers in past centuries.

As the war fails, Russia’s authoritarian grandmaster backs himself into a corner.

On the one hand, none of this rhetoric should be surprising. Such complaints are standard for Putin, who always seeks to put Russia on an equal footing with the United States and its partners. Furthermore, dogmatic “anti-imperialism” was commonplace under the Soviet Union, which for decades sought to support and mobilize revolutionaries and leftists throughout the colonized and decolonizing world. In some cases, such as its support for opposition to the apartheid regime in South Africa, the Kremlin found itself on the right side of history long before its opponents in the West.

But all of this is short-lived when compared to the war unleashed by Putin, the documented atrocities carried out by his troops in the Ukraine, and the general colonial project of using brute force to subdue the Ukrainians while denying them their very right to exist. nation state. “Putin apparently fails to realize the absurdity of condemning imperialism while at the same time committing the most brazen act of imperial aggression in modern European history,” said Peter Dickinson of the Atlantic Council.

Putin is also silent on the ruthless and bloody history of imperial conquest of his own nation, not to mention the horrors of Stalinism. While the western empires established their systems of exploitation and extraction in various parts of the world, the tsars of Russia waged ruthless wars of expansion in places not far from the current battles in the Ukraine.

“In 1818, when Russian forces attempted to conquer the North Caucasus, they were met by a population that refused to submit,” wrote Lynne Hartnett, a historian of Russia at Villanova University. “In response to the guerrilla warfare that the indigenous population unleashed against the invaders, Russia burned down villages, incinerated forests, and took civilians hostage.”

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“There is no attempt to deal with past Russian and Soviet oppressions, the way the Kremlin repeatedly colonizes, ethnically cleanses, deports, starves and mass murders other nations, and the way it kills, arrests and humiliates masses of his own people as well. in labor camps, gulags, and the KGB cellars,” wrote Soviet-born British journalist Peter Pomerantsev, noting how Putin last year shut down Memorial, a leading Russian civil society organization investigating the misdeeds of the Soviet past. .

Instead, Putin is on his own vindictive journey to restore Russia’s empire. “He is ‘gathering to the lands’ as his personal icons, the great Russian tsars, did, and undoing the legacy of Lenin, the Bolsheviks and post-Cold War settlement,” Fiona Hill and Angela Stent wrote in the latest issue. Of Foreign Affairs. “In this way, Putin wants Russia to be the only exception to the inexorable rise and fall of the imperial states.”

For now, as his citizens seek to flee, his nation’s geopolitical isolation deepens and his army falters, Putin’s mission seems more deceitful than ever.

War in Ukraine: what you need to know

The last: Russian President Vladimir Putin signed decrees on Friday to annex four occupied regions of Ukraine, after holding referendums that were widely denounced as illegal. Follow our live updates here.

The answer: The Biden administration on Friday announced a new round of sanctions against Russia, in response to the annexations, targeting government officials and family members, Russian and Belarusian military officials, and defense procurement networks. President Volodymyr Zelensky also said on Friday that Ukraine is requesting “accelerated accession” to NATO, in an apparent response to the annexations.

In Russia: Putin declared a military mobilization on September 21 to call up up to 300,000 reservists in a dramatic attempt to reverse setbacks in his war against Ukraine. The announcement sparked an exodus of more than 180,000 people, mostly men who were subject to the service, and renewed protests and other acts of defiance against the war.

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The fight: Ukraine mounted a successful counter-offensive that forced a major Russian withdrawal in the northeastern Kharkiv region in early September, as troops fled towns and villages they had occupied since the first days of the war, abandoning large amounts of military equipment.

Photos: Washington Post photographers have been on the ground since the beginning of the war; here we present some of his most impressive works.

How can you help: Here are ways those in the US can support the Ukrainian people, as well as what people around the world have been donating.

Read our full coverage of the Russo-Ukrainian War. Are you on Telegram? Subscribe to our channel for updates and exclusive videos.

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