In reality, Russia has already lost the war in Ukraine both on the battlefield, in the propaganda war and geopolitically. Russia’s losses, the country’s army’s performance, the failure of the mobilization and the zero motivation of the soldiers are slowly beginning to become clear to ordinary citizens as well. The Russian middle class has also already begun to see the sanctions affecting their everyday life. All this eats away at the confidence in President Putin, who can no longer find any honorable way out of the situation he completely misjudged.
The Russian military – comprising at least the land, air and naval forces, as well as external and internal intelligence, command system and leadership at all levels – demonstrated its inability to wage even a conventional war; there is no experience of nuclear war yet, but in a system permeated by corruption, there may also be shortcomings in its execution.
At the start of the war, the Ukrainian army was not necessarily in better shape than Russia’s, but its motivation, intelligence capabilities, political leadership and Western support made it superior compared to its opponent.
When Ukraine now takes back the territories annexed to Russia, is able to strike even in Crimea, and when Russia is unable to cover its losses, the situation has completely turned in Ukraine’s favor. Even if Russia makes a full mobilization, this will not bring any solution in Russia’s favor either: the most competent material has already left the country, there are not enough weapons or trainers for those who remain, if the reserves are taken to the front, the massive losses and mass surrenders underline the complete failure.
President Putin’s only remaining playing card is a nuclear weapon, and when cornered, he can also use it. At the mildest end, what can be expected is a show-like test shot, which in itself is not harmful to anyone. The situation becomes more challenging if a tactical nuclear warhead is used in Ukraine, I don’t doubt that the Western countries would then be able to destroy the Russian armed forces in the territory of Ukraine with conventional missiles.
Putin may be ready to use strategic nuclear weapons as well, but I doubt that even the power elite – the silovaki – are ready to sacrifice their lives at the behest of their leader who is alienated from reality.
If Putin considers using a nuclear weapon in Ukraine, the threshold for its use within the scope of the Russian security services will emerge. Even at the level of the power elite, the security agencies and the army are not a united, unanimous group, and at lower levels, a realistic picture of the situation is certainly available. The consequences of using a nuclear weapon can create a sufficient vision that Putin should be replaced already now by another leader who might be able to negotiate with Ukraine and the Western powers even about a “cold peace”, a cease-fire that would return the entire region up to Crimea to Ukraine, but would perhaps leave the war crime and reparations issues for the future.
There is also a small chance of a diplomatic solution if Putin, Ukraine and the USA work out some kind of truce at the meeting of the G-20 countries in Bali on November 15-16, 2022.