Opinion: The number that puts Vladimir Putin at risk

The last time the Russians lost a war was in Afghanistan in the 1980s. After a quick victory when they invaded the country in 1979, the Soviets faced a nationwide insurgency which was not particularly effective at first because the Russians completely controlled the airspace.
Echoing some of the dilemmas facing President Joe Biden today, the Reagan administration fears a possible nuclear confrontation with the Soviets and was initially reluctant to arm Afghan rebels with anti-aircraft weapons.
In 1986, the reluctance of President Reagan officials to arm the Afghan resistance with weapons that could actually help them win the war had evaporated. The CIA armed the Afghans with Stinger anti-aircraft missiles which ended Soviet air superiority and greatly increased the Afghans’ ability to inflict significant casualties on Soviet forces on the battlefield.
Realizing they were losing the war, the Soviets took of of Afghanistan in February 1989 and installed a puppet Afghan communist government that collapsed three years later, after the expiration of the Soviet Union itself.
The official Soviet death toll during the war in Afghanistan, which lasted more than nine years, was approximately 15,000 troops. So it’s quite telling that the Russians have already lost up to 15,000 troops in just one month in Ukraine, according to estimates provided to CNN by senior NATO officials.

When the Soviet army left Afghanistan in 1989, the countries and peoples of Eastern Europe – then under Soviet rule to varying degrees – took notice. If the dreaded Soviet army could not win a war on its own borders against the Afghan guerrilla forces, what did it say about its ability to control the fate of East Germany, of Hungary and Poland?

The failure of the Soviet war in Afghanistan drove a giant nail into the coffin of the Soviet empire. It is no coincidence that the Berlin Wall fell a few months later, opening up East Germany to the West.

It was probably the pivotal event in Putin’s adult life. He was then a KGB officer stationed in East Germany. When Putin asked for instructions on what to do with a Soviet military unit, he was told: “Moscow is silent.” Since then, Putin has been trying to overturn Moscow’s silence in an effort to restore as many elements of Russia’s former glory as possible.
Just as the Soviets were defeated by their loss in the war in Afghanistan, so was the Romanov monarchy. defeated by his military defeats at the beginning of the 20th century, which ended the three-century rule of the Romanovs over Russia.
Under the irresponsible direction of Tsar Nicholas IIRussia’s disastrous performance in the Russo-Japanese War of 1905 was the first time in the modern era that an Asian power had defeated a European power. The loss of the Russo-Japanese War was quickly compounded by Russia’s defeats in World War I. These losses, along with other factors, led to overthrow of Nicholas II in 1917 and the subsequent rise of the Soviets.
In contrast, Joseph Stalin emerged victorious from World War II – albeit at the enormous cost of roughly over 25 million Russian dead. Known in Russia as “the Great Patriotic War”, this victory allowed Stalin to continue to be, well, Stalin — a murderous dictator.
An edition of The Economist earlier this month declared “The Stalinization of Russia”, which is surely Putin’s objective. But it’s hard to be a neo-Stalinist if you’re a loser – and losing Ukraine isn’t out of the question for Putin.
This, of course, raises the possibility that US officials keep the warningwhich is that backed into a corner, Putin could use chemical or biological weapons.
Nor was Russia’s use of nuclear weapons ruled out by Putin’s chief spokesman, Dimitry Peskov, when he spoke with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Tuesday.

Putin’s war of choice in Ukraine could lead him to a point where he uses weapons of mass destruction. And even then, he can still lose the war.

Surely this was not how Putin dreamed of restoring Russia to glory, a dream that quickly turns to ashes – just as Putin burned down the Ukrainian city of Mariupol.

About Alma Ackerman

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