To say that Vladimir Putin has gone off the deep end would be a bit of an understatement.
The Russian President, who is said to be dying of terminal bowel cancer, is far worse off than that, having drifted into a Marianas Trench of evil in recent weeks. As his invasion of Ukraine continues to stagnate, the former KGB agent has instructed his troops to commit brazen war crimes, including rape and genocide.
Now, as the enormous Russian “Victory Day” holiday is upon us, there are fears that Putin’s rat-in-a-trap attitude could get even worse, and that the world may pay a heavy price on account of it.
Many analysts believe Putin had hoped to use Victory Day to declare a military victory in the conflict. But ten weeks after the invasion, Moscow has failed to conquer Kyiv and is making plodding progress in the eastern Donbas region.
Instead, experts and Western officials now believe Putin may mark the holiday by declaring a more limited victory in the southern city of Mariupol, which has been under bombardment from Russian airstrikes for weeks, and in the Donbas, which Russia first invaded in 2014 and where Moscow has concentrated most of its forces in recent weeks. Taking Mariupol is key to creating a land bridge connecting Russia to Crimea.
But looming over the holiday is the fear Putin will use the day to double down on the invasion and announce a full-scale mobilization or call-up of reservists to replenish his depleted forces in Ukraine. Already, Russia has reportedly ramped up its offensive in eastern Ukraine ahead of Victory Day.
“I think he is going to have to declare war so he can call up the reserves and more conscripts,” said Mick Mulroy, a former top Pentagon official and retired CIA paramilitary officer and U.S. Marine. “If he does not do that it may indicate he knows he can’t win. If he does, this could get even worse.”
There are other fears as well:
Western officials have been preparing for a possible formal declaration of war for over a week. British Defense Minister Ben Wallace said late last month that he expects Putin to declare on May 9 that “we are now at war with the world’s Nazis,” a reference to the Russian president’s claims that he ordered the invasion to de-Nazify Ukraine.
“I think he will try to move from his ‘special operation,’” Wallace told a British radio station. “He’s been rolling the pitch, laying the ground for being able to say, ‘look, this is now a war against Nazis, and what I need is more people. I need more Russian cannon fodder.’”
Alternatively, Putin could choose a “horizontal escalation” to distract the West and Ukraine from the main fight and put pressure on NATO, said retired Army Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges. This could be a strike against a logistics hub in one of the NATO countries, a threat of a nuclear strike inside Ukraine, or a demonstration of nuclear capability in an isolated area, Hodges said.
Putin’s unpredictable behavior of late has imbued the conflict with an air of fatalism, which has long had the world on edge.
On Monday, we hold our breath.
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