The independent Russian press writes about why Russia must lose the war in Ukraine and how the West can win the competition with the authoritarian regimes

Residents walk past destroyed Russian military machinery on the street, in Bucha, the town which was retaken by the Ukrainian army, northwest of Kyiv, Ukraine, 06 April 2022.
© EPA-EFE/ROMAN PILIPEY   |   Residents walk past destroyed Russian military machinery on the street, in Bucha, the town which was retaken by the Ukrainian army, northwest of Kyiv, Ukraine, 06 April 2022.

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Russians must understand that the war in Ukraine is lost in order to be able to bring about a change for the better in their own country, dissidents quoted by independent Russian media believe. They also talk about the losses caused by the war launched by Russia against the neighboring country, but also about the need for the West to become more attractive to developing countries, in order to win the competition with the alternative model offered by autocracies.

ISTORIES: Year of the war

What Vladimir Putin actually achieved in a year of Russia's full-scale war against Ukraine

Hundreds of thousands of dead and wounded, millions of broken destinies, cities wiped off the face of the earth, more than 20 thousand administrative and criminal cases against Russians who disagree with the war, the most massive emigration from Russia in its entire modern history, and finally - the country's transformation into the main world aggressor and outcast. ISTORIES sums up the year of Russia's full-scale war against Ukraine.

More civilians died in the Ukrainian territories in a year than in the previous eight years

Justifying Russia's military aggression against Ukraine, Vladimir Putin and the Russian propaganda have repeatedly stated that one of the main goals is to “save the people” of Donbas. According to UN data from February 13, 2023, more civilians have died in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions since the start of the full-scale war than in the previous eight years. In all of Ukraine, according to official figures alone, more than seven thousand people died, including 438 children. Another 11,662 civilians were wounded.

In most cases, people were killed or seriously injured due to heavy artillery and multiple rocket launchers, rocket and air strikes. 

And this is only official data, the real figures are much higher. […] For instance, in June 2022, the mayor of Mariupol, Vadim Boichenko, announced 22 thousand civilian deaths. […]

Russia destroyed and damaged almost 150,000 residential buildings in Ukraine

Despite Russia's constant claims that its army only shells military targets in Ukraine, the reality is different. During the year of a full-scale war, Russian troops have destroyed and damaged almost 150 thousand residential buildings, more than three thousand schools and more than a thousand medical institutions. Russian military expert Pavel Luzin has explained that the Russian troops deliberately attack the civilian infrastructure of Ukraine - in order to “psychologically break the civil society of Ukraine”.

This was also confirmed by the Russian authorities themselves, when they began to purposefully destroy the energy infrastructure of Ukraine, leaving many Ukrainians without electricity, water and heat. […]

The Russian army lost almost 200 thousand people dead and wounded

The invasion of Ukraine resulted in huge losses for Russia as well. According to the Ukrainian General Staff, during the year of the war, Russia has lost more than 135,000 soldiers (both killed and seriously wounded), or 18% of its entire pre-war army. Officials in the United States and other Western countries believe that the number of dead and wounded Russian troops in Ukraine is approaching 200,000 people.

Mobilized Russians, who are often sent to the front without training, are among these losses.  In the four months since the start of mobilization, Russia has lost over a thousand mobilized people, according to the BBC. These are only those whose names are precisely known from open sources, but the real losses among the mobilized may be much higher: many reports of servicemen killed in Ukraine do not indicate their status.

Because of the war, the death rate in young people aged 18 to 35 in Russia has increased by 23%. It grew the most in those regions where the most deaths were recorded, so in North Ossetia and Dagestan, it almost doubled. 

The war has depleted the stocks of Russian weapons and equipment. The most affected are tanks and armored vehicles. According to the calculations made by Istories, the army has lost 45 to 95% of its combat-ready tanks, which it had before the war, and from 18 to 36% of armored vehicles. In addition to that, the army has practically lost the drones it had before the war and the production of which will be problematic for Russia, as it requires imported electronics.

Ukraine has already regained half of the land seized by Russia since the beginning of the invasion

The plans of the Russian leadership to take Kyiv "in two or three days" failed. The Armed Forces of Ukraine recaptured more than 60 thousand square kilometers, which is about half of the territory that Russia occupied at the beginning of the invasion. At that time, more than 125 thousand square kilometers of Ukrainian territory were under the control of the Russian army (excluding the previously annexed Crimea, the DPR and LPR). […]

AGENTS.MEDIA: “The liberation of Russia will begin with flying the Ukrainian flag in Sevastopol”: what future Russia was presented at the Munich Conference

No official representatives of Russia were invited to the Munich Security Conference. The model of a new Russia was discussed on the evening of February 18 at a panel discussion with the participation of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, co-chairman of the Anti-War Committee Garry Kasparov, co-founder of the Boris Nemtsov Foundation Zhanna Nemtsova and one of the founders of Memorial organization, Irina Shcherbakova.

On the future of Russia: is democracy possible in that country?

Garry Kasparov: “The liberation of Russia from Putin’s fascism will begin with the Ukrainian flag in Sevastopol <…> We are dealing with something that is not so easy to change until the very idea of ​​empire dies. [Russian society] must admit that they lost the war. Many say that Russia is losing the war - this is nonsense. The war will be lost by Russia when it realizes that it has lost it.

Mikhail Khodorkovsky: “We have to learn once and for all that there can be no “good tsar” in Russia. Either this tsar, like Gorbachev, tries to be kind and loses power, or he tries to be kind and at first he even succeeds, like Yeltsin, but then, as historically, he “slides” onto the same authoritarian path: he shoots up the White House, starts a war in Chechnya, sends troops to Pristina and appoints a former KGB officer as his successor. Someone might say, “Now we will choose a real good tsar.  Give us a chance.” I will do my best to prevent this from happening. The only way is balance and separation of powers. It’s difficult, I agree, but I have already seen that it’s possible”.

Irina Shcherbakova: “Russia has a chance to take the path of freedom, which it lost in the 1990s. <…> If it gets this chance now, this path to freedom will be even longer and even more painful.”

Why did it happen: how did Russia come to dictatorship and war?

Zhanna Nemtsova: “I think that the mistake that the Russian authorities made after the collapse of the USSR was that they did not make enough efforts  to explain to people what democracy was, its modern concepts, why they were important and why participating in politics was important.”

Garry Kasparov: “Unfortunately, Putin was able to create this “information bubble”. The Russians believe that they are not at war with Ukraine, but with NATO.”

Mikhail Khodorkovsky: “We all underestimated Putin. In fact, this is what he actually intended. But the problem is not even Putin, but the syndrome that Russian society suffers from: the Weimar [post-imperial] syndrome.”

Irina Shcherbakova: “All these years we have been talking about how important it is to make sense of the past. But no reforms were really carried out, no work was done to comprehend this past, to explain to people under what regime they lived [in the USSR]. <…> What happened is not the return of the Soviet Union, it is the manipulation of the Soviet past… Putin’s ideology is built on historical myths.”

About the war in Ukraine

Mikhail Khodorkovsky: “Ukraine today, at the cost of many lives and its land, is protecting the rest of Europe. If Putin is allowed a little respite now, next time will be much sadder for both Europe and Russia. Let's not be afraid of the escalation of the conflict."

Irina Shcherbakova: “This is a very dramatic time. I understand the pain of Ukrainians when they say: “So you think that the war precedes the democratization of Russia. We are shedding our blood, and you hope that after this war Russia will become more democratic.” It's very hard to hear, but it makes sense."

About Russian society

Zhanna Nemtsova: “Unfortunately, right now most Russians are still neutral: they are not interested in war and politics.”

Irina Shcherbakova: “Russian society has been 'mutilated'. The dictatorship constantly keeps the Russians in fear. To protest, you have to be very brave.”[…]

RE:RUSSIA: Revision versus revisionism: To successfully confront the autocratic camp, the West must rethink its vision of the international order, claims the new Munich Security Report

The war in Ukraine rendered practical the discussion about the future of the world order and sharply intensified the rivalry between the concept of liberalism and that of autocracy. The authors of the Munich Security Report, the presentation of which traditionally precedes the authoritative annual Munich Security Conference, call on Western politicians to reconsider their vision of the international order in order to make it more understandable and attractive for developing countries that have not yet chosen a side in the confrontation between the “global West” and the “global South." The report describes the main points of this confrontation that require rethinking - the universalist concept of human rights, the organization of global infrastructures and global trade and nuclear security.

One of the main topics of discussion was Russia, although its representatives were not invited to participate in the Conference. We reall that at the Munich Forum of 2007, Vladimir Putin made his first “revisionist” speech, formulating the principles of a new antagonism between Russia and the West. Traditionally, the conference is preceded by the security report, which this year is titled “Revision”.

Disputes about the future of the international order are usually rather abstract, but Russia's attack on Ukraine has turned the conflict between its various visions into a brutal and deadly reality, the authors of the report write. Liberal democracies are "awakening" in the face of the challenges of authoritarian revisionism led by China and Russia. […]

To succeed in defending the liberal vision of the international order in the face of Chinese and Russian revisionism, a broader coalition must be built, and include some of the countries that have not joined the sanctions against Russia. The very fact of this non-alignment shows that the leaders of world authoritarianism are not alone in their dissatisfaction with the status quo. They are trying to win over governments from Africa, Latin America and Asia, actualizing anti-colonial narratives. Therefore, liberal democracies cannot simply confine themselves to upholding the status quo.

The competition between the two visions of the world order is unfolding in many areas. Thus, in the field of human rights, China seeks to question both their very conceptual foundation and the mechanisms for their protection, thus creating a world safe for autocracies. China counters the liberal concept of human rights with a doctrine in which collective rights, defined and supported by the state, take precedence over individual civil and political freedoms. […]

Global infrastructures have also become a field of geopolitical competition, the authors of the report write. The liberal and authoritarian camps are openly competing to shape and manage the world's physical and digital infrastructures. […]

Trade and economic interdependence in this pervasive competition is also increasingly seen as a vulnerability and a channel for coercion. The use of trade links as a weapon goes hand in hand with the rise of protectionism. The Western alliance is not yet able to offer a new vision for a trade infrastructure that would serve mutual prosperity while limiting vulnerability. While China is promoting its own model of economic partnership, ostensibly free from conditions, as an alternative to the American and European models, which attach great importance to the principles of democracy, free markets, accountability and transparency. This alternative looks attractive to many countries due to their growing dissatisfaction with the pace of their own development and the benefits of international trade.

The crisis in the field of nuclear safety is obvious, the authors of the report state. With its nuclear blackmail, Russia undermines the two main pillars of the world nuclear order: the policy of non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and the taboo on their use, which sees them as a deterrent. (Putin threatens nuclear weapons as a means of revenge.) Another sign of a security crisis is the reduction of nuclear arms control treaties. […]

The world is entering a critical decade in the struggle for future order, the authors conclude. And while 2022 was a year of rising authoritarian revisionism, it marked a turning point, demonstrating how aggressive revisionism can be countered through the heroic resistance of Ukraine and the solidarity of the West in the face of the Russian threat.

Mariana Vasilache

Mariana Vasilache

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