Six months after invading Ukraine, Russia itself is feeling the pressure

For a host of reasons, birthdays can be painful times.

According to the (erroneous) conventional wisdom of the rest of the world, August 24 marks the sixth month of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

War, with all its horror, has only been truly and truly in our faces for six months – not in the frozen, distant sense that has marked the conflict for the past eight years.

For Ukrainians, today looks more like the 3,108th day of fighting (more or less a day or two) in a war that began with Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and Moscow’s first attempt to take control of the eastern region of Donbass.

August 24 also marks the 31st anniversary of Ukraine’s independence from the Soviet Union.

Much has been written over the past six months about the brutal effect of war on the Ukrainian people and their pulverized cities. But an expert who follows the conflict closely is now paying increasing attention to what he suspects are signs that the Russian regime itself is beginning to crumble.

The recent murder of ultranationalist Darya Dugina, 29, in Moscow has piqued the interest of observers who believe it is a sign of growing and violent divisions within Russia over the war.

Philosopher Alexander Dugin, center, talks to a priest during the final farewell ceremony for his daughter Darya Dugina in Moscow on Tuesday, August 23, 2022. (Dmitry Serebryakov/AP)

The daughter of philosopher Alexander Dugin – a man often referred to as “Putin’s mastermind” because of his influence on the Russian leader – died in a car bomb attack last week.

“It was significant,” said Sean Maloney, a history professor at the Royal Military College and an expert on Russia.

“We now have a destabilized Russian regime in a way that we haven’t seen destabilization in years. And it’s only in this space because of this invasion.”

The Russian security service (FSB) has developed different scenarios since the attack, one of which involves the Ukrainians. The Kyiv government has strenuously denied any involvement in the attack.

Maloney said Moscow’s explanation “reeks of Stalinist disinformation” and ignores the growing division in Russian society between those who fervently support the war and the increasingly vocal anti-war activists.

Dougin and his daughter had gone to a festival near Moscow, where the ultranationalist philosopher gave a lecture on Saturday evening. The two were supposed to leave in the same car but, at the last minute, Dugin reportedly changed his mind.

Maloney said someone inside Russia was targeting Dugin or trying to send a message by killing his daughter.

“Whichever way you look at this, there are obviously elements among people in Moscow who are unhappy with what is happening, whether [the war in Ukraine] doesn’t go far enough or it’s gone too far,” he said.

Elsewhere on Wednesday, news broke that the former mayor of Russia’s fourth largest city had been arrested for discrediting the country’s military. Observers see it as part of a crackdown on critics of Moscow’s military action in Ukraine.

Police arrested Yevgeny Roizman59, who was mayor of Yekaterinburg from 2013 to 2018, following searches of his apartment and office.

Police arrest former Yekaterinburg mayor Yevgeny Roizman in Yekaterinburg, Russia, Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2022. The former mayor of Russia’s fourth-largest city was arrested on Wednesday for discrediting the country’s military , as part of a crackdown on critics of the Moscow military. shares in Ukraine. (Vladimir Podoksyonov/URA.RU via AP)

Roizman told reporters in Russia he was charged under a new law passed after Moscow sent troops to Ukraine on February 24. He faces up to five years in prison if convicted.

Last week a member of the Federation Council, the upper house of the Russian legislature, denounced his own daughter as a “traitor” after she gave an interview condemning the war.

Federation Council member Eduard Isakov, who represents the northern autonomous region of Khanty-Mansi, wrote on Telegram that his eldest daughter, Diana Isakova, “sold out her father, her family and her homeland” with her remarks.

At the start of major combat operations, a few prominent figures in Russia — notably imprisoned opposition leader Aleksei Navalny — said support for the war would dwindle if the Russian people rose up and opposed it.

Police detain a protester during an action against Russia’s attack on Ukraine in St. Petersburg, Russia, Wednesday, March 2, 2022. (Dmitri Lovetsky/AP)

But many anti-war protesters in Russia have been jailed or face criminal charges carrying long prison sentences, while hundreds of thousands of Russians – many of whom oppose the war – have fled the country.

As the full invasion reaches six months, Maloney said, it has become clear that the war has been “disastrous” for Russia in ways the West is only beginning to understand.

Russian troops were pushed back from Kyiv and Kharkiv and fought to a stalemate in Donbass. The Ukrainian General Staff estimates that Russia suffered more than 40,000 combat deaths. The latest Western military estimates put the Russian combat death toll at 15,000.

Some of Russia’s problems are obvious. Some have been subtle.

The inability of the Russian army to quickly conquer Ukraine is obvious. The political and social breakdown of a society — especially in an authoritarian regime — is harder to see until it explodes into the open, Maloney said.

Alima Tatiyeva, widow of Nurlan Tatiyev, a Russian soldier killed in Ukraine, cries during a ceremony to award the Order of Courage to families of killed soldiers in Volgograd, Russia, June 30, 2022. (Alexandr Kulikov/AP)

For now, the Kremlin is keeping an eye on dissent. Dugin has blamed Ukraine for her daughter’s murder and is calling for revenge.

“We only need our victory [against Ukraine]. My daughter sacrificed her young life on the altar of victory,” he said in a statement Monday.

Dugin has in the past framed war as a much larger spiritual battle. Following the annexation of Crimea, he declared that “Ukraine must be…disappeared from the Earth and rebuilt from scratch”.

Ordinary Russians are now paying the price for this vision – in lost lives, in mounting damage to their economy. Russian experts around the world are watching closely now to see how long these ordinary Russians are willing to go on.

A woman uses her mobile phone while walking past a billboard with the portrait of a Russian soldier and the words “Glory to the heroes of Russia” in Saint Petersburg, Russia, August 20, 2022. (Dmitri Lovetsky/AP)

“It’s a war against racism. [Russian President] Vladimir Putin and his leadership,” said Matthew Schmidt, associate professor and national security expert at the University of New Haven in Connecticut.

“It’s a war of egos that will keep piling on bodies because they’re not strong enough to admit error.”

Marking the day as the “sixth anniversary” does a disservice to Ukrainians, he added.

“There will be more such fake anniversaries to come, because the roots of the war run deep in the minds and aspirations of too many, but not all, people in Russia,” he said. declared.

“Such roots are not easily pulled out.”

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