The Russian war was brutal, but Putin showed some restraint. why?

Workers will repair damaged electrical infrastructure along the Ukrainian Bucha railway on Sunday, May 1, 2022.  (Daniel Bellerak / New York Times)

Workers will repair damaged electrical infrastructure along the Ukrainian Bucha railway on Sunday, May 1, 2022. (Daniel Bellerak / New York Times)

Russia’s war with Ukraine leveled cities, killed tens of thousands of people, and expelled millions from their homes.

But quietly, some military analysts and Western officials are asking why the onslaught hasn’t worsened.

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Russia could pursue Ukraine’s railroads, roads and bridges more aggressively and try to block the flow of western weapons to the forefront. Western leaders may have further bombed the infrastructure around the capital, Kyiv, to make it difficult for Western leaders to show unity and determination to visit President Volodymyr Zelensky. And it could be doing much more to hurt the West by cyber-attacks, sabotage, or more blockades of energy exports to Europe.

Part of the reason seems to be totally incompetent. The first few weeks of the war clearly showed that Russian troops were far less capable than they were believed before the invasion. But US and European officials have also said that President Vladimir Putin’s tactics in recent weeks could escalate with slow-moving attacks in eastern Ukraine, a restrained approach to removing Ukraine’s infrastructure. Clashes with NATO say they seemed very cautious, characterized by the avoidance of certain behaviors.

Obvious restraints on the ground are in contrast to Russia’s national television bombs, where Moscow is described as being trapped in an existential battle with the West and the use of nuclear weapons is openly discussed. The question is whether Putin will change the tack and intensify the war as the war progresses.

This is a particularly urgent question prior to the Victory Day vacation in Russia on May 9. Putin traditionally presides over a spectacular parade to commemorate the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany and gives military speeches. British defense secretary Ben Wallace predicted last week that Putin would use his speech to declare war and mobilize the masses of Russians.

U.S. and European officials say they have never seen any movement on the ground that would show a much larger push with the addition of additional troops on or shortly after May 9. These officials are now looking forward to a slower crushing campaign within Ukraine. But they disagree that Putin can use his speech to declare a wider war and a deeper national effort to fight it.

For now, Putin appears to be in a military retention pattern. This allows Ukraine to reorganize and stockpile Western weapons. On Monday, Pentagon officials called Russia’s latest attack in eastern Ukraine “very cautious and very lukewarm.” In Russia, there are complaints that the army is fighting with one hand tied behind, and its strategy and purpose are not understood by the general public.

“This is a strange and special kind of war,” Dmitri Trenin, the director of the Carnegie Moscow Center think tank until recently, said in a telephone interview from the outskirts of Moscow. “Russia has fairly strict limits on its own, which is never explained. This raises many questions among Russian citizens in the first place.”

Trenin is one of the few analysts from his think tank that was closed last month by the Russian government, which chose to stay in Russia after the war began. He said he was having a hard time explaining why the Kremlin was fighting with “less than half the power.”

He asked why Russia would not bomb more bridges and rail networks, even though Ukrainian troops are allowing more and more deadly weapon deliveries every day. Why can Western leaders like Sunday’s house speaker Nancy Pelosi safely visit Kyiv?

“I think this is strange, and I can’t explain it,” Trenin said.

Indeed, Russian missile attacks are targeting infrastructure throughout Ukraine, including important bridges in southwestern Ukraine on Monday and the runway at Odesa Airport on Saturday. But throughout the Atlantic, officials and analysts are asking questions similar to Trenin.

For weeks, Washington officials discussed why Russian troops were less willing to try to destroy the supply line that sent Western arms transport to Ukraine. Part of the answer is that Ukrainian air defenses continue to threaten Russian aircraft, and the deeper Russian aircraft enter Ukraine, the more likely they are to be shot down.

Russia is also struggling with precision ammunition such as missiles and rockets with guidance systems. Many of these weapons are not functioning properly and the supply of Russian weapons is limited. Attacks on railroads and moving convoys must be very accurate to be effective.

Other officials claim that Moscow is eager to avoid destroying Ukraine’s infrastructure too badly. If Russia hijacks a city devastated by its bombing, Russia will be stuck in a huge reconstruction job.

U.S. defense officials said Putin may have avoided destroying the Ukrainian rail network. Because he didn’t want to hurt his own ability to move equipment and troops all over the country. Russians have focused more on destroying weapons storage areas than on railroad networks.

US officials discussed intelligence assessments with the private military on anonymous terms.

Then there is the question of why Russia did not fight back more violently against the West. The Kremlin’s story is an existential war in which NATO is fighting in the land of Ukraine, but Russia suffers military losses while the West keeps a safe distance and supplies weapons to kill Russian soldiers. I am.

“Many people in the town are asking why they haven’t retaliated yet,” said Samuel Charap, a former US State Department official in Washington and a Russian analyst at Rand Corporation. Allies have never experienced the blow of having so many Russian soldiers in their graves. “

Russia has tools to do widespread damage to the West. The gas shortage caused by a cyberattack on the Colonial Pipeline last year showed the potential disruption that Russian hacking could bring to US infrastructure. Berlin warned that Russia’s gas cut could put Germany in recession.

And there are Moscow’s world-leading nuclear weapons with an estimated 5,977 warheads. Their devastating abilities are constantly being hyped in the Russian media.

“Did you think you could destroy us with the hands of others and observe from bystanders from a safe distance?” Sergey Mironov, a candid hawk of the Russian parliament, said Saturday between the new continents of his country. He claimed that ballistic missiles could destroy Britain in a single blow. “It doesn’t work, gentleman-you have to pay it all in full!” He added.

Putin also warns of retaliation, but he also values ​​ambiguity. Last year, he said people crossing the “red line” would face an “asymmetric, fast, and harsh” reaction. This shows that the reaction comes at the time and place chosen by Moscow.

“No one really knows where the red line is,” said analyst Charap. “We are in such an unknown waters, so I don’t even think the Russians know.”

Officials from the United States and its allies discussed why Putin did not attempt a widespread or more damaging cyber strike. Some say Putin was effectively deterred. Russian troops struggling to make a profit in Ukraine are unable to cope with the broader war with NATO and do not want to give the alliance an excuse to participate directly in the war.

Others argue that cyber strikes in NATO’s country are one of the few cards Putin can play, and he may be waiting for a later stage in the campaign to do so.

Putin was not afraid to escalate rhetoric, but his actions suggest that he does not want to do anything that could cause a wider war.

“The general feeling is that he wants to rob him of some kind of victory from this blunder,” suggesting Putin wasn’t interested in “borrowing more problems” in the United States. Defense officials said.

Prior to the February 24 invasion, Trenin of the Carnegie Center predicted that Ukrainian troops would show fierce resistance and Putin would discover a lack of political support for Russia in Ukraine. On top of that, Trenin turned out to be correct.

What he was wrong was the information that the aide and commander would provide Putin with about Russia’s capabilities, which turned out to be flawed.

Torenin says he still sees Putin as fundamentally rational, not someone who is actively involved in nuclear war, with “a crazy determination to destroy humanity.”

“That’s not a mistake-it will be a complete deviation from rationality,” Trenin said. “Now I hope I’m not wrong.”

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