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Leonid Bershidsky

Putin and the Possibility of Defeat in Ukraine

Russia’s hubris will deepen the psychological effects of its battlefield setbacks. 

The ruins of a hospital in the Donetsk region on Sept. 12.

The ruins of a hospital in the Donetsk region on Sept. 12.

Photographer: Juan Barreto/AFP

There were fireworks in Moscow as the Russian military retreated hastily from the key town of Izyum in Ukraine’s Kharkiv region on Sept. 10. The Russian capital wasn’t actually celebrating the debacle: The display was part of its City Day festivities. But there could hardly be a better illustration of the Putin regime’s utter unpreparedness for defeat. Its attempt to prosecute a war of invasion while keeping up the appearance of life going on as usual was doomed from the start — and the choices it faces now are stark.

In a matter of days, Ukraine pushed the Russian troops out of the Kharkiv Region. This may not look like a major victory in terms of territory regained — some 2,500 square kilometers, or a little more by now, out of the 125,000 square kilometers Russia held in Ukraine before this week. Yet Ukrainian and Western jubilation is justified.