May 9 approaches, and with it comes the annual Victory Day parade, when Russia celebrates the victory over Nazi Germany in World War Two.
Historically, the May 9 parade has been an opportunity for Russian leaders to show the world how military powerful Russia, or the Soviet Union before it, is.
Every year, the Kremlin brings out its latest and most advanced weapon systems. In recent Victory Day parades, the Russian military has displayed the T-14 Armata main battle tank and the allegedly fifth-generation stealth Su-57 Felon fighter jet.
This year’s May 9 parade, however, will be different. This time around, Russian President Vladimir Putin, his close advisers, and the world know that the myth of the all-powerful Russian military is just that —a myth.
The Russian forces have failed to achieve their primary objectives in Ukraine time and again, prompting theories about how Putin will proceed with a failing war.
The May 9 scenarios
There are at least a couple of scenarios about what could happen on May 9.
First, Putin might declare a war on Ukraine, thus allowing the Kremlin to mobilize the country and leverage the millions of reservists it has. Thus far, Moscow has classified the invasion of Ukraine as a “special military operation” and not a war.
However, from a military point of view, that scenario isn’t likely because it wouldn’t necessarily help the Russian military in the field. A mobilization might give the Kremlin men to fight, but it won’t necessarily give it the weapons and vehicles to fight effectively. Much has been said about the vast reserves of the Russian military, with reports claiming that Moscow has 10,000 tanks in reserve ready for war once called upon. But in reality, the Russian military is already scraping the barrel trying to supply its frontline troops with the necessary tools to fight.
“I doubt reports Putin will declare war on 9 May. Victory Day seems like a poor time to declare war, which you previously have minimized as a special operation. A declaration of war could allow for mobilization, but Russia is still faced with materiel and training issues,” former CIA Russia analyst Michael E. van Landingham told Sandboxx News.
The incompetence of the Russian military has resulted in extreme losses of men and equipment. As of May 6, the Ukrainian military claims to have killed almost 25,000 Russian troops and wounded or captured thrice that number. Kyiv also claims to have destroyed thousands of vehicles and weapons platforms, including 2,686 armored personnel carriers, 1,926 vehicles, 1,110 tanks, 199 fighter, attack, and bomber jets, and 502 artillery pieces.
Van Landingham spent 8 years at the CIA demystifying Russian politics and interpreting the plans and intentions of Russian leaders for intelligence consumers. He is the founder of Active Measures, LLC, a research firm.
Another option might be for Putin to declare a victory and continue with a low-intensity war in the Donbas. This scenario is more probable given the latest developments in Mariupol.
The southern Ukrainian port city has been under siege by Russian forces for over a month. The last Ukrainian defenders have holed up in the vast Azovstal steelworks plant. This miles-long industrial complex is a true fortress.
A few days ago, Putin declared victory in Mariupol despite continued resistance from the Ukrainian forces in the Azovstal plant. He ordered that the Russian troops surround but not attack the industrial complex. However, since yesterday, the Russian military is storming the Azovstal plant. A complete victory there would give Putin something to celebrate on May 9.
“My guess is Putin will continue the operation as is to try to consolidate holdings in Donbas before seeking a cease-fire,” van Landingham added.
Recent reports have also indicated that a coup might be brewing in the Kremlin. However, the likelihood of a coup d’état is rather small, considering how well Putin has worked over the years to insure himself from such an occurrence.
“I think a coup is highly unlikely. I will be happy to be wrong, but there is almost no Russian official who could accomplish this move and no sign they would want to do so when Putin and his war remain generally popular,” van Landingham said.
Putin rules Russia with an iron fist. From the start of his reign, he has made sure to control the oligarchs and siloviki, a ring of politicians close to the Kremlin. The May 9 festivities will offer him an opportunity to reassert his power within the Kremlin.
“It’s unclear who would take power if Putin were out of the picture. Patrushev [the secretary of the Russian security council and former director of the FSB] is more hawkish than Putin, and there is already a Crimea consensus that it’s Russia. That locks Russian leaders into continued hostility toward Ukraine. The best scenario for Russia would be a return to low-intensity conflict in Donbas, but Ukraine may not be inclined to let Russians hang around in their country after the atrocities the Russian forces committed,” the former CIA analyst told Sandboxx News.
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