Putin forced to cancel events as backlash mounts over army failures

Vladimir Putin is under growing pressure to cancel yet another event as his troops struggle to make headway on the battlefield, according to the Institute for the Study of War (ISW). The ISW report suggests Putin hinted at postponing an important address to the Russian Parliament until next year amid growing criticism of his war operations in Ukraine. Putin is “uncertain of his ability to shape the Russian information space” but may still hope to deliver a “grandiose victory speech in 2023,” ISW said.

Russia’s humiliating withdrawal from Kyiv and northern Ukraine over the last few months are cited as a key reason for Putin delaying a victory speech at the State Duma in Moscow.

While Russia made significant gains in the first months of the war, Ukrainian troops have since swiftly regained the upper hand and pushed Russian troops back to the Eastern provinces of Luhansk and Donetsk in the Donbas region, where fighting has been raging since 2014.

Amid Russia’s repeated failures to strike back against Ukraine troops, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov reportedly said that “Putin may deliver his address to the Federation Assembly in 2023 and called on Russians to stop ‘fortune-telling with coffee ground’ regarding the timing of the next address”, the ISW reports.

An unnamed Kremlin official told the Russia state-owned news agency TASS the state address usually takes place a year after the previous speech, which was held in April 2021.

Putin traditionally uses the annual speech to celebrate victories on the battlefield, as he did in March 2014 to announce the annexation of the Crimean peninsula and the port city of Sevastopol.

The Russian leader “likely” anticipated to pull off a similar success in Ukraine with his unprovoked invasion in early February. Because of Russian military setbacks and internal dissatisfaction with his “partial mobilization”, Putin could wait until 2023 in the hopes of delivering a victory speech, ISW reported.

“Putin appears to be increasingly turning to scripted and pre-recorded appearances,” ISW added. “The cancellation of the press conference, however, may undermine Putin’s populist appeal as a ruler in touch with his population.”

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The Russian leader is now turning to his “eastern” allies in a last ditched bid to beef up his troops on the battlefield and cushion the blow of the West’s economic sanctions.

After dropping gas flows to the EU – Russia’s biggest importer of fossil fuels before the war – to almost zero, Putin said that Russia will increase gas supplies to China and Turkey.

During a televised speech with Kremlin officials, Putin said: “Among the key growing consumers of Russian gas are our neighbors, including Turkey … We plan to set up a gas hub in coming years.”

In February, Putin said the construction of a new pipeline, the Power of Siberia 2, via Mongolia to China would boost Russia’s gas exports to 48 billion cubic meters (bcm) by 2025 and to 88 bcm by 2030.

Referring to the 88 bcm, Putin said: “In fact, this is more than 60% of gas supplies to the West last year.”

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As for troop redeployments, the Russian leader will reportedly visit his military ally Belarus on Monday. This comes as Alexander Lukashenskos’ Belarus is holding “readiness exercises”, the British Ministry of Defense reported.

However, the latest update by the Defense Ministry wrote that Belarusian troops would be unlikely to be capable of launching a successful assault into Northern Ukraine.

Russian troops have conducted a series of nation-wide strikes on Ukraine, deliberately targeting energy infrastructure with the aim of plunging the country into darkness and leaving Ukrainians without water and heat this winter.

In an interview with The Guardian, Ukraine’s Defense Minister, Oleksii Reznikov, warned the Kremlin was preparing a new all-out offensive on Ukraine early next year. While 150,000 troops were being sent to the battlefield, the other 150,000 troops drafted by Putin’s partial mobilization call are being trained for a future offensive.

Mr. Reznikov said: “The [draftees] to a minimum of three months to prepare. It means they are trying to start the next wave of the offensive probably in February, like last year. That’s their plan.”

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