Paranoid Putin is losing the battle of wills against the Ukrainians

The bomb that ripped through the car of Daria Dugina, daughter of the nationalist ideologue Alexander Dugin, also blew apart the pre-war pre-war Moscow cheerleaders’ complacency. It seems unlikely (if not impossible) that it was the Ukrainians who were responsible, but it certainly contributes to a growing Russian paranoia that in turn points to a growing insecurity in the Kremlin.

That’s because the bomb came in the context of other important developments. Kiev has declared an open season in the Crimean peninsula, attacking supply lines and depots and even sending a drone to the headquarters of the Black Sea Fleet. It is part of a deliberate strategy to escalate the war, both on the battlefield and in the minds of Kremlin operators.

From a military point of view, Putin once proudly boasted that Russia “has made Crimea a fortress, both of the sea and of the land,” but it is becoming increasingly difficult for him to substantiate that claim. The peninsula is equipped with the latest Russian air defenses and yet they are clearly incapable of preventing Ukrainian missile and drone attacks, while the claim that some attacks were carried out by saboteurs also undermine the credibility of the massive security forces present. If the Kremlin can’t even defend Crimea, what can it defend?

At the strategic level, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky signals to the West that the momentum is shifting. Ukraine may not have yet succeeded in launching the massive counter-offensive on Kherson that was expected, but is instead using its new capabilities (which may include the latest US ATACMS long-range missiles, although this is denied by US authorities).

At the same time, the strategy has a clear psychological dimension. Putin has told his people that the war is going well and is relying on his control of the media to suppress information to the contrary. But Russian tourists’ own videos of explosions in Crimea have now gone viral on the country’s social media, with even the Kremlin admitting its fleet headquarters was hit.

Wars are ultimately battles of will. By targeting Crimea, Zelensky indicates that Russia — which, after all, is fighting without restrictions — cannot expect special treatment either and is prepared to escalate. In fact, he signals to both the Russian generals and the public that Ukraine has the initiative. Putin’s boast will sound more and more hollow.

Therefore, the murder of Dugina is likely to have a disproportionate effect. She was a cheerleader before the war, and her father’s semi-occult nationalist philosophies stimulated a new imperialist mood in Moscow. While it is too early to know who was behind the murder, the hasty assumption among Russian officials that it was Kiev shows their unease.

Somehow, in their minds, the Ukrainians are constructed in such a way that they can reach and attack their enemies even in the outskirts of Moscow with impunity. Who could they follow next?

For now, the Kremlin’s predictable response will be anger, and perhaps symbolic retaliation , but it will only mask a growing paranoia and unease. This was not how Putin’s war was supposed to go, and who knows where that fact may lead him.

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