New Year’s Resolutions

Vladimir Putin sent dozens of Iranian drones into Ukraine on New Year’s Eve and into New Year’s Day, a wanton display which, together with a wholly delusional speech delivered from a military base, spoke more to the Russian leader’s growing detachment from reality than anything else.

Flanked by sullen, uniformed soldiers, two of whom looked to be teenagers, Putin described the war as a “sacred duty to our ancestors and descendants.” Ukraine, he insisted, must be purged of “neo-Nazis.” “The West… was preparing for aggression,” he said, again foisting a ludicrous lie on the Russian public.

Russians should gird for sacrifice in the new year, Putin suggested. As if more than 100,000 Russian combat deaths isn’t enough to demand from a nation suffocating under the heel of a tyrant.

Vladimir Putin delivers annual New Year’s address at a military base in Rostov-on-Don, Russia on December 31, 2022 / Kremlin

The Kremlin has a habit of projecting itself on the West. That’s part and parcel of the propaganda. Putin’s New Year’s speech was no exception. “They are cynically using Ukraine and its people to weaken and split Russia,” he complained, of the US and its European allies.

In fact, Putin was describing his own strategy in Ukraine almost to the letter. Everything he’s done over the past 10 months could be very aptly described as a cynical attempt to leverage the conflict for the purposes of weakening and splitting NATO. To the extent the war isn’t explainable by one man’s descent into savage delirium, that’s the explanation.

He went further, accusing the West of plotting to “destroy Russia.” Putin cited purported Western conspiracies for his decision to invade Ukraine, and characterized the war as a kind of religious imperative. Russia is “defending our people and our historical territory,” he said, once again denying Ukraine the right to self-determination based on his own tortured historiography.

In the hours around Putin’s speech, Russia (inadvertently or otherwise) bombed a trio of schools, a kindergarten and multiple private residences, in addition to the drone attacks. Most of the drones were shot down.

Once again, I’d remind readers that if Russia can ill afford to waste money and resources, Iran can afford it even less. These drones are the mechanical equivalent of the convicts the Wagner Group sends to the frontlines — they’re cannon fodder. Their sole purpose is to terrorize the Ukrainian populace. That surely works on some days. Other days, it’s less effective. Rather than shelter as recommended by local officials, at least some residents in Kyiv took to their balconies to shout, “Glory to Ukraine! Glory to the heroes!” over the shrill warnings of air raid sirens.

Wreckage alleged to be from an Iranian drone dispatched to Kyiv on New Year’s / Andrii Nebytov, Telegram

Andrii Nebytov, Kyiv’s police chief, posted a picture on social media of what he said was wreckage from an Iranian drone. “Happy New Year!” was scrawled on the side. Even as he lamented that the fragment fell “not at the front, where fierce battles are taking place [but] on a sports grounds, where children play,” Nebytov lampooned to clumsy Iranian technology. “You can say both cheap and tasteless!” he jeered.

For its part, Russian state media said a half-dozen people were killed in a weekend attack on a hospital in Donetsk. Ukraine, as a matter of policy, doesn’t comment on Kremlin claims of attacks in regions controlled by the Russian military, although Kyiv has obliquely claimed high-profile attacks targeting strategic Russian assets. In October, for example, Ukraine released commemorative stamps almost immediately after an explosion collapsed a portion of Putin’s treasured Kerch Strait Bridge.

Sergei Surovikin, better known to the world as “General Armageddon” for his role in Russia’s brutal aerial bombardment of contested Syrian cities and territory, was awarded the Order of St. George. Also on Saturday, the two sides conducted a prisoner swap. The ratio was 140 Ukrainians to 82 Russians.

Putin, in his address to the nation, delivered a warning of sorts to Russians who don’t support the conflict. The war, he menaced, has “clearly separated courage and heroism from betrayal and cowardice.” As to the families of Russians killed in 2022, Putin offered condolences: “I share your pain with all my heart.”

In his own New Year’s address, Volodymyr Zelensky was on message. “We will fight. And when we win, we will hug,” he declared. “I want to wish all of us one thing –- victory.”


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