Putin’s Next Escalation Is Coming

March 29, 2024
Hanna Notte

The following is an excerpt from The New York Times.

In the wake of the terrorist attack at Moscow’s Crocus City Hall last Friday, which killed at least 143 people, Russia is in mourning. The country’s leaders, on the other hand, are doing something else: They’re plotting.

The target is clear. Despite ISIS claiming responsibility for the attack, the Russian leadership has repeatedly blamed Ukraine and its Western backers. Even when President Vladimir Putin grudgingly acknowledged on Monday that the attack was carried out by “radical Islamists,” he suggested they were operating at somebody else’s behest. For now, the Kremlin is keeping its options open: Its spokesman, Dmitri Peskov, said that it was “too early” to discuss Russia’s response. Yet the cacophony of unsubstantiated Kyiv-blaming, accompanied by fresh strikes on Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure, is a clear sign of intent.

From Mr. Putin’s perspective, escalation in Ukraine — involving an intensification of attacks on Ukrainian troops across the front lines with the aim of claiming as much territory as possible, along with increased aerial bombardment on Ukraine’s cities to wear down the population — makes a lot of sense. It would show ordinary Russians that those who harm them will be punished, divert attention from the security establishment’s failure to prevent the attack and perhaps even generate greater support for the war.

But even without the Crocus City Hall attack, Mr. Putin was primed to step up his assault on Ukraine. After his landslide victory in this month’s rubber-stamp presidential election, Mr. Putin is more secure than ever in his position and free to focus fully on the war effort. Militarily, Russian forces now hold material and manpower advantages over Ukraine. The timing is good, too: With Western military support for Kyiv mired in uncertainty, the next few months offer Moscow a window of opportunity for new offensives.

Continue reading at The New York Times.

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