By now it’s pretty clear that Ukraine is going to be Russia’s Vietnam. Maybe it will drive Putin out of office, just like Vietnam drove LBJ out of office.
Putin has officially called up 300,000 “reservists,” but it appears that he’s looking for a lot more men than that. Young Russian men have responded by heading for the exits. Many have taken a one-way ticket to Turkey — a country Russians don’t need a visa to visit — while some are heading to some of the former Soviet republics. The airports are crowded like in the United States before a July 4th holiday!
In the meantime there have been actual protests in big cities like Moscow and St. Petersburg, where reportedly 1300 people have been arrested over the last few days. The protests are now being fronted by young women, as too many young men were taken into custody and drafted immediately, from what we know.
In the meantime, the Russian government has criminalized the refusal to be drafted, punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
And why would young Russians want to go fight in Ukraine?
First of all, the war is obviously not going well. There aren’t really any reliable sources on casualties, but the Russian government itself has allowed that there have been 5,937 killed. Independent estimates put the more likely figure at between 70,000 and 80,000 killed and wounded in an operation that is only about seven months old. (As a point of comparison, in the Vietname war the United States had 47,400 reported combat deaths, and about 150,000 servicemen who required hospital level of care, and that’s over the course of a decade).
Second of all, why does some poor kid in Vladivostok want to go and fight in Ukraine? He’s only nine time zones away from Kiev. Or some poor kid in St. Petersburg? He’s much closer to Finland than to Ukraine. It would take him at least 17 hours to drive to Kiev. He could be in Helsinki in 4½.
Vladimir Putin can engage in all the spin that he wants to, but as Russian boys arrive home in body bags of with a limb or two blown off, Russian mothers and Russian families are slowly learning the truth. A lot of political support can be lost, even in an autocracy, when you have too many of those things showing up in your country: body bags and lost limbs.