What factors could change Putin’s course in Ukraine’s war?

However, the Russian President faces some tactical rigors on the battlefield, as well as a number of geopolitical and economic constraints. All of them will likely make his ability to wage a long war in Ukraine more difficult – but far from impossible.

“Time is not on Putin’s side,” said Russian political analyst Tatiana Stanovaya, founder of the Russian monitoring consulting firm R. Politik. She noted that, as the war continues and sanctions are introduced, the impact of the war on Russia is likely to increase.

In Warsaw on Saturday, President Biden appeared to sharply widen Washington’s confrontation with Putin, saying the Russian president “cannot remain in power” in a concluding speech that focused on political issues. negotiations with NATO allies.

On the battlefield, Russia gained control of a large swath of southern Ukraine at a great cost, almost completing a “land bridge” from Russian territory to Crimea, which Russia forcibly annexed from Ukraine. in 2014. But efforts to capture Kyiv and Kharkiv, Ukraine’s two largest cities, stalled. Thus, there were attempts to expand the southern Russian enclave to the west to include Mykolaiv and Odessa.

A senior NATO official estimated Wednesday that the Russian military has lost between 7,000 and 15,000 forces in just one month, more manpower than the United States has lost in Iraq and Afghanistan combined in more than 20 years. Thousands of Russian soldiers were wounded.

Michael Kofman, a Russian military analyst at Virginia-based CNA, said the significant Russian casualties did not appear to be a political constraint on Putin at home but hinder the effectiveness of military operations. his position in battle. At some point, Kofman said, the large numbers of Russian troops killed or wounded affected the morale and ability of commanders to advance the campaign.

The draft of new conscripts by the Russian military begins on April 1, and Putin will need to issue a decree in the coming days on the number of new soldiers that the Russian Defense Ministry must enlist. He will also have to decide whether to keep existing conscripts longer due to the losses in Ukraine.

Continuing a multi-front war for a long time would require significantly more forces and a broader mobilization that the Kremlin has so far failed to make.

“In April, they’ll have to make a decision about what they’re going to do with the manpower and the extent to which they’re willing to sustain a large-scale war far beyond what they intended,” Kofman said. “Are they going to go into a big war or see where they can go in the next few weeks?”

Resistance by Ukrainian forces – and even successful attacks to retake territory from the Russians in some places – could also limit what Putin believes he can achieve and force him to reframe your goals. At the same time, Russian forces are having a hard time keeping supply lines active on multiple fronts.

But Kofman said Putin’s decision-making largely depends on what information he is viewing and what he is told. U.S. intelligence regularly assessed in the run-up to the war that the Russian leader was poorly informed by inside advisers.

“The big question is what does Putin really know about this war?” Kofman said. “What is his perception of the reality of the battlefield? What did the military leadership tell him about their prospects for success? ”

“The question is: Does he believe that the continued use of force can really achieve any of his political goals in Ukraine?” he added. “Or does he view the situation as one of diminishing returns?”

Nick Reynolds, a research fellow at the London-based Royal Institute of Joint Services, said the Kremlin will increasingly face constraints related to weapons, manpower and morale, as well as logistics. And those realities could force Putin to shift his focus from overthrowing the Ukrainian government to compelling changes in Ukraine’s political landscape, or to focus the war on a single front. Reynolds specifically points to human constraints.

“It is clear that Russia is looking for personnel very difficult,” Reynolds said. “It’s not so much manpower – it’s trained and motivated manpower.”

Accelerating arms deliveries to Ukraine by the US and Europe will also put more limits on Putin’s forces on the battlefield. These include the US Switchblade drone that can be especially damaging to Russian forces in urban warfare.

For now, Putin has been able to survive sanctions on Russia by continuing to sell oil and gas to customers such as China and India, outside of Europe, and forcing its energy exporters to Russia must buy rubles with that revenue, preventing a complete collapse of the Currency of Russia. With high global energy prices and a modest depreciation of the ruble, Putin will likely have the cash to cover the Russian government’s costs and to spend on economic stimulus.

However, economic headwinds are likely to intensify for Russia as gross domestic product contracts and unemployment rise, and new escalations on the battlefield could lead to new sanctions.

Meanwhile, Moscow will become increasingly dependent on goods and technology on China, Turkey, Israel and other countries that do not punish Russia for the invasion. Putin’s ability to keep those countries around, especially China, as the war continues and may escalate will affect what the Russians can buy, access and produce.

Alexander Gabuev, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Moscow Center for Russian-Chinese relations, expects Beijing to not want to be seen as activating Putin’s war machine or jeopardizing Western business. West, so probably won’t violate sanctions or deliver a weapons pipeline.

“Otherwise, a wild game of opportunities is still there – buy cheap goods and get the most advanced military technology,” says Gabuev. “China will wisely continue to pursue this.”

For weeks, American and European officials have been trying to see if the war will cause a rift among Russian elites, especially the intelligence and military circles around Putin, a possible limit. to the former KGB officer as he continued the war.

Despite reports of a retrial in the Russian security services, and questions about the public absence of Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov, there have not been any obvious rifts. publicly confirmed. The only top Russian official to leave the country after the war so far is Anatoly Chubais, Putin’s special envoy for sustainable development.

Stanovaya, a Russian political analyst, rejects the notion that the country’s hard-line security elites, commonly known as siloviki, will rise up against Putin, especially given the current circumstances they have vast power.

“It is impossible to imagine anything like this these days,” she said. “There are no grievances among security services. These are all fairy tales.”

Broad sanctions on Russia’s elites, says Stanovaya, reduce the risk of a public rift with Putin, because members of the sanctioned elite have no obvious place to go – no. such as the European paradises – if they decide not to agree.

For years, Putin has provided Russians with stability and economic growth, even as they traded their political freedoms for a more authoritarian system. The economic slowdown caused by sanctions would probably make it an unattainable achievement to regard living standards and consumer standards of living.

“Now, Putin will have to offer the Russian people something else. He is no longer economic,” said Kirill Martynov, political editor of the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta. “And it seems that what he was able to feed the Russians was political greatness: Look, we have just returned to the club of great nations. Every European leader wants to talk to me because I’m too great and too dangerous.”

Martynov said the appeal of that message would diminish if economic conditions become particularly dire – although the government will likely continue to focus on geopolitical events as a distraction.

“I mean, if you can’t do anything with your economy and you can’t do anything with your society, then the only thing you can do is become quite dangerous,” Martynov said. “Putin can start any war he wants.”

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