Can Putin wait for the West to give up on Ukraine?
1 - Russian hopes lie in western complacency. This will prove misguided. As an American, indeed someone who lives deep in Trump country, I beg our European friends to NOT underestimate the ability of Moscow to alienate "red" America. Putin is trying very hard to prove me right in his statements RE Israel. If he keeps effing around like that, he will find out how the "red states" feel about such things.
2 - An "early win for Ukraine" was impossible from the moment the Jake Sullivan clique determined to slow-walk M1s, F-16s, and ATACMS in that exact order over a 17-month period. Being a military historian with an appreciation for the combined arms project, I assign complete blame for any Ukrainian defeat, measured in any distance of kilometers from the 1991 borders, to the Biden administration. I say this as a lifelong Democrat with a measure of personal responsibility for electing Democrats.
I'm not at all sure Putin thinks in terms of long term strategy and plans. My feeling is that he is tactical opportunist. But whatever the case it is quite clear that Putin won't admit defeat and bring back the troops. Apart from this not being in his nature, he knows that the return of a whole lot of embittered soldiers talking loud and long about how badly they suffered for no gain in an avoidable war could really seriously threaten his regime. I'm sure he knows that not too distant Russian history shows that returning soldiers from clearly unsuccessful wars can seriously weaken the government that sent them off to them. So Putin will keep the war cooking and hope that eventually Ukraine will fold. I fear the best chance of peace is a post-Putin one.
This piece is a good counter to the prevailing wisdom that time automatically favours Putin.
I think the war remains highly contingent as Frederick Kagen’s recent summary for ISW points out:
What is concerning is how much Ukraine appears to be slipping off the West’s radar.
Seems to be very little being said by politicians here in the UK, at least publicly, about the steps being taken to produce and procure more artillery ammunition and air-defence interceptors for Ukraine, which by most accounts are their two most urgent needs.
Hopefully given the importance of this war to both European and international security this will change but I’m not seeing a lot of movement in the right direction at present.
War can be seen as a contest of wills and Putin definitely has the will to continue. He also has a lot of levers for trying to undermine Western will to support Ukraine and he appears to be having some success in this. I think it is a lot harder for the West to undermine Putin's will, or at least we haven't found a way yet. Ukraine's will is still strong, but you can see signs of frustration and fatigue setting in, but that doesn't mean that they are ready to talk to Putin. Not by a long shot. I think it was Ukrainian journalist Nastya Stanko who recently tweeted (in Ukrainian) that she missed the atmosphere of the early days of the war. To my mind, those days were marked by a national endorphin rush of coming together to support the war and defeat the invader; shock followed by determination. The Russian withdrawal from around Kyiv and the successful defence of Odesa and Mykolaiv (often forgotten) helped to maintain morale through the hard summer of fighting in 2022 when the Russians had a huge artillery advantage and even as the Ukrainians were pushed back in Kharkiv, Donetsk and Luhansk. The Kharkiv offensive and the Russian withdrawal from Kherson were obviously huge morale boosts They led to a large increase in western support, which sustained morale through the hard winter of 2022/23 as there was hope that a Ukrainian counteroffensive in the summer of 2023 would mark a turning point in the war. With the counteroffensive at an end with not a lot to show for it, I think the Ukrainians are asking "now what?" and there is no easy answer. Zaluzhny's comments reflect that. So, how to continue to sustain morale? We are in the ugly, gritty, determination phase of the war. The Ukrainians have that in droves, but they still need to see some hope. That is the challenge. As an aside, I've been wondering why the Russians haven't launched major missile strikes on Ukraine's main cities and energy infrastructure. I'm beginning to think that they may not want that. Images of people freezing and of civilian casualties and missiles landing in Kyiv and their big cities (where the western reporters are) will only reignite western popular support for Ukraine. Continuous, small-scale civilian casualties in front-line towns (where western reporters generally aren't) don't have the same impact. I was thinking of this as I watched 20 Days in Mariupol last night and the importance of that AP imagery so early in the conflict.
"it is hard to see how a Trump presidency would be good for Ukraine or NATO, and Putin might assume this to be such a positive possibility that it is one worth waiting for."
This seems the most likely prognosis at the moment.
It's hard to see how Putin does not win if America drops out.
Europe, unable to defend itself let alone Ukraine, without the US, will be left hoping against hope that Putin does not decide immediately to take the Baltic states, among others.
"This was why they created an energy crisis in 2022 which did have a deleterious effect on Western economies though not one sufficient to undermine support for Ukraine’s war effort."
This energy crisis was created in the years from 1997 onwards - it is a deliberate tactic: "One way in which Russia will be able to turn other states against Atlanticism will be an astute use of
the country's raw material riches. "In the beginning stage [of the struggle against Atlanticism]," Dugin writes, "Russia can offer its potential partners in the East and West its resources as compensation for exacerbating their relations with the U.S." (276). To induce the Anaconda to release its grip on the coastline of Eurasia, it must be attacked relentlessly on its home territory, within its own hemisphere, and throughout Eurasia. "All levels of geopolitical pressure," Dugin insists, "must be activated simultaneously" (367)." A. Dugin, 1997, in "Aleksandr Dugin's Foundations of Geopolitics" at https://tec.fsi.stanford.edu/docs/aleksandr-dugins-foundations-geopolitics.
This has been a very successful tactic, in the EU countries and especially in Germany, which has made itself dependent on Russian natural gas and oil, by means of going away from nuclear power generation which it could have used to secure energy independence (facilitated by Russian-sponsored "anti-nuclear movements") and the creation of pipelines to get those natural resources to the EU and Germany. Once dependent, the EU and Germany may be made to toe Moscow's line.
As for Iran/Hamas/Hezbollah, that's another part of the strategy laid out by Dugin in 1997 - the Moscow-Teheran Axis: "The most ambitious and complex part of Dugin's program concerns the South, where the focal point is a Moscow-Teheran axis. "The idea of a continental Russian-Islamic alliance," he writes, "lies at the foundation of anti-Atlanticist strategy. [T]his alliance is based on the traditional character of Russian and Islamic civilization" (158). "On the whole," he continues, "the entire Islamic zone represents a naturally friendly geopolitical reality in relation to the Eurasian Empire, since the Islamic tradition ... fully understands the spiritual incompatibility of America and religion. The Atlanticists themselves see the Islamic world, on the whole, as their potential opponent" (239).
As the result of an especially broad Grand Alliance to be concluded with Iran, Dugin maintains that Eurasia-Russia will enjoy the prospect of realizing a centuries-old Russian dream and finally reach the "warm seas" of the Indian Ocean. "In relation to the South," he writes, "the 'geopolitical axis of history' [Russia] has only one imperative--geopolitical expansion to the shores of the Indian Ocean" (341). "Having received geopolitical access--in the first place, naval bases--on the Iranian shores," he writes, "Eurasia will enjoy full security from the strategy of the 'Anaconda ring'" (241). Eurasia-Russia and the Empire of Iran, he emphasizes, will have "one and the same geopolitical tendency" (242).
As a consequence of this Grand Alliance, Eurasia-Russia should be prepared to divide up the imperial spoils with "the Islamic Empire in the South" (239). After asking the question "What is the Russian South?" Dugin claims that it includes "the Caucasus [all of it]"; "the eastern and northern shores of the Caspian (the territories of Kazakhstan and Turkmeniya)"; "Central Asia, including Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kirgiziya and Tajikistan"; plus "Mongolia." Even these regions, he notes, should be seen "as zones of further geopolitical expansion to the south and not as 'eternal borders of Russia'" (343)." Ibid.
It's interesting to watch this strategy play out - Dunlop's article was published at Stanford in 2004, yet Western leaders, intelligence agencies, and governments appear to get blindsided at every turn - it's as if Putin's playbook got published, was available, and yet no one bothers to read it, preferring to remain ignorant. "A nation which desires to be both ignorant and free, desires that which never was, and never shall be." - T. Jefferson.