Putin hardly talks about the war in public and acts as if time is running out in his favour

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Last week, pro-Ukrainian fighters crossed the border into southwestern Russia, sparking two days of the most intense fighting on Russian soil in 15 months of war.

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However, the Russian president,Vladimir Putin, he completely ignored the matter in public.

He handed out medals, met with the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, received friendly foreign leaders and spoke on television with a Russian judge about how Ukraine it was not a real country.

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An aerial view of the destruction in Bakhmut, Ukraine, photographed from a drone while attached to the Ukrainian Army's 93rd Mechanized Brigade, May 19, 2023. (Tyler Hicks/The New York Times)

An aerial view of the destruction in Bakhmut, Ukraine, photographed from a drone while attached to the Ukrainian Army’s 93rd Mechanized Brigade, May 19, 2023. (Tyler Hicks/The New York Times)

In handling Russia’s biggest war in generations, Putin looks more and more like an absentee commander-in-chief:

in public he says almost nothing about the progress of the war and shows little concern for Russia’s setbacks.

Destroyed Russian military vehicles at a makeshift open-air museum in Kharkiv, Ukraine, May 26, 2023. (Nicole Tung/The New York Times)

Destroyed Russian military vehicles at a makeshift open-air museum in Kharkiv, Ukraine, May 26, 2023. (Nicole Tung/The New York Times)

Instead, it’s telegraphing more clearly than ever what its strategy is wait for Ukraine and the Westand that he thinks he can win by exhausting his enemies.

“There’s no need to kid yourself,” said Natalia Zubarevich, an expert on Russia’s social and economic development at Moscow State University.

According to her, Putin laid the internal foundation for maintaining the war “a long, long, long, long time”.

But while Western analysts and officials believe Putin’s Russia has the potential to fight on, its military, economic and political leeway has narrowed. narrow, This presents obstacles to the continuation of a protracted war.

Though Putin refers to the fighting as “tragic events” in the distance, the war continues to rage at home, with growing cracks in the military leadership, unrest among the Russian elite and worrying signs for the economy, as the West promises to further dissociate itself from Russian energy.

Ammunition remnants collected from Russian bombing of the northeastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, May 23, 2023. (Finbarr O'Reilly/The New York Times)

Ammunition remnants collected from Russian bombing of the northeastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, May 23, 2023. (Finbarr O’Reilly/The New York Times)

On the battlefield, Russia’s ability to go on the offensive was hampered by depleted ammunition and the month-long battle for the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, which claimed the lives of thousands of soldiers.

Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of the Wagner mercenary group that spearheaded the assault on Bakhmut, said he was starting to withdraw his soldiers from the city as he unleashed one profane tirade after another aimed at the Kremlin’s allied Russian elites.

To organize a new major offensive, Western officials and analysts say Putin should find new sources of ammunition and impose a politically risky second draft to supply his depleted troops.

However, this month, US Director of National Intelligence Avril D. Haines told Congress that the chances of Putin making concessions in this year’s talks were “slim” unless he sensed a domestic political threat.

Western officials also remain concerned that he could resort to nuclear weapons, but believe the risk is greater if Putin faces a catastrophic defeat that threatens his stay in power.

Domestically, the Russian economy has proven flexible enough to adjust to Western sanctions, while government reserves have been sufficient to finance increased military spending and social benefits.

But the longer the war drags on, especially if oil prices fall, the more likely it is that the Kremlin will be forced to take difficult decisions: cut government spending or drive up inflation.

Politically, some researchers argue that public support for the war in Russia is broad but shallow, capable of changing rapidly in response to unforeseen events.

Last week’s cross-border raids brought war to Russia in a way never seen before, sparking anger among military bloggers, who have a large following.

MoreoverPrigozin he has become a populist politician by hiring senior Russian officials and this week launched a scathing attack on the strategy of waiting for the West.

In an hour-long video interview with a Russian blogger, Prigozhin described a unlikely “optimistic scenario” in which “Europe and the United States get tired of the Ukrainian conflict, China brings the whole world to the negotiating table, we agree that whatever we have already taken is ours.”

The most likely scenario, Prigozhin said, is that Ukraine pushes Russian troops back to pre-war lines and threatens the peninsula of Crimeathe flagship of Putin’s expropriations of Ukrainian lands.

Western analysts and officials doubt that Ukraine’s impending counter-offensive will deliver a coup de grâce.

At the same time, they say Russia’s ability to wage war is steadily deteriorating, as evidenced by the tens of thousands of casualties in Bakhmut and the sharp decline in the number of shells Russian forces fire each day into eastern Ukraine compared to ‘height of last year’s battle.

“It’s not like the Russians are going to suddenly stop being able to fight a war,” said Max Bergmann, a former State Department official who now works at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

“The question is whether they can continue to deliver that with any kind of intensity.”

But Putin betrays no public sense of urgency.

remains isolated in its cocoon of the pandemic era, forcing Russians who encounter it to quarantine for days.

(A cosmonaut honored at the Kremlin awards ceremony on Tuesday began his speech with, “Sorry, we’ve been silent for a week in solitary confinement.”)

Putin rarely goes into detail on the progress of the war, even when attending lengthy televised meetings on topics such as inter-ethnic relations.

The discussion was so trivial that an Armenian civic leader told Putin his group had sent “300,000 bars of chocolate with raisins and nuts” to eastern Ukraine.

Instead, he often speaks of the war he ordered as something beyond his control.

In Friday’s televised remarks to businessmen, he referred to “today’s tragic events.”

His silence on this week’s dramatic two-day raid on Russia marked a change from his reaction to a minor attack in March, when he canceled a trip and denounced the episode as an attack. “terrorist“.

When he talks about Ukraine, his comments are loaded with distorted history, as if he is telling the world that whatever happens on the ground, Russia is bound to control the country.

On Tuesday, the Kremlin released footage of a meeting with Putin Valery Zorkinpresident of the Russian Constitutional Court, taking with him a copy of a 17th-century French map of Europe.

“Zorkin tells Putin that Ukraine does not appear on the map.

Putin then falsely claims that, before the formation of the Soviet Union, “there has never been a Ukraine in the history of mankind”.

Some Russian officials are already eyeing next year’s US presidential election, suggesting a Republican victory could turn the tables.

Dmitry Medvedevformer Russian president and Putin’s Security Council deputy chairman, said last week that “the main thing” was that the president Joe Biden he was not re-elected.

President Donald Trumpa favorite for the Republican presidential nomination, “he’s a good guy,” Medvedev said, and “historically it’s always been easier to work with Republicans.”

But there are risks to Putin’s stand-by approach beyond the possibility of a breakthrough on the battlefield by Ukraine.

Tatiana Stanovaya, a researcher at the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center, argues that “inertia tacticsPutin’s speech could increase the influence of hardliners like Prigozhin.

“Russian elites can see defeatism in inaction,” he wrote this month.

“Putin is already having a hard time explaining exactly what he’s waiting for.”

The durability of Russia’s public support for the war – as well as the economic stability that helps sustain it – it’s not clear at all.

But some US researchers and officials believe they have already begun cracks appear in pro-war sentiment due to the large number of casualties.

A recent report by a group of Russian sociologists, based on dozens of in-depth interviews, argues that Russians see war as “a natural disaster” about which they can do nothing, rather than something they firmly believe is right.

“This support is not based on fundamental political positions or some ideological point of view,” says Sasha Kappinen, one of the report’s authors, who uses a pseudonym for security reasons because she works at a Russian university.

“It’s not stable support.”

Russia has spent heavily to appease the general public since the war began, increasing welfare benefits and easing the burden on small businesses.

Its economy has adjusted to the sanctions, benefiting from the many countries outside North America and Western Europe that continue to trade briskly with Russia.

Zubarevich, an economic development expert in Moscow, said the government has the ability to maintain the current pace of spending at least until next March’s presidential election, in which Putin, 70, is expected to run for a fifth term.

But a drop in the price of oil could force the government to cut spending on things like infrastructure.

“The two sacred cows are defense procurement for the state and support for low-income groups and retirees,” he said, referring to the need to cater to major groups of voters.

“They will stay in place for as long as possible.”

At the same time, analysts and Russians who know Putin continue to see him as fundamentally flexible and opportunistic, a man who would likely accept a stoppage of the fight if offered, even as he prepares to fight on for years to come.

As a result, well-connected people in Moscow see an unpredictable future as they prepare for a long war.

“Putin’s spectrum of options is quite broad,” said a prominent Moscow businessman, “from calling a ceasefire today to waging a 100-year war.”

c.2023 The New York Times Society

Source: Clarin

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