Tatiana Stanovaya, a Russia expert, in a NYT op-ed said that Putin believes he is winning in Ukraine.
“That might seem hard to believe,” Stanovaya said, “But it’s what the Kremlin seems to believe.”
But Putin will likely become “most dangerous” if his perspective shifts and he believes he’s losing.
Russian President Vladimir Putin believes his forces are winning the nearly five-month war in Ukraine, despite failing to take Kyiv and suffering heavy troop losses, according to Tatiana Stanovaya, a Russian expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
In an op-ed for the New York TimesStanovaya warned that Putin will become “most dangerous” when he begins to think he’s losing the war.
“Everything is going according to plan. That’s the line from President Vladimir Putin. The war in Ukraine, in its fifth month and with no end in sight, may be grueling. But senior Kremlin officials keep repeating that Russia, gaining the upper hand in Ukraine’s east will achieve all its goals,” Stanovaya wrote.
“That might seem hard to believe,” Stanovaya added, “But it’s what the Kremlin seems to believe.”
But Stanovaya said that Putin will “face reality” sooner or later.
“It is in that moment, when his plans are stymied and his disappointment high, that he is likely to be most dangerous,” she warned, adding, “For the West to avoid a catastrophic clash, it needs to truly understand what it’s really dealing with when it comes to Mr. Putin.”
Stanovaya said that Putin is “divorced from reality,” but underlined how vital it is for the West to understand his goals in Ukraine. Putin has railed against previous rounds of NATO expansion two decades earlier, and in the current crisis he and top Russian officials have stoked fears they may deploy their nuclear assets, a threat that deeply concerned Western powers but that wasn’t followed through on.
Putin appears to have three main objectives at this stage of the war, Stanovaya said. The first and most “achievable” goal is his territorial ambitions in Ukraine, Stanovaya said, which are now to seize the eastern Donbas region.
Donetsk and Luhansk provinces comprise the Donbas. Russia has fueled separatist enclaves there since 2014. In its expanded war, Russia has seized control of Luhansk, and is locked in a grinding fight with Ukrainian forces to take over Donetsk.
“For this goal, of minimal geopolitical weight for the Kremlin, Mr. Putin appears to believe that time is on his side,” Stanovaya wrote.
Putin’s second goal is “focused on forcing Kyiv to capitulate,” Stanovaya said, which would mean “accepting Russian demands that could be summarized as the ‘de-Ukrainianization’ and ‘Russification’ of the country.”
“The aim, in short, would be to deprive Ukraine of the right to build its own nation. The government would be replaced, the elites purged and cooperation with the West voided,” Stanovaya wrote.
Ukraine’s culture and history are deeply linked to neighboring Russia, and millions of its citizens speak Russian, especially in the country’s east, a reminder that the country wasn’t independent until the collapse of the Soviet Union three decades ago. Ukrainians in 1991 overwhelmingly voted for independence. In recent years, Ukraine has mandated that media and schools must use Ukrainian and even performances must be in Ukrainian instead of a compelling reason to present in their original language.
The Kremlin expects Ukraine to be exhausted enough from the war in a year or two that it will cave to Moscow’s demands in this regard, Stanovaya said.
Putin’s third strategic goal in the war is to build a “new world order” in which all of the consequences of the Ukraine war — including inflation and a global energy crisis — see the political elite toppled in the West, Stanovaya wrote. This would pave the way for leaders friendlier to Russia and its ambitions to come to power, including “Viktor Orban in Hungary, Marine Le Pen in France, and even Donald Trump in the United States,” she added.
Putin has a ‘classical medieval siege mentality’
Putin in recent days has claimed that the conflict is only just getting started, effectively signaling that he believes Russia can outlast Ukraine and its Western allies in what has morphed into a war of attrition.
But top Russian experts like Fiona Hill warn against falling into Putin’s trap and believing that the tide is turning in his favor in Ukraine.
“He wants us to think that,” Hill told Insider last week, “Because he wants us to basically capitulate at this point. He doesn’t want this dragging on, either.”
“Russia’s got a lot of problems, and over the longer term,” Hill said, underscoring that the Russian military is already having issues with the maintenance of military equipment.
“We’re seeing them reverting back, not just to the tactics of earlier times, but the equipment of earlier times. Pulling lots of things out of the scrapyard or cold storage. There’s a lot of speculation about how long it will take for them to replenish the equipment that’s lost,” Hill said.
Russia, which is estimated to have lost tens of thousands of troops so far, is also having problems with manpower. Last week, the UK Defense Ministry said that Russia might even resort to recruiting prisoners to make up for troop losses.
Along these lines, Hill said there are “signs of desperation” in Russia in terms of Moscow trying to bolster the military’s ranks “without having a full-on mobilization that would bring in the kids of elites in Moscow and St. Petersburg.”
Putin has a “classical medieval siege mentality” and believes he can wait the West out, Hill said.
“This is a guy whose father went through the siege of Leningrad. He’s thinking in siege-like mentalities, laying siege to all of us. Just basically saying, ‘I’m going to wait you all out. You cannot prevail because I’ ve got all the time in the world.’ And that’s just not true,” Hill said, underscoring that winning in Ukraine is key to Putin’s survival — both politically and existentially.
“This is why he’s trying to tell us that time is on his side when actually it isn’t really that much,” Hill said.
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