UKRAINE WAR: Putin Is Ready for a Long War, But Is Russia?

AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky, File

Russian strongman Vladimir Putin is ready for a long Ukraine War, warning that his “special operation” could be a “lengthy process” aimed squarely at the acquisition of new territory.


Whether Russia is up to such a lengthy process might be a separate issue.

ISW reported earlier this week on a meeting with Putin’s Presidential Council for the Development of Civil Society and Human Rights (HRC), whose name is two lies for the price of one. “Of course, it could be a lengthy process,” he told the HRC. “We will defend ourselves with everything we have,” which seems like a strange way of describing the invasion of a sovereign neighbor.

Putin, however, did strike a somewhat conciliary tone regarding Russia’s partial mobilization that began this year with the call-up of 300,000 reservists, although not in the Western sense of having organized reserve units. “We should definitely look into demobilizing some specialists, including medical doctors and prosthetists,” he said.

That’s not much for worried Russian mothers, wives, and children to hope for, but it’s some small thing, I suppose.

Outside of the Kremlin’s insular ruling clique, Putin’s positive attitude might prove more difficult to maintain.

The Economist reported in November that Russia “risks becoming ungovernable” and might be “descending into chaos.” “Mr Putin’s war,” they conclude, “is turning Russia into a failed state.”

Let me say right now that I find The Economist’s conclusion here to be unnecessarily grim, even lurid.

But the facts reported in the article should give Putin pause, assuming he’s listens to any dissenting voices.


One of Russia’s wartime problems is one familiar to peacetime America if that’s what it is: Border control. Russia’s problem isn’t keeping people out, though — it’s keeping people in. An estimated 600,000-700,000 Russians fled the country — mostly military-age men — after mobilization was announced in September. That’s on top of the four million or so who left the country between then and the start of the Ukraine War. For a country already in a demographic crisis, those numbers ought to unsettle the Kremlin.

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Perhaps of more personal importance to Putin is this development I wrote about a few weeks ago:

ISW reported late last week that “Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin continued to form parallel military structures in Belgorod and Kursk oblasts, even though there is no threat of a Ukrainian ground invasion into Russian territory.”

“Prigozhin will also likely continue to pursue the formation of parallel military structures more broadly to expand his own influence and standing in Russian political circles,” ISW writes, “and to develop his own private army.”

A parallel, privately run military structure is not a sign of a healthy state.

Then again, it isn’t like Prigozhin’s Wagner Group is in particularly good health.

Apropos of… something, I suppose… Wagner Group is now recruiting “Russian convicts suffering from serious diseases including HIV and Hepatitis C.” They’ll be forced to wear special signifying bracelets, as much for the medics as for anyone else.


No, Russia isn’t on the verge of becoming a failed state, but Putin’s Ukraine War has accelerated his country’s demographic decline and exacerbated his country’s structural weaknesses. Meanwhile, he’s comparing himself to Peter the Great by reminding people that “Russia now controls the Sea of Azov, which Peter the Great also fought for.”

But there’s one last question, and it might prove more important to the outcome of this war than any Kremlin intrigue: Is the West ready for a long war?

I warned months and months ago that one of the dangers Kyiv faces is the West’s short attention span, particularly regarding foreign policy. Volodymyr Zelenskyy remains the West’s flavor of the month, but we do tend to be fickle about these things.

This might be a fine time for all sides in the Ukraine War to come to the negotiating table.


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