Bad News for Ukraine!

Several interesting pieces of news about Russia have emerged in recent days which add to my view that Ukraine has little chance of a victory.


FIRSTLY, Tatiana Stanovaya, in “Russia’s Pro-Putin Elites”, Foreign Affairs, 9 May 2024 (see ( ),

reports on the present elite mood in Moscow when it comes to Ukraine. I left Russia in October 2022, eight months after the invasion of Ukraine, to speak at an Indian Government seminar in New Delhi on Russia-China relations (see )

but the defiant and aggressive mood in Moscow does not surprise me.


Stanovaya writes: “Judging by off-the-record talks I had with contacts in Moscow, it became clear that nobody is looking for an exit strategy from the war or an opportunity to initiate dialogue with the West; nobody is concerned with persuading the West to ease sanctions; nobody is hungry for compromise with Ukraine, at least under its current leadership. There is no conjecture about what would constitute an acceptable deal to end this conflict. Instead, the Russian leadership and elites are proceeding on the basis that Russia cannot afford to lose the war, and to ensure it does not, the country must keep up the pressure on Ukraine, for no matter how long.”


“The exact nature of that victory remains vague in the minds of Russian elites, who instead seem to find more safety in Russia’s posture of aggression alone. The war has become a goal in and of itself, serving multiple purposes: it staves off defeat, creates new opportunities for career growth and business ventures, and boosts the economy. Critiquing the war makes you an enemy of the state (and by extension, the public) and hoping for its imminent end is too wishful; a Russian defeat, after all, could make many in the country vulnerable to being held accountable for complicity in war crimes perpetrated in Ukraine.”


“More than two years of war have made the Russian elites more anti-Western and anti-Ukrainian than ever, binding them to Putin as their sole assurance of survival. The anti-Western narrative is now pervasive across all segments of the elite, including the siloviki (members of the security services), technocrats within the administration, former liberals now serving Putin, and hawks. The very idea of compromise with the West is repellent to many in the elite. Putin’s re-election in March has reinforced among many the belief that change is impossible, fostering a sense of both powerlessness and dependence. In this situation, all one can do is accept reality: a Russia that is repressive, aggressive, jingoistic, and merciless. It’s not that elites trust Putin — it’s that to survive they have to reconcile themselves to the implacable, tightening grasp of the regime. Those who hoped to simply wait out this period of repression and zealotry now realize that there is no returning to the way things were. The only escape from despair and hopelessness that seems viable requires them to join the ranks of Putin’s devotees: becoming pro-war, radically anti-Western, and often gleeful about anything that hints at the crumbling of the U.S.-led international rules-based order.”


“The war and Putin’s escalating confrontation with the West are foreclosing the space for internal divisions and disagreements. In matters of national security and geopolitics, Putin has managed to forge an impressively homogenous political landscape where nothing can challenge the commitment to the war in Ukraine and hostility to the West. The regime has denied the dissenting segment of society—which accounts for approximately 25 percent of the population, a significant proportion, according to the surveys conducted by the Levada Center, Russia’s most reliable independent polling agency—any meaningful political infrastructure and the ability to express antiwar sentiment without risking imprisonment.”


“A centripetal force is bearing down on Russia, with the Kremlin exerting greater control over state and society. Both the Russian elite and the broader public desire peace, but strictly on terms favorable to Russia—ideally with the de facto capitulation of Ukraine. They want Russia at a minimum to evade suffering a strategic defeat in Ukraine, but what constitutes an acceptable victory remains a matter of debate. Even to that nebulous end, they appear ready to fight forever.”


“Some observers argue that Ukraine should acknowledge that it cannot retake all the territories conquered by Russia and that Kyiv should be willing to cede land to Moscow to pave the way to peace. But that may not be enough for the Kremlin and the elites that serve it. Putin’s dispute over territory is a strategy rather than a final objective; his ultimate goal is not the seizure of a few provinces but the disbanding of Ukraine as a state in its present political form.”


“As Russian leaders weigh which nuclear options might best deter the West from taking bolder steps in Ukraine, many within the Russian elite welcome the escalation. ‘How does Europe not understand this?’ one Moscow source in policymaking circles told me. There’s noticeable excitement among the elites and the military: the prospect of engaging NATO soldiers is far more motivating than confronting Ukrainians. For Putin, any form of intervention would be a welcome scenario.” “Many in Russia are in fact eagerly anticipating the further escalation of the conflict, confident in their country’s invincibility.”


“Among Russian elites, the prevailing belief is that only a military defeat or a prolonged, severe financial crisis could halt their country’s momentum. Many Russians see defeating Ukraine as a crucial step in the Kremlin’s anti-Western agenda. Forget territorial gains or even preventing NATO expansion—establishing a political regime in Ukraine that is friendly to Russia, thereby denying the West a beachhead on Ukrainian soil, would mark a significant defeat for the West.”


“Attempting to appease Putin is futile, and wishfully seeking for fragmentation within Russia is unlikely to be effective as long as the country remains financially robust, maintains the upper hand over Ukraine, and secures total domestic control. The authorities are rapidly becoming more hawkish, the elites are increasingly embracing Putin’s war agenda, and the broader society is unable (or indeed unwilling) to exert the kind of pressure that might push Russia in a different directions. Western leaders face the unenviable task of determining how to engage with a Russia that has grown increasingly self-confident, bold, and radical.”


SECONDLY, Prime Minister Mishustin has announced some new ministerial appointments. Acting Deputy PM and Minister of Industry and Trade Denis Manturov has been tapped to become First Deputy Prime Minister. “The upgraded status of the Deputy PM in charge of industry is due to the importance of ensuring technological leadership, as stated in the new May decree signed by President,” government spokesman Boris Belyakov explained. The new government will also see a new Deputy PM position created, with the official specifically tasked with the development of transport and logistics.


I have previously written about Russia’s new attempts at “technological leadership” under the heading “Russia’s Crazy New Religion of Economic Sovereignty”. See:


I argue that “at the present time Russian nationalism – and fears – are driving the ideas of technological and economic sovereignty. It may take a few years, but eventually the folly will become very clear.” In the short term, however, the focus on this will give some gains and provide the confidence building illusion that Russia is on the right track to greatness and “invincibility” – and so further boosting the unwillingness to compromise on Ukraine. 


The appointment of hard-line economist Andrey Belousov to replace Sergei Shoigu as Defence Minister fits in with this view, as the position is mainly concerned with ensuring that the military has the resources that it needs rather than with direct combat operations. An historical example may be the appointment of Albert Speer, who was Adolf Hitler’s architect, to the position of Germany’s Armaments Minister — which brought positive results for Germany.


Overall, I retain my view about Russia’s economic future which I wrote six months ago on


I wrote: “Since February 2022 Russia has increasingly turned inward in political, social and economic terms. At the same time, Russia’s top leaders – and some important supporters – seem to think that Russians have some unique characteristics and talents that will allow an extreme focus on self to thrive in a complex economic and technological world; and also both influence and attract others. While this may appear to be so in the short-term because of Russia’s generally successful efforts at macroeconomic control, rich natural resources, internal propaganda and implicit threats to use nuclear weapons, this thinking is delusional. The ideological corruption of the education system will reinforce the misguided notion of technological sovereignty; and social and economic life will in the medium-long term move toward stagnation. Moreover, Russia is a country with a declining population which is increasingly ignorant of the wider world, a deteriorating culture, and no solid friends. Little will change while Putin and his thinking hold sway in Russia and present an antagonistic face to the world, and most Ukraine related foreign sanctions remain in place. Russia’s economic and political future is not particularly rosy, but neither is it anything like the 1990’s because of a generally competent bureaucracy and little prospect of regional separation.”