Nine months into Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it has so far failed to seize Kyiv or occupy a major region. Its military effort has stalled in the face of a steadfast Ukrainian defense and an effective campaign of economic disinformation.
The war has also exposed Russian weaknesses and vulnerabilities that should give the West cause for concern. The shaky state of the Russian economy, the corruption that permeates its politics and business class, and its fixation on quasi-imperial aspirations are all visible to an increasingly attentive international community. And while Putin’s claims of a “special mission” to defend Russia from the West may resonate with some of his core support base, his actions are unlikely to win many converts in Europe or elsewhere.
Moreover, Putin’s insistence that Russians and Ukrainians are “one people” has no historical foundation yet still shapes elite discourse and political practice. The idea is especially cherished by the ruling class of the Russian Federation’s oligarchs, who long for a return to Crimea and the port of Sevastopol.
But the broader consequences of the war are likely to leave Russia diminished in significant ways: with a damaged military that will take years to reconstitute; years of economic stagnation cut off from key high-tech imports; and growing political isolation that could worsen its ties with China. All of this should make it even harder for Putin to pursue his dream of a greater Russia in the coming decades.