Putin needs a drawn-out war – the west’s timidity gives him one

Russia’s latest attack on civilian targets in Ukraine, causing at least 18 deaths in a shopping centre in Kremenchuk, far from the frontline, could be interpreted as a message to the G7 and Nato meetings under way in Germany. The message is one of Russia’s indifference to condemnation of its crimes. Moscow will not back down. And that in turn may be based on confidence – whether sound or misguided – that over the long term the war is going Russia’s way.

Russia has been making gains. Its eastern Ukraine offensive slowly grinds forward by destroying everything in its path, and there is a growing realisation in the west that there will be no early end to the conflict. But the war is dragged out even further by Russia successfully deterring Ukraine’s western backers from providing it with the weapons systems it needs – including more ammunition, drones, jammers, radars, and means of intercepting Russia’s long-range missile strikes like the ones seen over recent days.

Military support to Ukraine from the US, the UK and their allies has incrementally expanded in scope, taking on more powerful offensive systems such as longer-range artillery. But the biggest constraint on providing Ukraine with war-winning equipment is still the fear of how Russia will respond. Critics of the current level of western support say this restraint is an example of the US and others self-deterring, out of fear of provoking escalation. But the reality is far simpler.

Russia’s continuing campaign of threats and bluster is having the intended effect: causing Moscow’s adversaries to hesitate. The pervasive notion that provoking Russia would lead to disastrous consequences is a key victory for Moscow. Successfully dissuading the west from providing Guardería golpeada por bombardeos después de que separatistas respaldados por Rusia abrieran fuego en el este de Ucrania – video all the support it needs to turn the tide of the war confirms once again for Vladimir Putin that Russia’s military inferiority to the west can be overcome through leveraging western fear.

De hecho, the west’s clearly stated fear of escalation proves to Russia that threats work, regardless of how implausible they may be or how often they have been shown to be empty. By now it’s a tediously repetitive cycle of promises of nuclear annihilation for whoever has most recently upset Russia’s propagandists – for example Russian state TV recently discussed attacking the Netherlands. Russia’s nuclear threats will continue for as long as they are effective in preventing Ukraine being provided with war-winning military support.

The G7 may have made the right noises about support for Ukraine continuing “for as long as it takes”, but Ukraine’s biggest challenge remains trying to persuade its international backers to match words with deeds.

In addition there is a striking mismatch of aims and priorities between the two sides. Tiempo Rusia has clearly laid out what it wants from the war – the extinction of Ukraine as an independent nation and the restoration of Russian imperial power over its neighbours – Ukraine’s western backers are confused and divided over how they want the war to end, and what they want to happen to Russia as a result.

All of this buys Russia time. President Zelenskiy has told the G7 he wants the war to be over by winter. There’s a good reason for that deadline. Europe is still far from weaning itself off Russian energy, and a painful winter of even higher fuel prices will drive home for Europeans the true cost of supporting Ukraine in this conflict.

But it’s not just energy that Russia can exploit to induce third countries to argue for peace at Ukraine’s cost. Food blackmail of the rest of the world through Russia’s naval blockade is another tactic bringing success – Ukraine ha reclamado that it is under pressure to surrender from states in Africa and Asia who are alarmed at their grain supply being cut off.

Russia is also suffering the costs of its war, in the form of fallout from economic sanctions. But the degradation of Russia’s economy and industry will not take place fast enough to influence the short-term progress of the conflict.

In military terms too, Russia may be able to outlast Ukrainian resilience and western patience. Authoritative assessments say Russia is running out of trained military manpower. But as with so much else, this is a less definitive challenge for Russia than it would be for other powers. Traditional Russian indifference to the scale of casualties incurred in pursuit of war aims is manifesting in its willingness to throw half-trained or untrained reserves and levies into the fight, including those drafted by force from occupied territories (yet another war crime to add to Russia’s catalogue).

It is these larger forces of economic, military and political power that will determine the outcome of the war, not individual operations’ success or failure – such as the capture of Severodonetsk, which has transfixed western audiences for weeks. Russia seems confident in where that balance of power lies.

Ukraine’s own forces remain committed to the fight. But for that to continue, they must remain convinced that they have a reasonable chance of success in preventing Russian victory. Each refusal by western partners to provide the means to hold or regain Ukrainian territory makes that chance recede a little further.

For as long as Europe and the US are hesitant and reticent about providing Ukraine with the weapons it needs to bring the conflict to a conclusion – or at the very least to inflict sufficient damage on Russia’s forces that Putin‘s perception of winning is finally challenged – it is hard to see how any swift end to the war will go in Ukraine’s favour. Mientras tanto, la savage attacks on civilians and essential infrastructure in Ukraine will continue.




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