Putin’s war rages on in Ukraine
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Putin’s war rages on in Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin is approaching the 100-day mark in a war he refuses to call by name.

As his army pushed its way into the Ukrainian city of Sievierodonetsk this week, Putin made awkward chatter during a televised ceremony honoring parents of exceptionally large families.

Putin's war rages on in Ukraine

Since early May, he has met – mostly online – with educators, oil and transportation bosses, officials responsible for fighting forest fires, and the leaders of at least a dozen Russian regions, many thousands of miles from Ukraine.

In addition to several sessions of his Security Council and a series of phone calls with foreign leaders, he found time for a video address to players, trainers, and spectators of the All-Russian Night Hockey League.

The semblance of solid, even dull routine keeps with the Kremlin’s story that it’s not waging war — just a “special military operation” to trap a troublesome neighbor.

Putin shows no visible sign of stress for a man whose military has underperformed in Ukraine and has been beaten back from its two largest cities, inflicting countless thousands of casualties.

Unlike the lead-up to the February 24 invasion, when he denounced Ukraine and the West in bitter, angry speeches, his rhetoric is restrained. The 69-year-old appears calm, focused, and completely controlled by data and details.

While acknowledging the impact of Western sanctions, he tells the Russians that their economy will become stronger and more self-sufficient. At the same time, the West will experience a boomerang effect from rising food and fuel prices.

But as the war continues and there is no end, Putin faces an increasing challenge to maintain a semblance of normalcy.

Economically, the situation will worsen as sanctions bite harder, and Russia heads into recession.

Militarily, Putin’s forces have gradually advanced in eastern Ukraine. Still, the United States and its allies are ramping up arms deliveries to Kyiv, including a US pledge of advanced missile systems this week.

Should Russia’s offensive falter, Putin could be forced to declare a full mobilization of reserves to bolster his depleted forces, Western defense experts say.

“This would involve more than a million people in Russia, and then it will be visible to those who have not yet realized that Russia is in a full-scale war,” said Gerhard Mangott, an Austrian academic who has met and observed Putin. . over many years.

That would be a hard sell to a Russian public that relies mainly on state media loyal to the Kremlin and therefore kept ignorant of the magnitude of Russia’s setbacks and casualties.

But Russia is still not at that point, Mangott said, and Putin can draw some encouragement from signs of Western fatigue from the war. Divisions are emerging between Ukraine’s most aggressive supporters — the United States, Britain, Poland, and the Baltics — and a group of countries, including Italy, France, and Germany, pushing for an end to the war.

“Putin is counting on the longer this war continues, the more conflict and friction will arise within the Western camp,” he said.

Meanwhile, peace talks with Ukraine stalled weeks ago, and Putin shows no signs of a diplomatic exit. “He still thinks there is a good military solution to this problem,” said Olga Oliker, program director for Europe and Central Asia at Crisis Group.

Putin retains the ability to claim victory at any time because his stated goals — what he called the demilitarization and denazification of Ukraine — “were always goals you could consider accomplished because they were never clearly defined and always somewhat ridiculous,” said Oliker.