Putin says Russia is fighting against Ukraine to defeat the West: ISW explains what the Kremlin is betting on
Russian President Vladimir Putin has once again said that Russia is allegedly at war with the West in Ukraine, which "seeks to destroy Russian statehood." The Russian dictator presents the full-scale war he has unleashed against a neighboring state as an existential war for a reason: he is creating a rationale for building up the Russian army and justifying significant losses in manpower.
In addition, such statements demonstrate Putin's categorical unwillingness to negotiate with Ukraine. Analysts at the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) have analyzed the Russian dictator's statements and what is really behind his words.
On January 1, the Russian president visited a military hospital in the Moscow region, accompanied by television cameras. There he talked to the wounded occupiers and in a conversation with one of them called the West, not Ukraine, Russia's real "enemy." Western countries allegedly seek to "destroy Russian statehood" and inflict a "strategic defeat on Russia on the battlefield."
He reiterated that Western elites are allegedly trying to divide Russia into five parts and are now doing so with the help of Ukraine. But, the dictator added, the situation on the front line is allegedly changing and Russia will "cope with [the West] faster" than the West will defeat Russia on the battlefields of Ukraine.
So, according to Putin, the problem is not the West's supply of weapons to Ukraine, because the Ukrainian state itself has been "completely destroyed," there is "nothing left of the country," and it "exists only on handouts."
"Putin hinted that Russia is waging an existential war against the West in Ukraine and noted that Western rhetoric has recently shifted to how to 'quickly end the conflict. This phrase implies that Putin sees a conflict and potential negotiations between Russia and the West, not a conflict and potential negotiations between Russia and Ukraine. Putin added that Russia also wants to end the conflict between Russia and the West, but only on the Kremlin's terms, and noted that Russia will not give up its positions," ISW noted.
Such rhetoric, according to analysts, indicates a categorical rejection of Ukraine as a subject. That is why Putin is deliberately distorting reality, presenting Russia's invasion to destroy Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity as a confrontation between Russia and the West.
"Putin's emphasis on changing narratives in the West may indicate that he will perceive and/or present any wavering in Western support for Ukraine and any Ukrainian defeats on the battlefield as a Russian victory in this hypothetical Russian-Western confrontation," ISW believes.
Analysts are convinced that such statements reveal that Putin has no intention of negotiating with Ukraine. Instead, he hopes to use information to push the West to betray Ukraine through negotiations.
It is also possible that making Ukraine a "pawn" in the great "confrontation" between Russia and the West is intended to disguise the dictator's real expansionist and maximalist goals of establishing full effective Russian control over Ukraine.
Putin is going to talk about the future of Ukraine under Russian influence exclusively with the West, and he will only be satisfied with the West's complete abandonment of Ukraine. He is not going to talk to Kyiv as an autonomous player. This position is reminiscent of Russia's position in December 2021, when the Kremlin issued ultimatums to the United States and NATO, which boiled down to a demand to recognize Russia's sphere of influence in Eastern Europe by giving up the main elements of Ukraine's sovereignty in the name of de-escalating the conflict between the West and Russia, which Putin himself had fomented.
"Any commitment by the West to negotiate Ukraine's future bypassing Ukraine would signal to Russia that it can impose its will on countries it sees as being in its sphere of influence - even countries outside of Ukraine, and potentially including Finland and Moldova: various Russian figures have already begun to create the information prerequisites for future campaigns against them.
In addition, Putin may seek to convince Russians that Russia is at war with the West in order to create conditions for the constant build-up of the Russian army and to justify the significant losses on the battlefield in Ukraine. These losses did not bring Russia any significant gains in 2023, no matter how much Putin tries to say that he only orders an offensive when he is sure that it will not lead to significant losses. In fact, British intelligence has stated that last year Russia lost an average of 300 more soldiers every day than the year before. And by the end of 2024, Russian losses on the battlefield could exceed half a million.
On December 12, U.S. intelligence provided the U.S. Congress with its own estimate of Russian losses: according to intelligence, they reach 315,000 soldiers since the start of the full-scale invasion.
"Such large losses for small territorial gains are likely to encourage Putin to present a strong ideological justification for continuing the long war that he himself started. Ukraine does not need such a distorted justification for the significant loss and suffering that Putin's invasion is causing its people, even if Ukraine's military operations are not producing the desired results. The war is truly existential for Ukraine, not for Russia," the ISW noted.
The analysts concluded that Putin's statements probably indicate that he is preparing a long-term justification to keep his forces mobilized and engaged in combat to "protect Russia's sovereignty from the West" on a permanent basis.
Earlier, ISW gave a forecast on the course of the war in Ukraine and pointed out the risks in case of a "freeze" on the front. Analysts believe that the Kremlin is not ready to give up its maximalist goals in the war against Ukraine. That is why the idea that Ukraine allegedly has no independent identity and no grounds for further existence as an independent state has been introduced into the Russian political consciousness. And the aggressor will use the respite to restore its lost strength.
The Institute for War Studies also explained why Putin only briefly mentioned the war against Ukraine in his New Year's address.