A Weakening Russia Becomes a Dangerous Paradox

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 20 Issue: 163

(Source: Gosfondveteranov.gov.ru)

While Kremlin leadership is trying to ignore the combat situation in Ukraine with, for example, an unnecessary sports festival in Perm, it has not given up on Russia’s goal to destroy the world order. Moscow seeks to upend the West’s economic, political, and cultural dominance for an alternative, multipolar reality. Russia’s attempted offensive near Avdiivka coincided with the Hamas attack against Israel and the alleged acts of sabotage on the Balticconnector gas pipeline between Finland and Estonia and the adjoining cable between Sweden and Estonia. Moscow’s reaction to the attack against Israel demonstrates that the Kremlin leans toward the anti-Israeli, pro-Palestinian side, considering it a part of its anti-American policies (Kremlin.ru, October 5, October 10, October 11, October 16, October 16, October 18, October 19; see EDM, October 16).

The obsession with overthrowing the US-dominated world order means that the slow exhaustion of Russia on the battlefield will not necessarily coincide with Russian peace efforts. On the contrary, Russia will fight until the very end, similar to Germany and Japan in 1944–45. That is why any decrease in Western military assistance to Ukraine or any notions of negotiating a ceasefire will bring disastrous sequences, as such developments will give Russia the breathing room it needs to regroup and rethink its strategy on the battlefield.

Russia has fallen victim to the trap of its own making. No single development nor official pronouncement can improve the state of the domestic economy or Russia’s international standing. The steady increases in the military budget cannot be cut without terrible consequences for defense production and the front-line troops (see EDM, October 5). The Russian Armed Forces cannot withdraw from the occupied territories in Ukraine without creating additional political risks at home. The lessons of the war cannot be quickly implemented as they require extensive reforms in Russian military thinking, including how to train new recruits and improve the recruitment system. The Kremlin, however, cannot conduct such changes without a deep reform of the overall political-economic system.

Kremlin officials cannot—or do not want to—stop the continued drift toward totalitarianism. Arrests of journalists, lawyers, and common citizens have become a daily routine. The restoration of the command economy has come with little surprise to the Russian population. Religious radicalism, both Christian Orthodox and Islamist, is becoming a tool for maintaining order domestically (The Moscow Times, December 11, 2022; Gazeta.ru, September 26; see EDM, October 5).

Another major problem for Russia is the growing number of veterans and families of deceased servicemembers. This number is somewhere in the hundreds of thousands (see EDM, October 5). Despite some government compensation, these Russians face problems with reintegrating into society, obtaining adequate welfare benefits, and gaining access to medical aid. For example, the state foundation “Defenders of Homeland” (“Zaschitniki Otechestva”), established in 2023, recently declared that it had received more than 323,000 phone calls related to the financial, medical, and legal problems of veterans over the past five months. The Russian Ministry of Defense announced it received over 13,000 similar phone calls related to the problems of mobilized soldiers from October 2022 to February 2023 (TASS, March 10; Verstka.media, September 18; Gosfonveteranov.gov.ru, October 17). Once the war is over, the Kremlin will need to explain to these citizens and their relatives the reasons for their sufferings and potentially provide even more monetary support. These people represent a potential base for the possible future “party of stolen victory.” The idea of an “endless war against the West,” however, remains a point of consensus between the Kremlin and these Russians. For now, such a struggle justifies the losses and sufferings as well as the ongoing totalitarian trend and economic troubles within the country.

The Kremlin’s ideological framework is largely characterized by its imperial-nationalist statism and anti-Western resentment. This pattern of thinking creates myriad problems as it does not recognize the current political, economic, and cultural realities in Russia and the surrounding regions, but rather relies on the hope of sheer Russian will to triumph. Moscow’s ideological framework explains why the Russian political-military establishment still believes that total victory is possible not only in the war against Ukraine but also in the escalating struggle with the West (RIA Novosti, July 31; Vz.ru, September 25; CSIS, September 27; TASS, October 19).

As the Russian leadership strays further from reality, it poses a threat to stability within the country and the security of Russia’s neighbors. The Kremlin rejects any thought of recognizing defeat and remedying losses. Moscow’s obsession with disrupting the global order and eliminating Western dominance at any cost will likely make Putin and his inner circle more reckless, including the possible use of nuclear weapons. The only way to stop such dangerous prospects of a weakening state and ever-more desperate leadership is to disable Russia’s ability to wage war. Ensuring that Ukraine achieves total victory on the battlefield is paramount to achieving this goal.