Russia’s strategy for prevailing in the long war with Ukraine does not have a protracted timeline and looks no further than 2024. It is based on three premises: economic performance will keep the war machine going; Western support for Ukraine will erode and contract; and the Ukrainian army’s capacity to conduct offensive operations will be exhausted. All three are set to be tested during the winter, but it is Russia’s economic trajectory that came into focus over the past week.
Once the 2024 central budget proposal was finally submitted by the Russian government, it attracted much expert attention (RBC, September 26; Kommersant, September 29). Accurate statistical data on the key parameters of the Russian economy has been reduced by increased secrecy in Moscow. The sharp rise in projected income—up to 35 trillion rubles, 19.5 percent of the expected gross domestic product (GDP)—surprised even the most seasoned observers (The Moscow Times, September 28). The Finance Ministry, which had insisted on a more realistic increase, was compelled to consider the politically prescribed growth of expenditures and revise its estimates accordingly, in trying to make the budget deficit appear manageable (Svoboda, September 25).
The growing costs of the war are driving the increase in expenditures. Conservative figures estimate the war’s daily costs at around $300 million (Re-Russia.net, September 29). While a fraction of these costs goes to social payments, the bulk is allocated for arms acquisition. The acceleration of activity in the defense-industrial sector is expected to expand GDP by 2.3 percent (Carnegie Politika, September 29). The massive investments in military-related industries yield diminishing results. Behind optimistic reporting, the prospect of an industrial recession is looming in Russia (The Moscow Times, September 29). The deep contraction in the energy sector is impossible to hide, and Gazprom has admitted to a 25-percent drop in the production of natural gas (Neftegaz.ru, September 29).
Rising inflation is the inevitable result of the gap between demand-driven budget expenditures and lagging income (Nezavisimaya gazeta, September 26). The Russian Central Bank has raised interest rates to 13 percent, which is much higher than the target figure of 4–5 percent to account for inflation. The Russian ruble remains weak against the US dollar, despite the spike in oil prices (RBC, September 26). The index of inflation expectations continue to increase, and opinion polls register a steady aggravation of concerns about prices and cost of living among the Russian population (Levada.ru, September 21).
The Kremlin does not seem interested in receiving realistic assessments about the domestic economy, hoping instead for fractures in Western unity (Republic.ru, September 30). Russian President Vladimir Putin and his entourage are keenly following the state of Western resolve and the strength of American leadership (Topwar.ru, September 19). Russian officials interpret the discord in the US Congress and possible government shutdown as likely contributing to a curtailing of military aid to Ukraine (Rossiiskaya gazeta, September 29). This legislative impasse is seen as a precursor of the divisive 2024 electoral campaign in the United States. The erosion of the American public’s support for Ukraine during the bitter political quarrels of the campaign is eagerly anticipated in Moscow (Izvestiya, September 22).
Recent events undercut the Kremlin’s hope for a progressive erosion of the transatlantic alliance. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg demonstrated ongoing Western cohesion during his visit to Kyiv on September 28. Stoltenberg was accompanied by French Defense Minister Sébastien Lecornu, UK Defense Minister Grant Shapps, and UK Chief of the Defense Staff Admiral Tony Radakin (Kommersant, September 28). The talks focused not only on provision of weapons and military equipment but also on the establishment of a broad international alliance for defense manufacturers in ensuring uninterrupted deliveries to Ukraine and streamlined rearmament procedures for European militaries (Meduza, September 30).
This initiative addresses immediate Ukrainian needs, including air defense capabilities to protect its energy infrastructure and the grain terminals in Odesa. Josep Borell, the EU high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, visited these terminals on September 30 and voiced Brussels’ “readiness to support Ukraine” in protecting its critical infrastructure (Kommersant, September 30). The international coalition also aims to grant Ukraine the capability to produce modern high-tech weapon systems better than those produced by the Russian military-industrial complex (EurAsia Daily, September 20). Russia is planning to unleash another series of attacks on Ukrainian energy infrastructure as winter approaches, relying less on cruise missiles that are in short supply and more on long-range drones (Nezavisimoe voennoe obozrenie, September 28). Ukraine is preparing to counter this assault by strengthening its air defense systems and targeting oil depots and electricity grids in the Russian regions along the Ukrainian border (The Insider, September 29).
The combination of long-distance strikes and relentless attacks on Russia’s defensive lines has helped Ukraine retake the initiative on the battlefield. It seems that the Russian General Staff’s calculations on the exhaustion of Ukraine’s Western-trained brigades remain wishful thinking (Republic.ru, September 25). Instead of pushing forward with armored wedges, Ukrainian forces are attacking on foot, with infantry platoons storming one trench after another (RBC, September 28). These slow-moving tactics likely mean that neither the fall’s mud, nor the winter’s frost will force a pause in the offensive (Nezavisimaya gazeta, September 25). Ukraine has suffered severe material damage and tragic human losses, but it is better prepared for the war’s third winter than Russia, which cannot mobilize its society for the long war.
Most Russians still prefer to ignore the realities of wartime and live their lives “as normal.” The stagnant and inflation-affected economy brings home the consequences of Moscow’s aggression, which no amount of propaganda can camouflage as a “just cause.” Ukrainian long-distance strikes ring more alarm bells, and every village abandoned by battered Russian regiments sends a signal of more defeats to come. Unwavering Western support remains crucial for sustaining Ukraine’s march to victory—and for convincing the Russians that the sacrifices they will be forced to make in the coming winter by the self-serving Putin regime are in vain.