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I'm struggling to understand what Russia hopes to gain by continuing the war.

In my understanding, if Russia somehow "won" (I appreciate there are different ways of thinking about what winning would be for Russia), capturing Ukraine or at least large population centres could result in decades of insurgency conflict and sabotage from the captured population.

The cynic in me says Russia is engaged in a bit of sunk-cost thinking and using the war to kill off its minorities.

What could Russia hope to gain in continuing the war?

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  • 11
    War isn't binary. There is not only win or lose but also anything in between. Why do you assume that Russia is not aiming for something in between and instead has only the choice between two extreme outcomes (winning or losing)? Jan 14 at 9:54
  • 2
    Does this answer your question? What is Russia's stated military strategy in Ukraine as of early 2023?
    – sfxedit
    Jan 14 at 11:08
  • 22
    Voting to reopen this excellent question. (a) The close reason ("This question does not appear to be about governments, policies and political processes within the scope defined in the help center.") is not valid, because the question is in fact about the government of Russia and the political processes within Russia, and (b) The suggested dup target above does not answer this question, because that is an old question, already outdated due to rapidly changing nature of this war. Jan 14 at 16:50
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    The main achievement here is Putin avoiding losing face and pushing through more domestic repression. For other Russian goals and motivations, you'd have to read the mind of the only person who matters: Putin. Since that is not possible, this devolves into multiple opinions, despite being the $64B question. Upvoted, but sadly well-deserving of closure. Welcome aboard. Jan 14 at 17:48
  • 7
    "decades of insurgency conflict and sabotage from the captured population" - just like how people in the Crimea and the Donbas (where Russians are a majority) were rebelling against Ukrainians after a Russian-freindly government was ousted in what they view as a coup (2014)? Remember, what Russia (officially) wants is the territories with Russian majority. So if Ukraine somehow won and recaptured everything, they would also face decades of insurgency from the captured population.
    – vsz
    Jan 15 at 6:31

13 Answers 13

51

Russia hopes to achieve these goals:

  • Increase Putin's popularity to help him stay in power indefinitely. The combination of hot and cold war, plus massive propaganda efforts, always united the Russian people under their leadership.
  • Prevent Ukraine from joining the EU and NATO.
  • Intimidate the already weak Russian opposition further using the wartime laws, including free speech and free assembly restrictions.
  • Make Ukraine an example to both domestic opposition and pro-Western populations in countries that are former USSR members, showing the true danger of EU and NATO aspirations.
  • Avoid political costs to Putin if the war that had already cost hundreds of thousands of dead and wounded should end without a clear victory.
  • Prolong the already long war even more. Then use the Western war fatigue to show that the US and the West in general are unreliable partners.
  • Serve as a test of the Western resolve in standing up for rules-based world order, helping China in the Chinese own aggressive aspirations against Taiwan and China's other neighbors.
  • Destabilize the Western-supported rules-based world order and thus hurt the West politically, economically and militarily.

References:

Putin's quote

This morning an electronic billboard on my way to work is displaying this Putin quote: “Russia’s borders do not end anywhere.”

Steve Rosenberg (BBC News - Moscow), @BBCSteveR on X/Twitter, 1:39 AM, Jan 15, 2024


From the beginning, Putin hoped the war would demonstrate that American power and American alliances can be defeated, not only in Ukraine but everywhere else. He still does, and for this purpose the war remains useful to him.
...
But despite his extraordinary losses, Putin still believes that time is on his side. If he can’t win on the battlefield, he will win using political intrigue and economic pressure. He will wait for the democratic world to splinter, and he will encourage that splintering. He will wait for the Ukrainians to grow tired, and he will try to make that happen too. He will wait for Donald Trump to win the 2024 U.S. presidential election, and he will do anything he can to help that happen too.

The West Must Defeat Russia, by Anne Applebaum, The Atlantic, November 10, 2023


Since the start of the war, Kyiv has stepped up its pursuit of NATO and European Union membership, steps that it regards as vital for its self-defence and independence from Russia but are opposed by Moscow.

Putin reiterated his view that the Western military alliance's eastward expansion was the main cause of the war - a view dismissed by the West, which sees Putin as the aggressor.
...
He said NATO's eastward expansion had forced Russia into war.

"The unbridled desire to creep towards our borders, taking Ukraine into NATO, all this led to this tragedy," he said, urging the U.S. to seek compromise instead of trying to resolve matters "with sanctions and military intervention".

Putin vows to fight on in Ukraine until Russia achieves its goals | Reuters


Rather, [Vladimir Putin] has pursued twin overarching goals: to secure the political regime he has built at home and to provide maximum security—as he understands it—for the Russian state by establishing a sphere of influence around it to shield it from external threats. Putin’s pursuit of both goals logically led him to wage war on Ukraine. That strategy and these goals have deep roots in Russian history and will likely outlive his presidency. This has grim implications for Ukraine and the rest of Europe.
...
The Kremlin’s opposition to NATO membership for Georgia and Ukraine remained firm as ever, regardless of how distant that prospect was. Russia was equally determined to expel the United States from the base in Kyrgyzstan that Washington used to support its war effort in Afghanistan.

Outside the former Soviet space, the thrust of Russian foreign policy remained consistently aimed at undermining Western influence and policies.
...
The Syria intervention was not the only manifestation of Putin’s ambitious foreign policy aimed at challenging Western interests far beyond Russia’s borders. Hardly constrained by Western sanctions and by economic difficulties at home, he embarked on far-flung ventures including mercenary, hybrid, and military deployments in various parts of Africa; oil and arms deals in Central and South America; and meddling in the politics of the United States, several European countries, and the ever-fragile Balkans. All these wide-ranging activities had one unifying theme: to undermine what has become known as the liberal international order or, in other words, to challenge and erode the power and influence of the United States and its allies. Even if they were far from always successful, these activities reflected a remarkable degree of consistency and persistence.

Putin’s Long War - Carnegie Endowment for International Peace


On December 15, 2021, Putin sent demands to NATO to return to the 1997 borders and to deny the accession of Ukraine and Georgia. These demands were supposedly to deter Russia, which at the time felt threatened by NATO enlargement on its borders, from going to war to achieve its security interests.

Putin’s War of Vanishing Goals | Wilson Center

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    I am tempted to edit your post to fix the "Western supported rules-based order" for the more accurated "Western rules order". Putin is not hurting them as much as Gaza is.
    – Rekesoft
    Jan 15 at 10:06
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    What do you mean he isn't hurting it? He's doing a full blown invasion of a European (i.e. where the boundaries are pretty clearly drawn without disputes) country, ignoring on the way so many agreements that I can't list them here, threatening with nuclear war etcetc. He's completely ignoring it and feeling like in "times of empires" again. Gaza is (simplified) a therorist group (hamas) that attacked, now hiding between civilians, and Israel disproportianally using force. That's a very well known thing.
    – Mayou36
    Jan 15 at 15:16
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    "Make Ukraine an example to both domestic opposition and pro-Western populations in countries that are former USSR members, showing the true danger of EU and NATO aspirations." It's having the opposite effect. There are two kinds of former USSR/Warsaw Pact countries: those who have joined NATO and those who have been invaded by Russia. Jan 15 at 21:02
  • 4
    Your answer shows a fundamental misunderstanding of this Russian aggression on one major point; that Putin was forced to do act due to the threat to NATO expansion. It suggests that Russia only expands due to perceived existential threats. The only existential threat that the West poses to Russia is the ideology of anti-authoritarian, pro-humanitarian and pro-freedom values.
    – sfscs
    Jan 16 at 2:29
  • 8
    It is also a mistake to equate NATO expansion with imperial expansion. Russian expansion is by force. No one joins Russia or the USSR voluntarily. NATO and EU are voluntary. Believing Putin's explanations is faulty. Consider what any 'deal' with him actually means.
    – sfscs
    Jan 16 at 2:36
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The only peace agreement that Russia could easily get now is one where Russia retreats from all Ukrainian territory. They currently control significants bits of Eastern Ukraine. If they want to keep these territories it seems to me they would have to continue the war, possibly letting it peter out to some kind of frozen conflict. My guess is that this is what they are aiming for.

With the current NATO support and the current Western policy towards the conflict they won't make any major additional gains but just to keep what they currently control is easiest achieved by continueing the war. Additionally NATO countries are talking about reducing their support and pondering about a peace agreement cementing the status quo. So signing a peace agreement now would give Russia less then they hope to get in a few months or years from now.

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    This is based on outdated infirmation. See: The Biden Administration Is Quietly Shifting Its Strategy in Ukraine Jan 14 at 9:56
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    @RogerV. I wrote 'peace agreement they can easily get now'. A slow shift by the US doesn't change that. Your quote may change what the long term options are (Ukraine needs to be convinced as well) which seems to be exactly what Russia is aiming for. Continue the war for now and hope that over time the status quo will become accepted.
    – quarague
    Jan 14 at 10:04
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    @sfxedit OP seems to think Russia should just give up and retreat right now. With the current level of support Russia won't make any major additional gains, see experience of the last 2 years. If NATO aid is significantly reduced in the future Russia may make gains. All the more reason for Russia to continue the war for now.
    – quarague
    Jan 14 at 10:10
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    @sfxedit Put in the explanation from comments and the link from RogerV
    – quarague
    Jan 14 at 10:32
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    Russia has managed to preserve the situation from the 1990-92 Transnistrian War up until 2024, and kept the 2014 Donbas War going low-key till early 2022 with minimal effort and few consequences, while Abkhazia is still ongoing since the 1992-93 war, so it seems likely Russia can handle a renewed stalemate in south and east Ukraine.
    – Stuart F
    Jan 15 at 10:27
15

The Soviet Union fought (and won) anti-partisan wars in the recovered territories after WWII. They have experience in that regard. But that is not the point.

Many Russian elites today define Russia as an imperialist, colonialist power in the tradition of the Czarist Empire. The population of Russia is overwhelmingly Russian, the territory is not. And on the rim of the territory are regions with their own, non-Russian ethnic identity. Yet since Czarist and Soviet times, both regions within present-day Russia and regions outside present-day Russia have significant Russian populations. Russia defines itself as the protector of these populations.

Ukraine is outside the borders of present-day Russia (at least outside the internationally recognized borders), yet Russia claims the Kievan Rus as one of the historical roots of their present-day state. (Compare how Germany and France both claimed the lineage of Charlemagne / Karl der Große, it took more than one millenium to resolve the disputes from his inheritance and to come to an accepted border.)

"Giving in" on the question of Ukraine can be seen as part of a domino theory. Ukraine is seen as "more Russian" than, say, Chechnya. If Ukraine can become independent from Moscow, why not Chechnya? Where does it end?

On top of that, like other authoritarian systems Putinism benefits from having foreign enemies to blame for any shortcomings of the system. Yet having such enemies and not fighting them would look weak. The current Russian government relies on the fight for the Czarist borders as a source of political legitimacy.

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  • @Obie2.0 Let's discuss this in chat here - chat.stackexchange.com/rooms/info/150886/the-new-cold-war - if you want to.
    – sfxedit
    Jan 15 at 8:12
  • Regarding France/Germany: What finally settled the dispute was borders becoming less important thanks to the EU. I have family living near those borders and a German/French couple - the simple fact that the border is now blurry, and an entire region that used to be disputed having a dual identity (most people on both sides of the border speak the other language, for example) is what most reliably eliminates any future conflict.
    – Tom
    Jan 15 at 11:05
  • 2
    @Tom Russians hoped that the same would happen past the dissolution of the USSR, but to their dismay the opposite has happened - the new governments kept putting new border checkpoints, nationalistic propaganda, limitations on language use and tariffs to fracture what was once a single country. Borders became more important in these 30 years and that's one of the things that have led to the war.
    – alamar
    Jan 16 at 19:28
11

What could Russia hope to gain in continuing the war?

Most obviously, it stands to gain continued possession of the territory it has taken, and it stands to gain the prestige and credibility of having fought the West and won.

Russia cannot now put the genie back in the bottle even if it wanted to. Hundreds of thousands have already died on both sides. The grievances for which it went to war remain.

And the indecisiveness of the issues now raised by conflict - including the collective West's ability to win smallish wars by raw military force - means both sides would only intend to use peace to re-arm and dig in for another round of war later. Ostensibly stopping the war wouldn't really give Russia any more rest than if it just ploughs on.

The cynic in me says Russia is engaged in a bit of sunk-cost thinking and using the war to kill off its minorities.

It's unclear to what extent any minorities are being explicitly killed off.

Ukrainian nationalists who have joined the armed forces are of course being killed in war, and arguably part of the point of war is to finally adjudicate upon ideologies by killing off enough of one side until those left standing think again about their politics.

But there is no indication that Russia intends to kill off the Ukrainian population in general, only that it intends to modify their politics, and absorb the people into its own wider population.

It would not have to cope with a significant sustained insurgency unless it maltreated the gained population. When conquered populations are fairly treated as citizens, they jettison old defeated ideas.

Insurgencies only sustain when there is continued discrimination and harsh treatment, or a non-absorption which preserves the conceptual existence of the defeated people and leaves them unmoored from the conquering state. Apartheid after African tribes were militarily defeated and destroyed is an example of this.

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    I think that by "killing off minorities" they mean other minorities from the federation, like Chechens, Yakut and so on.
    – Ivana
    Jan 15 at 21:52
  • 1
    @Ivana, is Russia actually intending to kill those minorities off, or just neutralising their Western-bankrolled separatist movements?
    – Steve
    Jan 16 at 10:33
  • @Steve why are you saying "Western-bankrolled" separatist movements? Do you have proof?
    – Mykola
    Jan 16 at 10:53
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    @Mykola, it's certainly straightforward to prove that the West engage in these activities in general, and that they seek to do so in secret - why should we think they are not doing so here? One can also consider the general interests and ideologies involved - liberals seek to weaken national states in general because the rich don't like being controlled by national states, and they especially seek to weaken the states of their enemies. Look at Bin Laden for a past example specifically involving the US and Russia (or the USSR as it was then).
    – Steve
    Jan 16 at 11:14
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    @Mykola, I'm saying Russia's intent is to neutralise separatist movements, not to "kill off minorities". If those minorities go to war to achieve separatism, there is bound to be some killing in the war, but I don't recall (for example) Chechens being killed off en masse once the war was concluded, only a strong local leader being installed who is loyal to Russia. If the purpose was to kill minorities, the stronger side wouldn't stop killing under any circumstances.
    – Steve
    Jan 16 at 14:58
9

As was the case with its war on Finland: to keep hammering away, relentlessly with its larger size and numbers, heedless of costs, until the other side buckles under. At bare minimum the conditions for that mean: to make the annexations that are now ingrained into its constitution - and have largely become facts on the ground, with a nearly unmovable front line - facts to be officially recognized by the other side and by international law.

It has put itself into a position that if it were to withdraw in violation of its own constitution then that would also destroy the legitimacy of the Russian Federation, itself. So, the only way for it to lose, now, is revolution and/or overthrow of the government. It's left itself with no other way out. The talking point that it has been issuing, almost from day one, that this was an existential war, is no longer propaganda, but a fact - a fact of its own making.

For that reason, it must now adopt the dictum: pursue it until you die. Whatever the cost.

An example of what might be considered a way out of its quagmire would be the recognition of the current de facto boundary, that the stalemate has settled upon, nearly unmoved for the better part of a year now, but at the cost of relenting on Ukraine becoming part of NATO and the European Union. It gets land, but loses the cause that led it to its action in the first place: that of reincorporating Ukraine, in its entirety, and possibly other parts of the former Soviet bloc, back into the fold.

The immediate predecessor of its 2022 action was, actually, not so much what led to its earlier 2014 action, but Ukraine's de facto 2018 withdrawal from the CIS. It was never fully a member, in the first place, but this hammered the final nail in the coffin of the whole enterprise. The CIS was the last remnant of the former USSR. This is also why Russia took the actions it did against the other marginal member states: Moldova and Georgia. Moldova is actually still in the CIS, by the way, except Moldova has backed further out of it in 2022. Georgia backed out of it in 2008.

With this slow-walk collapse, all hopes of restoring any semblance of the former order (except by force) have come unraveled.

Putin has, pretty much, styled himself as the Aurelian "restorer of the world" of the Third Rome, if not in word then by policy and deed, when the reality of the matter is that he is more akin to being the Justinian of the Third Rome, the "king" of "all the king's men" who could not put humpty dumpty back together, and the self-styled "restorer of the old order" whose legacy upon his death was (and shall again be) the almost immediate unraveling of everything he sought to accomplish, and the undermining of his whole life's mission, and reduction of all that once was into becoming nothing more than the glorified Rump State, that Russia - with a population barely as large as that of Japan, Mexico or the Philippines - already is.

Like the empire under Justinian, Russia and its ambitions on restoring the old order, will continue on as long as Putin remains alive - but only as long as this. Power has become so concentrated at the top, that a fatally critical dependency on that concentrated leadership has developed to such a degree, that when the top is lopped off by the inevitability of senescence, already clearly visible to see, there will be nothing but a vacuum left behind ... a dangerous vacuum that (like the Russian FM, himself, noted in one of the few assessments he got right) could lead to rise of several nuclear-armed Asian warlords in place of just one.

It bears in mind, that Russia's real existential threat comes from the East, not the West. The national PTSD trauma frequently cited of it is not with respect to its history in the 1940's, 1910's or 1810's, but (as I pointed out to the author of the above cite, who is now an acquaintance) is with respect to the far older history of its 300-year Beat Down and occupation from the East - a history that it is now slow-walking itself back into. The fear of that trauma (which I've seen surface a few times on Russian talk TV, e.g. "Russia’s defeat would resemble the Mongol yoke, with a modern technological twist") is its Achilles heel. It will be receptive to concessions, like the NATO + EU one pointed out above, because it needs to be rescued from its, now de facto, subjugation and vassalage to the East. But other than that, or the death of Putin (if even: noting the above remarks about a multiplicity of Asian nuclear-armed warlords), it will pursue its military action until it dies, for the reasons cited.

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    NATO and the EU has rejected Russia around 20 years ago. They were still considering accepting Russia's neighbours, which was a shitty deal for Russia: "You know, we're joining the EU, that means if we would ever have a war, it won't be with EU countries. Just saying."
    – alamar
    Jan 16 at 8:48
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    "It bears in mind, that Russia's real existential threat comes from the East, not the West." Nah, it's definitely from the West. Woke isn't a joke.
    – nick012000
    Jan 16 at 12:46
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    @Yakk Compared to whom? Erdogan? Orban? Before 2008 or even 2011, everything was all-rightey with democratic norms, yet it became apparent that Russia is not invited anywhere.
    – alamar
    Jan 16 at 15:24
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    @alamar I am talking about EU and NATO's rules for new members. They are written down and clear. Hungary had to make significant changes to successfully join EU and NATO; its later back-sliding points out a flaw in the system, in that there isn't a way to remove someone who back-slides easily, but the rules exist and Hungary did do the steps required. Have you looked at the politics of EU and NATO entry? They aren't quiet, they are all over the press in my experience.
    – Yakk
    Jan 16 at 15:29
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    "Membership requires that candidate country has achieved stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights, respect for and protection of minorities, the existence of a functioning market economy as well as the capacity to cope with competitive pressure and market forces within the Union" - the EU, for example. In practice, there is a fair amount of institutional work required for almost every country asking for entry into the EU. The rules for being kicked out of the EU are not nearly as stringent.
    – Yakk
    Jan 16 at 15:30
6

This is because you're operating under the impression that none of the people in the currently-occupied Ukrainian territories would rather live under Russia. That assumption is not true. Crimea is strongly pro-Russia. The status of Donetsk/Luhansk is less clear, but it's likely that a substantial number of people would rather be Russian than Ukrainian too.

If you were the Russian leadership, would you let them get reconquered by Ukraine and very probably imprisoned for treason? This affects everyone from the leaders of the rebel republics to ordinary citizens. There are many news sources about how people who simply stayed in the occupied territories are viewed with suspicion by the people who left. Do you leave them too? They'll inevitably view it as betrayal - do you ignore them?

Compare the outcry when the US pulled out of Afghanistan, apparently abandoning the Afghans who helped them against the Taliban. You could argue that Russia made its own bed by attacking in the first place, so they have to lie in it; but that applied too in Afghanistan.

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    <Crimea is strongly pro-Russia> citation needed. No one could verify this statement once the polite green people ("ih tam net") appeared.
    – fraxinus
    Jan 14 at 16:15
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    @alamar: Is there any indication that Ukrainians "hate the identity and the native tongue"? Ukraine elected a native Russian speaker as President, who hosted some of the biggest Russian TV shows in Russian state TV. Jan 14 at 19:29
  • 2
    "This is because you're operating under the impression that none of the people in the currently-occupied Ukrainian territories would rather live under Russia." Where does OP say that? "did you click the link?" That's not what the word "citation" means. "I'd be surprised if Crimeans weren't in favor of union with Russia by at least a 3-to-1 margin." So they went from a majority favoring Ukraine in 1991 to 75% favoring Russia? Jan 15 at 7:07
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    @Acccumulation Where does OP say that? OP doesn't say that, but it's implied - "could result in decades of insurgency conflict and sabotage from the captured population" - this only happens if the captured population would rather be Ukrainian. That's not what the word "citation" means. It tells you were I got the information from, which is what citation is. Maybe you have a different idea of what qualifies as a citation, but I'd call it pedantic. So they went from a majority favoring Ukraine in 1991 to 75% favoring Russia? Evidently so. Click the link.
    – Allure
    Jan 15 at 7:12
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    @Acccumulation Whatever the 1991 referendum was, it wasn't a vote to choose between Ukraine and Russia. It is disingenous to suggest that. It was a vote to choose between forming a country or keeping the undefined legal status. Still, around half of people in Crimea voted for the latter. Add to that Ukraine never catching up with 1990 GDP, of course people may change their mind.
    – alamar
    Jan 16 at 9:01
5

Russian nation will not forgive they current government the war that costed lots of lives of they own citizens, severed multiple important economic ties and initiated the "cancel culture" all over the Europe.

The situation looks similar to the Vietnam War (about 60 000 Americans kiĺled) that significantly impacted American politics, leading to the loss of power and influence for multiple key figures and groups. The growing anti-war movement contributed to decision of the president Lyndon B. Johnson not to seek re-election in 1968. V.Putin needs a crushing victory now not to end the same.

1
  • It's hard to say West-Russia animosity in the 90s and 2000s was worse than, say, Japanese-US or German-West animosity in 1945. Today, Germany and Japan are full members of the West. Animosity to Russia cost Romney political points (although wasn't the deciding factor) back in 2012. From the fall of the Soviet Union until ~2014, Americans did not have an overwhelmingly negative opinion of Russia. The Ukraine invasion in 2014 changed our opinion, it seems: news.gallup.com/poll/1642/….
    – bharring
    Jan 17 at 22:52
5

Russia considers itself a super-power and is generally recognized to be at least a regional power. Both of these include the ability to project your force and impose your will beyond your own borders.

As with Georgia and Chechnya before, Russia has an interest to excert some measure of control over its neighbours. It's been doing that for as long as it exists as a nation, most prominently during the Cold War where it aggressively surrounded itself with countries that were either friendly or entirely under their control.

Some of those countries or USSR states, such as the Baltic three or Poland, had good timing and distanced themselves from the USSR when it collapsed, immediately joining western alliances. They are gone for good and there is no realistic perspective for Russia to regain power over them. Ukraine didn't go that route, because (complex topic for another question).

But Russia views a Ukraine that's a part of the "Western Bloc" in about the same way that the USA views Cuba. It's a thorn in their side. You don't want an enemy's friend so close to your home.

Russia wants to win control and influence over its immediate neighbourhood. Whether you call that imperialism or self-interest or desire for safety is a question of your political views.

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    It's incorrect to mix Georgia and Chechnya. Georgia is a state that was separated during USSR collapse. Chechnya remained part of Russia. Jan 16 at 4:41
  • @EugeneMorozov in the context of this posting, I consider them the same - places that Russia wishes to have control over.
    – Tom
    Jan 16 at 7:37
  • 1
    I think it's a great oversimplification. If Russia wanted to have control over Georgia, what would prevent doing that in 2008? Besides, republics like Georgia were utterly useless to the USSR: they had the highest standards of living but contributed nothing to the USSR economy. Why would Russia want to take on such ballast on economy again? It's not like Chechnya is contributing much either (although I didn't verify unlike with Georgia), but they are much smaller and have more important location. Also they are brave soldiers which helps special military operation as well. Jan 16 at 9:04
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    @EugeneMorozov russia wnated control over parts of Georgia - and it got it after the 2008 war. After it it has de-facto control over parts of Georgia called Abkhasia and South Osetia. Also, saying those "republics like Georgia" did not contribute and are ballast is a lie and probably part of your current propaganda narrative - or I want a proof. You are saying Chechnya is not contributing - but it has reach oil deposites which russia is developing currently.
    – Mykola
    Jan 16 at 11:47
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    re consumption - you did not say "Georgia", you said republics like Georgia, plus, your screen shot is a set of random numbers with no documents supporting it, plus, 1990 is not the best year to pick as in 1990 the USSR was already breaking down, russia itself declared independece on 12 June 1990, which they are still celebrating today. Your screenshot has Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania, but they declared independence on May 4, 1990, May 8, 1990 and 11 March 1990. And Georgia declared it on November 14, which is 1,5 month before end of 1990.
    – Mykola
    Jan 16 at 14:25
3

A dozen answers, but I didn't see this mentioned: Russia/Puting laid claim to the entirety of Donetsk, Luhanks, and a couple of other regions. Not being able to full capture Donetsk is surely a sore for Putin, since taking (or liberating it, depending on your POV) was essentially one of the initial goals of the war. Remember that when they took [all of] Luhanks, they even celebrated on the ISS.

The capture of Marinka is surely even less significant than that of Bakhmut, but it points in the same direction: focus on taking all of Donetsk. Gerasimov said as much in Dec 2022. It's been slow going, but there's no reason to assume that goal has changed.

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    But why? What's so precious about this territories and will they really be able to keep them in the longer run? It's almost as if you say that they simply like the war. Jan 16 at 20:51
  • @NoDataDumpNoContribution: that would be a good separate Q. x Jan 17 at 8:05
1

It's a war of attrition. There will be no partisans.

The war in Ukraine between Russia and the West is effectively a war of attrition. Russia might be fighting much of the combined industrial production power of the West, but the one thing that the West hasn't given Ukraine is manpower.

Simply put, the thing to keep in mind with the Ukraine war as it currently stands isn't territory. It's the losses in manpower that both sides are inflicting on each other, and by all indications, Russia is winning that fight. While actual casualty numbers are hard to come by, Russia had one big round of recruitment not too long after the war started and has been pretty steady since, while Ukraine has recently started drafting elderly men, women, and the intellectually disabled.

When Russia defeats Ukraine, there won't be any partisans. Every Ukrainian both willing and capable of lifting a rifle will already be dead.

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    But there were many partisans in the captured cities. Why would this be different?
    – user48679
    Jan 16 at 15:01
  • Most of the less dependent sources I have give Russia side losses slightly (but not dramatically, like nytimes.com/2023/08/18/us/politics/…) bigger so please provide the source if you think very differently (Russian and Ukrainian sources of course are biased on the losses in the battle, so some other).
    – Stančikas
    Jan 16 at 16:02
  • @Stančikas Even if Russia is taking slightly more casualties than Ukraine, they have significantly more people so they can absorb those casualties more easily, while Ukraine is forced to draft elderly men, women, and the intellectually disabled
    – nick012000
    Jan 17 at 8:10
  • If you're speaking to partisan activity, shouldn't you cover current partisan activities and the filtration camps/genocidal acts Russia is using to minimize them?
    – bharring
    Jan 17 at 22:38
1

Well, if you can't close them, answer them...

capturing Ukraine or at least large population centres could result in decades of insurgency conflict

First one first. This is a February 2022 concern. You are entirely right in that assessment, which means that no one really understands what Putin was thinking.

It does not apply in the same way in January 2024, that ship has sailed: there is a time element to this question that needs to be considered.

I'm struggling to understand what Russia hopes to gain by continuing the war.

Continuing with this, today.
  • Putin does not "lose face". It's like the thief teaching a horse to sing. Stopping now admits failure. Not doing so defers that admission.

  • Putin has largely consolidated his power by having a state of war and the political repression it justifies.

Future considerations

Russia had a miserable 2022 and its main achievement in 2023 was not losing a defensive war against a much smaller enemy.

In 2024, thanks to the new-found tolerance of the US Republican party for Russia's activities (which I'd have considered pure sci fi if I had read about it in 1990...) as well Hungary's successful veto on Putin's behalf, Ukraine is finding itself starved of weapons. This was always Putin's gamble, that the West would grow weary of caring. That gamble may yet pay off.

What Russia can not achieve with its lackluster military it might yet get by facing an undersupplied adversary.

Back to the theme that the timeline matters: if Russia negotiated now, it would likely have to make all sorts of concessions because both sides are somewhat stalemated and Ukraine is neither willing to concede, nor forced to do so. Ukraine would demand Crimea back, for example. A political suicide, 10x over, for Putin, whose 2014 invasion rebounded his waning popularity.

2024 might very well work out a lot better for Russia and it would be in much stronger position if Mr. I-will-fix-it-in-24hrs Trump slinks back into the White House. Or if Orban manages to keep scuppering EU assistance. Russian defense industry is also expanding and its GDP is 9x the size of Ukraine's. These pressures on Ukraine will grow as in time, as long as they are not fixed. If/when Western aid resumes, Russia may have to reassess. For now, they'd be daft to: Viktor Orban and Mike Johnson are pulling Putin's chestnuts out of the fire.

On a purely realpolitik level: while both countries are suffering, Russia, even if it had a less bloody-minded Fuhrer, would be well-served to see if it can't improve its negotiating position in the coming year. Rather than cementing its defeat by stopping now.

3
  • "Russian defense industry is also expanding and its GDP is 9x the size of Ukraine's." This is not really that relevant. Ukraine gets also a lot of support militarily and financially. Military industries are expanding probably everywhere. My prediction for 2024 would be that it becomes even bloodier than before. Jan 16 at 20:57
  • @NoDataDumpNoContribution Tell that to War on the Rocks, which has been saying specifically that Russia's industry will give it an edge going forward, as, contrary to "Ukraine gets also a lot of support militarily", it hasn't, since October or so. Europe has not come close to fulfilling their 1M artillery shell promises, for example. There is a difference between wishing Ukraine the best. And being complacent. So, DV all you want, shooting messengers always works, no? Jan 16 at 21:24
  • Some answers assume that Russia fights the whole world, others that Ukraine is on itself and doomed. Both is wrong, if you ask me. It's incredibly difficult to really judge the military situation. To me 2023 looked largely like a stalemate. Jan 17 at 6:21
-2

Question: What could Russia hope to gain by continuing their war against Ukraine?

Answer: As far as I know, Russia's concerns are the following two issues:

  1. NATO expansion and
  2. Neo-Nazism (Ukrainian suppression of ethnic Russians)

The first one is explained in other posts. Perhaps most of the readers consider the second case as propaganda and an excuse to attack Ukraine, but that is serious and cannot be ignored. Putin has stated that the move was undertaken “to protect people” who have been “subjected to bullying and genocide,” and that Russia “will strive for the demilitarization and denazification of Ukraine.”


Additional resource:

According to the following cases, it’s true that Ukraine has a genuine Nazi problem:

Although I don't see anything wrong with the following resolution that US and EU voted against, I ignore it because of pressure of some users.

- UN General Assembly adopts Russian resolution against glorification of Nazism:

The United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution dubbed Combating Glorification of Nazism, Neo-Nazism and Other Practices that Contribute to Fuelling Contemporary Forms of Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, submitted by Russia.

The document was supported by 120 countries, while ten abstained and 50 voted against it. …

Ukrainian parliament Twitter page deletes its tweet & photo of Commander-in-Chief of Armed Forces of Ukraine propagating terrorist & Nazi collaborator Bandera. Bandera OUN & UPA collaborated with Nazis & perpetrated mass murder of Jews, Poles & Ukrainians during World War II.

Bandera (1909-1959) remains a highly controversial figure in Ukraine. Many Ukrainians hail him as a role model hero, or as a martyred liberation fighter, while other Ukrainians, particularly in the south and east, condemn him as a fascist, or Nazi collaborator, whose followers, called Banderites, were responsible for massacres of Polish and Jewish civilians during World War II. On 22 January 2010, Viktor Yushchenko, the then president of Ukraine, awarded Bandera the posthumous title of Hero of Ukraine, which was widely condemned. The award was subsequently annulled in 2011 given that Stepan Bandera was never a Ukrainian citizen.

So according to the Wikipedia, south and east of Ukraine have same view of Russia which strengthens Russia's claim about the crimes of neo-Nazi groups at least in the south and east of Ukraine.

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  • 2
    Could you pleas link us to UN page, including the text of this resolution? Your citation links to TASS. From that I find at press.un.org/en/2022/ga12483.doc.htm looks like Russia rejected one of its paragraphs. If it is their resolution, how could this be?
    – Stančikas
    Jan 16 at 11:26
  • 1
    @Stančikas I think the resolution in question is this.
    – C.F.G
    Jan 16 at 11:40
  • 1
    How does that resolution in any way allege or confirm that "it’s true that Ukraine has a genuine Nazi problem"?
    – jcaron
    Jan 16 at 12:26
  • 3
    Why is this answer downvoted? So funny to see the "western" propaganda to work. If you say something which doesn't fit into the current mainstream ways of thinking ("Russia bad", "terrorist state", etc), you are immediately suppressed. Jan 16 at 12:26
  • 5
    The answer is downvoted because, how I read now, the text of the resolution against glorification of Nazism does not mention Ukraine, at all. It simply condemns Nazism, but what could be good about Nazism? Of course should be condemned. I see this more like a trick, using the resolution as a supporting evidence for what it is not.
    – Stančikas
    Jan 16 at 13:01
-3

I suppose you're asking for a potential read on Russia's current operational plan; here's mine. I'm sure it's totally crazy, but it'll make for a good read and a bit of fun.

Let us assume for a moment that Mutually Assured Destruction is indeed assured. For amusement's sake, under a fictional doctrine, one could therefore say that all nuclear weapons are completely useless as nobody in their right mind would launch one for fear of total retaliation.

Let us also assume that Russia has an expansionary policy with respect to its territories.

The assumptions of my theory are thus;

  • A nuclear deterrent is no deterrent to a conventional war. (Nobody will launch, so nuclear-armed powers can just fight a conventional war anyway, so long as it is not a direct fight.) We have precedent for this in proxy wars in the Middle East.
  • Conventional arms are therefore what is preventing an invasion of Europe, beyond Ukraine, rather than the nuclear deterrent. We have evidence existing NATO military doctrine agrees with this, by the provision of tanks and fighter aircraft from NATO nations to support the Ukrainian army.
  • Conventional arms support in Europe to counter Russia is largely driven by NATO.
  • NATO doctrine, funding, and arms are largely driven by the USA, whose withdrawal would probably fatally cripple NATO.

I observe that in 2019 the stated doctrine of the Trump administration was to withdraw from NATO (please search the web for evidence to this fact). This would remove funding for conventional arms support in Europe from the USA.

In a case where territorial expansion is desired by Russia and military forces are already engaged, one possible intent may be to hold the war in a "intermediate state" until such a time as US policy favors arms or support reductions such as those indicated by the Trump doctrine, before launching into a wider-scale annexation.

Certainly, if I were Russia, I would want to wait until the result of the 2024 US General Election before executing any expansionary operational plan.

Certainly if I were American, I would think very carefully before agreeing that NATO support is too expensive.

1
  • Please improve your answer by including references to support your statements. Thanks.
    – sfxedit
    Jan 16 at 12:35

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