Vladimir Putin has shattered his country’s future with the war in Ukraine. But for what reason? And what are the concrete consequences for Russia?
“Putin is Russia – without Putin there is no Russia” said in 2014 Vjačeslav Volodin, then Putin’s deputy chief of staff. Even then, Putin’s will and work were equated with the Russian state.
Whatever Putin wants, serve the country and its interests. But are Putin’s goals really congruent with Russia’s enlightened interests? Isn’t there rather a contradiction between the two in Putin’s war of aggression against Ukraine?
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The Russian President has justified the war against Ukraine with the absurd accusation that there is a genocide against ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine’s Donbass region. In a perpetrator-victim reversal, he also said that Ukraine posed a security threat to Russia, which his country had to counter. That, too, was largely an absurd accusation.
Rather, Putin was and is motivated by a historical revanchism that has not come to terms with the breakup of the Soviet Union and wants to reverse it. In Putin’s historical revisionist view, Ukraine has no right to state independence; the Ukrainians are not even a people of their own.
It is this revisionist interpretation of history that led Putin to start this war. Forcing Ukraine back into Russian orbit is the ultimate goal. Territorial conquests in Ukraine, on the other hand, are of secondary importance.
Gerhard Mangott is a professor of political science with a special focus on international relations and security in the post-Soviet space. He teaches at the Institute for Political Science in Innsbruck and is a lecturer at the Diplomatic Academy in Vienna
At the moment it is impossible to say what the outcome of this war will be. In the best possible scenario for Russia, the areas conquered so far can be held militarily and annexed by Russia. Putin would thus take over regions that had been severely devastated by war and expand Russia’s territory. But what is the price for this profit, which is by no means certain at the moment?
With this war, Russia has chosen to become poorer. In the weeks leading up to the war, Western countries had spoken very clearly and publicly about the sanctions that would be imposed on Russia if it invaded Ukraine. These threats of sanctions did not have a deterrent effect. Russia attacked anyway.
But the EU and the USA have decided on massive sanctions against Russia with astonishing unity so far. Even if these sanctions are unlikely to force Putin to stop hostilities in Ukraine, they are becoming more of a punitive measure for Russia’s breach of international law with each passing month.
Russia is confronted with embargoes and export bans and can no longer import many western product groups, especially high technology. Hundreds of Western companies have left the Russian market. The national economy will probably collapse by at least 12 percent this year; it would be even more if the EU decided to impose a gas embargo on Russia. Probable additional sanctions by the EU could almost completely decouple Russia economically from the West. Voices calling for rapprochement through economic interdependence have fallen silent.
Russia has become politically isolated from the West; Putin is being treated as a leper, and normalization of relations with Russia will not happen as long as Putin stays in power. Russia will become even more dependent on China as it confronts the West. The expectation that China would be willing to mitigate the effects of sanctions against Russia is illusory.
Militarily, Russia has suffered a great loss of reputation; conventional forces appear to have undergone only limited modernization. Finally – thousands of highly qualified Russians have left their country. This brain drain will weaken the Russian economy in the long term.
Despite all these predictable outrageous costs, Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine. The interests of the country and its people have been undermined by the revanchism of Putin and his security guards. The already territorially largest country in the world may be a bit bigger. However, Russia will be set back decades in its economic, technological and social development.
Russia without Putin would be a stronger, more respected country.