Even if peace talks begin to stall, a solution to the brutal war in Ukraine is far from over.
The main cities of Ukraine are faltering. The general public, including children, die from cuts and glass injuries, exposure and thirst.
At the same time, Ukraine’s recession and the unified global reaction are that with Russia’s rapid victory, the war has not ended as many expected.
As a scholar who has studied Soviet and post-Soviet politics for the past three decades, I see three major obstacles to any movement towards resolution.
Obstacles to peace
First, Putin believes that the net benefits of his war in Ukraine will outweigh the costs. When it became clear that his army was fighting to capture Kharkiv, Kiev and other regional capitals, he recently calmed down his intentions, but he is still fighting – meaning he still wants to win.
Second, given intelligence reports that he may have received false information, he may be reluctant to negotiate until he believes he knows what is really going on.
Finally, he deeply believes that accepting Ukraine as a member of NATO and the European Union poses an existential threat to his tenure and his legacy.
In other words, as other parts of the world insist that Putin’s war in Ukraine is an act of aggression under international law, Putin is designing his “special military operation” as a formal defense war. To protect the growing Western influence and the rights of Russians and Russian-speakers in the Donbass region of Ukraine.
Putin and the company recognize the victims of this conflict and provide for the Russian people in this way.
Moreover, Putin seems to have domestic support. A recent Levada poll shows that his approval rating has risen from 71% to 83% in February since the invasion of Ukraine. This means that Putin may have time to control the news and stories about the war.
Will the barriers bite?
Western nations have relied on sanctions to force Putin to the negotiating table.
But obstacles take time to hurt. Time is a luxury that Ukraine does not have, as every day its citizens are dying of thirst, exposure and malnutrition.
Obstacles are also blinding. They affect not only leaders but also innocent civilians. The harm continues even after the target is abandoned, reinforcing the story that Russia is being targeted here by the West.
What’s more, Russia has powerful incentives to dig in and continue to fight.
First, the information war currently being waged in Ukraine, Russia and around the world is critical to a long-term resolution that is as acceptable as a physical war. War is a number of things, including performance determined by a global audience. If the Russians learn the truth, Putin’s leadership could be called into question, as Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev did after the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan in 1989.
Putin’s actions show that he is aware of the importance of his control over information in order to win the war. This is why he shut down the independent media, intimidated foreign journalists and restricted what Russians could read and watch. His government has long prepared ordinary Russians for the wrath and hurtful barriers of foreigners. So even if there is no complete control over the story, it will make Russians skeptical about the leaks that claim Russia is waging war illegally.
It is true that Putin’s efforts to control the story will be difficult to maintain indefinitely. Images of burned-out apartment buildings, civilian casualties and refugees fleeing their homes are now seen worldwide every day. Moreover, as the Russian military sees an increasing number of its members, mothers, fathers, wives, husbands, daughters and sons of fallen soldiers will be asked to find out if their loved ones serving in Ukraine are safe.
The important question now is whether Putin’s 20-year plan to turn Russia back to a dictatorial past, with him at the helm, or war will lead to his political downfall.
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At the heart of it all is Putin’s relationship with the Russians, not how he interacts with the West. Outsiders tend to evaluate Putin and his intentions by how his actions affect us. For him, his domestic audience is very important. In other words, as long as he wins the information war in Russia, his tenure and immense wealth will be safe. The main concern is not how the West views him.
The power of dictatorial rule
Putin has already been in power longer than his contemporary US and NATO rivals. It is likely to continue in power by rigging elections and suppressing opposition.
But in a democracy the leaders change. With the change of leadership may come changes in policies that are favorable to Putin. For example, in two years, a new president may come to the United States. Putin will only have to wait until January 2025 in the hope of a more favorable treatment.
Throughout his two-decade tenure as head of state of Russia, Putin has linked his personal leadership with the fate of Russia. I do not believe he is likely to accept peace without guaranteeing Russia’s right to interfere in Ukraine’s sovereignty. Anything less than restructuring the Soviet “spheres of influence” would result in him losing his status in the international arena and losing considerable popularity domestically, especially in light of the costs that Russian citizens had already paid and could pay. In the future.
But is the West willing to pay the price to avert an escalating war in Europe?
This article was republished from The Conversation, a non-profit news site dedicated to sharing the opinions of academics. Written by: Monica Duffy Taft, Tufts University.
Monica Duffy Taft does not work, consult, hold shares or receive funding from any of the companies or organizations that benefit from this article, and does not publish relevant links beyond their academic appointment.