As Russia-Ukraine war nears 2-year mark, Putin says no peace until goals are achieved
ROB SCHMITZ, HOST:
The closing days of 2023, some major aerial assaults from both sides of the war in Ukraine. Russian drones and missiles pounded the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv. Moscow said it was retaliating after Ukraine struck the Russian border city of Belgorod, where at least 24 people were killed. In mid-December, Russian President Vladimir Putin declared that there will be no peace in Ukraine until Russia achieves its goals. For more insight on what's to come, Nina Khrushcheva joins me now. She's professor of international affairs at The New School. Hello, Nina.
NINA KHRUSHCHEVA: Hi.
SCHMITZ: So, Nina, the war will soon enter its third year. What do you think will be Putin's next steps in this war and beyond that?
KHRUSHCHEVA: Well, the next step in this war is going to be war, because Putin, as he said, he's going to achieve all his goals, and he will achieve all these goals. It has been going on for almost two years. And so far, he hasn't lost. So the fact that he hasn't lost suggests to him that eventually he's going to win. So he's going to fight for as long as it takes, especially because there's elections, not elections. He's going to become president again next March for another six years. So he has all the time in the world as long as he is well.
SCHMITZ: Can Russia's military handle a prolonged war like that, like you're framing?
KHRUSHCHEVA: Well, it has been. I mean, it's - interestingly enough, for the first half year, it was a lot of discombobulation. It didn't seem that Russia could handle it, although it did push through somewhat. But now it has fixed its military production. It's actually increased. It has a lot of volunteer fighters that are paid a lot of money to go to Ukraine. So it's about 600,000 people now in the front, more than that. And they're still signing up because once again, for them, it's their life income. And so they figured out that formula that can last for, I don't know, another year, two years, even three years, unless something else happens, because war is something that is incredibly unpredictable.
SCHMITZ: So when this war began, Western countries imposed sanctions on Russia. What impact have they had?
KHRUSHCHEVA: Well, that was sort of an interesting thing because the goal was - of the sanctions - to change Russia's behavior, to change Putin's behavior. In fact, it didn't change Putin's behavior. It actually exasperated it because these blanket sanctions suggested that he was saying that the West is out to get us. In fact, many Russians kind of buy this kind of rhetoric because it did destroy or hampered Russian life. And sort of there's a lot of animosity coming towards all Russia, all the Russians. And so in some ways it actually worked for Putin. He's a very lucky man in this because even the horrible environments, he's able to turn somehow - to a degree - in his favor. So he's not unpopular. I would say 60% of people realistically support Putin.
SCHMITZ: So I'm curious, what do you think is Putin's vision for Russia, you know, as it becomes more isolated from the West, you know, on the world stage?
KHRUSHCHEVA: It's - you know, it's a billion-billion-dollar question because the vision now, it's a unique civilization that as long as we, as long as the world doesn't - or the West doesn't understand it, we're just going to show the world that we are - we, the Russians, are so special and unique. And that's his goal. His goal is to say, we've been disregarded, Russia has been disregarded. We are not listened to, Russia has not been listened to. And so now we make them. And so that's his goal. His goal is to say, OK, Russia, we hear you. We know you can do a lot of damage. So what do you propose? And that's kind of fight for respect that he thinks Russia has never got in the last 30 years since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.
SCHMITZ: And I'm wondering how you see what's happening now in Gaza and how this could influence his sort of chess game that he's playing here. Like, you know, as the United States gets more and more heat for its role in the Gaza conflict, does Putin see an opportunity to bolster maybe, you know, Russia's image on the world stage?
KHRUSHCHEVA: And he has seen it, and he has done it. And that's - I mean, what I'm saying, he's an incredibly lucky man because, you know, we saw today the first New Year Day demonstrations in Turkey against kind of Western support in - of Israel, because Israel is genocidal towards Palestinians. And so that has been Putin's argument, is that the Western colonial powers, they treat the non - the lesser powers, so to speak, with disregard. And so it actually kind of fits into his rhetoric. And a lot of those who may have thought that or could become to - could come to the Western side now actually may side with Putin to some degree on that.
SCHMITZ: That's Nina Khrushcheva, professor of international affairs at The New School. Nina, thank you.
KHRUSHCHEVA: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
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