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Vladimir Putin’s Forever War in Ukraine

After almost three months of humanitarian catastrophe, an end to Russia’s war in Ukraine appears to be farther away than ever. Russia did not achieve the quick victory that Kremlin planners seem to have expected back in February, and yet Vladimir Putin shows no sign of abandoning his original aims to “demilitarize” and “denazify” Ukraine. Ukraine’s armed forces, supported by material aid from the West and moral support from a domestic population that increasingly sees this conflict as an existential struggle, remain highly motivated to defend their state from outside aggression. It is the perfect recipe for a fierce stalemate.

“Russia probably does not have sufficient manpower to mount offensives against large cities,” says Nikolai Topornin, an international relations professor at a major Moscow university and a reservist officer in an artillery corps. “Maybe Russia can take some of the smaller towns in the Donetsk and Lugansk region — Kramatorsk, Severodonetsk, Sloviansk — but the idea that it will be possible to occupy regional centers like Dnipro or Zaporizhia is unrealistic given the current balance of forces.”

Despite the Russian president’s claims at the May 9 military parade that Russia was fighting to bring about “a world with no place for executioners, thugs, and nazis,” the Russian political leadership has not mobilized its population for war. Russia’s official designation of its actions in Ukraine as a “special military operation” means that conscripts cannot be sent into battle on Ukrainian soil. Even if the Kremlin officially declares war in the coming days, it would still take weeks to outfit and retrain reservist call-ups and months to get the next batch of conscripts ready for actual combat.

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