When Russia invaded Ukraine, it seemed a foregone conclusion that Russia would have its way. A Goliath pushing around a little nation. However, Ukraine’s resistance has been surprisingly effective, and Russia is revealing the limits of its power.
Russia rebounded after the cold war, and it again considered a “super power” in the world. Russia occupies a huge portion of the map. However, their population is less than 150 million. Most Russians have a standard of living that would be considered poverty in the United States. Russia’s export economy has not been very diverse, even before the embargoes.
So when Russia committed 150,000 troops to the invasion, and a third of them were lost, it has been difficult for them to replace those troops. Those troops were lost in large part because they were under-equipped from the start, and their heavy equipment losses only make that problem worse. Russians at home are increasingly worried about losing their young men to the war.
Putin has been attempting to control public opinion and the truth about the war. To some extent, he has been successful, as the majority of the population believes the lie about Nazis in Ukraine. However, it seems unlikely that the truth can be contained forever. More and more Russian figures are protesting the war, often by resigning. More and more western enterprises are pulling out of Russia.
I see a few dangers for Russia.
One is simply, what if Russia loses the war? How could Putin’s popularity survive that?
Another is, what is public opinion shifts and Putin loses his grip on the populace? He could be taken out of power, and even handed over to world courts for prosecution. Between Russian casualties, economic hardships brought about by the sanctions, and Russians witnessing the truth seen on western media, this seems like an increasingly likely outcome.
Another danger has to do with Russia’s troop movements. Reducing troop levels in marginally contained areas like the Caucasus risk new uprisings on those fringes. If Russia is struggling to keep up in Ukraine, then they certainly can’t fight a war on two fronts. An uprising now would likely result in Russia losing in both arenas.
Russia has far more to lose than simply the war in Ukraine. This war could be the end of Putin’s regime or even the Russian Federation itself.