West vs. Russia: Is Putin Winning?

Former President George W. Bush thought he saw a piece of “his soul.” Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair believed he deserved a place at the “head table,” and Emmanuel Macron invited him to a long-hour debate at the summer residence of French presidents. After more than 24 years in power in Russia, Western leaders understand Vladimir Putin's strategy and protect Moscow's place as an international partner.

However, this approach crumbled with the invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, pushing past images of the Russian leader, all smiles in August 2019, flowers for Brigitte Macron, Fort de Breconcon, where French heads of state rest for the summer.

In the early months of the conflict, the Russian military failed to capture Ukrainian cities that were considered blitzkriegs that winter. But the Kremlin strongman is now showing growing satisfaction that his troops are in control of large swathes of southern and eastern Ukraine after neutralizing a much-anticipated Ukrainian counteroffensive this summer. The Crimean Peninsula was annexed in 2014, and so are Russia's hands.

“President Putin is convinced that he can hold out longer than the West. So it's up to us to show the determination to prove him wrong,” a senior Western official warned at a recent meeting. , on condition of anonymity.

Major support for Ukraine

The Russian president has been increasingly confident in recent weeks, insisting, for example, that Ukraine has “no future” in December or, more recently, in an interview broadcast Thursday with controversial American host Tucker Carlson that Russia's strategic defeat is “impossible.” By definition.”

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”Vladimir Putin chose the perfect date for this interview. It is very good…”

Western leaders say Russian defeat in Ukraine is the only option or Mr. Like Macron, they responded that Europe's priority was “not to let Russia win.”

However, many analysts believe that the situation can only change if the West increases its support for Ukraine, which is running out of ammunition soon. But this support is not guaranteed at a time when US elected officials are divided over a new aid program, when Donald Trump looks likely to win this year's US election, and when the Ukrainian cause further divides Europe.

“Both sides are scrambling to rebuild their offensive capabilities. If Western funds are not released, Russia will gain an advantage one way or another, and it will have the opportunity to advance further,” explains AFP Andrea Kendall Taylor, researcher. New American Defense Center in Washington. “The dynamic has changed,” this analyst said, stressing that “from Putin's point of view, 2024 is a critical year.”

Russian “window of opportunity”

Ukraine is particularly concerned about Donald Trump's second term as president in 2023, who has declared that he wants to “resolve this war in one day, in 24 hours” if re-elected. Far-right parties more flexible toward Russia are also growing in France and Germany.

So 2024 represents a “window of opportunity” for Vladimir Putin to exploit the West's weaknesses, writes Tatiana Stanovaya, founder of the R. Politik consultancy. The Russian leader is specifically “banking on a temporary cap on Western military support, with ammunition production expected to accelerate only in early 2025,” he wrote on his Telegram channel.

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“The electoral process in the US will lead to a less assertive US strategy to support Kiev, and it is unlikely that the EU, beset by internal disagreements, will compensate this support on its own,” he adds.

For Westerners, however, reason for optimism lies in Russia's internal weaknesses, an economy reeling from the war, a declining population, and the first signs of public opinion weariness to the conflict. Russian and Western sources estimate human losses at 350,000 killed or wounded on the Russian side.

“Maintaining internal stability absorbs much of Putin's bandwidth,” points out Tara Massicot, a researcher at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, who sees “overconfidence” in the current tone of Russian officials.

But without significant Western support, “I don't know what negotiating position the Ukrainians would be in. It would be terrible,” he analyzed.

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