January 2, 2024

Institute for the Study of War: Putin declares Russia’s war in Ukraine is to defeat the “West” 

Institute for the Study of War

Russian President Vladimir Putin identified the West as Russia’s “enemy” and implied that Russia is fighting in Ukraine in order to defeat the West. Putin responded to a Russian serviceman’s question about Western aid to Ukraine during a meeting at a military hospital in Moscow Oblast on January 1, stating that Russia’s issue is not necessarily that the West is aiding Ukraine, but rather that the West is Russia’s “enemy.” Putin added that “Ukraine by itself is not an enemy for [Russia],” but that Western-based actors “who want to destroy Russian statehood” and achieve the “strategic defeat of Russia on the battlefield” are Russia’s enemies. Putin claimed that Western elites are trying to break Russia into five parts and are trying to do so using Ukraine, but that the situation on the frontlines is changing and that Russia will “deal with the [West] faster” than the West can deal with Russia on the battlefields in Ukraine. Putin added that the problem is not in Western aid deliveries to Ukraine and noted that Ukraine has already been “completely destroyed,” that there is “nothing left” of the country, and that it “exists only on handouts.”

Putin implied that Russia is fighting an existential war against the West in Ukraine and noted that Western rhetoric has recently refocused on how to “quickly end the conflict.” This phrasing implies that Putin sees a conflict and potential negotiations between Russia and the West – not a conflict and potential negotiations between Russia and Ukraine. Putin added that Russia also wants to end the Russia-West conflict but only on the Kremlin’s terms and emphasized that Russia will not give up its positions. Putin does not view Ukraine as an independent actor and is thus portraying his full-scale invasion of Ukraine as a confrontation between Russian and West – deliberately misrepresenting the reality that Russia invaded Ukraine to destroy Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Putin’s emphasis on changing narratives in the West may indicate that he will perceive and/or frame any wavering in Western support for Ukraine and any Ukrainian defeats on the battlefield as a Russian victory in this supposed Russian-Western confrontation.

Key Takeaways:

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin identified the West as Russia’s “enemy” and implied that Russia is fighting in Ukraine in order to defeat the West. 
  • Putin’s framing of his war in Ukraine as a Russian struggle against the West – and not Ukraine – indicates that he does not intend to negotiate in good faith with Ukraine and is setting information conditions aimed at convincing the West to betray Ukraine through negotiations.
  • Putin may be expanding his war aims in Ukraine to include confrontation with the West in an effort to set conditions for permanent Russian military buildup and to justify high battlefield sacrifices.
  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky stressed Ukraine’s need for urgent Western support to protect both Ukraine and the rest of Europe in an interview with the Economist published on January 1.
  • Russian forces conducted another massive series of drone and missile strikes against deep rear areas in Ukraine between December 31 and January 2, one of which used a strike package similar to that used on December 29, and to which Ukrainian forces appear to be adapting.
  • Western provision of air defense systems and missiles to Ukraine remains crucial for Ukraine as Russian forces will likely attempt to adapt to Ukrainian air defense capabilities.
  • Russian officials publicly defined the goals for Russia’s 2024 chairmanship of both BRICS and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), articulating how the Kremlin may intend to use these organizations to fulfill its foreign policy objectives this year.
  • The Norwegian government announced on January 1 that it is permitting Norwegian defense companies to sell weapons and defense-related products directly to the Ukrainian government.
  • The Turkish government announced on January 2 that it will not allow the United Kingdom (UK) to transport two mine hunting ships to Ukraine via the Turkish Straits “as long as the war continues.”
  • Russian society continues to reckon with the impacts of increasing anti-migrant sentiment amid Russian authorities’ ongoing efforts to systematically disenfranchise migrant communities within Russia.
  • Russian forces made marginal confirmed advances along the Svatove-Kreminna line, northwest and southwest of Bakhmut, northwest of Avdiivka, and southwest of Donetsk City.
  • The Russian military command may be seeking avenues to re-pardon recidivists who previously fought in the war in Ukraine in an apparent effort to maintain Russia’s ability to leverage convict recruits as a manpower resource.
  • Russian occupation authorities are restricting and likely monitoring internet communications ahead of the March 2024 presidential elections.
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