March 20, 2024

Institute for the Study of War: Ukrainian drones hit Russian air based in Saratov Region

Institute for the Study of War

Several Russian financial, economic, and military indicators suggest that Russia is preparing for a large-scale conventional conflict with NATO, not imminently but likely on a shorter timeline than what some Western analysts have initially posited. Russian President Vladimir Putin met with the leaders of Russian State Duma factions on March 19 and outlined priorities for his fifth presidential term. Putin emphasized the importance of developing the Russian economy and expanding the social programs announced in his February 29 address to the Federation Council. Putin claimed on March 19 that he personally witnessed how corporate interests fueled appointments to legislative bodies while he was working in Leningrad and later St Petersburg, although he himself likely made substantial commissions from illegally endorsed contracts and licenses while serving as St. Petersburg Deputy Mayor and Head of Committee. Putin urged the Russian State Duma faction leaders to act in the interest of the state instead of corporations or parties and emphasized the importance of appointing people based on skill and competence. Putin similarly criticized the Russian “elite” in his February 29 Federation Council address by claiming that the individuals who “lined their pockets” in the 1990s are not the elite, but that the “real elite” are workers and military servicemen who proved their loyalty to Russia.

Putin is likely attempting to set conditions to stabilize Russia’s long-term financial position at a higher level of government expenditure and is signaling that Russia’s long-term financial stability will require imposing at least some pain on some wealthy industrialist siloviki (Russian strongmen with political influence). Putin likely understands that financial crackdowns against industrialist siloviki could risk the political rapport Putin has built with them and is trying to mitigate those consequences. Russia does not appear to be facing imminent financial crisis, and increased military spending has been the most significant change in Russian budgetary policy, so efforts to secure Russia’s financial future are much more likely intended to set long-term conditions than to address immediate financial concerns. Russia continues efforts to circumvent international sanctions, and the International Monetary Fund assessed that Russia’s GDP will grow by 2.6 percent in 2024 and reported that Russia’s GDP grew faster than all Group of Seven (G7) countries’ economies in 2023.

Key Takeaways:



  • Several Russian financial, economic, and military indicators suggest that Russia is preparing for a large-scale conventional conflict with NATO, not imminently but likely on a shorter timeline than what some Western analysts have initially posited.
  • The Russian military continues to undertake structural reforms to simultaneously support the war in Ukraine while expanding Russia’s conventional capabilities in the long term in preparation for a potential future large-scale conflict with NATO.
  • GUR reportedly conducted a drone strike against a Russian air base in Saratov Oblast on March 20 amid further indications that Ukrainian drone strikes within Russia are achieving limited asymmetric effects against Russian military assets and economic output.
  • Kremlin-affiliated actors in the pro-Russian Moldovan autonomous region of Gagauzia are invoking narratives that mirror previous Russian claims about Ukraine in the years leading up to Russia’s 2022 full-scale invasion of Ukraine, likely as part of the Kremlin’s wider hybrid efforts to destabilize Moldova.
  • Russian forces recently made confirmed advances near Kreminna and Donetsk City on March 20.
  • The Russian military continues to train drone operators for operations in Ukraine.

For full report:   https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-march-20-2024

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