While Ukraine is taking advantage of Russia’s weak military, Putin is unlikely to change course soon
Dr. Natasha Lindstaedt is a Professor at the Department of Government and the Faculty Dean Undergraduate (Social Sciences) at Essex University. Her research interests include authoritarian regimes, international development, and comparative politics. Among her recent books are Democracies and Authoritarian Regimes. Oxford University Press (with Andrea-Kendall Taylor and Erica Frantz); Democratic Decay and Authoritarian Resurgence. Bristol University Press; and Human Security in Disease and Disaster. Routledge.
What is your view on the latest developments in Ukraine?
Ukraine is continuing to make gains because the Russian military has low morale, is poorly equipped, fed, and trained, has no motivation or direction and the command structure is too rigid. In a best-case scenario for Russia, they are able to hold on to some of the territories in the Donbas. But they will continue to face an insurgency, even if they are able to manage to hold onto some of the territory. Russia is already facing attacks on territory that it once had control over, such as the bridge connecting Crimea to the Russian mainland—after it was damaged due to an explosion. As these types of attacks continue, it will become harder to sell the idea that the war is going well to the Russian public and elites; Russia will also struggle more to maintain the war effort. This will be a long slog ahead for both countries, as I don’t see Putin backing down any time soon. He will be trying to figure out ways to save face.
Do you think Putin might proceed with using tactical nuclear weapons? Or is he just bluffing?
At the moment, I think he is still bluffing. He is running out of options, and things are not going well. The recent mobilization of 300,000 troops means he is still going to use conventional means. He is also resorting to strikes on civilians. Conventional weapons can wreak more havoc on civilians without the risk of pulling the West into the war. However, if the situation deteriorates and he feels he has no choice for his political survival, I would not put it passed him.
Is there a possibility of a Russian domestic revolution and the arrival of a democratic regime due to failures in war and high casualties? Or even if Putin is gone, will there be another person who will continue things as usual?
There is little chance of domestic revolution in Russia; and even less chance of a democracy replacing Putin. The end of Putin, if it ever happens, will come through being ousted by political or military elites. This will then be replaced by another similarly run dictatorship. If a new person takes over, that might be the best chance for some negotiation, but I don't see Ukraine willing to make any concessions after what they have been through.
What do you think are the highest risks for Ukraine right now, and how can Ukrainian leadership cope with them?
Ukraine will be dealing with a tough winter; they need to continuously be armed with the types of missiles that have been effective against the Russians (rocket launchers, anti-aircraft weapons, anti-tank weapons, attack drones, helicopters, unmanned aerial systems, radar systems, and armoured and tactical vehicles).
The leadership has been doing an excellent job of galvanizing much of the international community behind Ukraine and maintaining morale. But much of Ukraine’s infrastructure has been destroyed, as have people’s lives and homes. There are issues with food supply, and there are millions that have been displaced. These are massive challenges that must be dealt with while managing an amoral aggressor, that continues to commit atrocities and war crimes.