President Vladimir Putin clearly expected a quick victory in Ukraine that would seal his legacy as a great Russian leader. Instead, the war, which has now dragged on for more than a year, has jeopardized his standing.
The military mobilization last fall of some 300,000 Russians and recent Ukrainian drone strikes on targets within Russia have made the war real to more Russians.
“The people are getting tired, and Putin knows that a protracted war cannot be popular,” says Abbas Gallyamov, a political scientist who once wrote speeches for Putin but has broken with him.
The Russian government hasn’t been open with the public about casualties, but in January, American officials estimated the number of killed and wounded Russians at about 200,000.
“For years, they were told that the Russian army was the strongest and had miracle weapons, but that myth has evaporated,” Lev Gudkov, a pollster at the Levada Center in Moscow, recently told Der Spiegel magazine.
Despite these signs of trouble, Andrew Weiss, a Russia expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, warns that the government’s propaganda has been effective and most Russians remain willing to accept Putin’s leadership.
“There is no credible indication that Putin is going to pass from the scene anytime soon,” Weiss says. “Putin is really good at authoritarianism. He’s been doing this 20 years, and he knows how to stay in power.”