Widget not in any sidebars
But appearances can be deceptive. After all, many of the army’s initial failures stemmed from Mr. Putin’s misplaced assumption that the war would be short and sharp: Russian troops were simply not prepared or organized for a serious campaign. Yet in recent weeks, as Russia revised its war aims to focus on the Donbas in Ukraine’s east, Russian forces have adapted and begun correcting some of their earlier incompetence. Russia has been making incremental gains, revealing Ukraine’s military position to be precarious in some areas.
What’s more, the war in Ukraine has done little to affect Russia’s more destructive military capabilities. It isn’t modernized Soviet tanks or Russia’s dated air force that most concern the United States and NATO; it’s Russia’s submarines, integrated air and missile systems, electronic warfare, antisatellite systems and diverse nuclear arsenal. These capabilities, which have gone almost completely untouched during the war, remain available to the Kremlin.
Russia is certainly suffering economically, but it will take many months for the brunt of sanctions, export controls and an attempted European move away from Russian energy to be felt by its citizens. For now, the Russian government’s coffers remain full: Its monthly exports, according to estimates, rose more than 60 percent in April compared to a year ago. Though dependent on the sale of oil and gas — often discounted and susceptible to European sanctions — that amounts to a vital source of income. Over time, Moscow may adapt.
In any case, the Russian military will be spared the full effect of economic contraction. Even in straitened times, the Kremlin has a habit of spending on arms rather than people: We can be sure that it won’t be the military budget that Mr. Putin cuts first. And though export controls will make it difficult for the country to produce weapons that rely on imported components, Russia’s defense industry has spent years adapting and finding ways to work around sanctions.
Internationally, too, Russia is not as isolated as we like to think. The United States and Europe have staged a united response to Russia’s invasion, and NATO, re-energized, will surely soon welcome Finland and Sweden to its ranks. Yet many regionally significant countries, such as India and South Africa, have longstanding ties to Russia that they are not currently prepared to abandon. Other countries, worried that economic sanctions will raise the cost of living and create instability within their borders, are refusing to pick sides. African countries, for example, have not imposed any sanctions on Russia, and the Middle East is hedging. And, of course, Russia can count on the continued support of China.