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ISW analyses Putin's statements that West is "Russia's enemy"

Wednesday, 3 January 2024, 05:52
ISW analyses Putin's statements that West is Russia's enemy
Vladimir Putin. Photo: Getty Images

Experts at the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) have analysed Russian President Vladimir Putin's statements that the West is Russia's enemy and that Russia is waging an existential war against the West in Ukraine.

Source: ISW

Details: Russian President Vladimir Putin has called the West a Russian enemy, and suggested that Russia is fighting in Ukraine to defeat the West.


Putin was responding to a question from a Russian soldier about Western assistance to Ukraine during a meeting at a military hospital in Moscow Oblast on 1 January, saying that Russia's problem is not that the West is helping Ukraine, but that the West is "Russia's enemy".

He additionally claimed that Ukraine on its own is not an enemy to Russia, but that Western "actors" "who want to destroy Russian statehood" and bring about the "strategic defeat of Russia on the battlefield" are Russia's enemies.

Putin said that Western elites are trying to split Russia into five parts and are trying to do so by using Ukraine, but the situation on the fronts is changing, and 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 the supply of Western aid to Ukraine, and noted that Ukraine is already completely destroyed, that there is "nothing left", and that it "exists only on handouts".

Putin hinted that Russia is waging an existential war in Ukraine against the West, and noted that Western rhetoric has recently shifted to how to "quickly end the conflict."

ISW noted that this wording means that Putin sees a conflict and potential negotiations between Russia and the West, rather than a conflict and potential negotiations between Russia and Ukraine.

Putin added that Russia also wants to end the conflict between Russia and the West, but only on the Kremlin's terms, and stressed that Russia will not give up its positions.

The Russian president does not view Ukraine as an independent actor and thus portrays his full-scale invasion of Ukraine as a confrontation between Russia and the West. In this way, Putin is deliberately distorting the reality that Russia invaded Ukraine with the aim of destroying Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Putin's emphasis on changing the narrative in the West may indicate that he will perceive and/or present any weakening of Western support for Ukraine and any defeats of Ukraine on the battlefield as a Russian victory in this supposed Russian-Western confrontation.

The fact that Putin is presenting his war in Ukraine as Russia's struggle against the West, not Ukraine, demonstrates that he has no intention of negotiating with Ukraine in good faith and is setting up information conditions aimed at persuading the West to betray Ukraine through negotiations.

Putin is likely deliberately and falsely portraying Ukraine as a powerless pawn in the Russia-West conflict to mask his expansionist and maximalist goals of establishing full effective Russian control over Ukraine.

Quote: "Putin’s 1 January discussion of negotiations refers to his intent to negotiate solely with the West about Ukraine’s future within the Russian sphere of influence and only about Western abandonment of Ukraine."

More details: Putin previously followed a similar line when he issued two ultimatums to the United States and NATO in December 2021, which were aimed at forcing the West to recognise Russia's sphere of influence in Eastern Europe by ceding significant elements of Ukraine's sovereignty in the name of de-escalating the conflict between the West and Russia that Putin had fuelled.

Any Western commitment to negotiating Ukraine's future bypassing Ukraine would signal to Russia that it can impose its will on countries it perceives to be in its sphere of influence, potentially including Finland and Moldova, for which Russian actors have begun to set the stage for future campaigns.

Putin may expand his military objectives in Ukraine to include a confrontation with the West to create the conditions for a continued build-up of the Russian military and justify high casualties on the battlefield.

In addition, his statements likely indicate that he is preparing a long-term justification for keeping troops mobilised and engaged in combat to ostensibly defend Russia's sovereignty against the West.

To quote the ISW’s Key Takeaways on 2 January: 

  • 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 Zelenskyy 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 1 January.
  • Russian forces conducted another massive series of drone and missile strikes against deep rear areas in Ukraine between 31 December and 2 January, one of which used a strike package similar to that used on 29 December, and to which Ukrainian forces appear to be adapting.
  • Western provision of air defence systems and missiles to Ukraine remains crucial for Ukraine as Russian forces will likely attempt to adapt to Ukrainian air defence 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 organisations to fulfil its foreign policy objectives this year.
  • The Norwegian government announced on 1 January that it is permitting Norwegian defence companies to sell weapons and defence-related products directly to the Ukrainian government.
  • The Turkish government announced on 2 January 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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