Foreign PolicyForeign Policy

Why Putin will never agree to de-escalate

By Maxim Samorukov

13 Jun 2023 · 6 min read

informed Summary

  1. The war in Ukraine is largely driven by Russian President Vladimir Putin's personal ambitions and distorted perceptions, making it unlikely to end soon.

As Ukraine accelerates its counteroffensive across several sections of the front, a rational person might conclude that 2023 must surely be the last year of Russia’s war against its neighbor. Russian military resources are depleted, Moscow’s long and bloody winter offensive in the Donbas has yielded meager results, and Russian society longs for the return of prewar stability. Logic dictates that the Kremlin has no better option than to seize any opportunity to cut short its disastrous war, saving face as far as possible by clinging to the shreds of its territorial gains. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken echoed this line of thinking at a press conference this week, when he said that a successful Ukrainian counteroffensive could have the effect of “causing Putin to finally focus on negotiating an end to the war that he started.”

Such calculations, however, are based on rational cost-benefit analysis and underestimate the extent to which this war is the personal project of one man: Russian President Vladimir Putin. He started it single-handedly, based on his own distorted perceptions and disregarding the opinion of Russian society and ruling elites. He has continued to wage it for more than a year, defying all common sense, and there is no indication that he will ever wish to stop it. Indeed, continuing the war brings him numerous political benefits, while stopping it would offer him little but new risks.

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