FAQ – Can Russia Win This War?

On 9 May Putin receives a Victory Day parade. Experts answer our survey

9 May 2022

While Moscow holds its biggest annual military parade, Russia is not achieving meaningful military progress in Ukraine. With a united response from the West, Kyiv can prevail and even regain its territories.

Can Russia win this war?

Jiří Schneider – Visegrad Insight Senior Fellow. A former diplomat, Synodal Curator (Lay Moderator) of The Evangelical Church of The Czech Brethren. He also served as the Czech Ambassador to Israel (1995-1998) and most prominently as the First Deputy Foreign Minister of the Czech Republic (2010-2014). 

Russia wages several wars at once.  The answer depends on which war you mean and how you define the parameters of victory.

The official Russian version still holds that it does not wage war but ‘a special military operation’ aiming to change the régime in Ukraine. This has not succeeded. Russia failed to prevent being subjected to unprecedented economic sanctions. Russia has been unable to deter NATO countries from supporting Ukraine. 

But Russia continues destroying the infrastructure of Ukraine and causing terror and damage to its civilian population. By inflicting human and economic losses on Ukraine in a protracted war of attrition, Russia can make Ukraine’s future troublesome — but it cannot win the war. 

Under these circumstances, it is extremely difficult to imagine that Putin will declare mission accomplished on 9 May and ordered the Russian military to withdraw entirely from the territory of Ukraine.

Oksana Forostyna – Marcin Król Fellow at Visegrad Insight. Co-founder of Yakaboo Publishing, an editor, translator and writer.

It depends. Russia can not end this war, having in mind the vision Russia started the war with — namely occupying Ukraine with minor effort, killing a few ‘nationalists’ and having civilians welcome them as ‘liberators.’ 

That vision failed. However, it does not matter that Russia can not announce any outcome as a victory. 

In 1856, Russia lost the Crimea war. Still, it managed to turn that dramatic defeat into vivid mythology, including the legend of ‘Sevastopol as a city of Russian glory’ (which substantively fuelled the 2014 annexation). 

It can ‘market’ the defeat in Ukraine to the Russian public by reframing the war from offensive to defensive while turning Russia into a sort of North Korea. Turning the nartitive into a besieged ‘we’ against a global Western conspiracy. 

Anything less than Russia’s demilitarisation and disintegration (eventually a prerequisite for global security) may be presented as a victory.

Pavel Havlíček – Marcin Król Fellow at Visegrad Insight. Research Fellow of Association for International Affairs (AMO) Research Centre. 

Russia has in fact already lost it, since it was never interested in being dragged into a long-standing conflict without a clear winner. 

The costs of the war are enormous for the Russian regime and society and might potentially lead to even a higher price to pay in the future. 

As the EU is currently adopting the sixth package of sanctions, we can see that this was a real cut-down moment for the Western relations with the Russian leadership, as the West is finally willing to fully isolate Russia on the international stage. 

The enormous resistance and free spirit of Ukrainians will never allow them to give up on their country and its territory and they will never surrender to the authoritarian rule and control of Moscow. 

However, a question remains of what the price of the Russian loss is and what kind of sacrifices will the people of Ukraine still need to make to finish this process. 

A crucial role in finding the answer to those lies with the West, which needs to mobilise its political willingness and courage to tackle the Russian pressure and make the right choices to help to save lives in Ukraine here and now.

Radu Albu-Comănescu – Visegrad Insight Fellow. Lecturer in European Integration at the “Babeş-Bolyai” University of Cluj-Napoca, Romania. 

Reality is a fluid concept for Putin and so are the Kremlin criteria of ‘win’ and ‘victory.’ 

Rewriting history and fact reinterpretation are utilised so they will undoubtedly be applied to the words above. They can choose to call ‘victory’ an event of minor proportions than expected, yet intensely backed by triumphant propaganda.

Russia can win by opting for a series of tactical nuclear strikes. I do not see any limit to Putin’s hubristic defiance of the laws of war. 

However, Russia will not win the peace: whichever the terms of the final settlement. 

Ukraine’s guerilla continuous warfare will erode Russia’s state, society, politics and economy. ‘Victory’ turned to cancer.

At the same time, if the EU mollifies the war effort by listening to the well-known opportunistic conciliators it could still betray Ukraine. Peace could be thus lost: but the EU would likely pay the price with its demise.

Aliaksei Kazharski – Visegrad Insight Fellow. Researcher at the Institute of European Studies and International Relations of the Comenius University in Bratislava and a lecturer at the Department of Security Studies of Charles University in Prague.

In a sense, Russia has already lost. It depends on what you mean by ‘winning’ because the aims of this war do not seem to be specified at the moment. 

If the initial objective was quick and relatively painless military occupation (‘take Kyiv in three days’), regime change, and the establishment of a puppet state with support from the local pro-Russian forces, then this “Crimean” scenario has failed. 

It failed, first and foremost, thanks to the heroic resistance of the Ukrainians. The Kremlin seems to be in for a long war, with very painful sanctions, and ‘winning’ in Ukraine is likely to become more complex, as time is working against Moscow. 

The effect of the sanctions is likely to cripple Russia in the long run whilst the war objectives are now increasingly unclear. In the past weeks, Russian officials stated several conflicting aims, from annexing the whole of Donetsk and Luhansk oblast’s into the Russian puppet states to creating a ‘corridor’ to Transnistria. 

There are also apocalyptic scenarios that involve nuclear weapons as retaliation for the resistance and Western support of Ukraine. 

Unfortunately, we have to admit that the extent to which the Kremlin could be counted on to remain relatively prudent and reasonable was grossly overestimated. 

Martin Ehl — Visegrad Insight Senior Fellow. Martin Ehl is the Chief Analyst at Hospodářské noviny (Economic daily).

Russia could not win militarily. Putin will be happy to keep what Russia already occupied before February 24 in terms of territory. 

If victory means inflicting damage on Ukraine’s economy to push back its achievements in this field, then Russia already won, but only in the short term. 

Ukraine will get a lot of support from the West to rebuild its economy, and its people will gain a lot of self-confidence to show they can succeed. Russia has lost in political and historical terms because the attack has cemented modern Ukrainian nationhood in terms of political culture. 

Whatever the outcome will be on the battlefield, Ukrainians have gone 2014 through a speedy process similar to what happened to other Central European nations in the 19th and early 20th centuries in terms of the creation of a modern nation-state and functioning liberal democracy. 

Geopolitically, Ukraine has moved Westward since 24 February 2022 in a way which is not comparable to anything we have seen last three decades. That definitely could not be called a victory for Russia.

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