Institute for the Study of War:  Putin fails to announce progress or any expansion of Ukraine war

May 9, 2022

FULL ARTICLE

Russian President Vladimir Putin used his May 9 speech to praise ongoing Russian efforts in Ukraine and reinforce existing Kremlin framing rather than announce a change. He did not announce an escalation or declare victory in the Russian war in Ukraine. May 9, Victory Day, is Russia’s most important patriotic holiday and commemorates the Soviet victory in the Second World War, known in Russia as the Great Patriotic War. Putin’s much-anticipated speech was a ready-made opportunity for him to alter the Kremlin’s current framing of the war in Ukraine or announce a policy change. Putin had three general options for his Victory Day address: declare some sort of Russian victory, make a policy change to ramp up the war effort in some way (such as by calling for a larger-scale mobilization or formally declaring war on Ukraine), or what he chose—to pursue a steady-state narrative and reinforce the Kremlin’s existing framing (and resourcing) of the war.

 

Key Takeaways:

 

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin used his May 9 speech to praise ongoing Russian efforts in Ukraine and reinforce existing Kremlin framing rather than announcing a change. He did not announce an escalation or declare victory in the Russian war in Ukraine.

  • Putin likely calculated that he could not ask the Russian population for a greater commitment to the war effort and implicitly reassured the Russian people that he would not ask for a greater societal commitment in his speech.

  • Putin may be recognizing the growing risks he faces at home and in Ukraine and may be adjusting his objectives, and his desired end state in Ukraine, accordingly.

  • The Kremlin has already scaled down its objectives in Ukraine (from its initial objective of capturing Kyiv and full regime change) and will likely do so again—or be forced to do so by Ukrainian battlefield successes.

  • Regardless of any change—or lack thereof—in the Kremlin's objectives, Putin’s speech indicates that the Kremlin has likely decided to maintain its current level of resourcing in the war.

  • The Kremlin attempted to demonstrate the alleged popularity of its occupation of eastern Ukraine through forced Victory Day celebrations in occupied Ukrainian territories.