When and how will the war end?
I am not sure that it will end at all – as long as Putin rules Russia. While the [current] hot phase of the war could end with a peace agreement or truce (though that prospect is not yet on the horizon), the conflict could become “unfrozen” at any moment. In addition, no one is going to stop fighting on the second front – that of internal repression in Russia, the war between the Putin state and civil society.
What might push the sides toward peace is not so much Putin’s defeat (What would defeat look like in reality? It’s unlikely to be Moscow’s being captured by Ukrainian troops), but rather the Putin regime’s resources being exhausted. Moreover, it is exhaustion in a broad sense: not only military, political, financial, socio-economic, but also emotional and psychological. Still, this should not be expected to happen in the near future.
But when and if it does, the Russian elites will very likely be forced to liberalize the regime: they will have to replenish the reserves of resources wasted by Putin, which entails opening up the country.
There will be no disintegration of Russia. Resources at the regional level are also being depleted, and the regions are financially dependent on Moscow. Plus, most of their technocratic leaders are not in politics to become the ataman of, say, an autonomous Perm Region, but to get a good job in the federal government in Moscow. In the post-Putin period, the transition of power will create a certain number of jobs at the very top for which these people can compete.
What is the real reason for the war? Putin’s ambitions, fear of NATO expansion or something else?
Recently, the word “existential” has become fashionable. It explains everything and nothing at the same time. These “existential” reasons are due to the type of thinking of Putin and his circle, their ideas about the country and the world, which are incredibly archaic for the 21st century. Psychological reasons – the wiring of Putin’s brain, this man of revenge and resentment – I would not underestimate either.
It was once fashionable to say that Putin and his team had no ideology, that their ideology was money. It turned out that that was not entirely true: money and their staggeringly large-scale kleptocratic activities do matter, but even more important is the imperial and at the same time nationalistic worldview of the people who came to power at the beginning of the 2000s, their willingness to expend anything – be it financial or human resources – to achieve their fanciful goals, the “return and strengthening” of “their” lands.
The so-called “Russian idea” is unlikely to ever die, though it is not so dangerous as long as it does not take over the minds of the country’s rulers and does not become a completely official – in every history textbook – state ideology.