Putin's election win dims prospect of Ukraine war resolution

The freshly-elected Russian president is expected to use his emphatic victory to bolster Moscow's faltering war effort in Ukraine

Putin's election win dims prospect of Ukraine war resolution

Any prospect of the Ukrainian conflict being resolved within the next year has been reduced considerably as a consequence of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decisive election victory to serve a fifth term.

Given the fact that many of Putin’s political rivals have either been jailed, are living in exile or have died, Russian voters understandably had little expectation that the presidential election contest would result in any other outcome than triumphant Putin’s re-election.

The likelihood of Putin facing any significant opposition during his re-election campaign effectively ended with the death of Alexei Navalny, Russia’s popular opposition leader, who died in mysterious circumstances after being jailed in a Russian arctic penal colony.

The official Russian record of Navalny’s death last month is that he died of natural causes. But his supporters—including his wife, Yulia Navalnaya—believe he was murdered by the Russian authorities, even though they have yet to provide any conclusive evidence to justify their claim.

For weeks after Navalny’s demise, Putin deliberately avoided publicly mentioning his political rival.

It was only after the votes had finally been counted following last weekend’s election that Putin finally referred to his opponent’s death, remarking that it was “a sad event” and claiming that the Kremlin was in the process of negotiating a prisoner swap with the US involving Navalny when he died.

With Navalny's death and other Putin opponents unable to participate in the vote, the only protests against Putin’s re-election took the form of long queues of protesters forming at polling stations at midday on Sunday as part of a pre-planned effort to register their disaffection.

Sizeable victory

Such gestures did not prevent the 71-year-old Putin from emerging victorious with an estimated 88% of the vote, an overwhelming victory that almost guarantees he will serve another six years as Russia’s all-powerful leader.

The size of Putin's election victory is important, especially in terms of his ability to continue leading Russia's war effort in Ukraine.

For Putin, moreover, the size of his victory is important, especially in terms of his ability to continue leading Russia's war effort in Ukraine, which has now entered its third year.

After the many setbacks Russian forces have suffered since Putin launched his so-called "special military operation" in February 2022, the Russian leader still believes he can achieve his goal of conquering large swathes of Ukrainian territory.

In order to do this, though, he needs to put the country on a war footing, one where no opposition to his handling of the conflict is tolerated and the entire resources of the Russian people—from recruiting conscripts to serving on the front line to dramatically increasing the production of vital weaponry—are focused on achieving victory.

The Ukraine issue was evidently foremost in the Russian leader's mind when he gave a press conference at his campaign headquarters in Moscow shortly after the polls had closed, insisting that Russia would not be "intimidated" by its rivals in the West.

"I want to thank all of you and all citizens of the country for your support and this trust," Putin declared.

"No matter who or how much they want to intimidate us, no matter who or how much they want to suppress us, our will, our consciousness, no one has ever succeeded in anything like this in history. It has not worked now and will not work in the future. Never," he added.

Ramped up war effort

The Russian leader is now expected to use his emphatic victory, in which he registered the largest percentage of votes ever recorded in a Russian presidential election, to bolster Russia's faltering war effort in Ukraine.

While the Russian military has spent the past year making sure that Ukraine's much-anticipated military offensive did not make any significant gains, Russian gains in recent months have been modest, while incurring massive troop losses.

Western intelligence officials estimate Russia suffered around 400,000 dead and injured on the battlefield during the past two years of fighting, losses which have seriously diminished the morale of Russian forces on the battlefield.

Putin is now expected to use his emphatic election victory to bolster Russia's faltering war effort in Ukraine.

The Kremlin hopes that the recent election, where voting was staged in Russian-held territory in Ukraine for the first time, will help to shore up support among the Russian people for the war effort.

While the election campaign saw an upsurge in Ukrainian attacks, as well as several incursions into Russian territory by pro-Kyiv sabotage groups, Putin continues to insist that Moscow continues to enjoy a significant advantage on the battlefield, one that will ultimately ensure victory.

Singling out Russian troops fighting in Ukraine for special thanks in his post-election address, Putin said: "The initiative belongs entirely to the Russian armed forces. In some areas, our guys are just mowing them—the enemy—down."

Putin's victory also means that any hopes of negotiating an end to the conflict—the preferred outcome for an increasing number of Western leaders—appears highly unlikely, as the Russian leader will not want to make any decisions about Ukraine's future until the US presidential elections have taken place.

Read more: Why Putin is in no rush to negotiate end to Ukraine war

While US President Joe Biden says he is committed to maintaining Washington's military and financial support for Kyiv, there are growing signs of war weariness among both Republicans and Democrats, who believe Washington's support for Ukraine should not be open-ended.

By contrast, Donald Trump, the Republican contender, has indicated he would end US support for Ukraine immediately if he wins November's poll and urge Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to negotiate peace terms with the Kremlin.

In such circumstances, Putin, who believes he has a good personal relationship with Trump, would be encouraged to believe he could strike a deal that would, at the very least, enable Russia to retain control of the Ukrainian territory it has already conquered in east Ukraine and the Crimea, allowing the Kremlin to declare victory.

While such an outcome would represent a massive setback for Ukraine—especially after all the suffering the country has experienced during the past two years—it is an option that Putin will have very much in his sights in the months to come.

Until then, he will have little interest in ending hostilities.

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