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ISW: Putin hopes to convince West to betray Ukraine

by Abbey Fenbert January 3, 2024 7:20 AM 2 min read
Russian dictator Vladimir Putin at the Peterhof Palace outside Saint Petersburg on Dec. 26, 2023. (Alexey Danichev / POOL / AFP via Getty Images)
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Russian dictator Vladimir Putin's comments identifying the West as Russia's "enemy" suggest a Kremlin narrative aimed at convincing Western nations to betray Ukraine in future negotiations with Russia, the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) wrote in its Jan. 2 report.

Putin said on Jan. 1 that “Ukraine by itself is not an enemy" of Russia, claiming that Western countries who wish to destroy Russian sovereignty are the true enemies and that Ukraine has already been "completely destroyed."

According to the ISW, these statements show that Putin sees the war against Ukraine as a war between Russia and the West, rather than a direct attack on Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity.

"Putin’s framing ... indicates that he does not intend to negotiate in good faith with Ukraine and is setting information conditions aimed at convincing the West to betray Ukraine through negotiations," the ISW said.

Politico reported on Dec. 27 that U.S. and European officials are quietly shifting their strategy from helping Ukraine attain a military victory to improving Ukraine's position in future negotiations.

Putin hopes to exploit "any wavering in Western support for Ukraine," the ISW said.  

The New York Times reported on Dec. 23 that Russia would be open to a ceasefire if Ukraine would concede all the territories that Russia currently illegally occupies. These conditions violate both President Volodymyr Zelensky's 1o-point peace formula and the wishes of the vast majority of Ukrainians.

By "falsely framing Ukraine as pawn without agency," Putin is able to "mask his expansionist and maximalist goals," the ISW said.

The ISW's analysts warned that Putin is not willing to negotiate with Ukraine as an independent actor, and is only interested in "negotiations" with the West about Ukraine's position within Russia's sphere.  

"Any Western commitment to negotiations about Ukraine's future that bypass Ukraine will signal to Russia that it can impose its will upon countries that it deems to be in its sphere of influence – even countries beyond Ukraine," the ISW said.

Putin's rhetoric also aims to justify the heavy losses Russia continues to incur on the battlefield. Erasing Ukraine from the narrative of the war and claiming an existential threat from the West obfuscates Russia's role as aggressor and its sole responsibility for prolonging the conflict.  

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