Hello. This is your Russia-Ukraine War Briefing, a weeknight guide to the latest news and analysis about the conflict.
Putin regains his swagger
At the start of the war, President Vladimir Putin appeared tense, angry and even disoriented. But this month he seems to be back to his former self: relaxed, patient and self-confident.
His military is making steady gains in east Ukraine and controls much of the south while Russia’s economy is weathering the avalanche of sanctions much better than expected. Now, Putin is going from wartime crisis mode to business as usual, my colleague Anton Troianovski writes.
Underlining just how much things were returning to normal, Putin flew to Central Asia this week in his first foreign trip since the invasion. In Turkmenistan, he didn’t even mention the war and instead spoke of Russian efforts to improve transportation and tourism.
“The initial shock has passed and things have turned out to be not all that bad,” Abbas Gallyamov, a former speechwriter for Putin, said about the president’s perspective.
Observers say he is also trying to downplay the risks that still loom: Ukraine shows no sign of giving up, NATO remains united and is expanding, and the war’s effects at home could still go in a way he doesn’t expect.
“He understands that his legitimacy is based on being strong and active, on acting and winning,” Gallyamov, now an independent political consultant living in Israel, said. “Paralysis and absence from public view are like death for him.”
Putin’s strategy now appears to be to wait things out. He expects Western resolve to falter and the Ukrainian government to crumble.
Better Understand the Russia-Ukraine War
“The work is going smoothly, rhythmically,” Putin said yesterday about the military campaign. “There is no need to talk about the timing.”
Tatiana Stanovaya, a longtime Kremlin expert based in France, said Putin was “betting that with time, the Kyiv authorities will have to accept everything.”
Russia has been closely following statements by President Biden’s administration, Stanovaya said, “and has decided: ‘OK, the rules of the game have been established. They are acceptable to us. So we can calm down and simply wait.’”
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Whoever controls the island can control shipping lanes in the Black Sea, so Russia attacked it on the first day of the invasion. Russia’s flagship, the Moskva, sailed up, and the dozen Ukrainian border guards stationed there were ordered to lay down their arms. One of the soldiers responded with an obscenity that later earned him a medal. Ukrainian forces sunk the Moskva weeks later.
After it gained control of Snake Island, Russia prepared to bring surface-to-air missile systems there to support its ground forces. But the Ukrainians kept up their attacks.
More than a week ago, Ukrainian forces struck a Russian tugboat delivering weapons and personnel to the island. The British military said the Ukrainians “almost certainly” had used newly delivered Harpoon missiles in the attack.
Yesterday, the Ukrainian military said it had used missiles and artillery to knock out yet another Russian antimissile system. The last Russian soldiers on the island fled overnight on two speedboats, according to the Ukrainian military.
The Russian defense ministry sought to cast the retreat as “a gesture of good will” to allow for grain exports to leave Ukraine. But observers said this was unlikely.
“Ukraine’s expulsion of Russian forces from Snake Island is a significant accomplishment for Kyiv and an important defeat for Russia,” the Institute for the Study of War, a research group based in Washington that tracks the war daily, wrote in an assessment.
“If Putin’s spin that the Russian retreat was a ‘good-will gesture’ were real,” the institute wrote, “he would lift the blockade and guarantee the safety of neutral ships to and from Odesa.” ”
“Ukrainian forces are unlikely to reoccupy Snake Island themselves,” it added, “but they don’t need to — they needed to get the Russians off it, and they did.”
What else we’re following
President Joko Widodo of Indonesia said he had delivered to Putin a written message from President Volodymyr Zelensky, the BBC reported.
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