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War. It is not something that Putin’s Russia has stumbled into accidentally. Neither, contrary to what some apologists are claiming, is it something that he has been provoked into by the actions of NATO, EU, US, Ukraine and so on. War is the essence of Putin’s rule. It is the only way he can hold on to power absent of any other instruments, talents or competencies, absent support of voters, support of elites, or his ability to contribute to Russia’s wellbeing. 

Plucked from obscurity two decades ago by an ailing Yeltsin as a guarantor of preservation of Yeltsin’s clan, Putin used the threat of war to make a name for himself. Stroking the ugliest sentiments of the Russian society, he vilified the predominantly Muslim people of Chechnya as terrorists. He vowed to “drown them all in a toilet”— unleashing a campaign of destruction.  Several seemingly coordinated bombings throughout Russia were attributed to Chechen terrorists and used as pretext for military assault. Evidence continued to mount that Putin’s intelligence agencies had set up the bombings to support his narrative of a menacing Muslim enemy[1]

Then there were the Russian war on Georgia in 2008 and Russia’s first invasion of Ukraine that began in 2014— both designed to strongarm EU-aspiring societies to remain firmly under the Kremlin’s yoke. In 2015, Russia emerged as a decisive party in Syria’s civil war. 

With each conflict, Putin has become more daring, committing more and more heinous crimes, emboldened by the inaction of the international community and lack of retribution. Hybrid operations and Buk strikes against civilian aircraft which allowed Putin to claim that “it wasn’t us” morphed into formal military presence, use of WMD against civilians, gassing of children, bombing of schools and hospitals, leveling of entire cities, nuclear threats, energy blackmail, tanks rolling across Europe. 

What have been the outcomes of these wars? Some of them have brought marginal territorial gains to Russia —a largely symbolic achievement for a state struggling to populate, develop and guard the extensive territories it already has, the struggle exacerbated by Russia’s dwindling population. But more importantly, these wars have allowed Putin to solidify control, turn up the terror domestically and internationally, and remain in power.

In other words, under Putin, there is no such point where his wars would end in peace. Each war leads to another, more destructive, more horrific war until he is stopped. 

This brings me back to the focus of this article— the consequences of the Russian war on Ukraine. There are, without question, profound consequences we can observe already. 

First and foremost, it is the tragic and senseless loss of life and human suffering. “The War in Ukraine is on Track to be Modern History’s Bloodiest[2]” is a title of a Washington Post article amply puts. The UN has confirmed at least 4,700 civilian deaths (footnote here) by late June with hundreds of them being children. Ukrainian Ministry of Defense stated that 35,000 Russians had died as of late June. The number of Ukrainian military casualties is likely exceeding 20,000.  60,000 lost lives in just four months of this war, with no end in sight. 21,000 instances of war crimes committed by Russian military in Ukraine are being investigated. 

The second immediately apparent consequence is the destruction of Ukrainian cities, economy, infrastructure.  By late May 2022, the infrastructure loss borne by Ukraine in this war exceeded $105.5 bln.[3] Russian forces have leveled entire cities with air strikes and ground assaults. Over 5 million Ukrainian citizens have left the country as refugees by July 2022,[4] and over 700,000 are engaged in military defense of their country. [5] Over 1 million Ukrainians — men, women, and children — are reported to have been forcefully deported from Ukraine to the territory of the Russian Federation[6].

The estimates of reconstruction costs for Ukraine are already toppling 1 trillion dollars— this is the cost that the Transatlantic community should be prepared to bear. This war has transformed a major European country into an imperiled state with the potential to become source of social and economic instability in Europe for decades

Russian forces have been purposefully destroying not only civilian infrastructure, maternity wardens, shooting at refugee convoys, but also attacking crops in Ukraine dubbed the breadbasket of Europe—exacerbating the global food insecurity. The Global Hunger index is “alarmingly high” with the World Bank warning that millions will face hunger and malnutrition as a supply chain crisis erupted following the Ukraine conflict. Analysts warn that seven countries including Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen, Eritrea, Tajikistan, and Mauritania are at the most significant risk of a food crisis due to the war. 

The Russian war in Ukraine has catalyzed developing systemic shifts in the global order. Putin’s unprovoked and brutal military aggression have driven many nations to find ways to look for alternatives to close economic and political partnerships with Russia. 

Energy. Such a shift can be clearly observed in the European energy sector. By 2021, Europe had grown to depend on Russian energy exports for half of its gas and third of its oil needs[7]. With its aggressive push for expanding energy export infrastructure in Europe (ie construction of new pipelines), Russia was slated to only increase this dependence despite repeated concerns voiced by countries like Ukraine, Poland and the US. Such circumstances pointed to numerous instances where Putin engaged in pipeline blackmail— forcing political concessions from other nations in exchange for continued supply of energy.[8] 

During summer 2022, Russian energy blackmail became less of veiled hints and more overt. In his confrontation with the West, Europe was faced with the undeniable reality that energy exports is one of the most potent weapons for Putin. By mid-summer, Russia has sharply cut gas supplies to Europe via its Nord Stream pipeline and cut off exports to Bulgaria, Finland, Poland, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Latvia[9]. Experts are not ruling out a scenario where Russia completely cuts off gas supplies to Europe during fall-winter 2022 to gain political leverage.[10]

In the short term, European governments are moving to mediate the risks of winter energy crises by filling storage facilities, introducing auction platforms, planning for use reduction for public and private sectors, temporary exceptions to environmental regulations, especially concerning coal. Russia will struggle to shake off its image as an exceptionally unreliable energy supplier and in the long-term we should expect an emergence of a new European energy architecture, with a significantly reduced reliance on Russian sources, increased cooperation with the US and a revision of the role of alternative sources of energy (i.e., coal, nuclear energy). 


The European Union

Russian war in Ukraine has uncovered profound schisms between the interests, priorities and ideologies of various nations that make up the EU raising serious questions of its ability to act in concert in response to grave challenges. While the moral support for Ukraine and outrage over Russia’s crimes have been unanimous, when it came to actions, the reactions have ranged from overwhelming support to fence-sitting, to empty lip-service and to outright detraction. 

On the other hand, we have the societies of Poland, Lithuania, Moldova— mobilized to help Ukraine from day one. They have accepted and housed refugees, transferred funds and collected supplies, joined Ukrainian defense forces, offered government weapons transfers. On the other hand, there are states like Germany— publicly expressing support for Ukraine, but behind the scenes opposing introduction of meaningful sanctions to defund Putin’s war, endlessly postponing deliveries of military aid and even prohibiting other states (like Poland, Slovakia, and Spain) from sharing their military capabilities with Ukraine[11]. The positions of states like Italy, Hungary, France may diverge even more in the cooler seasons of fall and winter if Russia begins fulfilling its threats to cut off energy supplies. 

Russian war in Ukraine, in other words, is a severe stress test for the European Union. Whether the EU can reassert a consensus on shared values, perceptions of threats and priorities, would determine its relevance as an institution for decades to come. If, to the contrary, the EU cannot erect a united front in support of Ukraine and allows Putin to claim even some sort of semblance of victory in this war, its role as purveyor of economic and social development in Europe will be seriously diminished. 

Whether the EU can reassert a consensus on shared values, perceptions of threats and priorities, would determine its relevance as an institution for decades to come.

For states like Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Finland, Poland, the Czech Republic, Moldova—Ukraine’s defeat would mean that they are next in line for Russian military aggression.  Their disillusionment with great power players like France and Germany may create new power alliances within what previously operated as the EU. 

Anthony Cordesman believes that the war in Ukraine would alter the strategic and military calculus of such players as North Korea, Pakistan and India, Iran and the Arab states, and other major regional military powers like Israel and Egypt. [12] Countries worldwide have already escalated military spending or begun a consequential reevaluation of their defenses[13]. Finland and Sweden have applied to join NATO, and NATO has collectively reacted by planning significant increases in its military capabilities.


Russian Economic and Political Isolation

Russian war in Ukraine was met with a broad international condemnation. Out 141 nations, only the glorious four— Belarus, Eritrea, North Korea, and Syria— supported Russia with a vote at the March 2022 General Assembly emergency session.[14]

While China, whose friendship was central to Putin’s development plans post-invasion, has refused to issue an outright condemnation of the war, it has also began distancing itself from the Kremlin[15], recognizing that Putin’s campaign is disruptive, rogue and is more of a manifestation of his weakness rather than demonstration of his might. China (just like India) has been expedient, of course, in taking the most advantage of Russia’s economic predicament by purchasing its energy at steeply discounted prices[16], but the prospect that Russia and China will become close strategic partners (even with Russia playing the role of a little brother) has collapsed following the fiasco of the Russian offensive in spring 2022. 

War in Ukraine has cost Russia virtually all of its alliances in Central Asia.[17]  As an unequivocal message to the Kremlin, Kazakhstan has expressed its support to Ukraine in this war. In July 2022, it announced its withdrawal from the 1995 Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) agreement on the Interstate Monetary Committee. During their July 2022 summit, the leaders of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan are openly discussing preserving their sovereignty in the face of Russia’s declining power in the region[18]

The EU, US, Canada, and many other countries have sought to force Russia to end the bloodshed by imposing thousands of new sanctions against critical sectors of its economy, financial institutions, energy sector. The government sanctions have been reinforced by private sector initiatives— with thousands of international businesses exiting Russian markets, closing its facilities and operations on the Russian territory, cutting services to Russian citizens and businesses[19]. In a few short weeks, Russia has become the most sanctioned country in human history and its currency —the ruble— is no longer a convertible currency. 

In his preparation for this war, Putin anticipated the associated international sanctions, and was prepared to weather them. Over the years, he has frequently cited the Russian experience to survive hardships, as they did during WWII or during the perestroika years as a proof that Western sanctions are no match for the hardiness of the Russian people. Moreover, he anticipated with unmistakable glee that sanctions would help Russian economy to become more self-reliance, develop its indigenous industries and thusly achieve growth. He had also hoped that Russia would pivot East— develop more advantageous partnerships with non-Western powers— such as China and India— thusly pursuing an alternative non-Western way of development. All of these expectations have been proven completely wrong and delusional.

The disruption of goods, services, logistics have demonstrated just to what immense extent Russian economy was incorporated with the global economy and to what extent it depended on the rest of the world for its operation. 

Russia is discovering its profound dependence on foreign machinery, parts, chemicals, agriculture materiel, fertilizers. As soon as April 2022, Russian industry had shrunk by 8.5%, mining by 10%, and manufacturing by 6% compared to the year prior. Factories nationwide attempt to sustain operations with old supplies, but their gradual shutdown is inevitable.  In mechanical engineering, only 15% of production has continued when compared to last year, ie— the production fell by more than 6 times. 

In the city of Tikhvin of St. Petersburg region, for example a large private car-manufacturing plant, used to employ 15,000 people. The plant stopped its operations due to a shortage of components— cassette bearings. People are sent on unpaid leave until the end of summer. 

Thousands of Russian companies are facing the fact that even when most of their work is done with domestic equipment and components —but the assembly in another city that you serve includes at least a small import component, the entire production is shut down.

Russia’s coal industry is in the most critical situation. As of August, exports to Europe have been blocked, and the fully loaded capacities of the Trans-Siberian Railway do not allow it to be reoriented to Asia. Russia’s oil and gas production in April fell by 10-11% compared to March. Oil refineries are getting up for scheduled and unscheduled repairs because all storage tanks are clogged with fuel oil, the export of fuel oil to Europe is minimized, and in 8 months it will be banned entirely. Sibur and Gazprom have imported equipment, and its import is now under sanctions. Therefore, it is not clear how their projects will be completed.

The ban on the export of ferrous metallurgy to Europe and the United States has led to Severstal and Magnitogorsk announcing a reduction in metal production by 20-40%. Experts expect a halving. Half of all Russia’s large timber processing industries are owned by foreigners, who are leaving with significant losses. 

Russian government has done much to make the situation even worse. It has announced it would expropriate facilities and property of businesses who exited Russia or halted operations due to sanctions[20], and legalize intellectual property theft.[21]

In the first four months of war, Russia has lost what amounts to 40% of its GDP.[22] The long-term effect of the sanctions will be catastrophic for Russia. Even if the war in Ukraine ends soon and some of the sanctions are rescinded, the perception of Russia as safe investment environment would take decades to reinstate. 

Economic expert Vladimir Milov predicts that current isolation from the international markets, logistics, technologies will result in the country becoming significantly poorer, with its infrastructure degrading, which, in turn, increases the risk of governance collapse in the future, with the country turning into another major source of instability, similarly to the 1980s and the 1990s, and maybe even worse.

Stagnation (absence of recession) in the Russian economy after 2023 is the most ambitious and optimistic scenario. Real disposable incomes of the population in 2021 were almost 10% lower than in pre-Crimea 2013. By the end of 2022, they will decrease by about 10%. There are virtually no sources of subsequent growth. 

Russian Civil Society and Democratic Development. And now, I have come to the most controversial point I would like to make. After the people of Ukraine, it is the Russian people who have been the second biggest victims of Putin’s war in Ukraine. In a way, their lot is even more tragic and desolate than that of Ukrainians. For Ukraine—the national idea, ethos, heroes and glory have been forged in the course of this war. No matter how long the struggle may take, the Ukrainian civil society would emerge more robust and more resolved. The public face of Russia, the idea of Russia, the past and the present of Russia have been compromised by this war in ways that may be irreparable. 

In 2022, Russia has changed beyond recognition: on February 24, the Kremlin sent Russia straight into a disaster, the consequences of which — political, economic, humanitarian — will take Russia, Ukraine, and the rest of the world a very long time to deal with. Overnight, the image of Russia as the liberator of Europe from Nazism, which persisted in the country and the world for several decades, was destroyed. In the eyes of the world, Russia now is seen as an aggressor, and its army has become a herd of war criminals.

The incremental intensification of ad-hoc government persecution that characterized the first two decades of Putin’s rule, has undergone a qualitative transformation, morphing into an all-out repression targeting all forms of activities that may be as much as interpreted as political. 

During this period, the use of violence by the Kremlin against activists and civil society leaders has become uninhibited (overt, disproportionate, extrajudicial without regard for domestic or international public opinion) and methodical (activists and organizations, no matter how innocuous their activities and actions, are tracked down and punished months and years later). 

Government repression and censorship have uprooted Russian civil society ecosystem, forcing the closure of all remaining independent media outlets and NGOs and sending hundreds of thousands of activists into exile.

The war in Ukraine has nullified the social compact—an agreement of sorts between society and the authorities that persisted for close to two decades, built on the principle "we, the citizens of Russia, do not interfere in politics, but in return you give us the opportunity to live quietly and somewhat prosperously, at least better than during the late era of Communism and immediately after the Soviet collapse. This compact was nullified as part of the standoff between the government and the people, the massive wave of protests in recent years. Since the first day of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, protests have been held all over the country; over 16,000 people have been detained at anti-war rallies since the start of the invasion.[23]

The war in Ukraine was used by Putin’s government to close the information flow to Russians, impose total censorship and eliminate the remnants of independent media in Russia. From now on, any media that want to write objective information about the war with Ukraine and events in Russia can do so only from abroad or face criminal persecution.  Dozens and hundreds of leading Russian and international media outlets — Echo of Moscow, Mediazona, The New Times, TV Channel Dozhd, Meduza, BBC Russian Service, Deutsche Welle, Current Time, The New Times, The Village, just to name a few — were forced to suspend or completely shut down their activities in Russia.

With its billion-dollar budgets, the Kremlin’s propaganda and disinformation machine had failed to obfuscate the gruesome reality of Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine. To prevent Russian civil society's mobilization in opposition to the war, Putin’s government has introduced a slew of new laws and regulations attempting to stop the information flow to the Russian people. The Russian government banned referring to events in Ukraine as “war” and demanded alternative terms are used by media and NGOs, such as “special operation”. The Russian government has also banned references to information and statistics on the war provided by source other than the Russian government. Violation of information laws related to war is now proclaimed as state treason and comes with a 20-year prison sentence.

With its billion-dollar budgets, the Kremlin’s propaganda and disinformation machine had failed to obfuscate the gruesome reality of Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine.

As of July 2022, more than 5,500 websites and news media outlets have been blocked or censored in Russia since the invasion of Ukraine on February 24th. [24] Further media restrictions have yet to come as Russian authorities will be able to ban foreign news outlets more swiftly thanks to new legislation that was approved on July 14, 2022.[25]

Putin’s government has moved to squash the flow of information and citizens freedom of speech on social media. Meta— the parent company for Facebook and Instagram, was declared an "extremist organization" by the Prosecutor General's Office on March 11, 2022, and Instagram was banned in Russia. Roskomnadzor has also blocked Twitter, and TikTok itself restricted its work in Russia due to increased legal risks.

Mass arrests have silenced all prominent opponents of the war in Russia, political opposition and all those whose voice could mobilize Russian society in opposition to the war. In addition to Putin’s most recognizable archnemesis— Alexei Navalny, now Vladimir Kara-Murza, Ilya Yashin, Andrei Pivovarov, Alexei Gorinov, and other fighters against the regime have been put behind bars. The few remaining politicians, including Dmitry Gudkov, Vladimir Milov, Lyubov Sobol, Ivan Zhdanov, Leonid Volkov, and others, have managed to leave Russia and are now living in exile. 

Hundreds of thousands of Russians have fled their country, feeling threatened by the repressions, the war, the economic uncertainty, and the madness of Russia’s swift rollback into the dark ages. Many have departed in panic and haste, with no time to pack their belongings, no money, and no idea where to spend the night in a foreign country.

This exodus, the most enormous brain drain in history, may be the biggest hit for Russia’s economic prospects in the long term, surpassing even the harm from the myriad of sanctions. Not all those leaving are political emigrants. Many have left the country because it has become impossible to work in some sectors while remaining apolitical and not engaging in corruption. The largest group of recent Russian exiles are high-tech and IT-industry specialists, whose shortage in the Russian Federation even in the prewar times was estimated at 1 million people, and whose work is critical for the development of the modern economy. Such a large-scale "brain drain" — especially in the IT-industry, which is the foundation without which the development of the contemporary economy is impossible — is a severe problem for Russia's development.

In exile, these Russians are looking for ways to help stop the war— by breaking through to Russian audiences, by helping counter the disinformation and propaganda, by allowing the West to better understand weak spots and vulnerabilities of the Kremlin and its global influence networks which have entangled Western elites.

In exile, these Russians are also cut off from access to their bank accounts— due to various western and Russian sanctions and private sector initiatives designed to stop the war. They are facing humiliating circumstances where they can’t pay for their food or motels. They also face grim uncertainty with their immigration status— once their visa-free stay expires in a few weeks. For them going back to Russia means prison or worse. The Russian authorities call emigration "self-purification of society," and the pro-government website RIA FAN has even created a "register of traitors" — with the personal data of those who have left. But they are not welcome where they are either.

Inside Russia, Putin’s government has resuscitated the worst of the Stalin’s era and his NKVD operations, unleashing a veritable medieval-style witch hunt, declaring hundreds of NGOs, pro-defense organizations, and individuals "foreign agents," many of whom have been forced to emigrate. 

This has been accompanied by an Orwellian falsification of history and brainwashing of the younger generation through education system. In 2013, the president declared that the teaching of Russian history must be modified. He suggested creating "a single canonical approach to the basic, fundamental, vital for our country historical eras" and reflecting it in the textbook. After the beginning of the war, the management of the Prosveshenie publishing house issued a secret order to minimize references to Ukraine in school textbooks. Journalists learned that the management's request to remove "incorrect" references to Ukraine was brought to the staff of Prosveshenie during a "confidential" meeting. "The task before us is to make it look as if Ukraine simply does not exist. It's much worse when a textbook just doesn't mention any country. A person grows up without a knowledge base about a country, and then it's much easier for them to believe what they're told about it from TV," said an Prosveshenie employee. According to one of the editors, in two months they had to "scratch about 15% of the texts.

Teachers and university professors in Russia have come under increasing pressure: their anti-war statements led to denunciations, fines, dismissals, and even criminal charges. Since last spring, Russian elementary, middle and high schools have been conducting regular political information lessons that aim to "form a responsible civic position among students in the face of external threats." Children are assured that the "special operation" was necessary, told of the achievements of the invasion, and brainwashed about "anti-Russian sanctions" and "hybrid war" by Western countries. In the best traditions of Soviet times, they are asked to report on their teachers and parents who voice opposition to the War.

Years, decades and centuries of advancement reached by Russian society in spheres of education, law, human rights, international cooperation, economic development— all have been pulverized when Putin’s government unleashed its war on Ukraine. In the coming years, Russia may face a long "civilizational night" on the sidelines of the railroad tracks on which the locomotives of both the Western and Eastern civilizations are moving.

Putin's most important objective was not the capture of Kyiv, Odessa and Kharkiv, but establishing a totalitarian control over Russia— however isolated, impoverished, robbed of dreams and dignity.  Unlike his shifting objectives in Ukraine, this one has already been secured, and even aided by animosity that the entire world feels toward Russians. Whatever the notions of a civil contract between the state and society in Russia that have existed so far, Putin has destroyed it in all respects. There are no more achievements of Putin's twenty years, not even the gains of free Russia of the last thirty years - they are burning somewhere near Kharkiv and Hostomel, hidden under the rubble in Mariupol and Kramatorsk, lying with their hands tied behind their backs in Bucha and Irpen.

Putin has declared war not only and not even so much on Ukraine: he has declared war on the Russian Federation, the Western democracies and the fragile world order, which, as we can see, he has been trying to destroy before our very eyes for six months. The national calamity has already happened, the way out of it is an infinitely long one, fraught with new sorrows, casualties and destruction. When will this war end? 

And I hope that by now my readers to acknowledge the reality, that this war will only end when Putin does. Relinquishing control by stepping down or entering some power-sharing arrangement would endanger Putin personally, which is why he is likely to remain in power until his death.  Without institutions or persons to carry it forward, Putin’s system will perish together with Putin. When this happens, Russia will enter a tumultuous, dynamic period of profound political, social and economic reorganization with uncertain outcomes. 

The most profound consequence of the Russo-Ukrainian war, its biggest takeaway, is that the world must stop seeking normalization with Putin’s Russia and begin planning for Russia post-Putin. 


























[24] Blocking and pressuring of independent media. OVD-Info.

[25] “Putin signs law to fast-track foreign media bans,” The Moscow Times. 30 June 2022.

Natalia Arno
Natalia Arno

Natalia Arno is the President of Free Russia Foundation (

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