Elections loom over Ukraine’s battlefields

But if Russian forces are defeated, or continue to suffer humiliating defeats, Putin’s position will be more precarious back home, Andrei Fedorov, former deputy foreign minister of Russia, told NBC News last week. 

“Things might be [a] little different if Russia will not be successful. The absence of a victory will call into question the legitimacy of Russia’s 2024 elections,” he said. 

Shifting demographics will also prove a challenge, Federov added. With older Russians who make up the majority of Putin’s power base naturally dying off, younger urbanites who have historically populated the ranks of the now-beleaguered opposition may become more influential.

“Remember that in the elections of 2024 there will already be … fewer voters of the Soviet generation, and quite critical youth may vote,” he said.

With Ukraine preparing for renewed fighting in the coming months, the recent diplomatic tussle between Germany and the United States over supplying Ukraine with Western heavy tanks pulled back the curtain on tensions over the outcome of upcoming battles. 

Russian army soldiers practice on a military training ground in Russian-controlled Donetsk on Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2023.
Russian army soldiers practice Tuesday on a military training ground in Russian-controlled areas of the eastern Donetsk region. Alexei Alexandrov / AP

“Americans like winners, and if Ukrainians are on the offense in 6-8 months, then I think you’ll see a lot more support,” a senior aide to a Republican senator said.

“Part of the challenge here is to set the conditions now so they can get success so you can maintain American support,” said the aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak on the record.

The supply of tanks, which crucially come with a lot of already produced ammunition, will be important, he said.

But Ukraine also needs “long-range artillery, mines and cluster munitions to drive an enemy into ‘kill boxes’ that you then strike fast with tanks, armored personnel carriers and mounted infantry,” the aide said. “As they move they need to be supported by layered air defense and offensive close air support.”

He predicts another slow process:

“The Germans and U.S. are going to resist helicopters and fighters. You can’t tell Ukraine to fight like a Western military and not give them this stuff, but it will still be painfully slow for them to get it.”

While support for Ukraine is pretty close to universal in Congress, Republicans are split on how far to go and how much aid to provide, with some on the right of the party suggesting that Americans should focus on challenges closer to home instead of spending billions on a foreign war. 

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