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Estonian journalist: Putin leaving Russia's helm may not end war in Ukraine

Andrei Hvostov.
Andrei Hvostov. Source: Patrik Tamm

While analysts were previously hopeful that Vladimir Putin's departure from command of the Russian state would also mean an end to the war in Ukraine, this can no longer be predicted to be the case, journalist and historian Andrei Hvostov said Wednesday on "Vikerhommik."

"Russian society has set itself so firmly on the war track that they won't go off the rails even if a new driver took over," Hvostov explained in an appearance on Vikerraadio's morning program.

Regarding Russia's recently intensified missile attacks on Ukraine, he pointed out that Russia is now doing what it had promised this fall it would do.

"Ukrainian regions weren't hit with missiles in the meantime, as they were being stocked up on for winter and the arrival of cold weather," he said. "For when Ukrainian society would be at its most vulnerable."

At the same time, Hvostov continued, things aren't going well not just for the Ukrainians, but also for the Russians.

"The Russians aren't doing too great either," he said. "The Russians' counterattack began October 10. Attacks have been ongoing since, and they haven't achieved any significant gains. Military experts here have measured on the map that the entire front line has moved nine meters. This shows that the war has reached an impasse."

The Estonian journalist noted that according to U.S. intelligence, since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Russian casualties have totaled 315,000, while estimates for the Ukrainian side stand at 180,000.

"At the same time, these figures are very much estimates," he acknowledged. "The true losses of war are only revealed once the war is over. After all, there are also those missing in action (MIAs), meaning they don't know where these men are. Among them are also the 30 MIAs who were aboard the Russian landing ship and who had been so close to the explosion that they were basically vaporized."

Under military death bureaucracy, Hvostov explained, a person is considered dead when there is a body or their dog tags to count; in their absence, they're counted as MIAs.

"And the Russians may have tens of thousands more such MIAs," he pointed out. "But broadly speaking, we can say that losses have been 1:2 or 1:3 in Ukraine's favor. But I'm afraid this loss ratio won't drive Russia to its knees. If we look at the [respective] sizes of the belligerents' populations, then territory under Ukrainian control has 31 million and Russia 144 million people – i.e. a nearly fivefold difference. The loss ratio would have to be 1:5 for it to be balanced."

According to Hvostov, some analysts believe Russia has successfully accomplished its wish to wage a long war.

"There is a significant amount of command economy in a dictatorship, where it's possible to make sudden moves," he said. "The kinds of things you can't do that fast in Europe and the U.S. But other analysts have pointed out that in the new year, the Russian economy is starting to crack somewhere."

Russia has maintained a market economy to a certain extent, he explained, however the Kremlin has begun cinching it in.

"So that more and more Russian business would contribute to the proceeds of war," he continued. "This means that at some point, the Russian economy may cease functioning."

One significant recent development according to Hvostov is the fact that Ukraine has begun indiscriminately attacking Russian territory as well, such as the city of Belgorod.

"Ahead of the elections, Putin has to come before his people with a positive message, but Ukraine is attempting to hack into his agenda," he said. "What Ukraine did in Belgorod was let Russian society know that the war has arrived on their doorstep. That 'what you're doing with us will happen to you too.' That people in Russia would start talking about this."

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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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