A year into its war, Russia is not any closer to accomplishing its objectives in Ukraine. And yet, to the surprise of western observers, neither battlefield losses nor economic misfortunes have softened its initial demands of demilitarisation and regime change in Ukraine. If there is one thing that’s clear, even in the proverbial fog of war, it is that the end is nowhere in sight. Russia is not any more ready for good-faith negotiations today than on the first day of the invasion.
What makes the Putin regime so impervious to western sanctions? Why is Putin unconcerned with the human costs of war? And is there anything that would bring Russia to the negotiating table?
The answers to these questions have to do with the peculiar domestic context in which the Russian leader operates. Unlike democratic leaders, who stay in power by providing goods to the public, Putin’s survival strategy consists of catering to a small number of political elites who make up his inner circle. As long as the inner circle remains happy, either as a result of direct payoffs and rents or policy, it has no incentive to replace him….