ISW analysis: Putin's new "information operation" to justify his war

So now the existence of Russia is threatened.

ISW analysis: Putin's new "information operation" to justify his war

So now the existence of Russia is threatened. Vladimir Putin and his entourage are once again promoting a dizzying narrative designed to justify and relativize Russia's war of aggression against Ukraine, apparently in an effort to further shift the narrative in the now year-long campaign against the neighboring country.

The questionable doom scenario that the Russian President is now drawing is probably based on two goals. First: Convince the Russians of the need for war (read more here). Second: to prevent further military aid to Ukraine from the West.

As a result, the latest situation analysis by the renowned Institute for the Study of War (ISW), which has always scrutinized the Kremlin's war strategy, speaks of an "information operation" that "mistakenly portrayed Russia's war in Ukraine as existential for the continued existence of the Russian Federation".

It is not Putin's first attempt to twist the facts. In the course of the war, which was marked by numerous failures for Russia, the Russian president repeatedly denied actual responsibility for the invasion and presented his imperialism as a reaction to an alleged threat from the collective West.

The latest "information operation" also follows this myth, which Putin placed prominently in his State of the Union speech on February 21. During his two-hour appearance before the Federal Assembly, the Russian President repeated many well-known allegations and also accused the West of threatening Russia's existence.

Since then, several well-known pro-war advocates have jumped on Putin's narrative, the ISW noted. Dmitry Medvedev, former Russian president and now deputy chairman of the Russian Security Council, also fictionalized in an essay for the pro-Kremlin newspaper "Izvestia" about an alleged existential question for his country. Most recently, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu claimed on state television that Western arms aid determines how far Russian troops have to "push back" the alleged threat - as if Russia were to be defended against invaders.

"Both Putin's and Medvedev's comments relate to an information operation that portrays the war in Ukraine as existential to the continued survival of the post-Soviet Russian Federation," reads the ISW analysis, "which is likely an attempt to portray the war as depicting a higher stake for Russia and the West than it actually is."

Because neither Ukraine nor its Western supporters have called for the dissolution of the Russian Federation or even its destruction. The goal of military aid has so far been defined as enabling Ukraine to retake all of its territory from the Russian occupiers. According to the US think tank, Putin's statements were also aimed at deterring the collective West from further arms aid - after all, Russia must defend itself against the alleged threat, if necessary with all means.

"These statements are likely to discourage the West from providing long-range systems to Ukraine," by suggesting "that providing such systems will prolong the war by 'forcing' Russia to take over more Ukrainian territory, to be sure."

Against this background, the US think tank also classifies the recent statements by the Russian President on state television, according to which the Russian people are threatened as an "ethnic group" and that plans for the destruction of the Russian Federation in its current form already exist "on paper". Consequently, according to Putin, he had no choice but to suspend the "New Start" agreement on nuclear disarmament in order to guarantee the country's security in the event of an alleged concerted action by the West.

Although the possible consequences of this step, which Putin announced during his State of the Union address, are not yet foreseeable, experts believe they indicate longer-lasting struggles. "This element with the 'New Start' suspension is a sign that it's going to be a long war and a long conflict," said security and defense expert Claudia Major on ZDF, "and that Russia has no interest in de-escalation and before above all has no interest in diplomatic solutions".

At the same time, with his tale of an existential threat, Putin is exacerbating his war rhetoric, says political scientist Gerhard Mangott from the University of Innsbruck. "Anyway, that was Putin's most direct nuclear threat today. 'It's about Russia's existence as a state.'

The Russian President had repeatedly threatened a nuclear escalation, apparently with the aim of preventing Ukraine's supporters from further military aid: Observers have always expressed serious doubts as to whether a possible use of nuclear weapons could even be of strategic use for Russia on the battlefield - apart from that of the political consequences that such a move would probably have.

"When a state can put others under pressure with reference to its nuclear arsenal, then any kind of foreign policy becomes impossible," Yale University historian Timothy Snyder recently wrote in an op-ed for Der Standard, which is a "buckling to the Russian Nuclear talk" would also be wrong from a strategic point of view. Supporting Ukraine reduces the likelihood of nuclear war, Snyder said, "by showing that nuclear blackmail doesn't work."