BEN MORGAN: Putin re-elected, but his armies are still struggling


On 17 March, Putin was re-elected, with an enormous majority that demonstrates either; his complete control of Russia’s democratic institutions or that the people of Russia strongly support the Ukraine War.  The result is not unexpected and reinforces the long-term security threat that Russia poses because it indicates that Putin’s grip on Russia is tightening.

However, Ukraine’s soldiers are still holding the line and Russia is not making the progress it needs to in the land campaign.  Instead, it appears that Russia’s energy is directed elsewhere; punishing Ukraine by attacking civilian electricity infra-structure, driving Free Russia Legion soldiers out of Belgorod and responding to the recent ISIS terror attack.  

Meanwhile, European positions are hardening.  The European Union, providing another large aid package to Ukraine and meeting this week to develop long-term plans to support Ukraine that should ring alarm bells in the Kremlin. 

Why the Russian election is important 

Russian election results are in and Vladimir Putin won an outstanding 87% of the vote. Most of the world considers the election a sham but behind the theatre, there is a story that needs to be unpacked. 

Putin’s 87% is his largest majority, when he was first elected in 2000 his vote was 53%. Since then, he has worked studiously to tighten his grip on power and demonstrate to the Russian people that he is their anointed leader, successive elections returning larger majorities. 

However, until this election Putin always tolerated a small amount of opposition. For example, in 2004 his winning majority was 71.9%, allowing a range of other candidates to at least poll and acknowledging that some differing political opinions could be integrated into the Russian state. In 2012, returning to power after Dmitry Medvedev’s term Putin’s majority was 63.6% of the vote. A majority that again showed that his regime could tolerate different voices. In 2018, Putin won with a 77.9% majority a shift towards reducing the diversity of opinion allowed in the election process.

Now, in 2024 almost all opposition has been eliminated providing an interesting insight into Putin’s thinking. He is obviously concerned about the war and is managing the election to demonstrate that that he has a mandate from the people.  This is not the relaxed, confident politician re-elected in 2012 on 63.6% of the vote, secure enough to allow a 36% dissenting vote. This year’s election result indicates that Putin is worried and is not confident enough to tolerate opposition. 

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Additionally, it indicates that his plans are to continue the militarisation of the Russian state. Already, the economy is on a war footing and the prisons and non-ethnically Russian republics have been emptied as his regime looks for cannon fodder.  But Ukraine is not defeated and now Putin needs to prepare the Russian heartland for a longer war, probably one involving mass mobilisation and conscription.  A step that will not be popular so he will use this election result to provide a mandate for it. Putin’s use of this mandate to militarise Russia is sad and dangerous because it means he is planning for a long conflict, so Ukraine must prepare to endure more war. While Europe, the United States and the world should also be prepared for a long period of tension and competition. 

Why the land campaign is so important, and an update on recent activity

The land campaign is the most important aspect of this war and success is defined by where the front line rests.  A measure that may not be militarily accurate, but that is easy for mainstream media to use to explain the war’s progress to their readers. For instance, the battle of Avdiivka and Bakhmut are portrayed as Ukrainian losses in the media because the frontline moved a short distance west.  

However, from a military perspective they are Pyrrhic victories at best. Russia suffered staggering losses of soldiers and equipment in both. More importantly neither battle provided an exploitable opportunity for Russia to push forward and break Ukrainian lines.  A more complex and tactically sound interpretation of these battles is that they inflicted significant attrition on Russian forces and fixed Russia’s main effort on one point of the frontline, denying Russia operational initiative.  The 50,000 soldiers required to take Avdiivka could have been a useful reserve for Russia to use to attack a less well-defended section of frontline.   

Unfortunately, this complexity is hard to explain in the short articles and headlines that shape public opinion in the countries supporting Ukraine.  Escalating the importance of where the frontline rests into the strategic realm.  Essentially, a Ukrainian withdrawal of several kilometres even after inflicting tens of thousands of casualties on Russia is portrayed as a defeat, that has the potential to undermine resolve in the countries that support Ukraine. 

Recently, we stated that the land campaign is at an ‘inflection point,’ one at which the curve will either bend dramatically in Russia’s favour or will arc incrementally towards Ukraine. (See ‘The war is reaching an important inflection point’ 11 March 2024).  We assessed that the key decision point would be Russia’s ground offensive in the north-east because if Russia can break through Ukraine’s line and exploit the situation driving either west or south and ‘move the line’ significantly on the map it will dramatically increase Russia’s chances of ‘winning’ the war. 

Two weeks later Russia has still not achieved an exploitable breakthrough, even though it is currently estimated to have a 7-1 advantage in artillery ammunition. Ukraine is generally holding the line and fi required giving ground very slowly.

Russia retains a large force in Luhansk and its main effort is currently directed at the area around Kremina, Lyman and Bakhmut.  This activity is consistent with the assessment we made on 11 March, that Russia is likely to try and capture Lyman then close the salient between it and Bakhmut. An operation that if successful will bring its artillery within range of the cities of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk.

Russia’s slow progress means it has not been able to develop sufficient momentum to create an exploitable break through.  An observation that does not bode well for Russia because if a break through cannot be achieved with a 7-1 advantage in artillery ammunition, better trained infantry, improved indirect-fire targeting tactics (See ‘A Chaotic Russian election week’ 18 March 2024) and full war-time mobilisation of the Russian economy then the chances of victory look slim.  

On 22 March, Ukraine’s Deputy Defence Minister, Lieutenant General Ivan Havrylyuk said that he expects that with European Union assistance the disparity in the artillery ammunition supply will disappear in the next month or two.  This statement provides a useful planning time frame for analysis because if Russia has not achieved a break through by this time it is unlikely to. 

Therefore, in the next few weeks we should expect to see continued or increasing Russian pressure on this section of the frontline.  Russia aiming to make progress before European aid arrives and to force Ukraine to use ammunition or equipment it receives immediately rather holding it back to build up useful reserves.  

 Russia responds to Ukraine’s election week drone campaign

Russian drones and missiles pummelled Ukraine’s power network and cities last week. On the night of 21-22 March, Russia launched its largest attack yet on the Ukrainian energy network.  Ukrainian government sources reporting coordinated strikes by around 151 drones and missiles.  The increase in activity is likely to be an angry response to Ukraine’s recent surge in attacks on Russian oil facilities.  A campaign that is hurting the Russian economy, especially now that India has responded to recent United States sanctions by reducing oil imports from Russia.  

Moscow terror attack 

On 22 March, gunmen stormed the Crocus City Hall during a concert and killed at least 133 people. ISIS Khorasan (ISIS K), an ISIS group based in Afghanistan and neighbouring Central Asian republics quickly claimed responsibility for the attack.  

The attack provides important insights into Russia’s security and intelligence services that are obviously stretched dealing with the Ukraine War.  The White House has issued a statement saying that United States intelligence agencies warned their Russian counterparts of the possibility of an attack.  Additionally, the United States issued a warning to Americans in Moscow that there was an increased risk of terror attacks so they should avoid large crowds.  

That the attack happened, after receiving a warning, that was in turn corroborated by American actions is a significant Russian intelligence failure.  A failure that indicates Russia’s security agencies, the FSB and the SVR are over-stretched, probably because they are focussed on the Ukrainian threat. A situation that could see more attacks by groups like ISIS K. 

The attack was quickly ‘spun’ by the Kremlin as being associated with or supported by Ukraine.  A highly unlikely hypotheses but one that provides Putin with an opportunity to leverage more domestic support for increased militarisation.  The shock effect of the attack creating fear that can be leveraged using propaganda to justify steps like mobilisation using conscription. 

Europe’s position hardens, more support coming 

In European capitals there was a clear hardening of attitudes based on an acceptance that Russia is a long-term security threat, and that Ukraine’s war is absolutely Europe’s concern.  Russia’s election result confirmed that Putin is ‘digging in’ for the long-term and increasing his militarisation of wider Russian society.  A dangerous trend, one that is noted in Europe and is spurring action. 

On 20 March, the European Union released another 4.5 billion euros to support the Ukraine government.  This is not military aid but rather is cash to keep Ukraine’s government running. But the biggest European discussion this week was about using seized Russian assets to pay for the war effort. Russia has huge sums of money invested ‘off shore’ in Europe, early in the war this money was frozen.  An important break with historical precedent. Generally, the international financial system ‘looks the other way’ during conflicts, the desire to ensure the integrity and stability of financial systems outweighing moral considerations. 

The decision to freeze Russian ‘off shore’ assets caused Putin considerable concern.  Originally, the European Union’s plan was to use the frozen assets to finance the reconstruction of Ukraine after the war.  However, this week the idea of using the interest accruing in these funds to purchase military equipment and ammunition was discussed, a move the Kremlin describes as theft.  The interest is worth billions and would provide a useful revenue stream to support Ukraine.  


Russia’s position is getting worse, Putin may have been through the formalities of an election. An election that served its purpose, confirming him as leader and his mandate for war but does not change the military situation. His most pressing concern is that the European Union is mobilising, its members taking direct steps to support Ukraine and discussing economic mobilisation.  Russia’s economy is tiny compared to the combined economic power of Europe.  In a couple of month’s Ukraine’s ammunition deficit will start to disappear, and by 2025 Europe plans to be producing 2 million artillery shells per annum. 

In conclusion, Putin is running out of time to secure a definitive victory before European support arrives. Currently, he does not have the resources to conquer Ukraine. Instead, he needs to make enough progress that Ukraine starts to look shaky, encouraging people in donor nations to argue that there is no point supporting Ukraine to win the war.  If he can achieve this objective and European support falters, he can extend the war and overtime extend Russia’s control of Ukraine. If on the other hand, Ukraine’s supporters start pouring resource into Ukraine, Russia’s days are numbered. 

Right now, Russia has the best opportunity since February 2022 to advance, but Putin’s soldiers are only making incremental progress. Every week they fail to get a break through, the more the curve arcs towards Ukraine. 


Ben Morgan is a bored Gen Xer, a former Officer in NZDF and TDBs Military Blogger – his work is on substack


  1. You run from,
    “On 22 March, Ukraine’s Deputy Defence Minister, Lieutenant General Ivan Havrylyuk said that he expects that with European Union assistance the disparity in the artillery ammunition supply will disappear in the next month or two”
    “In a couple of month’s Ukraine’s ammunition deficit will start to disappear, and by 2025 Europe plans to be producing 2 million artillery shells per annum.”
    What evidence do you have that Havrylyuk’s optimistic predictions are in any way accurate? Many sources are making predictions and estimations about 155mm and 152mm ammunition production. Why not take a wide view, consider all of them and sift out (with reasons) the ones you think are the most accurate?
    And that’s just ammo, how many new artillery systems are being manufactured and brought into play in Ukraine?
    Is there anyone here who seriously believes that Ukraine and Russia will anything close artillery parity in two months?
    Hopium costs lives, Just say No!

  2. Hahahahah, NATO Ben coping as ever, defending SBU/Mossad sponsored terror attacks on the Russian people and pretending ‘Ukraine can still win’.

    We are now at the “Bonaparte is only sixty leagues from the capital; he has been fortunate enough to escape the hands of his pursuers” stage of denial that the Russian people will be defended from the genocidal ambitions of the Zelenskys and Nulands and Blinkens of the world.

  3. Three quarters of all Russians turned out to vote. They weren’t forced. Could have voted abstain. But no, nine out of ten backed Putin.

    Compare that to support for Western leaders. Could you see LuxFlake here getting that? Macrons polling 20% and wants to go to war. Sunak polling is atrocious. Even the Orange Man won’t get half of the third who turn out in the US. Sleepy Joe’s numbers suck. That’s how fragmented the West is.

        • Or a fear of falling out a window, perhaps.

          I’ll give Putin one thing. His release of all those religious artefacts with brown faces is priceless. ‘What do you mean JC wasn’t white?’

          • ‘What do you mean JC wasn’t white?’ indeed. If the Israelis and Zionists were serious about stamping down on anti-Semitism they would have long since gone after those institutions who for centuries have promoted imagery which depicts JC and a handsome white Anglo-Saxon

      • Yes , they did go after ISIS didn’t they?
        Those mild democracy loving scrabble players.
        No wonder they have earned their enmity.

        • No no – it is only that spin you put on it Francsca – they are reputable journalists, not Putin’s propaganda wing.

          They reported permeability – your bias allowed you to construct a fabulous edifice based upon it.

          Russia has been permeable too – weaponizing migrant flows will do that.

          • I was merely pointing out that the idea of ISIS in Ukraine is not as outlandish as the pundits are claiming.The journalists pointed out not only permeability, but a downright tolerance,the authorities happily turning a blind eye, corruption in all the state bodies ,the false passport industry, the Isis terrorists easily blending in with jobs like Uber etc
            A little more than “permeability,” a bit of a weasel word in itself.
            My enemy’s enemy is my friend….wouldn’t be the first time .Think Afghanistan

            • Saying that there are ISIS cells in Ukraine is not the same as saying it’s a Ukraine driven plot though, which is the immediate narrative that came out of the Kremlin. Escaping into a country with a border conflict going on (and that is probably the nearest country) is also not entirely unexpected.

              The article you link to is also almost 5 years old and there have been a lot of changes in Ukraine in that time.

              Given the balance of probabilities between a Kyiv driven plot (orchestrated by the CIA and Mossad according to some here) or a bunch of fundamentalists that just hate Russia for some of their actions overseas, I’ll take the second option. This is not exactly new behaviour for ISIS.

              I have no doubt the FSB will release findings though that will just happen to coincide with the wishes of their master in the Kremlin. It will certainly help the recruitment drives.

              When your state media is saying this, I don’t really believe that they’re interesting in finding the truth.

              ““This was not ISIS. This was the hohli,” Margarita Simonyan, editor-in-chief of the state-owned RT news channel, wrote on X, using a pejorative term for Ukrainians.”

              (quoted from that Western MSM source al jazeera)


              • And equally vehemently denying any enabling from Ukraine helps the west to stay interested.There would be serious questions in the minds of western populations if it was found that Ukraine had enabled this terrorism in any way .No wonder the immediate denials
                But as I’ve said before, it wouldn’t be the first time
                “my enemy’s enemy is my friend “came into play .
                And there has been nothing in the media to suggest that Ukraine’s supine attitude to terrorists living in Ukraine has changed in any way.
                And I suppose you will say that this report from 2022 is now old and things have changed….sure sure…
                Isis in Ukraine

                • Let me ask you – do you believe this to be true:

                  “Since early March, the foreign intelligence service of Russia (SVR RF) has issued warnings that the US and NATO are providing ISIS fighters from Syria with special training at the US army’s Al-Tanf military base in Syria, and then sending them to Ukraine.”

                    • I’m not the one citing it as evidence. You presented it so I’m asking you if you believe the content of that article is true? It’s a simple question

                  • The west has certainly been supporting turkey in northern Syria on behalf of the ethnic Turkish population, along with a lot of islamists displaced from other parts of the country. There are certainly plenty of islamists with a grudge against Russia available if required.

              • “The article you link to is also almost 5 years old and there have been a lot of changes in Ukraine in that time.”

                Yes, there have been a lot of changes in that time. One of those changes is the cyber-infowar has intensified.
                Do you remember the Azov battalion form ~2019, the one that was so concerning to the progressive and Jewish press? What happened to those guys? Sure, a lot of them are now dead or in POW camps, but did the rest just become multicultural Lib-Dems?
                Do you remember the stunning and brave queer and non-binary Unicorn battalion from about May of last year? I guess it’s possible they were all killed in combat or taken prisoner but the whole battalion seems to have disappeared into the Rainbow mist.
                In the infowar civilian non-combatant and government warrior are blended together and disguised and offense and defense are indistinguishable.
                Is the narrative the attack? Or the counter-narrative or the counter-counter-narrative?

              • First the insult
                Second no address of the facts as reported by UK journalists
                Have you no shame?….As Welch said to McCarthy.

                • You never fail to support Putin.

                  It’s not an insult in your case, it is merely descriptive.

                  If you don’t like it – stop repeating your pet despot’s talking points like you were his tame parrot.

                  • I don’t think I ever mention Putin
                    What I do object to is outright propaganda from the west and the useless idiots who swallow it without chewing first
                    Who applaud the arrogance of the west,and deny that other countries want security concerns addressed, who do not want their country exploited by western interests.
                    There is a whole world out there that has no liking for western imperialism and its notion of superiority

                    • It’s always the same old tired bullshit from you, Francesca. If you ever made the slightest attempt at balance it might be possible to respect your opinion. But you don’t – You are fundamentally no different from Putin’s tr0ll army.

  4. “Putin was re-elected, with an enormous majority that demonstrates either; his complete control of Russia’s democratic institutions or that the people of Russia strongly support the Ukraine War”

    Or both. His absolute control of the media means that much of the population outside of Moscow and St Petersburg are both ill-educated and ill-informed enough to support this crazy man.

    Given the full NATO toolkit (except nuclear weapons) Ukraine can finish off the Russian invasion by interdicting the supply lines used by the Russians.

    • So how Andrew do you account for the total control of the traditional MSM by the Western political and oligarchic classes? Surely you cannot have missed the editorial unanimity and the attempt to keep debate and opinion within “uniparty” lines?

      I’m not suggesting Russia or China are any different. There and here, informed citizens get their information from multiple conflicting sources, especially independent parties. You should try it.

      • I don’t have to account for it.
        The fact that many Russians are not educated and remain uninformed bears no relation to a similar phenomenon in the West because here you’re free to read and write pretty much what you like. The key difference is that in the West it’s a choice to be ignorant. A point you exemplify quite well.

        • Andrew , that common misperception has no grounds in reality
          In fact Russia has one of the highest rates of tertiary education in the OECD
          Yes , in the far outposts there may be illiteracy, but not in the numbers to swing an election.Those people tend to vote if at all for the communist party.

          The Russian federation produces more engineers than anywhere else in the world.
          You really don’t much go to original sources do you?

          • These shills for the enemies of humanity are incapable of reason. They can’t comprehend a real nation like Russia, where not just the heroic Communist Party but even the overly free market ruling party are controlled by real patriots, and where American-loving traitors like Navalny who advocate for murdering Caucasian Muslims on behalf of ‘israel’ can’t even achieve Winston Peters or David Seymour level numbers.

            • Listen to you people. Putin is an arrogant arsehole who is killing people that he was supposed to be liberating at some point. If the US is so bad then I am not sure how you can say Putin rocks. He’s as bad if not worse

          • The problem for Russians is that post the collapse of the USSR they had to sacrifice parts of their budget to make ends meet. One of the hardest hit was education so kids out in the sticks got basically nothing. I suppose these unfortunates form the bulk of the conscripts.
            Russia produces lots of engineering ‘graduates’ but without a much of a manufacturing base they cannot progress to become actual engineers. This is why most leave.

    • The people inside and outside of the great cities know their own lives, their families’ lives, and their nation’s history better than Brussels or Washington does.
      They’ve also known Putin for ~23 years now and most of them would have known Russia before Putin.
      The idea that correct application of Democracy must come from the correct sort of media campaign is a bastardized type of democracy that is unfortunately very common now in the West.

    • Hahahahah. Just because you live in a s**thole country entirely controlled by foreign media, doesn’t mean Russians do.

    • The full NATO “toolkit” means full NATO supply lines and their personnel as well, right up to and beyond the frontlines. The only way NATO is doing that now is either from outside of Ukrainian territory or from within, covertly and under the very thin veil of “plausible deniability”.
      Once that veil comes off its WWIII.
      Call me when Brussells, Washington, London, Paris, Berlin, Rome and Vienna are willing to accept thousands of coffins a week, cities in flames and a total mobilization.
      You buy the ticket, you take the ride.

  5. Ben contends that the Russian army is struggling, on the basis that they are not making big arrow breakthroughs. Why would they? Attrition is working well, rasputitsa coming soon. Wait until the ground is dry in May.

  6. The Ruskies managed to storm and take Mrs Kovalenko’s cabbage patch the other day, so they aren’t doing too badly.

  7. Russia is betting the farm on Trump. Should he be defeated again, surviving Republicans will begin to pivot away.

    Europe is sick of Putin, Macron bent over backwards to accommodate him, but even he is disenchanted with him. If America resists Putin’s dirty bomb, Trump, and takes a more active role, Putin is finished. And Lukaschenko with him, and Konigsberg returns to Europe. All of Eastern Europe knows it.

  8. Just in case anyone thinks it was that dastardly Putin –

    “The person responsible for the destruction of the Baltimore bridge has been found. It turned out to be the captain of the container ship that rammed the bridge.
    His name is Sergei and he is Ukrainian.”

  9. Saying that America believes this or Europe believes that assumes they are united in their opinions. A significant number of influential people and organisations in the west realise that the war is bad for business – which is why the US is balking at spending more money on the war and why many in europe are openly wanting to turn their backs on Ukraine. Whatever the politicians in the west say the money men will probably have the last word.


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