Whatever Vladimir Putin may have in mind for Ukraine, an independent country he nonetheless considers part of the Russian motherland, ordinary Russians are expressing little enthusiasm for a shooting war to make their leader’s dream a reality.
For months, the Kremlin has been positioning tens of thousands of troops and heavy weaponry near Russia’s border with Ukraine, rattling nerves in a nascent democracy that saw a chunk of its territory — the strategic Crimean peninsula — snatched away in 2014.
While there is no question that Ukraine’s military is vastly outmatched by Russia’s, analysts say it’s also likely that Ukrainian troops — desperate and motivated by defense of their homeland — would be in a position to inflict painful casualties on Russian invaders, even if they could not hold them off for long.
Winter wars in this part of the world tend to be miserable slogs — as Napoleon, in the 19th century, and Hitler, in the 20th, could attest. Many Russians suspect, with good reason, that the government would be highly secretive about any combat fatalities in a war in Ukraine.
There are dwindling numbers of Russians with firsthand recollections of the Kremlin going to great lengths to conceal gruesome Soviet losses in Afghanistan, from which it made a humiliating retreat in 1989. But it’s harder to keep secrets in the social-media age, and any serious body count in a Ukraine fight “could, for some people, harken back to those days,” said Andrea Kendall-Taylor, a senior fellow and Russia expert at the Center for a New American Security.
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