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Putin attempts to show he's not isolated with visits to Russian troops

Russian President Vladimir Putin arrives as he visited headquarters of the Russian troops fighting in Ukraine.
Russian President Vladimir Putin arrives as he visited headquarters of the Russian troops fighting in Ukraine.

Updated April 19, 2023 at 10:37 AM ET

Russian President Vladimir Putin was attempting to demonstrate that he's not isolated "in a bunker" by meeting with commanders in two regions of Ukraine that Moscow claims to have annexed. That's the conclusion of Angela Stent, a senior adviser to the Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies and professor emerita of government and foreign service at Georgetown University.

The Kremlin's announcement that Putin had visited Kherson and Luhansk followed a leak of Pentagon documents that suggest infighting within the ranks of Russia's military. Moscow's federal security service, known as the FSB, estimates the number of dead and wounded Russian troops to be near 110,000.

Stent, who is also a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, tells NPR's Michel Martin on Morning Edition that Russian progress in a "grinding war of attrition" in Ukraine has been hindered by corruption in the military, poor training, and poorly maintained equipment.

Images of the Russian president's travel also offered a counterpoint to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's frequent visits to his country's troops. Zelenskyy traveled to the small eastern city of Avdiivka Tuesday to hear a battlefield briefing and thank Ukrainian troops for their services.

The interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Interview highlights

On Ukraine's assessment that recent Russian assaults failed

This is a grinding war of attrition and the Russians have already lost a fifth of the territory that they've taken since they began the war in February of last year. And that's because of corruption in the Russian military. We know about that. The equipment is rusted and they haven't trained their recruits properly. So they have not made the kind of progress that they thought they would. And the Ukrainians have been fighting very valiantly back.

On the message Putin intended to send

He's been accused by some of the pro-war bloggers of kind of living in a bunker and not meeting with the troops. I think he wanted to show that he is not in a bunker and that he supports them., and in view of what we think will be an imminent Ukrainian counteroffensive, that he wants to support them. And also, President Zelenskyy, of course, is visiting his troops regularly. So I think it's also probably to show that Putin is not isolated from what's going on in the war.

On Russia's use of the court system to imprison critics and journalists

This is part of the war effort and it's really a message to the outside world, don't criticize us. It's a message to Russians, too - very important - we are going to prosecute this war and you have no right to question that. So this is part of Putin's real clampdown domestically since the war began last year.

Jan Johnson and Mohamad ElBardicy edited this story. contributed to this story

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.

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