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The war will go on until Russia essentially cannibalizes Ukraine, professor says

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Let's turn next to Sergey Radchenko. He's a Russian academic with Ukrainian heritage who works in the West. He's at Johns Hopkins and currently actually in London. Welcome to the program.

SERGEY RADCHENKO: Oh, thank you for having me on the program.

INSKEEP: So Russia's military for the first time is spelling out its goals in this so-called second phase of the war. There's a general who says Russia plans to seize full control over the Donbas region - That's the eastern part of the country - and also full control over southern Ukraine to connect it with Crimea. Do you feel you understand Russia's strategy?

RADCHENKO: Well, the Russian strategy has been shifting throughout this conflict. They counted, obviously, on a short victory within a few days. That failed. They failed to topple the government in Kyiv. So they've shifted now to trying to capture control over Donbas and also capture - according to these latest statements, capture southern Ukraine so as to deny Ukraine access to scene - potentially access Transnistria, which is another frozen conflict in Moldova, where there are also pro-Russian separatists.

INSKEEP: And I'll just note Brian Mann was describing reports of military activity in southern Ukraine, which suggests there could be some truth to the Russian desire, at least, to grab that part of the country.

RADCHENKO: Well, absolutely. That - you know, I don't think we should underestimate Russian firepower. And although they've found this war very difficult, tough going so far, the ability to inflict considerable damage remains. And I think - you know, I think the Russians are determined to continue this war until they essentially cannibalize Ukraine. I think that's the game plan for now.

INSKEEP: We had a glimpse through an open door again in Russia. There was a pro-Kremlin Telegram channel that posted a report of thousands of casualties and then took it back down again. We don't really know how many Russian dead there are, but we know there are a lot of them. At what point, if at all, do Russia's military losses influence Russia's strategic actions?

RADCHENKO: Well, we've had that - this is the second time this sort of leak happens. It's not clear whether it's a hack or a leak. It's not exactly clear how many Russians have been lost, how many Russian troops have been lost in this war. But, of course, a considerable number has been lost. And that actually bounces back against the public opinion in Russia as the Russians take in for the first time the real costs of this war in terms of their, you know, cost for their own troops, their own soldiers. Does the government worry about this? I think so. I think that's one of the reasons why Putin actually publicly called off the storm of remaining holdout in Azovstal plant in Mariupol because he worried...

INSKEEP: Oh, this is very - you're saying that when Putin said the casualties there are pointless, that he meant it, at least in terms of reassuring public opinion that they're not senselessly sending people into their deaths.

RADCHENKO: Well, it's not a total war for Putin yet. He's still trying to do it on the cheap, as it were. He's not - he has not committed the full extent of Russian resources to this war. Obviously, he's trying to keep the losses as low as possible because he understands that military losses and economic problems, which Russia is now facing, increasingly serious economic problems, will translate long term into a decrease of support for this war on the part of the broader population.

INSKEEP: How much anxiety do you perceive about the longer and longer term effect of sanctions on Russia?

RADCHENKO: Well, there - obviously, they will face serious economic problems. I mean, Russia is already having massive inflation. On the other hand, the immediate effect of sanctions was, of course - you know, there was a considerable horror in Russia itself. We've seen some of that horror dissipating now over the weeks because, you know, the ruble has seemingly stabilized, and the economy continues. So over the long term, it's conceivable that Russia will adjust to economic sanctions, much as it has adjusted to much weaker economic sanctions back in 2014. But obviously, over the long, long term, those sanctions will have their effect in decreasing Russia's economic growth.

INSKEEP: In a few seconds, are the sanctions most hurting the people who are most sympathetic to the West because they were the people who had connections to the outside?

RADCHENKO: Well, some of them certainly do. So, for example, Russian dissidents who have been forced to flee Russia cannot access their money in Russia because their bank cards do not work. But, you know, it's - the sanctions this time have been very extensive and. A lot of people in Russia, as well, are facing problems, You know, just in terms of unemployment, etc.

INSKEEP: Sergey Radchenko is a professor of Russian history at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. Thanks so much.

RADCHENKO: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.