Putin’s Ukraine Strategy: Ignore War in Public and Outlast Foes

But Mr. Putin is not betraying any public sense of urgency.

He remains isolated in his pandemic-era cocoon, requiring Russians who meet with him to quarantine for days. (A cosmonaut honored at a Kremlin medal ceremony on Tuesday started his speech with, “Sorry, we’ve been silent for a week in isolation.”)

Mr. Putin seldom goes into detail about the course of the war, even as he sits in lengthy televised meetings on topics like interethnic relations. So banal was the discussion that an Armenian civic leader told Mr. Putin that his group had sent “300,000 chocolate bars with raisins and nuts” to eastern Ukraine.

Instead, he often speaks of the war he ordered as a phenomenon outside of his control. In televised remarks to businesspeople on Friday, he referred to “today’s tragic events.” His silence regarding the dramatic, two-day incursion into Russia this week was a shift from his reaction to a smaller such strike in March, when he called off a trip and denounced the episode as a “terrorist” attack.

When he does discuss Ukraine, his remarks are heavy on distorted history — as if to tell the world that no matter what happens on the ground, Russia is destined to control the country. On Tuesday, the Kremlin released footage of Mr. Putin meeting with Valery Zorkin, the chairman of Russia’s Constitutional Court, who brought with him a copy of a 17th-century French map of Europe.

“There’s no Ukraine” on the map, Mr. Zorkin tells Mr. Putin.

Mr. Putin then falsely asserts that before the Soviet Union was formed, “there was never any Ukraine in the history of humanity.”

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