A new political reality is emerging in Russia as the result of internal disruption caused by the war against Ukraine. This isn’t the first bifurcation point in the Putin regime: other examples include the annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the poisoning of opposition leader Alexei Navalny in 2020. The difference is that the regime had incubated previous landmark decisions within itself, and moved toward them gradually as they germinated. The war, in contrast, caught the Russian elites unawares, and Putin’s inability to bring it to a swift and victorious end is radically changing the nature and prospects of internal political processes.

For the first time in his reign of nearly a quarter of a century, the president has made a radical strategic decision almost entirely on his own. No matter how loyal the Russian elites may be, no matter how ready they may have been to share Putin’s logic, or at least to resign themselves to it, that doesn’t alter the fact that the war was thrust upon them without any discussion or preparations.