Professional-Ukrainian fighters stormed throughout the border into southwestern Russia this previous week, prompting two days of the heaviest combating on Russian territory in 15 months of battle. But President Vladimir V. Putin, in public, ignored the matter fully.

He handed out medals, met the patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, hosted pleasant international leaders and made televised small discuss with a Russian decide about how Ukraine was not an actual nation.

In managing Russia’s greatest battle in generations, Mr. Putin more and more seems to be like a commander in chief in absentia: In public, he says subsequent to nothing in regards to the course of the battle and betrays little concern about Russia’s setbacks. As an alternative, he’s telegraphing extra clearly than ever that his technique is to attend out Ukraine and the West — and that he thinks he can win by exhausting his foes.

“There’s no want for any illusions,” stated Natalia Zubarevich, an knowledgeable on Russian social and financial growth at Moscow State College. Mr. Putin, she stated, has laid the home groundwork to maintain the battle for a “lengthy, lengthy, lengthy, lengthy, lengthy” time.

However whereas Western analysts and officers consider that Mr. Putin’s Russia does have the potential to maintain combating, his army, financial and political maneuvering room has narrowed, presenting obstacles to prosecuting a prolonged battle.

Whilst Mr. Putin refers back to the combating as distant “tragic occasions,” the battle retains hitting house — with rising fissures within the army management, unease among the many Russian elite and worrying indicators for the financial system because the West vows to additional wean itself off Russian power.

On the battlefield, Russia’s potential to go on the offensive has shriveled as ammunition has run low and the monthslong battle for the jap Ukrainian metropolis of Bakhmut took hundreds of troopers’ lives. Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, the chief of the Wagner mercenary group that led the assault on Bakhmut, stated he was beginning to pull his troopers out of the town whereas releasing one profane tirade after one other geared toward Russia’s Kremlin-allied elites.

To mount a significant new offensive, Western officers and analysts say that Mr. Putin would want to search out new sources of ammunition — and impose a politically dangerous, second army draft to replenish his depleted troops. Nonetheless, the U.S. director of nationwide intelligence, Avril D. Haines, instructed Congress this month that the probabilities that Mr. Putin would make any concessions in talks this 12 months had been “low,” except he had been to really feel a home political menace.

Western officers additionally stay involved in regards to the risk that he may resort to nuclear weapons, however calculate that the chance is biggest if Mr. Putin is going through a catastrophic defeat that threatens his maintain on energy.

At house, Russia’s financial system has proved versatile sufficient to adapt to Western sanctions, whereas authorities reserves have been adequate to finance increased army spending and elevated welfare funds. However the longer the battle drags on — particularly if oil costs drop — the likelier it’s that the Kremlin could be pressured into onerous decisions on slicing authorities spending or letting inflation surge.

Politically, some researchers argue that public assist for the battle in Russia is broad however shallow — able to shifting rapidly in response to unexpected occasions. The incursions throughout the border this week introduced the battle into Russia in a manner it had not earlier than, stirring unease amongst army bloggers, who’ve a widespread following.

Then there may be the wild card of Mr. Prigozhin, who has been morphing right into a populist politician taking up high Russian officers, and who this week delivered a broadside towards the technique of ready out the West.

In an hourlong video interview with a Russian blogger, Mr. Prigozhin described an unlikely “optimistic state of affairs” through which “Europe and America get bored with the Ukrainian battle, China sits everybody down on the negotiating desk, we agree that all the things we’ve already grabbed is ours.”

The extra seemingly state of affairs, Mr. Prigozhin asserted, is that Ukraine pushes Russian troops again to prewar traces and threatens the Crimean peninsula — the crown jewel amongst Mr. Putin’s Ukrainian land grabs.

Western analysts and officers doubt that Ukraine’s upcoming counteroffensive can ship a knockout blow. On the similar time, they are saying that Russia’s potential to wage the battle is steadily degrading, as evidenced by tens of hundreds of casualties in Bakhmut and the sharp decline within the variety of shells that Russian forces are firing per day in jap Ukraine in contrast with the peak of the battle final 12 months.

“It’s not as if the Russians will abruptly cease having the ability to wage a battle,” stated Max Bergmann, a former State Division official now on the Middle for Strategic and Worldwide Research in Washington. “The query is can they nonetheless wage it with any type of depth.”

However Mr. Putin shouldn’t be betraying any public sense of urgency.

He stays remoted 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 began his speech with, “Sorry, we’ve been silent for every week in isolation.”)

Mr. Putin seldom goes into element in regards to the course of the battle, at the same time as he sits in prolonged televised conferences on matters like interethnic relations. So banal was the dialogue that an Armenian civic chief instructed Mr. Putin that his group had despatched “300,000 chocolate bars with raisins and nuts” to jap Ukraine.

As an alternative, he typically speaks of the battle he ordered as a phenomenon outdoors of his management. In televised remarks to businesspeople on Friday, he referred to “immediately’s tragic occasions.” His silence relating to the dramatic, two-day incursion into Russia this week was a shift from his response to a smaller such strike in March, when he referred to as off a visit and denounced the episode as a “terrorist” assault.

When he does focus on Ukraine, his remarks are heavy on distorted historical past — as if to inform the world that it doesn’t matter what occurs on the bottom, Russia is destined to manage the nation. On Tuesday, the Kremlin launched footage of Mr. Putin assembly with Valery Zorkin, the chairman of Russia’s Constitutional Courtroom, who introduced with him a replica of a Seventeenth-century French map of Europe.

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

Mr. Putin then falsely asserts that earlier than the Soviet Union was fashioned, “there was by no means any Ukraine within the historical past of humanity.”

Some Russian officers are already looking forward to subsequent 12 months’s presidential election in america, hinting {that a} Republican victory may flip the tide. Dmitri A. Medvedev, the previous Russian president and the vice chairman of Mr. Putin’s safety council, stated this week that “the primary factor” was that President Biden not be re-elected.

Former President Donald J. Trump, who’s the early front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination, “is an efficient man,” Mr. Medvedev stated, and, “traditionally, it was at all times simpler to work with the Republicans.”

However there are dangers to Mr. Putin’s wait-and-see strategy past the potential of a battlefield breakthrough by Ukraine. Tatiana Stanovaya, a senior fellow on the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Middle, argues that Mr. Putin’s “tactic of inaction” may elevate the affect of hard-liners like Mr. Prigozhin.

“Russia’s elites are liable to see defeatism in inaction,” she wrote this month. “Already, Putin is struggling to clarify what precisely he’s ready for.”

The sturdiness of Russian public assist for the battle — just like the financial stability that helps underpin it — is way from clear.

However some researchers and American officers consider that cracks in pro-war sentiment have already begun to point out due to heavy casualties.

A latest report from a bunch of Russian sociologists, primarily based on scores of in-depth interviews, argues that Russians see the battle as “a pure catastrophe” they can’t do something about, reasonably than as one thing they’re firmly satisfied is true.

“This assist shouldn’t be constructed on basic political positions or some ideological views,” stated Sasha Kappinen, one of many report’s authors, who makes use of a pseudonym for safety causes as a result of she works at a college in Russia. “This isn’t steady assist.”

Russia has spent closely to placate most people for the reason that battle started, rising welfare funds and easing the burden on small companies. Its financial system has tailored to sanctions, benefiting from the quite a few international locations outdoors North America and Western Europe that proceed to do brisk commerce with Russia.

Ms. Zubarevich, the Moscow financial growth knowledgeable, stated the federal government had the capability to maintain spending at its present clip a minimum of till the presidential election subsequent March, when Mr. Putin, 70, is predicted to run for a fifth time period. However a fall within the worth of oil may drive the federal government to chop spending on issues like infrastructure.

“The 2 sacred cows are state protection procurement and assist for low-income teams and pensioners,” she stated, referring to the necessity to fulfill key constituencies. “They are going to be saved in place for so long as doable.”

On the similar time, analysts and Russians who know Mr. Putin nonetheless see him as essentially versatile and opportunistic — a person who would in all probability settle for a freeze within the combating if it had been provided, at the same time as he prepares to struggle on for years. Consequently, well-connected folks in Moscow see an unpredictable future whereas girding for an extended battle.

“Putin’s spectrum of choices is fairly broad,” a distinguished businessman in Moscow stated, “from doing a cease-fire immediately to combating a hundred-year battle.”

Julian E. Barnes and Oleg Matsnev contributed reporting.