Failures in Ukraine haven't left 'cracks' in Putin's hold on power, German spy chief says, warning Russia has what it needs to wage a long war

  • Germany's spy chief, Bruno Kahl, said there are no "cracks" in Putin's system despite Russia's failures in Ukraine.

  • The Kremlin has gone to extraordinary lengths to stifle opposition to the war in Ukraine.

  • Kahl warned that "Russia is still capable of waging a long-range war" in Ukraine.

The war in Ukraine has often seen Russia's military humiliated on the battlefield, dealing a major blow to its prestige in the eyes of the world. The conflict has also left Moscow increasingly isolated on the international stage, cementing Russian President Vladimir Putin's status as a global pariah.

But Putin still maintains a strong grip on power in Russia in spite of the Kremlin's handling of the war and its myriad consequences for Russian society, according to Bruno Kahl, the head of the German Intelligence Agency (BND).

"We see no cracks in the Putin system," Kahl said on Monday at the Federal Academy for Security Policy, the German news outlet Deutsche Welle reported.

The Kremlin has gone to extraordinary lengths to stifle opposition to the war in Ukraine. Putin signed a law that effectively outlawed criticism of Russia's unprovoked invasion, and high-profile critics of the war have been thrown behind bars while independent media outlets have been forced to shut down or move their operations abroad.

In this kind of environment, it's difficult to get an accurate read on public sentiment toward the war in Russia. Polls suggest that a majority of Russians support the war, but polling conducted in an authoritarian country cannot be relied upon.

What is clearer is that Putin has made it exceptionally difficult to oppose him and his ambitions.

Putin has ruled over Russia for more than two decades and signed a law in 2019 that would allow him to stay in power until 2036.

Russia was expected to easily defeat Ukraine, and its failures in the war have raised questions as to whether Putin's firm grip on power in Russia might slip. In an interview with Margaret Brennan on "Face the Nation" that aired on Sunday, former US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said that "Putin, given how badly the war has gone, has to worry, at some point, that his military decides he's a problem."

That said, Putin appears to have maintained his stranglehold over leadership in Russia so far, and the military continues to pursue his objectives in Ukraine despite severe losses for only minimal gains.

"Putin's bet is that he can outlast the Ukrainians, outlast the Europeans, and outlast us," Gates said, echoing a widely held assessment about the Russian leader's broader strategy.

Along these lines, the German spy chief on Monday also warned that "Russia is still capable of waging a long-range war" in Ukraine, citing the country's vast manpower and combat power, which includes new recruits and sufficient ammunition stockpiles. Kahl said Putin could be successful unless the West continues to offer concerted support to Ukraine.

NATO countries have offered Ukraine billions in security aid since the war began, including advanced weapons that have played an important role in the fight. But some, including Gates, have criticized the pace at which various types of aid to Ukraine has been approved.

"I understand the need to avoid a direct confrontation with the Russians, but we learned pretty early on that as long as we weren't providing things that could attack Russia proper, that Putin was not going to retaliate," Gates told Brennan.

Recently, after a lengthy debate, Ukraine received a substantial influx of armored vehicles, including Western tanks. At the moment, though progress is slow, there is a growing push to provide Kyiv F-16 fighter aircraft that could strengthen Ukraine's airpower.

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