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Russia is facing a huge geopolitical price for its invasion of Ukraine

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

President Biden and leaders from other NATO countries are meeting this week in Madrid, Spain. They're gathering at a moment when Russia is making significant gains on the battlefield in eastern Ukraine. But while Russia is scoring victories, Moscow is paying a huge price for this conflict that may be unsustainable. NPR's Brian Mann reports.

BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: For a few weeks now, the news out of Ukraine has been especially grim - savage rocket strikes against civilian targets, Ukraine's defense forces pulling back in the Luhansk region. Military analysts and Russia experts generally agree Moscow stopped making the massive blunders that defined the opening weeks of the invasion. Bill Roggio is with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.

BILL ROGGIO: They have gotten back to following their military doctrine of massing their forces, using artillery and basically grinding through the fight.

MANN: But there's also a growing consensus Russia's gains and its goals keep shrinking. Meanwhile, the costs on the battlefield and in Russia's global standing keep escalating.

ROGGIO: Their prestige has definitely taken a hit by not being able to deal a decisive blow to Ukraine. The one thing we've learned is that Russia is not a conventional military threat to NATO in general.

MANN: One thing that often happens in war, experts say, is armies score victories that look important, but they suffer losses along the way that are just too large to sustain. Mason Clark thinks that's happening now in the Donbas fight.

MASON CLARK: They're just slowly losing combat power over time, and the morale of Russian forces is absolutely plummeting.

MANN: Clark heads a team focused on Russia at the Institute for the Study of War. In exchange for modest territorial gains, he says, Russia is sacrificing many of its best soldiers and officers.

CLARK: Long-term, this is going to be a generational event for the Russian military. Frankly, so much expertise is being lost for them among these high officer casualties. It's going to make it very difficult not just to do short-term corrections but rebuild in the long term.

MANN: Moscow has shaken up its leadership of the war. But Ben Hodges, a retired lieutenant general who commanded U.S. forces in Europe, says it's clear core problems haven't been solved.

BEN HODGES: The depth of the corruption inside the Ministry of Defense and the military was much greater than I had expected.

MANN: Hodges, who's now an analyst at a think tank called SIPA, predicts Ukraine's military will continue to grow in strength while Russia falters.

HODGES: The logistics, their manpower problems are so rotten on the inside that I don't believe it's sustainable and that at some point it's going to crack.

MANN: Most analysts think that process will take time. A slow, bloody war of attrition will last months, and Ukraine will continue to pay a terrible price for its resistance. But there's also a growing conviction invading Ukraine will have consequences well beyond the battlefield.

JEFFREY EDMONDS: This is, I think, fairly devastating for the Russians.

MANN: Jeffrey Edmonds is a former director for Russia on the National Security Council, now an analyst at a think tank called CNA. He thinks the growing brain drain and long-term sanctions will cripple Russia.

EDMONDS: He has really set them back decades.

MANN: There are signs Western leaders are confident they have Russia cornered. This week NATO allies will promise even more military aid to Ukraine, hoping to inflict maximum damage on Russia's army. But most analysts agree Russia will remain a major world player, a nuclear power, an important ally of China rich in natural resources. Tracy German, a Russia expert at King's College London, worries there's not yet any plan for dealing with Russia in the future.

TRACY GERMAN: I've seen nothing to suggest that that's really being thought about. And I think that's a critical question - isn't it? - moving forward, how we engage.

MANN: Analysts say a deeply wounded and isolated Russia could be even more unstable, more unpredictable and more dangerous. Brian Mann, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF KAYTRANADA'S "BUS RIDE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.