One evening in late December, as Muscovites strolled along their city’s brightly lit streets in anticipation of the end-of-year celebrations, a group of old friends gathered for dinner at the flat of a senior state official.
Some of the guests present, which included members of Russia’s cultural and political elite, toasted a new year in which they expressed hope for peace and a return to normality.
As the night went on, a man who needed little introduction stood up for a toast, holding his glass.
“I am guessing you are expecting me to say something,” said Dmitry Peskov, Vladimir Putin’s longtime spokesperson, according to one of the two people who separately recounted the evening to the Guardian under conditions of anonymity.
“Things will get much harder. This will take a very, very long time,” Peskov continued.
His toast darkened the mood of the evening among the guests, many of whom have said in private that they oppose the war in Ukraine. “It was uncomfortable to hear his speech. It was clear that he was warning that the war will stay with us and we should prepare for the long haul,” one guest said.
More than a year into an invasion that, according to Russian planning, was supposed to take weeks, Vladimir Putin’s government is putting society on a war footing with the west and digging in for a multi-year conflict. [Continue reading…]