Whether Mr Putin can find a way out of that dilemma will likely be a crucial moment.
In a recent report for Rusi, Mr Reynolds and Dr Jack Watling, a senior research fellow, suggested that May 9, when Russia celebrates the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany, might be used as a moment to rhetorically recast the invasion as a war “to galvanise a wider mobilisation” and brace the Russian population for a long struggle.
The true level of support for the war in Russia is almost impossible to gauge, but it has likely been boosted by propaganda claims that it is only a special operation.
Dismantling that lie could prove politically fraught, as might attempts to formally involve conscripts and reserves. Mr Putin has already ordered an “investigation” into how conscripts ended up at the front earlier in the conflict.
Either way, as Mr Reynolds, told The Telegraph, Russia has “backed itself into a corner” with its extreme rhetoric around denazification and de-Ukrainianisation. Kyiv’s relative success and Russia’s apparent war crimes and purging of Ukrainian populations in occupied territories mean it too has little incentive to seek peace.