Putin Has Spent Billions on Ukraine War—And His Military Is Struggling

As Russian President Vladimir Putin's war in Ukraine closes in on the 100-day mark, analysts say his forces have yet to secure a decisive advantage despite the fact that he's pouring billions of dollars into the campaign.

Russia's "original plan was that it would be a war of annihilation, in which a 48-72 hour campaign would crush Ukraine's government, its leaders arrested or killed, and a new government installed to do Russia's bidding," Northwestern University political science professor William Reno told Newsweek.

"Instead, the Ukrainians fought back, and now we're helping to keep them in the fight," he said, adding that "Russia's army isn't turning out to be so great."

Estimates vary on how much Putin is actually spending on the war, but he has to pay his troops while also absorbing the costs of burning through untold amounts of bullets and missiles, in addition to the loss of military vehicles and at least one very expensive warship at the hands of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky's forces. (Russia's $750 million flagship cruiser Moskva was sunk in the Black Sea in mid-April.)

Putin Has Spent Billions on Ukraine War
Estimates vary on how much Putin is actually spending on the war, but he has to pay his troops while also absorbing the costs of burning through untold amounts of bullets and missiles. In this combination image, Vladimir Putin pictured with TOS-1A Solntsepyok (Blazing Sun) multiple thermobaric rocket launchers (L) , Russian officers march during the Victory Day Parade at Red Square on May 9, 2022 (M) and Russian cruiser Moskva (R). gettty/AP

Russian Ministry of Finance data showed that 628 billion rubles of Russia's federal budget in April were spent on national defense, which breaks down to about 21 billion rubles—or more than $330 million—a day, The Moscow Times reported. That figure breaks down to about a billion rubles, or around $15.5 million, per hour spent on the Ukraine war.

But the Ministry of Finance's number may be a low estimate. Sean Spoonts, editor-in-chief of the military news outlet SOFREP, told Newsweek in early May that Russia may be spending closer to around $900 million a day to sustain its war efforts.

SOFREP's estimate calculated troop salaries, munitions, as well as the thousands of critical weapons and cruise missiles that have been used during the war, which run about $1.5 million apiece, according to Spoonts.

None of these figures take into consideration the full impact of the severe economic sanctions imposed on Russia. These sanctions may remain in place even if Russia withdraws its troops, at least in the case of the United States, according to the White House.

Even still, experts tell Newsweek they feel Putin is willing to pay the price.

"Putin's current strategy is for the Russian army to fight a war of attrition over a prolonged period to occupy eastern Ukraine," Lawrence C. Reardon, an associate professor of political science at the University of New Hampshire, told Newsweek.

"Putin believes that democracies are weak and will gradually lose interest in spending tax-payer money to support the Ukrainian military, especially as the invasion has had a devastating impact over global energy and food supplies," Reardon added. "Putin is thus playing the long game and is prepared to spend $300 million a day or more to grind down Ukrainian resistance and Western support for Zelensky."

Michael Kimmage, a history professor at Catholic University and former member of the secretary's policy planning staff at the State Department, told Newsweek in an email that Putin's perception may not be that his military is struggling.

"How Putin assesses the war is anyone's guess," Kimmage said. "I can't imagine his advisers tell him he's losing, or that he thinks he's losing."

Kimmage added that Putin "has staked his entire political career on this war; how it goes will determine Russia's future one way or another...If he wishes, he can mobilize within Russia, formally declare war on Ukraine and bring the full might of his military down on Ukraine. $300 million a day is a lot, but oil prices are going up, and that is increasing Russia's revenues."

However, Reno said that while Putin may be dedicated to fighting a long war in Ukraine, influential and powerful Russians might start to soon lose patience.

"The broader strategic problem for the Russians is that the Ukrainians are slowly wrecking Russia's army, or at least helping to turn it into a force that's a lot weaker in global terms than it was before February 24," Reno said. "At some point, important Russians may question whether it was worth it."

Newsweek reached out to the Russian Foreign Ministry for comment.