Cost of Putin's war in Ukraine is 'very hard to hide' in Russia: Expert

University of Wisconsin-Madison Professor of Politics and International Relations Yoshiko Herrera joins Yahoo Finance Live to discuss the latest on the Russia-Ukraine war.

Video Transcript

JULIE HYMAN: All of this occurring as Russia's invasion of Ukraine continues. They are making incursions into the south of Ukraine, in particular, along the Black Sea. Let's talk about the evolving and developing situation here. Yoshiko Herrera is a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor of politics, international relations, with a concentration in Russia. Yoshiko, thank you for being here this morning.

We keep talking about all this pain. Obviously, there is a lot of pain for Ukraine, which is being attacked. But I also want to talk to you about the perspective on the Russian public and what role, if any, they play in all of this because they, obviously, are now under deep economic sanctions. Considering, obviously, there's one man in charge in Russia, will it matter if there is dissatisfaction on the part of the Russian public?

YOSHIKO HERRERA: Yeah, this is a big question right now. Putin has spent the last 22 years consolidating his control. He has arrested, I think, as of yesterday, more than 7,000 people who'd gone out in protest. He shut down an opposition radio station that's been operating since 1991. So he has been systematically arresting and sidelining opposition figures and threatening people who, right now, are-- even who use the language of war. You are not allowed to say war about the war in Ukraine or invasion of Ukraine. You have to just say it's a special operation.

His main opposition, his main opponent, Alexei Navalny, is in prison. That's the one he tried to assassinate last year. So it's a very dangerous situation for people to speak out. Nevertheless, despite-- he also controls state TV comprehensively. But despite that, people are noticing what's happening in the economy. They can't help but notice the lines for foreign currency, the announcements of major stores closing, like IKEA, the sports boycott, et cetera. These are things that will be very hard to hide.

BRIAN SOZZI: Well, then, how do they respond? Can they respond?

YOSHIKO HERRERA: Well, you know, there is-- I think there's a lot of uncertainty now about whether there will continue to be street protests, whether those protests will increase in scale. I mean, you can't arrest everybody. It's dangerous for people to go out. But nevertheless, I think that as the economy continues to tank, there's going to be a lot of pressure on the regime to do something or explain something.

And so I think the possibility of further protests is reasonably high, even though, you know, there's some people pessimistic and think that Putin will be able to hold it together. I think that there's likely to be a lot of discontent. And that could come out in a cascading effect, where it sort of is a now out of nowhere situation. Because when people see other people on the street, that may embolden them to go out as well.

And from the oligarchy, from the wealthy circle of Putin supporters, you can see that the individual sanctions, if they haven't already turned those oligarchs against him, that that is turning. The question is, how much power do they have? And that's really the big question for people is, is Putin listening to anyone? It's clear that lots of people in Russia are dissatisfied with the war, but is he listening to anyone? And does anybody have the ability to affect his decision-making? That's a question we don't know yet.

JULIE HYMAN: Well, and then my question is-- and admittedly, I'm no expert in foreign policy, but does this ratchet up the risk of an increase in brutality when it comes to either within Russia or in Ukraine? In other words, if Putin somehow feels pressured that he wants to complete the mission, I think is the words that they have been, using more quickly, does that increase the chances that we will see heavier bombardment, less regard, even less regard for civilian casualties, et cetera?

YOSHIKO HERRERA: Yes. I mean, in a word, yes. I think that there's a threat not only of increased violence as the military campaign is kind of stalled in Ukraine in terms of their belief of a quick victory is not materializing. So I think the chance of increased violence in Ukraine is, I would say, very high. On the other hand, one of the problems that they're having is that Ukrainian soldiers are meeting people who look like their parents or relatives.

And it's not a dehumanized situation in some of the other conflicts that Russia has been involved in and Putin has been involved in, namely in Chechnya in the early 2000s. This is one where people have-- there's a lot of intermarriage. There's a lot of connections. People speak the same language. So they're-- I think that there is an impulse for further violence from the Putin regime. But I think that whether or not the military is going to be willing to carry it out is a question.

And the reaction at home from soldiers' families, from soldiers' mothers, I think is also another piece of the uncertainty. The Ministry of Defense yesterday reported-- first day, had reported zero deaths in the early days. They reported 500 deaths. A lot of people think that's underestimated maybe by a factor of 10. And so as there's more casualties on the Russian military side, I think that's going to put pressure on the regime.

But the other thing is that Ukrainian casualties, too, are going to have an effect in Russia, to the extent people have access to that information, because these are people that Russians see as very similar to them, that they know in terms of relatives, et cetera. And so I don't think it's going to be so easy to brush the cost of this war aside.

JULIE HYMAN: Thank you so much for your perspective this morning. Yoshiko Herrera is a professor of politics and international relations at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Thank you so much. Appreciate it.