Pro-Ukrainian fighters stormed across the border into southwestern Russia this past week, prompting two days of the heaviest fighting on Russian territory in 15 months of war. Yet Russian President Vladimir Putin, in public, ignored the matter entirely.

He handed out medals, met the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, hosted friendly foreign leaders and made televised small talk with a Russian judge about how Ukraine was not a real country.

In managing Russia’s biggest war in generations, Putin increasingly looks like a commander in chief in absentia: In public, he says next to nothing about the course of the war and betrays little concern about Russia’s setbacks. Instead, he is telegraphing more clearly than ever that his strategy is to wait out Ukraine and the West — and that he thinks he can win by exhausting his foes.