Last week, for the first time since the invasion began, Vladimir Putin felt confident enough to leave Moscow to visit his tributary states in Central Asia. The Russian dictator looked relaxed and sounded cocksure. "The work [war] is going smoothly, rhythmically" he boasted. "There is no need to talk about the timing." These aren't, unfortunately, the words of a man under pressure. This has now become an artillery war, and he's simply bludgeoning his way through Ukrainian defences until there's nothing left worth fighting for. No matter how many conscripts he loses each week, Putin can afford to simply continue feeding soldiers into the battle and slowly tightening the noose. Kyiv, on the other hand is keenly aware of the thousand lives it's losing each week, particularly as it becomes obvious it can offer no prospect of forcing Moscow to stop fighting. How many are dying? Putin doesn't care. He thinks this 'new' way of war suits him. He believes Ukraine, a democracy, will be unable to cope as he continues to ratchet up the pressure, bit by bit, until it finally fractures under the pressure of interminable war. The West can't help. Putin doesn't care if it sends weapons to Ukraine because its dependence on Russia's massive oil reserves means Europe is still, effectively, funding Putin's war. Meanwhile China and India are both providing him with the diplomatic cover he needs to continue his 'special operation' indefinitely. That's why, although Putin might be losing the battles, it doesn't mean he's losing the war. It's war: but war transformed. At the front the fighting is bitter, intense, and existential. A few miles behind the front, however, normal life continues until a missile suddenly descends without warning to destroy a shopping centre; a car travelling down a road; a block of flats. Putin holds the winning hand. His very madness and unpredictability means he can't be treated as a rational player and because he holds the joker in the pack, the nuclear card, he can't be beaten. While he's had to up the ante more than he wanted, Putin has demonstrated he's not bluffing. His plan is to continue fighting until he wins, letting artillery do what his soldiers can't - until Ukraine's losses are so great, so unbearable, and with no way out, that the democracy eventually sues for peace. In the meantime Putin sells oil, waits for winter, and bathes in the popular support provided by a supine and cowed media in a totalitarian state. As far as the repulsive Russian dictator is concerned, war is back as a weapon of 'statecraft'. How long will this war go on? Until he decides his forces have won. That's why we need to understand how war is changing. New forms of conflict mean traditional responses - more submarines and armoured vehicles - are utterly inadequate. Putin's changed. His initial plan relied on fast air-mobile and armoured assault groups pushing through a fragile defence to seize critical points. The theory was that Ukrainian resistance would collapse allowing the ponderous Russian forces to roll on slowly. That seems to have worked on the southern front, where armoured spearheads pushed rapidly along the Black Sea. Strongholds like the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol were bypassed and left for later; in the centre and north, however, the assault fell apart. Missiles and aircraft can't share airspace at the same time and so the airborne strike on Kyiv relied on careful timing. Western intelligence warned Ukraine that an attack was coming and the airfield defences were boosted, allowing them to hold out just long enough to force the cancellation of a second wave of follow-on forces while a missile strike flew overhead. This meant the Russian special forces became bogged down fighting for these bases, rather than sending spearheads into the capital to capture Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Guided anti-armoured weapons slowed the armoured columns; anti-air missiles stopped the attackers dominating the sky, and stay-behind parties struck at the fragile logistic support the offensive depended on. The Russians decided to pull back. MORE NICHOLAS STUART: But Putin didn't stop, he just switched objectives and changed method. Now the offensive relies on firepower and destruction and Ukrainians can't fight back. That's not simply because they don't have enough artillery. What's far more critical is they can't strike back at anything vital. The war will continue because Putin can't lose. This war will not be resolved on the battlefield. We need to learn from this conflict. The way military force is being used has changed. Australia's defence 'debate' has become debased and politicised. Our forces are preparing to fight battles of the past in the old way while multi-national business conglomerates wrestle with one another attempting to gain contracts for the services' pet projects. Instead of cutting through such self-interested bluster, politicians shamelessly exploit division and focus on buying equipment, as if a new vessel could somehow represent an answer to far more fundamental security questions. We've become trapped in a futile spiral as special interests suck up the oxygen needed to progress towards a real solution. Why would any potential enemy be deterred by armoured vehicles when it could simply starve the continent of fuel for a month, after which any government would need to capitulate? Why bother fighting when precision missiles can strike behind the lines at critical infrastructure? Simply buying equipment reinforces defeat. What's happening in Ukraine has direct resonance for our own strategic situation. Defence Minister Richard Marles will be rigorously analysing what's happening there, because it demonstrates how the focus of war is shifting from the tactical domain (which items of equipment can do what) to the strategic realm (what effects can be created). Australia will need new responses to meet these new challenges. Focusing on inventories of main battle tanks and frigates demonstrates a mind trapped fighting the wars of the past. War is a human activity. Its dimensions are social; not mechanical. The rules by which it's fought are constantly changing. We need to change too.