If you hope that the geopolitical instability caused by Vladimir Putin’s war with Ukraine has reached its peak, then you are mistaken. We haven’t seen anything yet
Wait until Putin fully realizes that in the war with Ukraine he has only two options for defeat. He can lose earlier, not so catastrophically and with a relatively small degree of humiliation, or lose later, in a big way and get real humiliation.
I can’t even imagine the financial and political upheaval that Russia, the world’s third-largest oil exporter with about 6,000 nuclear warheads, will experience when it loses a war started by a man who can’t afford to admit defeat.
Why can’t? Because Putin probably knows that«Russian national traditions do not forgive military failures,” notes Leon Aron, a Russia expert at the American Enterprise Institute, who is writing a book about Putin’s path to Ukraine.
«Virtually every major defeat has led to radical change, Aron continues in an article for The Washington Post. – Crimean War(1853−1856) accelerated the liberal revolution of Emperor Alexander II. Russo-Japanese War(1904−1905) led to the First Russian Revolution. The catastrophe of the First World War led to the abdication of Emperor Nicholas II and the Bolshevik Revolution. And the war in Afghanistan was a key factor in Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s reforms. In addition, the withdrawal from Cuba contributed greatly to the removal of Nikita Khrushchev two years later.
It will become more and more clear in the coming weeks that our biggest problem with Putin in Ukraine is that he refuses to lose sooner and less. And the only possible alternative is that he will lose big later. But since this is his own war, and he can’t admit defeat, he can keep raising the stakes in Ukraine until…until he thinks about using nuclear weapons.
Why do I say that defeat in Ukraine is the only option for Putin, and that the only question is timing and scale? Because the easy invasion by small forces and the warm welcome from the Ukrainians, which he imagined, were pure fantasies. This is the reason for everything that follows.
Putin totally underestimated Ukraine’s desire to be an independent country
Putin has completely underestimated Ukraine’s desire to be an independent country and become part of the West. He completely underestimated the desire of many Ukrainians to fight, even if this fight means death in the name of these two goals.
He completely overestimated his own armed forces. He completely underestimated President Biden’s ability to galvanize a global economic and military coalition to enable Ukrainians to stand and fight and devastate Russia from within.
This is the most effective US attempt at coalition building since George W. Bush forced Saddam Hussein to pay for his reckless takeover of Kuwait. Putin also completely underestimated the ability of companies and individuals around the world to engage in economic sanctions against Russia and to increase them far beyond what was initiated or sanctioned by governments.
When you as a leader make so many mistakes, the best option is to get out of the game as early as possible with minimal losses. In the case of Putin, this would mean the immediate withdrawal of his troops from Ukraine. For example, under the pretext of a saving lie that«special military operation” successfully protected Russians living in Ukraine. But the attendant inevitable humiliation would certainly be unbearable for this man, who is obsessed with restoring the dignity and unity of what he considers the Russian homeland.
By the way, judging by how things are now in Ukraine, it is possible that Putin could lose early and big. I would not bet on this, but every day more and more Russian soldiers die in Ukraine. Who knows what is happening now with the morale of conscripts to the Russian army, because they are being taken to a deadly war in urban conditions against fellow Slavs for reasons that have not been explained to them.
Given the widespread resistance of Ukrainians to Russian occupation, in order to achieve a military victory, Putin needs to capture all the major cities of Ukraine. Including the capital Kyiv – probably after several weeks of hostilities and massive civilian casualties. To achieve this, Putin and his generals will succeed only by committing war crimes that Europe has not seen since Hitler. This will make Putin’s Russia an international pariah forever.
Besides, how can Putin maintain control over another country, Ukraine, which is home to about a third of Russia’s population and many of its inhabitants are hostile to Moscow? Apparently, he will have to leave every single one of the 150,000 soldiers who invaded Ukraine there forever. And perhaps this will not be enough.
I just don’t see a way for Putin to win in Ukraine in the long run, simply because it’s not the country he envisioned. Not the kind of country that is just waiting for its “Nazi leadership” to be quickly beheaded, and for itself to be gently returned to the bosom of Mother Russia.
Therefore, either Putin is now cutting his losses and walking away without a sip, hoping to avoid at least part of the sanctions in order to resurrect the Russian economy and stay in power, or he will face an endless war against Ukraine and most of the world, which will slowly drain Russia’s strength and destroy its infrastructure.
Since Putin seems to be obsessed with ideas that lead precisely to the second option, I am horrified. Because only one thing can be scarier than a strong Russia under Putin. This is a weak, humiliated, divided Russia with a mess of power and all these nuclear warheads, cybercriminals and oil and gas wells around.
Putin’s Russia is not so big that it cannot fail. However, it is big enough to fail, which will cause turmoil in the rest of the world.