There is unlikely to be a negotiated settlement given Putin’s oft-stated commitment to “putting the band back together” in the form of the old Soviet Union, of which Ukraine was an integral part. Also likely not in the cards is an outcome similar to the stalemate that ended the Korean War, with Russia retaining control of almost 20 percent of Ukraine. That would be unacceptable to either party.
This war is a clash of civilizations, the third such collision between the world’s autocracies and democracies in a little over a hundred years. Both earlier conflicts ended with the total defeat and eradication of the autocracies—the German and Habsburg Empires in World War I (and collaterally the Russian Empire); Germany, Italy and Japan in World War II. This time around the only way for the democracies’ Ukrainian proxy to win a comparable total victory is for the Russian autocracy to be eliminated. Should it survive the outcome of the war, any Ukrainian “victory” will only be temporary.
Ukraine cannot win if the war goes on for years and becomes a war of attrition. The human and economic toll will eventually overwhelm Ukraine. Putin’s war crimes—attacking civilian targets; kidnapping thousands of Ukrainian children and “russifying” them; and destroying Ukraine’s infrastructure—will have the inevitable effect of forcing Ukraine to its knees. Eventually, Russia’s overwhelming manpower advantage alone could tilt the scales in its favor.
While fear of arousing Putin to more desperate and draconian measures than he has employed so far, including the deployment of tactical nuclear weapons, is real, it has to be balanced against the calculus regarding what it will take for Ukraine to actually win this war. Interestingly, the most vocal advocates of such an approach are the front-line NATO states bordering Russia, the same ones with the most to lose should Putin turn his attention elsewhere if he is successful in Ukraine. He is already moving against Moldova, Ukraine’s tiny, impoverished, and weak neighbor to its South.
The best case that NATO and the West can hope for is Russian regime change, i.e., a coup d’état that topples Putin in favor of a more reasonable and realistic leadership cadre. The Russian military is probably the only entity equipped to bring this about.
Meanwhile, the West must tighten the economic, diplomatic and legal screws on Russia “until the pips squeak” (per British First Lord of the Admiralty Eric Geddes, speaking of Germany in 1918). The UN General Assembly has the authority to establish a special war crimes trial commission for Russia by majority vote. It should do so immediately, and try Putin and his cronies in absentia. We also need to employ all of the carrots and sticks at our disposal to deter China from providing Putin with weapons and to persuade India from remaining neutral and from continuing to buy Russian oil.
While President Biden and the Western alliance deserve great credit for their response to Putin’s aggression, their piecemeal approach to doling out the weapons Ukraine needs for bare-bones survival is quickly becoming inadequate to the task. The country needs much more if it is to have any chance of prevailing—weapons that enable it to better protect itself and take the fight to the Russians. That means state-of-the-art advanced defensive—and offensive—weaponry: jet fighters; drones; long-range artillery; cruise missiles; an Israeli-like “Iron Dome;” and adequate ammunition supplies.
The only thing a murderous thug and bully like Putin understands is strength. The time has come to show him what that means.
March 3, 2023