Will Vladimir Putin Be Able to Say He Won the War? | National Review

Will Vladimir Putin Be Able to Say He Won the War? | National Review

Russian President Vladimir Putin smiles during a holiday in Siberia, Russia, March 21, 2021. (Sputnik/Alexei Druzhinin/Kremlin via Reuters)

As mentioned on a just-taped edition of The Editors podcast, I worry that Vladimir Putin is going to come away from the invasion of Ukraine with just enough Ukrainian concessions to claim he won – a result that will give other autocrats ideas about launching other wars of territorial conquest.

Sure, by most standards, the invasion has been a colossal disaster for Russia. That report of 9,861 Russian soldiers killed and another 16,153 wounded so far, in a Kremlin-friendly tabloid, is jaw-dropping. That would mean that in about three weeks, the Russians suffered two-thirds as many soldiers killed in action as they did in the nearly-decade-long invasion of Afghanistan.

The Russian economy is collapsing into a shambles with a devalued ruble, closed stores, and product shortages; there are some early signs that Russian oil exports have suddenly and severely dropped. Goldman Sachs predicts the Russian economy will shrink by ten percent this year.

The once-fearsome reputation of the Russian military is destroyed like all of those tanks and supply vehicles. Russia’s once-close relationship with certain European countries like Germany is similarly destroyed, unlikely to be restored for many years. In much of the world, Russia is a pariah state, and Putin is perceived as a reckless, brutal, bloodthirsty madman.

So how can Russia be winning?

The human suffering that is being inflicted upon Ukraine is so horrific that it is likely that certain voices in the West will want Volodymyr Zelensky to take whatever ceasefire proposal is on the table, and make concessions to end the war.

If Putin comes away with Luhansk and Donetsk recognized as pro-Russian “independent republics” – de facto client states — and some other territorial acquisitions including a land bridge to Crimea, along with a guarantee that Ukraine will never join NATO – and establishing the precedent that Russia can veto Ukraine’s alliances and relationships with other countries — and however they choose to define “de-Nazification”  … and large swaths of what’s left of unconquered Ukraine have been bombed to rubble, and will take many years to rebuild… then Putin got a decent amount of what he wanted.

If that scenario comes to pass, Russia will end the war with more territory than when it started. Putin will have imposed his will on a neighboring democracy through sheer brute force, while NATO just watched from across the border. Russia’s nuclear arsenal – and perhaps Russia’s sizable supply of tactical nukes — will have proven an effective deterrent of U.S. and NATO actions.

Sure, Zelensky will be well along the road to becoming a legendary figure in Ukrainian history, and Ukrainian nationalism is likely to be stronger than ever. Whatever Russian-Ukrainian border emerges from this conflict is unlikely to be truly peaceful for a long, long time. But the Ukrainians are paying a price for their resistance that is hard for us to comprehend — with a trauma that is comparable to the shock and horror of 9/11 all over an entire country. As much as some Ukrainians may want to fight Russia forever, other Ukrainians are likely to want to avoid another conflict with Russia. Future Ukrainians will face a difficult choice: would they rather live as a docile client state like Belarus, or have their cities reduced to rubble again?

As for Russia’s economy, Moscow will seek to maximize new opportunities with oil exports to India, a new natural gas pipeline to China. Other moves, like the possibility of Saudi Arabia pricing some of its oil sales to China in yuan, suggest the formation of powerful economic bloc of Russia, China, and various players like Iran, Saudi Arabia, or India, forming an alternative to the systems of the U.S. and its European and Asian allies. And if and when the shooting stops, who knows how long European fury at Russia will last. The Biden administration is still willing to have Russia be a major player in negotiations with Iran.

None of this is certain to come to pass. The U.S. and its allies can’t control much about this war, but they can control how much they supply the Ukrainians, and whether they pressure Zelensky to take whatever deal Russia is willing to offer, or whether they encourage Zelensky and the Ukrainians to continue to resist.

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About the Author

Tony Beasley
Tony Beasley writes for the Local News, US and the World Section of ANH.