The most likely outcome, sadly, is that the Russian will direct his troops to fight until he grounds Ukraine into dust.
It’s always chancy to unleash the dogs of war: You never know who they’re going to bite. With Vladimir Putin’s attack on Ukraine, all we know for sure is that, regardless of the outcome, the result won’t exactly be rosy for the Russian president.
It does seem clear what Mr. Putin thought would happen. For some reason, his Kremlin crowd decided now was the time to swallow Ukraine whole, once and for all. Why?
Perhaps it’s because they saw weakness in President Biden, as well as in a tentative cluster of European countries on the other side of Ukraine. He obviously gambled that they’d be unwilling to do much for Ukraine.
As Mr. Putin massed his military, he thought that either the West would flinch and hand over the country, or Russian forces would invade in a lightning campaign, assassinate all the key government officials on day one or two, and frighten the Ukrainians into capitulation with their show of strength. After the West wouldn’t cut a deal, Mr. Putin rolled the dice on a quick win.
Well, here we are in the second week of the two-day invasion, and the Ukrainian flag is still flying.
There are still several possible outcomes. If Mr. Putin really wants to win—and since he has risked so much already—it’s too much to expect that he will easily back down. The most likely outcome, sadly, is that the Russian will direct his troops to fight until he grounds Ukraine into dust, leaving a devastated country and masses of butchered innocents and refugees in his wake. That, now, is the “best” Mr. Putin can hope for.
Here is why the most optimistic outcome for Mr. Putin is still bad news for him. For one, the cost will be astronomical. Mr. Biden, arguably, helped underwrite Mr. Putin’s war with reckless energy policies that have oil prices rocketing to as much as $130 a barrel. While oil exports can help pay for the Putin war, the cost isn’t cheap. The protracted conflict is burning through Russian cash.
The cost of occupying any wasteland Mr. Putin conquered would be higher. At the same time, the value of the Russian currency is crashing, blazing faster than a Russian helicopter shot down by a stinger missile. And sanctions are going to make doing business worldwide much more difficult.
After Ukraine, Mr. Putin might want to move on to other targets including lands where Russia is already a threatening influence—in the Balkans, Moldova, and Georgia, or even NATO territory like the Baltic states. At best, though, the Russian military would have to pause and regroup.
NATO, for one, would likely be a much more difficult target. Mr. Putin has inadvertently finished President Trump’s work for him. The allies’ rush to beef up defense capabilities—led by, of all countries, Germany—is surely not a scenario Mr. Putin had hoped for. If the momentum continues, Mr. Putin will face a military stalemate.
Further, if this crisis propels America and Europe to face the need to come up with responsible policies that deliver affordable, reliable, and abundant energy without relying on Russia, Mr. Putin will lose his two main weapons to intimidate the West: military and energy blackmail.
Worse, Mr. Putin’s only remaining friend of consequence is China. That’s like saying the only person who has Jason Voorhees’s back is Freddy Krueger. Beijing can’t be happy it’s had to shill for Mr. Putin’s inexcusable war of aggression. That only makes China look like an accomplice. It can’t bail out the enormous backsliding of the Russian economy.
As for President Xi’s claim that he was misled by Mr. Putin: nonsense. Sure, China hopes to avoid blow-back from the anger that the free world is heaping on Moscow, but it’s all in for Russia and will do what it can to help.
While this all seems bad for Mr. Putin, it could be an even worse winter in Moscow if Ukrainians continue their heroic stand and his forces can’t conquer the country.
None of Mr. Putin’s misery should give us joy. His tragedy was born of greater tragedy. Forty-four million Ukrainians were thrown to the wolves because Mr. Biden couldn’t muster a response to Mr. Putin’s threat.
The greatest leaders prevent the wars of tyrants by peace through strength. Mr. Biden looks like the fireman who took a day off and let the arsonist run wild.
This piece originally appeared in The Sun