Putin has a very clear strategy for ending his war in Ukraine. He
intends to wipe the country off the map.
he’d hoped to do so by seizing Kyiv, replacing the government,
and absorbing as much of Ukrainian territory into Russia as he
after the resistance of the Ukrainians, he is looking to eliminate
their country by a different method. He will bomb it into submission
from the air and depopulate the country by turning millions of its
citizens into refugees.
outflow of Ukrainians has the additional benefit, from Putin’s
point of view, of putting pressure on the rest of Europe and sowing
discord among NATO members. Putin saw how effective Belarusian
dictator Alexander Lukashenko was last year in using
several thousand desperate migrants
from the Middle East as a weapon to provoke European countries. Putin
is calculating that a wave of refugees several orders of magnitude
larger will swell the anti-immigrant sentiment that has strengthened
far-right parties and put the European project at risk.
far, neither of these strategies is working. With a few exceptions,
the European far right has
Putin, and the EU has embraced a double standard on immigration by
extending a welcome to Ukrainians that few countries were willing to
offer to those fleeing from Afghanistan or Syria.
NATO is emerging from this crisis with greater cohesion. Putin has
forgotten an elemental lesson of geopolitics: a common threat serves
as the glue that holds alliances together.
all of these reasons, Putin is not interested in ending his war in
Ukraine. Simply put, as Russian spokesman Dmitry Peskov recently
the Russian president has not yet achieved his aims. But he might be
forced to end his war for other reasons.
View from Kyiv
Zelensky has a very clear strategy for ending the war in his country.
The Ukrainian president is mobilizing his defenses at home and his
supporters abroad. He hopes he can achieve a stalemate on the ground
and force Russia to compromise at the negotiating table.
far, in the first month of the war, both strategies have met with
success. The Ukrainian military has blocked the Russian advance on
all the major cities, forcing the Kremlin to rely more heavily on an
increasingly indiscriminate air war.
Russian military has expanded its control over the Donbas region in
the east. It has taken one major city, Kherson, in the south. But it
has not been able to overcome the defenders of Mariupol, a port that
represents the last major obstacle to connecting the Crimean
peninsula by land to Russia proper.
to Western intelligence estimates,
the Russian army has so far lost at least 7,000 soldiers while 20,000
more have been wounded, which would mean that Russian forces inside
Ukraine have been reduced by a third. Unless the Kremlin can send in
a lot of reinforcements—Belarussians, Syrians—it will
have difficulty taking any major Ukrainian cities, much less hold on
to them for any period of time. Ukrainians are
to the country to take up arms, and volunteers are
to fight alongside Ukrainian soldiers, so David is starting to bulk
up against Goliath.
on the international front, the sanctions have attracted widespread
support, although some powerful countries like China and India
continue to support Putin economically. Some of the sanctions target
the lifestyles of the rich and powerful, such as asset freezes and
travel bans for top officials. Other measures are beginning to affect
ordinary Russians, such as all the job losses from Western businesses
and Starbucks pulling out of the country.
a number of companies are suspending operations in a manner that
tries to avoid hurting their Russian staff, like McDonald’s
their employees even if the restaurants are closed. Also, the
sanctions do not target essentials like medicines. Still, the
sanctions are expected to drive Russia into a significant recession,
with the economy shrinking by as
much as 7 percent.
In 2020, the Russian economy contracted by 3 percent as a result of
the COVID shutdowns, which at the time was considered a major
on the battlefield and in the global economy are what’s likely
to force Putin to end his war before he gets what he wants. No
diplomatic solution is possible without this kind of pressure.
on the Table
major issue going into the war will likely be the major compromise
coming out of the war: Ukraine’s status in the European
not only wants NATO membership off the table for Ukraine, he would
like to see the security alliance rewind the clock to 1997 before it
expanded into Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. However
bone-headed NATO expansion was—and it truly was a
on the part of the West—Putin is not going to be able to
negotiate a significant drawdown of the alliance’s footprint.
Indeed, as a result of the invasion of Ukraine, NATO may well expand
Finland and Sweden,
neutrality, on the other hand, is very much a possibility. A report
last week about a 15-point draft of a preliminary deal included
“Kyiv renouncing its ambitions to join NATO and swear off
hosting foreign military bases or weaponry in exchange for security
guarantees from countries such as Britain, the United States or
guarantees? That’s precisely what NATO membership is supposed
to provide. And it’s difficult to envision any of the countries
mentioned agreeing to come to Ukraine’s defense in the case of
a subsequent Russian attack. They are quite clearly not doing so now.
Still, if renouncing NATO membership gets Russia to pull back and
stop its air attacks, it would be a worthwhile quid
then the other major sticking point enters the picture: territory.
How much would Russia actually pull back? Would it give up the gains
it has made so far in the war? Would it stop championing independence
for Donetsk and Luhansk? Would it give back Crimea?
to date has refused to acknowledge even the loss of Crimea, so
compromise will be challenging. But Zelensky has hinted at the
potential of rethinking Ukraine’s borders, contingent on
on the necessary constitutional changes. Perhaps an agreement to
return to the status
some strategic ambiguity about the final status of Crimea and the
Donbas—might be a feasible interim agreement.
last major question is the composition of the Ukrainian government.
Putin has called for the “de-Nazification” of Ukraine. In
the best-case scenario, he might be willing to accept some
restrictions on the participation of the Azov Battalion in the
military. In the worst-case scenario, Putin will not stop until he
has installed a “friendly” government in Kyiv.
threat of Russian influence in Ukraine was a main motivation for
Zelensky recently to ban
11 political parties,
including the largest opposition party, the pro-Russian Opposition
Platform for Life. On the one hand, Ukraine’s democracy is one
of its main selling points, so any restrictions on that democracy
tarnishes its image. On the other hand, Putin has no qualms about
exploiting divisions within Ukrainian society and would rely on these
opposition parties to staff any future “friendly”
government. Some democratic governments like Germany and Spain have
banned political parties that pose a national security threat to
their democratic governance.
is also well aware of the three
foiled assassination plots
on his life, all sponsored by Russia. The likelihood that anti-war
elements within Russia’s own intelligence services tipped off
the Ukrainians suggests that Putin has as much to worry about hostile
elements within his political ranks as Zelensky does.
various peace deals that are leaked to the press could signify combat
fatigue, particularly on the Russian side. Or it could be a ploy by
Putin to lull his interlocutors into thinking that because they’re
dealing with a reasonable negotiating partner it’s important to
hold off on another round of sanctions or arms sales.
I have no illusions about Putin—I think he’s a ruthless
still important to offer him diplomatic off-ramps. There’s
nothing more dangerous than a cornered dictator with nuclear weapons.
goal must be to stop the war and preserve what’s left of
Ukrainian sovereignty. Russian troops must leave; the Ukrainian
people must decide their leadership, not the Kremlin. Meanwhile, it’s
likely that the vast majority of Ukrainian refugees want to return
home and rebuild their country, just as the bulk of Kosovars did
after the end of the war
with Serbia in 1999. The West must be at least as generous with
resettlement and reconstruction funds as it has been with arms
Kosovo case is instructive for another reason.
strongman Slobodan Milosevic, a Communist apparatchik turned
political opportunist who became a vehement nationalist when
circumstances propelled him in that direction, over-reached in 1999
in an effort to prevent Kosovo from becoming independent. His
military campaign failed, and the very next year, the opposition
swept him from power in elections. By 2001, he was arrested in Serbia
and then delivered to the war crimes tribunal in the Hague. He died
certainly wants to avoid that fate. Megalomania, however, has nudged
him in that direction. So, now begins the challenge of peeling away
Putin’s sense of his own invincibility—first in Ukraine,
then in Russian politics, and finally in the court of international