As a longtime political pundit, I've written untold numbers of op-eds about which I hoped to be proved wrong. This is one of them. Thing is, it's not going to happen. Despite all of the wishful thinking and glomming onto glimmers of hope, Vladimir Putin's brutal takeover of Ukraine is going to happen.
As in done deal.
Why? Because he must. At any and all costs.
The question is, what are the potential costs to Putin and Russia of a pyrrhic victory over an independent democratic country that has threatened nobody, least of which Putin's Russia?
Putin's cost of defeat would undoubtedly include loss of his (dictator) job, any hope of a political future, and potentially far worse. As if we needed to be reminded, angry Russian dictators tend to do angry Russian dictator things, and Russian history has also shown us when totalitarian regimes kick Russian dictators to the curb, they don't tend to look kindly on the recently kicked.
So, why am I so confident Putin will win? Let's start with the fact that he has never lost a war.
To Donald Trump's point during his Saturday CPAC address, America and “the world” have been slapping sanctions on Putin throughout his “presidency” (vice-grip on Russia and its people) for more than 20 years. For less than naught. If anything, hollow sanction after hollow sanction has only served to embolden Putin to undertake more calculated risks, not fewer.
As noted by Newsweek, Putin has prevailed in Chechnya, Georgia, Syria, and Crimea over his two decades in power. He has succeeded by giving Russian forces clear, achievable, military objectives (even if those military objectives were to ultimately crush adversaries) that would allow him to declare victory, credibly — and this is critical — in the eyes of the Russian people. and a wary, watching world. His latest initiative in Ukraine is unlikely to be any different.
While I'm fully aware that times and circumstances change, I'm also cognizant of the reality that the stakes for Putin are at this very moment (and the next “this very moment,” and…) higher than they have ever been. Putin is more than cognizant of that, as well.
When Russian bears have been backed into corners they really don't want to be backed into, with all the chips on the table, they have done what they needed to do — including mass-murdering their own people. “Uncle Joe” Stalin killed anywhere from an estimated 20 million Russians — and that estimate came from a major Soviet newspaper, via The New York Times in 1989 — to 60 million, or more.
Putin has never accepted the parameters of post-Soviet Eastern Europe. He has infamously called the 1991collapse of the USSR “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe” of the 20th century. The question, of course, is catastrophic for whom? The answer is Vladimir Putin and Soviet-style communism.
Moreover, what Putin most fears, is democracy in former Soviet Union satellite countries, and the reality of a free and democratic Ukraine is the stuff of nightmares for the old KGB operative. That reality must be ended, and whatever miscalculations Putin made in planning his invasion of Ukraine — it was supposed to be a quick victory — have only served to steel his resolve.
So what cost “victory”?
Which each passing day, Putin's inevitable win is diminishing. The Ukrainian people are resisting and displaying tremendous acts of courage unimaginable to those who have not lived the reality Ukrainians are now experiencing. (This is not to be conflated with armed forces in combat, of course.) They are winning the admiration of the world — leaving Putin seething and personally diminished in the eyes of the world. To hold or control Ukraine, Putin envisioned being welcomed by Ukrainians. That did not happen and it never will — making the Russian dictator even more dangerous and unpredictable. But he will win.
The little dictator delusionally fancies himself a leader of great stature — admired around the world. However, as his eventual win — and his stature — continue to diminish, he will increasingly be shunned on the world stage. He will face international isolation.
In the short run, Putin has done more to unify NATO allies than they could have ever hoped to do, themselves; Western European leadership is weak, and Joe Biden is a feckless joke who continues to obsess about “mask and vax” nonsense and pretend-white supremacy, rather than stand up to Vladimir Putin as he gobbles up another independent country.
Meanwhile, on the Russian home front, as noted by The New York Times, the “economic and societal turmoil wrought by Mr. Putin's invasion are becoming increasingly difficult to obscure.”
Airlines canceled once-ubiquitous flights to Europe. The Central Bank scrambled to deliver ruble bills as the demand for cash spiked 58-fold. Economists warned of more inflation, greater capital flight, and slower growth; and the S&P credit rating agency downgraded Russia to “junk” status.
The Kremlin is trying to hide the reality of Putin's attack on Ukraine from the Russian people, but the economic reality has already been felt and it continues to worsen by the day. Via The Times:
Russians have been stunned at how quickly the economic impact of the war was being felt. The ruble hit its lowest level ever against the dollar, which traded at about 84 rubles on Saturday compared to 74 a few weeks ago. That sent prices for imports surging, while sanctions on Russia's largest banks wreaked havoc in the financial markets and new export restrictions promised to scramble supply chains.
The bottom line:
While the wishful thinkers point to “all of the above” –and then some — as “proof” that Putin's efforts are doomed in Ukraine, that “all of the above” and then some only serve to force Putin to dig in.
Ultimately, the Russian bear must escape his self-created corner (the sooner the better, he calculates), crush Ukraine, declare victory, and pretend it never happened.
But it did happen, and the inevitable “victorious” Russian dictator will have lost his Russian dictator prowess — both at home and around the world.
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