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Putin Loses No Matter How This Plays Out, But We Might Too

War on the Rocks, 2 mars 2022

No matter how the war in Ukraine plays out, Putin loses. Even if Russian forces prevail on the ground and in the air, he loses. Even if he takes Kyiv tomorrow, he loses. Russia lacks the forces (and perhaps the will) to occupy Ukraine in the face of a restive civil society and guerrilla movement. And that would be on top of having already reinforced NATO, awakened Europe, isolated his country, ruined its economy, and alienated many Russians, including his “friends.” What happens next depends less on the military outcome of the conflict than on other factors he has already put in motion and that will further affect him.

It might seem presumptuous in the first week of a war to predict its outcome and second-order effects for Ukraine, Russia, and the West, but it seems Putin’s defeat is the likely product of five factors : the heavy price of a prospective military victory, the quagmire of an occupation, the strengthening of NATO and European defense, the international isolation of Russia, and the internal contestation which may lead to Putin’s fall. So Putin lost, but it does not mean we win. He knows that he cornered himself and this is precisely where it gets dangerous because he may think that the only way out for him is to escalate.

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