Does Putin understand that he has lost? — opinion
Kremlin (Photo:Michael Parulava / Unsplash)
There is no way for Putin to ensure victory. But there are at least four ways to ensure Ukraine defeats him.
Does Putin understand that he has lost? Certainly. Even if he has hanged noodles in his ears about some tactical victories, the failure of the winter offensive, the failure of the autumn-winter missile campaign, economic problems, social sentiments, and the international situation are apparent.
Putin has no chance of winning because a victory means a postbellum peace that is better than the antebellum one. A piece of Ukrainian land in his teeth does not make peace for Russia better than how they had it in January 2022. The dry corridor in Crimea is not worth a destroyed army, crushed public finances, a ruined economy, and international isolation. Most importantly, it is not worth the loss in standing, which means having no chance of being one of the poles in a multipolar world.
What does Putin want, then? The answer is obvious - he wants Ukraine defeated.
There are wars where one side wins and the other side loses. We are used to measuring all wars by this yardstick. But there are also wars when all sides are defeated and no winners. Remember the eastern front of the First World War: the German, Austro-Hungarian, and Russian Empires were all defeated. There were no winners.
Putin has been defeated, but we have not won yet
Russian defeat has not to mean a Ukrainian victory yet. The war can end with our victory and Russian defeat or defeat for both sides. For Putin, this will not be a victory, but it will at least be an internal justification. He can declare victory at any moment regardless of the objective realities, and Russians (with a few exceptions) will breathe a sigh of relief: "It's over, we won, we live on both without risks and inconveniences, and without insults and humiliations, and this SMO was only an episode worth forgetting." Putin does not need to save face.
There is no way for Putin to ensure the victory. But there are at least four ways to ensure Ukrainian defeat.
The first path is a war of attrition. He believes the West may tire, and Ukrainian resources will run out faster than Russian ones.
The second way is to freeze the conflict. He believes that the West and the East together can force Ukraine to sit down at the negotiating table and sign a truce under one scenario or another.
The third way is to split Ukrainian society. He believes that inflated expectations will lead to civil conflict between those who want to end the war and those who see continuing it as the only option. The lack of a shared vision of victory and strong informational noise is risky for Ukraine.
The fourth way is Ukraine's loss of a chance for post-war recovery. This path is well described in the article “Win the War, Lose the Peace.” A failed recovery is the same as Ukraine's defeat.
Putin has been defeated, but we have not won yet. His goal is to bring us to defeat. Our goal is to win. Victory is a better peace than the previous one: a restored Ukraine in the EU and NATO and a de-imperialized Russian Federation that can never threaten Ukraine again.
The text is published with the permission of the author.
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