by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
I worry that Vladimir Putin is going to come away from the invasion of Ukraine with just enough Ukrainian concessions to claim he won – a result that will give other autocrats ideas about launching other wars of territorial conquest.
Sure, by most standards, the invasion has been a colossal disaster for Russia. That report of 9,861 Russian soldiers killed and another 16,153 wounded so far, in a Kremlin-friendly tabloid, is jaw-dropping. That would mean that in about three weeks, the Russians suffered two-thirds as many soldiers killed in action as they did in the nearly-decade-long invasion of Afghanistan.
The Russian economy is collapsing into a shambles with a devalued ruble, closed stores, and product shortages; there are some early signs that Russian oil exports have suddenly and severely dropped. Goldman Sachs predicts the Russian economy will shrink by 10 percent this year.
The once-fearsome reputation of the Russian military is destroyed like all of those tanks and supply vehicles. Russia’s once-close relationship with certain European countries like Germany is similarly destroyed, unlikely to be restored for many years. In much of the world, Russia is a pariah state, and Putin is perceived as a reckless, brutal, bloodthirsty madman.
So how can Russia be winning?
The human suffering that is being inflicted upon Ukraine is so horrific that it is likely that certain voices in the West will want Volodymyr Zelensky to take whatever ceasefire proposal is on the table, and make concessions to end the war.
If Putin comes away with Luhansk and Donetsk recognized as pro-Russian “independent republics” – de facto client states — and some other territorial acquisitions including a land bridge to Crimea, along with a guarantee that Ukraine will never join NATO – and establishing the precedent that Russia can veto Ukraine’s alliances and relationships with other countries — and however they choose to define “de-Nazification” … and large swaths of what’s left of unconquered Ukraine have been bombed to rubble, and will take many years to rebuild… then Putin got a decent amount of what he wanted.