Ukraine Crisis, February 15: 2022 (I): Why Putin cannot win

Originally published as part of a longer article in The Trenchant Observer on February 14, 2022.

Why Putin Cannot Win

We need to take a deep breath, step back, and ask ourselves, “How is the current Ukraine Crisis going to end?”

Upon reflection, it is clear that even if Vladimir Putin leaps into the abyss and launches an invasion of Ukraine he cannot achieve his crazy objectives, goals which only a madman or a dictator drunk on power could even imagine to be achievable.

He wants all of Europe and the Free World to agree to roll back the history of the last 77 years, since the end of World War II, the founding of the United Nations, and the adoption of the U.N. Charter in 1945 by all of the nations of the world, and to proceed as if international law did not exist.

It’s not going to happen.

Two of the bedrock principles upon which the U.N. Charter and the post-World War II international legal order are based are the sovereign equality of all states (U.N. Charter, Article 2 paragraph 1), and the prohibition of “the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state” (U.N. Charter, Article 2 paragraph 4).

These principles are fervently supported by the overwhelming majority of countries in the world today, even by those states which may on occasion resort to the illegal use of force.

Putin is not going to succeed in overthrowing international law and these bedrock principles of the Charter.

He has nothing to offer in their place, except a world of international anarchy ruled by the principle of “might makes right”.

He may invade Ukraine and start a war that could cost tens of thousands of lives, but he cannot win.

In his mad megalomania, he cannot prevail.

His aggression can only succeed if the rest of the world agrees that international relations will no longer be governed by the U.N. Charter, that treaties are no longer to be viewed as binding, and in general that international law will no longer govern relations between states.

That is not going to happen, no matter what Putin does.

If Putin takes a leap into the abyss and starts a war with Ukraine, the world will change drastically, but not in ways that favor Russia.

Moreover, if he leaps into the abyss, the world is likely to change in ways which are not favorable to him personally. The interests of Russian generals and military officials will not be advanced by a bloody war in Ukraine whose irrationality will become evident over time, as Russian body bags begin to return to all corners of Russia.

Government officials and others who run the country and its economy may come to question Putin’s war, while any initial support for the war among the population is likely to wane over time, as it did in Afghanistan.

Putin’s power structure and chain of command could become frayed and even fall apart. Putin is 69 years old. Certainly there are younger men who would seek to take advantage of Putin’s war and Putin’s folly.

Who knows how it will all end?

One thing is certain: Putin cannot win. He cannot achieve his delusional goals by leaping into the abyss of war.

Indeed, he cannot know even how he might land.

Of course, if Putin misses the last exit ramp before war, there may be further exit ramps further down the road.

Whether there will be a further exit ramp he can take and still retain his power, is unknown, and essentially unknowable–even by him.

The Trenchant Observer

See also,

Timothy Snyder, “‘What is Putin thinking?’ Now ‘what?’ but ‘how? With fear and death,” Substack, February 15, 2022.