The 4 ways Russia’s war could end

GettyImages 2149875965

Now that the U.S. has approved $61 billion in aid to Ukraine, many are urging the White House to finally define its goals in the war. If a Ukrainian defeat is not an alternative, and a stalemate will just continue the slaughter indefinitely, then the only remaining option is a Russian defeat. But what exactly would that entail?

Essentially, there are two scenarios that would constitute a Ukrainian victory and a Russian defeat. The White House must settle on one of the options and pursue it vigorously. That takes political will and decisiveness, as neither of the scenarios requires genius to be imagined or executed.

The first scenario, Russia’s complete defeat, would involve its armed forces getting battered on the battlelines, retreating and surrendering all the territory Russia has occupied since 2014, including all of the Donbas and Crimea. Were this to happen, Russian President Vladimir Putin would be discredited and very likely deposed. The Russians would have to, and would want to, sue for peace.

Such a resounding defeat would be premised on greatly increased supplies from the West of all the weapons and ammunition Ukraine needs to protect itself from Russian bombs and to roll back Russian forces. That’s possible technically, but only if Western leaders are willing to act with vigor and vision and persuade their citizens that small sacrifices today will pay huge dividends tomorrow.

The consequences of such a defeat would be beneficial for Ukrainians, Russians and the rest of the world. Ukraine would survive. Russia would finally be rid of a genocidal, war-mongering dictator who has sent hundreds of thousands of young Russians to their graves. It could embark on a return to something resembling normalcy. The world could breathe a sigh of relief at the collapse of Russia’s expansionist machine.

Russian’s minority nationalities might even be encouraged by the regime’s collapse to embark on independence, as the army would be too enervated to intervene. The example of the Soviet Union’s collapse suggests that the Russian Federation’s disintegration could be peaceful — but only if, as is highly likely, Putin’s presumably more pragmatical successors accept reality.

The second scenario — Ukraine’s liberation of all the territories Russia has occupied since 2022 — would disappoint Ukrainians but still spell a Russian defeat. It, too, would require much more Western military assistance to Ukraine, but, since the amounts would be less than in the first scenario, it would presumably be easier for Western leaders to convince their constituents to make the necessary sacrifices.

In this scenario, Putin is unlikely to survive politically, but the chances would be lower that his successors will feel impelled to change course radically. Wholesale defeat would be a trauma that could be parlayed into a complete rethinking of Russia’s domestic and foreign priorities, but a partial defeat would likely encourage Putin’s successors to make minor changes while retaining many of his imperialist goals. They would, in all likelihood, view the defeat as a temporary setback enabling them to pursue reorganization, rearmament and renewal of hostilities.

There are several constants in both scenarios. Continued Western assistance to Ukraine is imperative for either to happen. A significant uptick of Western political will is also necessary. Both goals can be achieved if the West so desires. Putin is likely out in both scenarios, an outcome of enormous importance, as he has made the war his own project, pegging his legitimacy, popularity and survival to a successful denouement.

Finally, the probability of Russia’s use of nuclear weapons is low in both scenarios. By seriously arming Ukraine, the West would be signaling the Kremlin that a nuclear explosion would be met with a devastating conventional counterstrike that no rational Russian leader would want to countenance.

The main difference lies in the outcomes in and for Russia. Full-scale defeat betokens the emergence of a quasi-democratic Russia that may, in its weakened state, fall victim to some secessionist movements. Ideally, Russia’s new leaders would be sufficiently enlightened to understand that democracy is preferable to empire, and that granting autonomy to disgruntled regions is far more effective than cracking down. Since Putin and his closest henchmen will be gone in this scenario, there’s a good chance that this choice will be made.

The second scenario, a partial Russian withdrawal, seems at first glance to be less risky for Russia, but in fact it isn’t. The Russian regime would probably remain deeply authoritarian, and its imperialist aspirations would remain. War with Ukraine would not end; it would only be postponed.

Worst of all for Russia, a partial defeat would still encourage non-Russian minorities to seek independence. Since the Russian army would remain intact and its leaders committed to empire, civil war could break out — a catastrophic prospect for Russia and all of its neighbors.

And what happens if neither of these options is pursued and the West remains committed to a policy of stalemate? Ukrainians and Russians will die in huge numbers. Ukrainian and Russian infrastructure will continue to be destroyed. Millions of Ukrainians and Russians will flee to Europe, and sooner or later, the hostilities are sure to “spill over” into the Baltic states, Moldova, Poland and other countries in Russia’s “near abroad.”

In other words, stalemate is the worst outcome, aside from a wholesale Russia victory. Having destroyed Ukraine, Putin would march into Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Moldova and Kazakhstan — perhaps sequentially, perhaps simultaneously. If NATO fails to respond, the result would be a Russian colossus and the eventual death of democracy. If NATO does respond, the result would be World War III.

All things considered, it looks like defeating Russia and risking its peaceful dismemberment may be preferable to Armageddon.

Alexander J. Motyl is a professor of political science at Rutgers University-Newark. A specialist on Ukraine, Russia and the USSR, and on nationalism, revolutions, empires and theory, he is the author of 10 books of nonfiction, as well as “Imperial Ends: The Decay, Collapse, and Revival of Empires” and “Why Empires Reemerge: Imperial Collapse and Imperial Revival in Comparative Perspective.”

Copyright 2024 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Source link

About The Author

Scroll to Top