More than two months into an unprovoked preemptive war launched against a country that was not an imminent threat (or even a direct military threat), Russia has failed to invade Ukraine. But it has inflicted significant physical damage and thousands of casualties, both military and civil. And facing tougher-than-expected Ukrainian resistance, the Russian military is bogged down, having reportedly suffered tens of thousands of casualties and the loss of a naval warship. It is probably safe to say that this is not what Vladimir Putin expected. So what should we expect from here?

First of all, it must be made very clear that this is not about Adolf Hitler. poland blitzkrieg in 1939. Nor is it the Cold War scene of Soviet tanks barreling through the Fulda gap invade Western Europe. So those analogies are misleading at best and useless, even harmful, at worst. In other words, the Russian invasion of Ukraine is neither the start of World War III nor a threat to the fabric of democracy.

It is also important to recognize that the war in Ukraine is not a direct threat to US national security. That is not to say that Russian military action in Ukraine is not a threat, but it must be put into proper perspective to understand the responses. appropriate measures and possible courses of action.

Paramount to that perspective is the fact that Russia has a strategic nuclear arsenal on a par with the United States. That means direct US military intervention could lead to a US-Russian military confrontation that risks nuclear war. So far, the Biden administration acknowledges that reality. This also means that it is in the US interest to ensure that the conflict does not spread beyond Ukraine into a broader war that could trigger a confrontation between NATO and Russia.

In fact, the possibility of crossing the nuclear threshold should be a major factor in all US decision-making, so a more appropriate lens for calculating risk may be the Cuban Missile Crisis. In other words, what we absolutely want to avoid, triggering a nuclear exchange, takes precedence over what we want to achieve.

The central question is: What is the desired result in Ukraine?

Clearly, the Ukrainians want to expel the Russian army and preserve their territorial integrity. So one course of action is what we are currently seeing unfold: continued Ukrainian resistance fueled by Western military aid. Outright, let alone quick, Ukrainian victory may not be likely, but wearing down Russian forces much like the Soviet experience in Afghanistan is not out of the question. However, such a scenario could take a long time (the Soviets were in Afghanistan for nearly a decade) and would almost certainly involve immense physical destruction and loss of life (estimates 1 million civilians were killed during the Afghan-Soviet war). For Ukrainians, the question is, what cost are they willing to pay?

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If the desired outcome is to end the war as quickly as possible to limit death and destruction, that means a negotiated settlement. All parties would have to be willing to give up something to gain something. It is unrealistic to expect a return to the status quo before the war. Ukrainian neutrality, that is, non-alignment with NATO and Russia, was raised during peace talks (Ironically, this was non-negotiable before the Russian invasion and evidence that all options to possibly avoid war were not exhausted.) But that would not necessarily preclude a path for Ukraine to become a member of the European Union, if it so wishes.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has asked for security guarantees, but that might be too far a bridge for the US or NATO to provide, since it would essentially amount to Ukraine being part of NATO. However, a deal could allow Ukraine to arm itself to ensure its own security, and those weapons could be purchased from the West. Of course, Russia would have to agree. And then there is the question of what Russia would be willing to give up. Would you fully withdraw from Ukraine? Or would you like to keep the donbas region? How much should Russia pay to help rebuild Ukraine? Should crimea be part of the deal? The devil is in the details, and ultimately any negotiated settlement will depend on whether achieving peace is more important than winning concessions.

Another outcome is to punish and inflict maximum pain on Putin, a course of action advocated by many pundits and salon strategists (who would suffer no consequences for their decision), many of whom believe this will ultimately lead to regime change in Russia. . They would increase the already severe Economic sanctions imposed by the United States and other countries. What they fail to recognize is that the history of economic sanctions is that they rarely lead to the intended result: changing the behavior of sanctioned targets. Furthermore, the targets are rarely the ones who pay the price. The pain currently being inflicted on the Russian economy will be felt more by ordinary Russians, not by Putin and his oligarch cronies. And the Russian people are more likely to blame the sanctions enforcers for their plight, not Putin for triggering the sanctions by invading Ukraine, such is human nature.

Even if the Russian people blamed Putin, there is some evidence that even in a country where the media is controlled by the state, the Russians are increasingly against the war in Ukraine —would be a long shot at a Russian revolution to overthrow Putin and install a liberal democracy. Especially without the support of the Russian military, any kind of popular uprising is more likely to result in a Russian version of Tiananmen Square and its sequels.

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We must also be careful about using overly harsh sanctions. At some point, they could essentially become what amounts to an act of war from Russia’s perspective, which is how we would likely see similar sanctions imposed on us triggering an unwelcome military response.

And then there is the “be careful what you wish for” aspect to consider. There is no guarantee that a successor to Putin will be better. Reportedly, some in Russia’s national security apparatus are discontent with the war and Putin. This could be interpreted as good news, especially by those who would like the generals to take matters into their own hands to replace Putin. But the evidence is that these critics do not believe that the war was a mistake; they believe it should be a more expansive total war.

Ultimately, the outcome will be decided by Ukraine and Russia. We need to be patient and not try to manipulate or force the result. As much as possible, we must support Ukraine’s defense and help find a way to end the war as soon as possible. But however and when the war ends, and at whatever cost, this much is clear: it will be a net loss for Russia.

Ukraine may not end up in NATO, but both Finland and Sweden, formerly neutral countries, are applying to join the alliance. Europe seems to be taking its security more seriously with higher defense spending – most notably, Germany. Y the economy of russia it is on track to shrink by 10-15 percent, with 15 years of growth wiped out. Whether Putin survives as president of Russia may depend on what happens when Russian troops finally return home from Ukraine and tell their stories to friends and family about what really happened, quite different accounts from what the state-controlled media tells us. transmit to the Russian people.

Charles V. Peña is a non-resident fellow with defense priorities. He has more than 30 years of experience as a policy and program analyst and senior manager, supporting the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security. Peña is the former Director of Defense Policy Studies at the Cato Institute and author of “Winning the War: A New Strategy for the War on Terror.”



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