Russian president Vladimir Putin began his invasion of Ukraine with several excuses. He complained about NATO and European Union expansion into Eastern Europe. He complained that Ukraine, which was, according to him, within Russia’s sphere of influence, was turning to the West. He also came up with some obviously false excuses such as Ukraine being run by Nazis and that they were ethnic cleansing Russians in the Donbass region.
Based on all the excuses above, Putin invaded Ukraine on February 24th with the goal of the demilitarization and “de-Nazification” of Ukraine. After just 10 days of war, it’s possible to say that Russia already lost. Here are 5 reasons why Putin won’t be able to “win” the war, achieve any of his objectives in Ukraine, and will be left with a Russia that’s worse off than before.
- Russia won’t be able to occupy Ukraine
With some regional exceptions, Russia won’t be able to occupy any of Ukraine’s big cities. As we’ve already seen, both the Ukrainian resistance and the Russian military incompetence have been incredible.
Ukrainians are proud citizens who, as a vast majority, don’t want to be ruled by external actors, including Russia. They’ve had two revolutions since the end of the Cold War: The Orange Revolution in 2004 and the Revolution of Dignity in 2014. Since then, they have been fighting a Russian-backed insurgency in the east and learned how to live and thrive in a conflict. This may help explain the massive number of volunteers ready to pick up arms and form a resistance against Russia.
From the other side, the Russian military looks like a “paper tiger” with a rampant lack of fuel, food, and morale. Unbelievably, they haven’t been able to establish air superiority in Ukraine after 10 days of war. As of now, more than 40 fighter jets and 40 helicopters from Russia have been shot down. Russia obviously still has a lot of military power to use in Ukraine if they decide to.
However, with more than 100,000 Russian soldiers already in Ukraine, their military gains so far have not been impressive.
- Russia won’t be able to demilitarize Ukraine
If anything, it looks like the opposite is true. As dozens of countries from around the world send weapons, including fighter jets and armed drones, and foreign fighters flood in to support Ukraine, Ukraine will be more militarized than before the war.
- Russia won’t be able to weaken NATO
It looks like we can again expect the opposite. NATO is stronger and more united than ever thanks to the Russian threats and the Ukrainian invasion. All 30 of its members have again committed to “article 5” of collective defense where “an attack against one Ally is considered as an attack against all Allies.”
Beyond that, NATO is currently doing exactly what Putin feared the most: sending even more troops and weapons to its eastern flank bordering Russia. NATO countries are also increasing their defense budgets after decades of cuts. Germany, for example, just announced that it is almost doubling its defense budget.
Finally, there is now a real possibility that neutral countries such as Sweden and Finland might decide to join NATO after witnessing what happened to Ukraine (which is not a NATO country itself). One recent survey in Finland showed that 53% of Finish citizens were in favor of joining NATO, a historical high that hasn’t been seen before.
- Russia won’t be able to divide the European Union
For years, Russia has been trying to divide the European Union. After all, Putin wouldn’t want a strong and confident European Union as a neighbor.
Putin thought that his invasion of Ukraine would make the EU divided on the sanctions it would impose in Russia, with some EU members blocking them. However, what happened was not what Mr. Putin expected. In an unprecedented show of unity and efficiency, the EU quickly approved a vast and comprehensive number of sanctions against Russia. At the same time, all its members expressed themselves publicly against the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
To make things worse for Putin, Ukraine and two other post-soviet countries, Moldova and Georgia, just applied to become members of the EU. Russia is literally pushing countries towards what it sees as its main enemies, the EU and NATO.
- Russia is getting its economy destroyed by sanctions
The sanctions imposed on Russia by the European Union, the United States, Canada, Japan, and many other countries are devastating Russia’s economy. Russia’s stock market has been closed for many days with the fear of a massive sell-off. The Russian currency, the Ruble, has already devaluated more than 40% since the start of the invasion.
Beyond this, dozens of multinational corporations such as Zara, Samsung, Ikea, BP, Shell, Apple, and PayPal are abandoning Russia or stopping their activities in the country. Main global airlines have stopped to fly to Russia and its national airlines like Aeroflot have been forbidden from flying in most of Europe and the US.
Visa, MasterCard, and American Express have stopped working in Russia and Russia’s 5 main banks are under sanctions. Finally, the cherry on top are the international sanctions aimed directly at Russian oligarchs who are part of Putin’s inner circle. Several of their multimillion-dollar yachts and houses have already been confiscated by national authorities around the world. In other words, an economic collapse is coming for Russia.
Is it impossible for Russia to win the war in Ukraine?
There are only two scenarios where Russia would “win” this war with Ukraine. The first is that they use a “scorched earth” strategy, the same way they used in the Chechen War and completely obliterated Ukrainian cities with artillery, air bombardments, and cruise missiles. The second is that they use a tactical nuclear weapon to end Ukraine as a whole.
However, in both of these two scenarios, Putin will still lose since his initial plan to keep Ukraine in his orbit failed completely. Not to mention, he would have had to kill millions of ethnic Russian brothers and sisters to get there. This would lead to an enormous internal and external condemnation that can end up costing his leadership or even his life.
So what is the most probable scenario for the end of the war in Ukraine?
Due to the economic havoc that is being imposed in Russia, one of the most probable (and the most positive) outcomes is a coup d’etat or Putin assassination by a group of oligarchs or officials who are fed up with how much money they are losing with Putin’s vendetta against the west or by the embarrassing and costly military failure of Putin’s miscalculation.
It’s hard to imagine Putin negotiating an end to the war without any sort of measurable success for him. At the same time, it’s also hard to imagine Ukrainians giving up their country to a petty dictator. To make things worse, Putin is almost 70 years old (life expectancy in Russia is 72), and the last 2 years of Covid isolation didn’t do him well. Because of this, some intelligence analysts in the west have stopped considering him a “rational actor.”
Unfortunately, this leads us to the worst outcome for the war in Ukraine that was mentioned above. If Putin finds himself backed into a corner under considerable military and economic losses, as a final gesture of grandeur and vengeance he might make use of a colossal amount of artillery and air bombardment to pulverize Ukrainian cities. Or, worst of all, use a tactical nuclear weapon as a “final solution.”
At this time, we can just hope that more “rational” actors in Russia see this terrible possible outcome as a possibility by a madman and give us that most positive outcome: a world without Vladimir Putin.