'Tell me how this ends': Max Boot says not to underestimate Vladimir Putin or Ukraine

'Tell me how this ends': Max Boot says not to underestimate Vladimir Putin or Ukraine
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Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has the entire world wondering what comes next. Will his incursion succeed? Will Ukrainian forces manage to ward off Putin’s troops? Washington Post opinion columnist tackles the tough questions in a Thursday editorial.

"I am impatient with both those who insist that Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is a stroke of ‘genius’ and those who insist it is a historic blunder. The truth is we don’t know which it will be. That will depend on what the people of Ukraine — and the nations of the West — do to resist this war of aggression,” Boot began. “Putin does not shy away from the use of military force, and his experience of war over the past two decades undoubtedly makes him confident, even cocky, as Russian forces attack Ukraine.”

Putin has made a habit of attacking his country’s neighbors, from Chechnya in 1999, to Georgia in 2008, to the annexation of Crimea in 2014. Putin even installed pro-Kremlin puppet regimes in Kyiv which the Ukrainian population managed to overthrow. Twice.

Russia also defied the international community, particularly the United States, in 2015, when he deployed soldiers into Syria. “Putin defied predictions from then-President Barack Obama that Syria would turn out to be a Vietnam-style ‘quagmire’ for Russia. Instead, it turned into a training ground for the kind of high-tech war that Putin is now unleashing on Ukraine,” Boot recalled.

But Putin’s latest gambit in Ukraine – while undoubtedly bolstered by his recent skirmishes – “is considerably more challenging than the ones he has previously waged,” Boot explained.

“Ukraine’s military, while inferior to Russia’s, is superior to those of all the other foes Russia has fought over the past two decades. Ukrainians have more modern weapons than they did in 2014, and they have years of combat experience fighting Russian separatists. Russia’s continuing aggression has also made Ukrainians more nationalistic and pro-Western,” he wrote.

“Russia is in the early stages of an offensive that Putin says is designed for the ‘demilitarization and denazification’ of Ukraine — a country with a Jewish president,” Boot continued. “The revamped Russian military can certainly defeat the Ukrainian armed forces and take Kyiv. But then what? As Gen. David H. Petraeus said during the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003: ‘Tell me how this ends.’”

The problem with predicting the outcome today, Boot said citing Petraeus, is that Ukraine is an enormous nation with 43 million people.

Exerting total control would “require hundreds of thousands more Russian troops and could expose them to a costly, drawn-out guerrilla war that could sap Putin’s popularity,” Boot noted.

Putin’s approval has already plummeted across Europe in the hours since the invasion began. Protests have broken out in major cities all over the continent, including Moscow, where hundreds of demonstrators have been arrested.

Nevertheless, ”it would be foolhardy to bet against a tyrant with Putin’s track record. But there is nothing foreordained about Russian success — and much that the West can do to stymie his aggression,” said Boot,” adding that “it is imperative for the West to keep arming and supporting the Ukrainians, keep adding to NATO troop deployments in Eastern Europe and to keep piling up draconian sanctions on the Russian regime.”

The United States and its allies now have an “opportunity to create a ‘Ukrainian ulcer’ for Putin,” Boot concluded. “We must ensure that the Russian dictator’s cruel and reckless gambit does not pay off.”

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