There may be only one way to defeat Vladimir Putin once and for all

There may be only one way to defeat Vladimir Putin once and for all
Vladimir Putin orders Russian troops into Eastern Ukraine

As the West scrambles to figure out how to check Russian President Vladimir Putin’s increasingly desperate and devastating invasion of Ukraine, options are becoming more limited as each bloody hour passes.

On Thursday, Vox published an extensive report that included interviews with foreign policy experts who assessed how likely certain strategies are to stop the violence in Ukraine.

Military support and sanctions are currently the primary tactics that the United States along with its North Atlantic Treaty Organization and European Union allies are employing.

“The basic Western strategy has been to make the war more painful for Putin: Supply the Ukrainians with weapons while imposing crippling sanctions on the Russian economy. These measures are designed to shift Putin’s cost-benefit analysis, making the war costly enough that he’ll look for some kind of exit. In broad strokes, experts say, it’s a sound strategy — one that can be still be escalated, albeit within certain bounds,” Vox wrote.

The outlet noted, though, that “military aid and sanctions are powerful tools, but neither of them is likely to cause Putin to give up on his designs on Ukraine wholesale. Instead, the West needs to develop a clearer strategy for ensuring that its efforts have the desired political effect in Moscow — which starts by openly laying out the conditions under which the sanctions will be removed.”

Indeed, this has boosted the Ukrainian resistance’s capacity for keeping Putin’s troops from completely overrunning their country. At least, so far.

“Weapons systems manufactured and provided by the US and Europe have played a vital role in blunting Russia’s advance. The Javelin anti-tank missile system, for example, is a lightweight American-made launcher that allows one or two Ukrainian infantry soldiers to take out a Russian tank,” Vox explained. “Javelins have given the outgunned Ukrainians a fighting chance against Russian armor, becoming a popular symbol in the process. A figure called St. Javelin — a woman depicted in the style of an Eastern Orthodox icon carrying a missile launcher — has become an image of resistance among some Ukrainians.”

The West also needs to tread extremely carefully to avoid a direct confrontation with Russia, which would almost certainly lead to a third world war involving the use of nuclear weapons.

Economic sanctions, meanwhile, “have proven similarly devastating in the economic realm. The international financial punishments have been extremely broad, ranging from removing key Russian banks from the SWIFT trading system to restrictions on doing business with particular members of the Russian elite. Freezing the assets of Russia’s central bank has proven to be a particularly damaging tool, wrecking Russia’s ability to deal with the collapse in the value of the ruble, Russia’s currency,” Vox pointed out.

In fact, the Russians “are looking at a double-digit economic contraction already,” Elina Ribakova, the deputy chief economist at the Institute of International Finance, told Vox.

“These efforts are designed to raise costs on Russia — to make the invasion so painful that Moscow starts thinking about abandoning it. Already, Russia’s military advance has been far slower and more difficult than the Kremlin expected. The longer the war goes on, the more Russian soldiers die and the weaker the Russian economy gets — potentially galvanizing anti-war sentiment among the Russian elite and population,” Vox explained.

“Ukraine doesn’t have to win outright; it just has to hold out long enough for Russia to be convinced to change course,” the report continued. “To help the Ukrainians further, then, the United States and its allies can simply build on what they’re already doing.”

Bringing an end to the conflict may require offers to lift sanctions in exchange for a drawdown in military force, however, financial distress is unlikely to force Putin to give up his lifelong ambition of reestablishing the former Soviet Union’s borders.

Putin “may not be interested in anything like this negotiated outcome,” Vox stressed. “It’s possible he cares more about bringing Ukraine under his control than he does the lives of Russian soldiers and the health of the Russian economy. If that’s the case, then it doesn’t matter how clear the West is about its terms: No settlement will be possible as long as Putin believes he can ultimately triumph on the battlefield.”

Presuming that the aforementioned approaches turn out to be nothing more than exercises in futility, the West still holds a final card to play – inspiring the Russian people to depose Putin.

“There is broad consensus that Putin cares about one thing above all else: his hold on power. If presented with a credible threat to his regime, be it from elite dissent or mass popular protest, that might give him a powerful incentive to try and cut his losses in Ukraine. This is a less openly stated part of the West’s strategy: a hope that Russian military casualties and economic pain don’t just raise the costs for Russia, but actually galvanizes Russians to challenge the Putin government,” Vox wrote.

“Ukraine is going to lose unless something happens in Russian domestic politics,” Steve Saideman, a NATO expert at Carleton University, said. “The best way to fuck that up is for us to try to impact Russian domestic politics.”

Vox stressed that “this is the needle that President Joe Biden and other Western leaders need to thread in the coming days: keeping the pressure on Russia without crossing over into too dangerous territory, while simultaneously creating a diplomatic off-ramp that’s acceptable to the Kremlin (and to Kyiv). It won’t be easy, but it’s the best hope that Ukraine has.”

In the mean time, the seeds of change have been planted and are already starting to sprout. Protests opposing Putin's pointless pursuit have erupted in cities throughout Russia.

Although the Kremlin's goons have arrested thousands of demonstrators, enduring strength lies in numbers, persistence, and international solidarity. Therefore, regime change could be the ultimate blueprint for peace in Ukraine and a brighter future for the good people of Russia.

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