Clausewitz, a famous Prussian general, famously stated: “No one begins a war or more accurately, no one should in his senses do so without first being able to see clearly in his mind what it is he intends for and how he intends on conducting it.”
Putin’s unprovoked invasion in Ukraine over a decade ago triggered a conflict that has not stopped.
What is Putin trying to accomplish, and when will it end?
It would be easy for people to dismiss Putin’s invasion of Ukraine as reckless and irrational. However, Putin is a historian – inspired by Peter the Great and his territorial conquests – and has made no secret about his desire to rebuild the Soviet Union.
Despite the terrible showing by the Russian army and the large number of casualties, Putin has always described the Ukraine invasion (not a war) as a “Special Military Operation”, which allows him to claim modest territorial gains as a strategic victory.
Although it may seem modest given the original intention, formal security of Crimea and a buffer area (Donbass) between Russia ( NATO) is a significant step towards Putin’s larger ambitions.
History provides context to help understand Putin’s motivations.
The Soviet Union felt vulnerable in November 1939 – Leningrad was just 20 miles from the Finnish border. Following a “false Flag” operation, the Soviets invaded Finland and began the Winter War.
Despite their superior military power, the Soviets suffered heavy casualties and had a poor military performance.
The League of Nations, the precursor to the United Nations, declared the invasion illegal and expelled Soviet Union from its ranks.
The Moscow Peace Treaty was finally reached after three months, the Red Army being badly beaten and Finnish forces having been exhausted.
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Finland gave up 9% of its territory to the Soviets, and their goal was achieved – the parallels with Russia/Ukraine conflict can be seen.
As with Hitler’s invasion of Europe and Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait, the only way to ensure peace was to defeat the aggressor.
But, deposing Putin and reducing the risks of nuclear Armageddon is not an objective that can be trusted.
Putin will win unless Russia is completely expelled from Ukrainian soil (unlikely).
What does success in Russia mean for Western security?
Russia’s illusions of invincibility have been shattered by the invasion of Ukraine
Putin will seek to negotiate peace with Ukraine when he feels his military is over.
President Zelenskyy would not compromise after the great national sacrifices made.
The West is aware that its military support for Ukraine is limited and could lead to a conflict that cannot be won.
Although public support for Zelenskyy will continue from the west, private pressure will be growing on Zelenskyy in order to end the conflict, which will lead to a losing war that Ukraine will have to fight.
The West will provide security guarantees and financial support for Ukraine’s rebuilding. This is similar to what Germany did after World War Two.
As the war enters its second anniversary, the West runs the risk of perpetuating a conflict Russia cannot lose and Ukraine can’t win. Expect to see increased international pressure to end hostilities through a negotiated settlement.
The West must ensure that Russia’s invasion decision has a long-lasting legacy that is far more damaging than its immediate territorial gains.
Failure could further empower Russia (and China), which can have huge implications for global security in the future.