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What Happens to Russia After the War in Ukraine Is Over?

Russia T-14 Armata
Russian Armata T-14 Tank. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

It is now apparent that Russia will not conquer Ukraine. Russian President Vladimir Putin has significantly over-reached. His defense ministry recently scaled back its war aims. The army now claims to only seek to gain the eastern Donbas region of Ukraine. If Putin follows through on this change, it should take pressure off the Ukrainian capital and the Black Sea coastline.

The War is Stalemated, Perhaps even Turning against Russia

There is obviously much cause for skepticism. Putin has limited his goals because Russia is stalemated in the war, perhaps even on the cusp of losing. It is highly unlikely that Putin has changed his beliefs that Ukraine is a fake country that should be controlled by Russia.

Nevertheless, this partial de-escalation is the first step toward resolving the conflict. Now that Putin’s offensive has culminated, he is unlikely to make any major new gains. Perhaps his concentration of forces in one area of operations will reverse his fortunes, but the Ukrainian military has now demonstrated good capability and high morale. It is also receiving a flood of NATO weaponry and aid. And sanctions will bite ever more deeply on the Russian economy as time passes.

So a stalemate in Donbas seems likely. At some point after that, Russia will sue for peace. As the tide turns, Putin will have an incentive to stop the fighting at the point of his maximal territorial expansion. Ukraine of course will have mixed feelings on stopping. It will see Russian weakening as a chance to pursue territorial re-conquest of earlier losses. The two sides will likely fight each other to a stalemate in the next few months.

A Peace Deal

At that point, the two sides will be in what international relations theory calls a ‘mutually hurting stalemate.’ Neither side will be able to escalate to win decisively. Russia will likely not use a weapon of mass destruction to win, and NATO will not support Ukraine to carry the war inside Russia, which means Russia could carry on fighting indefinitely. So more fighting changes little on the ground. The belligerents get exhausted and start looking for an exit. The later period of the Korean War is a classic example of this mutually hurting stalemate.

Some kind of negotiated war termination deal is the next step. A Ukrainian peace is in sight, and indeed, various ideas for a peace deal floated around last month. Much of this has focused on what concessions Ukraine might make in exchange for a Russian withdrawal.

But just as important will be the conditions placed on Russia. There will be an enormous, understandable desire by both Ukraine and the West to punish Russia. The war is a flagrant violation of Ukrainian sovereignty, and Russia has conducted it with shocking carelessness about civilian casualties. Ukraine will also face massive reconstruction costs which it will expect Russia to support.

What Conditions on Russia?

There must be some punishment. It would be a terrible signal to imperialists and revisionists everywhere, especially China regarding Taiwan if Russia were to conquer territory, kill many people, and then otherwise re-enter the world economy and international society.

Putin Russia

President of Russia Vladimir Putin Meeting with members of the Government (via videoconference).

On the other hand, we know from Germany in the 1920s and Russia itself in the 1990s, that humiliated great powers can birth revanchist movements demanding aggressive foreign policies. We must strike a careful balance – punishing Russia harshly enough to deter future aggression and give some justice to Ukraine, but not so much that Russia’s post-war course becomes even more reckless because it sees no exit from its current isolation.

Russia is so large that trying to isolate it permanently as if it were North Korea or Syria is both very difficult and extremely dangerous. Russia would become a massive rogue state undercutting global politics at every turn. Instead, we (Ukraine and the West) should determine the conditions under which: 1) sanctions would be rolled back, 2) Russia would have access to Western markets and banking again, and 3) Russians could travel again to the West.

The full withdrawal is the most obvious condition. Any Ukrainian territorial concessions, such as Crimea, must be agreed to by Ukraine. Another is a reasonable indemnity to help Ukraine rebuild. Crucially though, this cannot be crushing like the reparations France forced on Germany after World War I.

What about Putin?

The big issue though is the persistence of Putin himself in power. Putin is now Russia’s greatest obstacle to re-normalization. No one trusts him. China and India may still do business with him, but that is obviously cynical and instrumental. Even if Western sanctions lighten after the war, they are unlikely to be rolled back completely if Putin stays president. And the ‘shadow sanctions’ of Western businesses voluntarily leaving, even when not required, will also not likely stop until Putin is gone. Apple, Ikea, Honda, and so on will likely avoid the risks of the Russian market until a durable, post-Putin settlement is achieved.

Putin will fight such an outcome, but his personalist, dangerous regime will need to liberalize before Russia can resume normal diplomacy. Putin himself, for example, will probably never leave Russia again. For Russia, the choice is Putin or an indefinite, partial exclusion from global diplomacy and trade. At this point, even ending the war will not alleviate that dilemma too much.

Dr. Robert E. Kelly (@Robert_E_Kellywebsite) is a professor of international relations in the Department of Political Science at Pusan National University. Dr. Kelly is a 1945 Contributing Editor as well. 

Written By

Dr. Robert E. Kelly (@Robert_E_Kelly; website) is a professor of international relations in the Department of Political Science at Pusan National University. Dr. Kelly is now a 1945 Contributing Editor as well. 

14 Comments

14 Comments

  1. Alex

    April 1, 2022 at 7:26 pm

    What will happen… And there will be a complete denazification and demilitarization of Ukraine. There will be payments for gas, oil and other materials from Russia only in rubles, there will be harsh consequences for European countries and there will be a collapse of the dollar. Then see for yourself – either the war that the United States will unleash or a civil war within the United States. What are you going to bet, fool?

  2. 3L120

    April 1, 2022 at 9:21 pm

    Ivan, you are back! Good for you. Still want to know how much the Ruskies are paying you? Putin will push and push until he bankrupts Russia, which will be easy, by the way. Then it will fall easy prey to China. No great loss.

  3. Richard Meyer

    April 1, 2022 at 10:21 pm

    If the stalemate described, or something very similar, were to occur, even without an open internet or news media, most likely a large segment of the Russian populace will become aware of the extent of Putin’s folly.

    When the boys come marching home again, when the boys come home on crutches and in wheelchairs, and when the boys come home in coffins, a majority of the Russian people will know the truth.

    Maybe, hopefully, Putin will have to face the beauty of Russian music.

  4. mcswell

    April 1, 2022 at 11:09 pm

    To take just your first point (although the others are equally preposterous): Ukraine was de-Nazified during WWII, when Hitler’s armies were turned back.

    • ME

      May 12, 2022 at 8:17 pm

      A comment from an idiot, many Ukranians (like Zelenski’s grandparents) WERE AND ARE NAZI’S

  5. sean

    April 2, 2022 at 1:13 am

    Think you missed the memo, alexis. Poopin backed off the ruble demand because the west just wouldn’t pay, instantly bankrupting russia, causing defaults on your loans.

    As far as applicable to this article, your komrades set you back 60 years. you cant even buy a big mac, which you love, or parts for your stolen airplanes.

    How many people will die on your stolen airplanes, who cant get parts from the west, because you idiots put Chinese counterfeit farts on them? Does Russia offer insurance for airplanes falling out of the sky on the random public?
    /

    • Yes I am american

      May 12, 2022 at 8:19 pm

      Comment from an arrogant AMERICAN IDIOT!!!,

      do you really think MC Donalds are closed? dont be stupid…

      America is more likely to fall apart under biden than russia under putin…

  6. Lee

    April 2, 2022 at 1:14 am

    Alex go back to sucking off PTN since you are just a POS commie! The West will not fall in your lifetime despite your moronic misinformation and political propaganda from dmitry pi$$ant!

    • Yes I am american

      May 12, 2022 at 8:21 pm

      Do you live in the Same america I do??? where inflation is at its HIGHEST IN THE LAST 50 YEARS…

      Where we allow everyone from South and central america in without checking who they are WAKE THE FUCK UP!!!

  7. Speedy Gonzales

    April 2, 2022 at 4:16 am

    Cynical are nato countries’ approach towards Ukraine. They know they cannot fight their self-proclaimed adversary (enemy) in the face of Russia since the collapse of Soviet Union. For nato Russia never ended to be an enemy because nato needs one to exist. First tried to surround Russia by offering countries like Baltic ones on the basis of pseudo- liberalistic values a membership in nato and become a pronounced enemy of Russia. Russia was fed up with this when Ukraine was considered and showed by diplomatic efforts that the red lines were crossed by the pseudo-democratic and pseudo-liberal western countries ruled by the lying usa regime. You are not told in the western mass media that ukraine’s fashists are hiding in the cities and their military hardware with which they attack Russians from there . You are not told that these western proclaimed ukrainian “heroes” kill innocent civilians and use them as a shield in the clashes with Russians. This tactics where instructed to them by usa’s & gb’s instructors the same who taught the isis in Syria to abolish Asad. Now the scrupulous, disgusting, rotten nato block found the way to fight against Russia by the hands and lives of Ukraine’s brainwashed fashists and people. Nato & biden (usa) & eu will fight till the last Ukrainian.

    • Yes I am american

      May 12, 2022 at 8:22 pm

      USA out of Nato, out of Europe, out of UN.

      Fix america…

  8. Illurion

    April 2, 2022 at 4:51 pm

    Frankly, i am surprised that Putin is still alive, and has not been executed by his own people yet.

    It appears the reason for this is that Putin has exerted massive control of INFORMATION in Russia, and most people “DO NOT YET KNOW” how many Russian boys are dead,

    and

    that those Russians who DO know, have already been arrested as “traitors” by Putin, or are afraid to say or do anything in order to avoid being arrested.

    So, it appears to me that IT IS PUTIN’S PLAN TO CONTINUE THE WAR AS LONG AS POSSIBLE, IN ORDER TO KEEP THE RUSSIAN PEOPLE FROM KNOWING THE TRUTH ABOUT ALL OF THEIR 16 OR 17,000 DEAD BOYS.

    Putin knows that “WHEN THE WAR ENDS”, AND ALL OF THOSE 17,000 DEAD RUSSIAN BOYS DON’T COME HOME, THAT THE PARENTS OF THOSE BOYS WILL OVERTURN HIS GOVERNMENT, AND KILL PUTIN AND HIS FAMILY.

    So, look for Putin to continue to STALL, and do whatever it takes to KEEP THE WAR ALIVE in order to SAVE HIS OWN LIFE.

    In conclusion.

    Putin is fine with the fact that his foolishness has resulted in the death of over 17,000 Russian boys, and HE IS FINE WITH GETTING THOUSANDS MORE RUSSIAN BOYS KILLED AS A MEANS TO “PROTECT HIMSLF.”

    Putin know that “WHEN THE WAR ENDS, HE DIES.”

    As for what happens to Russia after the war, i still expect for China to invade and conquer Russia, AS NOT ONE COUNTRY IN THE WORLD WILL COME TO RUSSIA’S AID.

  9. Alex

    April 3, 2022 at 7:03 pm

    An interesting observation: the better it is in Russia and the worse it is in Ukraine, the more uncontrollable hysteria from the Nazis. You work as a signal marker, that’s good 🙂

  10. Living the Border

    October 30, 2022 at 11:46 pm

    Russia will just keep attacking every country that was once a Soviet Conquered State: Maldovia, Chec Republic, Estonia, all the Baltic States, half of Germany, Poland and then roll on Japan through islands that they still technically control even if they are in Japan’s waters. Russia will never stop attacking countries even if they were to regain the old Soviet Empire. Russia wants the world, always has always will and nothing will stop them completely besides themselves. Unknown how many of their 4,000 plus nukes still actually work with the billion plus maintenance each takes to keep working per year…but who really knows until they start launching them for fun.

    No one will make Russia be accountable for their gassing and torturing of Chechnya and another 13 years of war and terrorism in Georgia. So why is Ukraine any different? Russia will attack them off and on forever and never stop terrorizing them even if they surrendered and executed their leaders and Nazis. Russia just wants to attack nations for fun, because it is all they know how to do.

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