Think End States in Russia, not Ukraine: As the war in Ukraine approaches its first anniversary, and as Russian forces continue to press forward along the front line, questions about Ukrainian resilience going forward and what the final settlement of the war will look like remain front and center of Western commentary and analysis.
We worry about Ukraine’s breaking point, its ability to continue resisting – though President Joe Biden’s visit to Kyiv and his subsequent trip to Warsaw surely provided a boost to morale at the frontlines in the East. Still, little attention has focused on what might happen in Russia in the wake of this incredible folly committed by Putin last February. One question that ought to be on everyone’s mind is: where is Russia heading?
What Putin Wants and What History Teaches
Putin’s Russia is re-litigating 1991 – in that sense, it is another aspirational empire, much like interwar Germany – still convinced that the Russian people can reclaim their imperial place in the sun once the treachery of its politicians has been expunged. Putinism is much like the Dolchstoßlegende narrative during the Weimar Republic insofar as there is a sense among the citizenry that the Russian military never lost against the West, but was subverted by politicians – cowardly Gorbachev, drunken Yeltsin, you name it.
This imperial resentment gave Germany Adolf Hitler and a war that lit Europe on fire and which did not end until the back of German imperialism was finally and unequivocally broken. At a risk of over-rationalizing history, this is where Russia is today.
Putin’s claim that he is restoring the great Russian people, velikiy russkiy narod, follows the same tropes of resentment and entitlement to empire that Europe endured in the mid-20th century when Germany was intent on re-litigating Versailles.
And if Europe is to know lasting peace, the Russian armies that have raced into Ukraine must be unequivocally defeated in such a way that it shatters all illusions of Russian empire in the minds of Russian citizens.
The World Is Watching Ukraine
Much is riding on the outcome of the war in Ukraine because it is a system-transforming war, one which will re-align power distribution not just in Europe and in Eurasia, but also in the Indo-Pacific; make no mistake, Beijing is watching intently for any sign of US weakness and lack of resolve to see this war through to victory, for both Ukraine and the West.
The patriotism of the Ukrainian people and their heroic resolve to fight is dismantling the two-frontier trap that Russia together with China has sought to create for the United States.
It is not just about doing the right thing by supporting Ukraine in its fight for freedom and independence. It is also about a simple geostrategic calculus and the vital interests of the United States and Europe: In Ukraine a non-NATO army is grinding down the Russian land force on non-NATO territory, in the process buying us all time and re-sequencing the threat when it comes to the Chinese bid for hegemony. For this reason alone, Ukraine deserves our full and unqualified support.
And let me add that morally and ethically, supporting a country that has been attacked by a stronger neighbor simply because it wanted to be free of Russian domination is the right thing to do.
The End of Russia?
Let’s understand that the Russian Federation of today is not the Soviet Union of yore. It is a middle-grade Eurasian power whose economy doesn’t even come close to the great powers of today, and one which – except for its nuclear weapons – has few reasons to stake a claim to be among the premier powers of the world. And let’s remember that historically Russia always succumbed to centrifugal forces each time it suffered a defeat on the battlefield – this happened in 1905 after it lost to Japan, in 1917 after it lost to Germany in Europe, and then again in 1991 after it lost to the United States at the end of the Cold War.
It’s worth remembering that while in 1913 the Russian imperial court celebrated three hundred years of Romanov rule, with unparalleled pageantry in St. Petersburg and across the country, a mere four years later the country was wracked by two revolutions, while the great emperor Nicolas II and his family were butchered by the Bolsheviks. The empire was no more.
If we support Ukraine with main battle tanks, long-range fires, and modern fighter aircraft, the Ukrainian military will be in a position to defeat the Russian army. In the wake of such a defeat the Russian Federation – what Lev Dobriansky described as a modern-day “prison of nations” – will likely implode.
It is high time we grasp that the disintegration of the Russian Federation – while admittedly fraught with risk – may in fact happen, for until and unless the Russians figure out how to become a “normal state,” Europe and the world will know no peace.
The war in Ukraine, which in hindsight will likely be seen as Putin’s ultimate folly, is not only a test of Western resolve and a promise of a better world for Ukraine, Belarus and Eastern Europe writ large.
Assuming Russia is unequivocally defeated in Ukraine, it may also offer Russians a chance at a brighter future.
Author Expertise and Experience
A 19FortyFive Contributing Editor, Andrew A. Michta is Dean of the College of International and Security Studies at the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies in Garmisch, Germany and a Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Scowcroft Strategy Initiative in the Atlantic Council’s Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security.
The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies, the U.S. Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.
February 23, 2023 at 4:39 pm
Biden said “Russia will never win in ukraine. Never.”
Biden is dead wrong. So are all those predicting russia’s demise.
There are only 2 ways, or two paths to resolve the donbass conflict, i.e. do peace negotiations or do nuke strikes a la hiro & nagasaki.
Right now, nobody’s interested in peace particularly all those screaming about human rights and climate change.
So, the second option is use of tactical nukes, or nukes below 1 Mt explosive power.
Use of such nukes will stuff biden’s mouth with his own spit, thus not using them is a most dumb policy. It’s time for moscow to employ them and not allow US to hold the title of only nuke user in the world.
The US not only nuked japan but the marshall archipelago as well. Over 60 times. And also suspected of testing a ground-penetration nuke device in iraq in feb 1991.
That device yielded a 5 kt blast, quite small or very mini, but still was detected by the International Seismological Centre based in europe.
When confronted with the report, US CENTCOM replied it was a BLU-82 type device, no nuke. Well, maybe russia today could take a cue from it.
February 23, 2023 at 7:58 pm
This war could be the end for joe biden and his relationship with european allies if russia or UN could come up with proof of biden’s role in the sept 2022 bombing of the nord stream pipes.
The nord stream bombings are part of biden’s war plan for ukraine and an undeclared and direct act of war against moscow.
So, putin must now ratchet up his case against biden, and also issue an arrest warrant for him.
If that’s done immediately or right now, it’s finished for biden. Bye-bye 2024.
February 23, 2023 at 8:21 pm
Putin continues as did Hitler, believing unbeatable.
The facts are different.
First, there were no armies threatening Russia. Germany and othe EU countries nearly dependent on Gasprom, hardly a war preparation move.
Putin is the agressor, taking crimea in2014 and invading last year. The Ukrainians fighting just as your citizens did in ww II.
Putins great strategy has struggled to take small rural towns 10 square miles and many lives. Look up bakhmut. Hardly worth Russian or Ukrainian lives. Nothing left.
Nuclear missiles and warheads need constant maintenance.
Based on yesterdays launch, this falls with the same as your ground forces, neglect.
Many dying as a result of sending doctors to fight. Your experienced fighters needed to really protect Russia are dying of wounds, like antient wars.
So , many countries are no longer scared of the bear. They send weapons with limited range for Ukraine to fight within Ukraine boarders.
The message is they dont want to kill or fight Russians, just support an independent Ukraine.
The EU countries are opening borders. The are beginning business ventures and Russia under putin will be out.
The Russian people now need to decide their future.
I believe ending Putins dream improves Russias future.
A new twist.
Trust EU, sell fuel, business ventures.
These are people of similar customs, beliefs, and in many cases Genetics.
Putin and Krill are wrong.
No one wants war.
Your security is better with EU when China wants its disputed land back and needs farmland.
This war is only about Putins pride and the good old days.
February 23, 2023 at 8:26 pm
The Russian trolls here alternate between claiming that the war ‘is just a flesh wound’, in the manner of Monty Python’s Black Knight, and then threatening nuclear war because it really isn’t just a flesh wound. Russia is being bled dry in Ukraine because its thoroughly corrupt government fielded a poorly trained, poorly equipped, poorly supplied, and poorly led military.
Ukraine is willing to fight for its freedom, and has better equipment now with much more coming, while Russia has lost its best troops & weaponry. 2023 will be a rough year for Russia. It will probably lose at least half the occupied territory it now holds in Ukraine.
February 23, 2023 at 10:43 pm
Great essay. Summarizes all the salient points nicely in a precis form.
February 24, 2023 at 12:07 am
Lol, it’s good to see 404 foaming at the mouth in fear and anger.
Russian trolls aren’t known for being intelligent. He seems to exemplify this.
February 24, 2023 at 2:38 am
There is no path to victory against Russia, and US military knows this. Too bad the idiot politicians don`t.
February 24, 2023 at 7:10 am
What do we mean when we talk about the end of Russia.
The Russian army leaving Ukraine and accepting territorial (security) guarantees by NATO?
The end of its imperialistic ambitions and accepting it geographical, economic and demographic fate as a regional power at best, but still a stable federation which operates within international conventions and rule of law?
The end of the regime, political system? Is that a desirable option, knowing we failed in nation building in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The first would clearly be desirable, but is far from reality just yet. A prolonged conflict is the most likely. And with that the uncontrollable collapse of either Ukraine or Russia.
February 24, 2023 at 8:12 am
“It is not just about doing the right thing by supporting Ukraine in its fight for freedom and independence.” Yeah…a fight for freedom more rah rah…this is so much propaganda…I’ll put my uniform back on a fight for Ukraine’s freedom.
Not our circus not our monkeys.
February 24, 2023 at 8:15 am
404…Russia should nuke Ukraine…that is insane.
February 24, 2023 at 9:33 am
China wants Siberia. The question is – what is the best way to get it? They could back Russia’s war in Ukraine with sales of Howitzers and ammo, which would encourage Russia to burn millions of its Mobiks to get a Pyrrhic “win” in Ukraine, and that would leave Russia much weaker in the long term, so China could go for Siberia a decade or two from now. Or it could hang back and let Russia fall much sooner, which may or may not actually happen. I think their path will be driven by intelligence of what is really happening in the war, and since most public reporting is heavily colored by propaganda and wishful thinking, we really don’t know from public reports where this war is going.
February 24, 2023 at 1:44 pm
Thanks to Putin’s disaster in Ukraine, Russia is on the path to becoming a Chinese client state.
China would certainly like to see a militarily weakened Russia, dependent on Russia for military and materiel support as they incinerate their forces in an unwinnable conflict in Ukraine.
China has every incentive to prop up Russia as they continue to bleed out.
February 24, 2023 at 1:47 pm
404, people that are winning don’t go around threatening nuke attacks. Just saying.
February 24, 2023 at 3:48 pm
GREAT article… in part because I’ve been saying the same thing for several months now and in part because it properly shines light on the real problem at hand: Russian Imperialism as understood and keenly desired by Putin and his cronies at he FSB.
Putin will leave the scene eventually, hopefully rather soon. The long term problem are the cadre of crazies at the FSB who believe the same Imperial Russia nonsense. They too have to go and that means revolutionary change in Moscow. Revolution might also mean division of the Russian Federation, something that could bring MAJOR risks for everyone and therefore division should not be encouraged by the west).
February 24, 2023 at 4:07 pm
The article’s author wrote …
“And let me add that morally and ethically, supporting a country that has been attacked by a stronger neighbor simply because it wanted to be free of Russian domination is the right thing to do.”
With equal applicability, the author’s same line could have been written in September 1939 as Germany attacked Poland from the west and the USSR attacked Poland from the east.
How very odd that Russia – still the largest country in the world – has such an aching need to menace its peaceful neighbors. Must be something deeply entrenched within the Russian psyche.
February 24, 2023 at 4:07 pm
A lot of reading of the tea leaves and crystal ball gazing here today.
My thought is Ukraine and the allies must maintain laser like focus on today and in particular the battle front.
Moving troops, ammo and supplies to the front while destroying Russians and their war material is job #1 right now.
February 24, 2023 at 4:23 pm
404, nukes don’t do you any good unless (1) your enemy will surrender, or (2) your own army can fight under nuclear battlefield conditions. We know neither condition is true in Ukraine. Ukraine can never surrender because they already know the consequence is their deaths, so they might as well fight to the last no matter what. And Russia’s army seems to be barely able to fight under conventional conditions, let alone on a nuclear battlefield. Russia can use nukes to deter us, be we are not deploying any armies in Ukraine, and unless we do, nukes are actually useless for Russia.
February 25, 2023 at 3:16 am
Great article, thank you.
Truth about Russia is always assailed by the creepy crawly low info Ruskibots.
February 25, 2023 at 5:22 am
Predicting the demise of Authoritarians is difficult as military defeats frequently aren’t enough, as Saddam proved in Iraq. However the objective of a Russian military with its teeth and claws pulled for a generation, means it isn’t going to be doing any more conquests.
The war in Ukraine is the first near peer war in the Information Age, and many of the military assumptions and weapons strategies are obsolete. This is especially evident in the losses of Tanks and Armored vehicles. That rather than being a powerful Blitzkrieging punch, are just logistics hogging, smart weapon magnets. And the uselessness of the AOE dumb artillery, the so called “King of Battle” (demoted to private), to provide any battlefield advantage while still sucking up 10 million rounds of ammo on the Russian side.
Many stupid military analysts had predicted the war would be over in 3 days, based solely on Russia’s 3 to 1 advantage in military material. These same stupid analysts have learned nothing, and repeatedly state that the West needs to provide Ukraine with Tanks, Fighter Jets, Artillery, and Helicopters.
The stand out weapons of this war have been the opposite of the Industrial Age heavy weapons. Anti-tank guided missiles like Saint Javelin, UAV’s like the Bayraktar, and HIMARS GPS guided rockets, are the weapons that Ukraine is using to defeat Russia.
Hundreds of vehicle mounted TOW missile launchers are now being delivered to Ukraine. The west has deep stockpiles of these missiles and can logistically support Ukraine with them for a long time. These are the weapons Ukraine will use to drive the Russian’s off their territory. The heavy weapons the stupid analysts demand be provided, are just logistics wasters that supplant smart weapons with much greater combat power.
Combat Power rule of thumb: 1 smart weapon = 500 dumb weapons
February 25, 2023 at 8:26 am
Great article. Even with some degree of success in the war, which is still in question, Putin has weakened Russia in the long-term. The reward/cost equation is definitely less than 1. The world has woken to the lies that not only Russia tells but also China. It will be interesting to see how the reverberations impact long-term relationships with China, especially economically. Is there a real risk to WW3, or is there too much to lose by all parties?
February 25, 2023 at 8:19 pm
To all you fools who say the Russian army is incompetent and can’t fight, you obviously don’t know that the Russian army is yet to see significant action in Ukraine because the bulk of the fighting thus far has been done by the Wagner PMC and the militaries of the separatist Donbas Republics plus Kadyrov’s Chechen forces. The Russians have primarily handled the missile forces, long range artillery and the air power employed with limited major frontline engagement.
The reason this war is static and attritional is because in line with the stated Russian objective from a year ago to demilitarise Ukraine, taking and occupying territory is secondary to fighting and destroying the Ukrainian military who have spent the last eight years building extensive and heavily fortified defensive lines and the well dug in Ukrainians are not a mobile force, choosing to stay put and defend their positions. So the Russian forces stay and fight where the Ukrainians are because there’s nothing to chase. And all the evidence points to Ukrainian losses being many orders of magnitude greater than those suffered by the Russian side.
And please, stop saying that Ukraine is defending its freedom and sovereignty. It hasn’t had sovereignty since 2014 when after the coup against the elected government a US vassal and puppet regime illegally took power and now only serves the interests of its US masters. If the US abandoned Ukraine now then the Ukrainian government would collapse faster than the US puppet regime in Afghanistan did. Ukraine can only exist in its present state for as long as US taxpayers keep paying the bills.
But why is US support unconditional and bottomless to a country that isn’t a NATO or EU member state and has no history of being a part of the West and wouldn’t affect the US if it fell? Must have something to do with the US wanting to use Ukraine as a battering ram to attack Russia and it’s hard to come up with another explanation given the events of the past year. So it’s hardly a stretch to suggest that Russia’s attack was a pre-emptive defensive move against Western aggression because Ukrainian plans to launch a powerful assault to retake the Donbas republics were on the verge of being implemented but Russia beat them to the punch.
February 26, 2023 at 8:13 am
I have noticed that the one thing that really, really, gets an authoritarian/dictatorial leader’s goat is regime change aimed at him.
While there is some amount of chicken and egg involved in the situation, this article does give credence to Putin’s underlying premise that the West was encircling him because it was out to get him, and so he’d better strike first.
So, I guess if Western advisers and leaders who agree with the author tricked Putin into this war and it destroys him, we can all shout, “Bravo!,” but if the war spreads or Putin decides to issue a fateful order as foreign troops head towards Moscow, not so much.
Malaclypse the Younger
February 26, 2023 at 3:49 pm
Andrew P said it best,
“404, nukes don’t do you any good unless (1) your enemy will surrender.”
If Russia uses nukes in Ukraine, (1) anti-Russian sanctions will become absolute. The iron curtain will be reestablished from the Western side.
(2) NATO will drop the pretense of non-intervention and every Russian troop on Ukrainian soil will be taken out by NATO forces using conventional weapons. And NATO will politely stop right at Russia’s borders (except maybe for a few strategic military bases) to communicate to Russia that the West doesn’t give a damn about taking over their corrupt backwards kleptocracy.