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We’re all wrestling with the question: how does Putin’s war crime in Ukraine end?
The Atlantic Council published a piece positing four scenarios: Ukrainian victory, quagmire, Russian victory, NATO-Russia war. My vote is quagmire, followed by Russian destruction and dismemberment of Ukraine.
My friend and grad school classmate Dan Hoffman (former CIA station chief in Moscow, although when we were in school he was still under his State Department cover) is assessing that Putin is “going to burn down Ukraine’s house.”
It’s sad. It’s ugly. It’s hard to process that after living through the last decades of the Cold War, I am sitting here watching Russia invading Europe and threatening nuclear war.
On Monday, I joined Paul Hodes and Matt Robison on their radio program Beyond Politics to discuss the situation. Spoiler alert, we ended the conversation with me saying I didn’t see a diplomatic resolution that Putin and Ukraine could live with.
Friends have been asking me why the United States or NATO doesn’t just strike the Russian convoys heading toward Kyiv. After all, they are sitting ducks.
If only it were that easy. As Fiona Hill, one of the world’s leading experts on Russia and Putin, has argued, the man is in a weird place and could push the launch button on nuclear weapons.
Therefore, direct action against Russian forces in Ukraine is off the table—although as Dan Hoffman said, the United States should message that nothing is off the table.
The only viable option is to continue turning up the heat through sanctions, seizures, and other measures to cut Russia and its oligarchs off from the global economy.
The international community is adding sanctions and bans on a daily basis and they are taking hold. The Russian people are already seeing the impacts. Oligarchs are getting antsy.
Best case, the people around Putin feel enough pain they decide the only course is to take him out. There isn’t another viable offramp at this point. Putin has lost his leverage to extract diplomatic concessions.
He went all in on a pair of twos and is facing heroic Ukrainian opposition, a reinvigorated NATO, a unified EU, and near global condemnation. There is no win for him. He will be treated as the pariah he is as long as he continues to rule, and Russia will be ostracized. There is nothing he can take back to his people and say, “this is why it was worth it.”
And, that’s what’s scary. We’re facing an unhinged dictator with the second-largest stockpile of nuclear weapons in the world. He’s in over his head and likely to get more brutal and desperate to find some way to save face and look strong at the expense of the Ukrainian people.
An old-school Russian mob hit on Putin might be the best we can hope for. If I were President Biden, I would be seizing all of the mansions, yachts, and bank accounts of the oligarchs, and I would tell them that they can have their toys back when Putin is out of the picture and Russian troops have cleared out of Ukraine.