Putin Won't Go, Russia Won't Collapse—So What Will Biden Do About Ukraine?

Evelyn Hockstein, Pool via AP

Another seance with the ghost of Cardinal Richelieu explains Putin’s objectives in Ukraine: Russia will ruin and depopulate Ukraine, the way Richelieu reduced large parts of Germany to cannibalism during the Thirty Years War. Shortly after I conjured the spirit of Europe’s greatest (and nastiest) strategist, the Telegram channel of Russia’s most fanatic nationalist, Aleksandr Dugin, featured the item below:


NATO says the military phase of the conflict in Ukraine is far from over. Of course, no one will let Zelensky make peace.

Ukraine is not a subject, but an object, where the Zelensky regime is not an actor, but a tool.

Therefore, it is necessary to take into account the intentions of the enemy and use the period of the military phase of the operation to continue the methodical destruction of the military infrastructure of Ukraine, and taking into account NATO’s course of prolonging the conflict, it is advisable to consider moving on to the destruction of industrial facilities in the territories of Ukraine that lie outside our interests, especially paying attention to those objects that Ukraine, for obvious reasons, will not be able to restore. Later, such a convenient opportunity to complete the deindustrialization of Ukraine may not present itself.

An “opportunity to complete the deindustrialization of Ukraine.” Putin isn’t defeated or baffled or confused. He’s turning the crank on the meatgrinder. One doesn’t have to read too far into these lines to conclude that Putin hoped that Zelensky would cut a deal on his terms once Russia invaded, but when Zelensky refused to cut a deal, Putin moved to Option B, which is to erase most of Ukraine from the face of the earth. That’s not as difficult as it sounds. Putin will keep the bits he wants in the Southeast (Donetsk and Luhansk), leave the West to factory farming, and pound the rest to rubble with artillery and air power.

Ukraine’s national population of 45 million had fallen to just 33 million by 2020 because half the working-age population left. Another 5 million refugees have fled, and millions more will leave before Russian cannons fall silent. There won’t be enough working-age Ukrainians left to begin reconstruction. Putin claimed on Feb. 23 that the West intended to turn Ukraine into a NATO missile platform with a 300-mile distance to Moscow. If he can’t get Ukraine to accept neutrality with Russian control over its southeast provinces, he’ll eliminate the threat Richelieu-style.


Related: Reliving the Nightmare of 1914 (We’re Doing It Again)

It’s horrible. But what’s going to stop Putin? To flatten Ukrainian cities, all the Russians need is artillery. All the Javelin anti-tank missiles in the world won’t do any good.

Meanwhile, Putin’s popularity is at 78% according to independent polls that Western analysts think are accurate. The ruble has climbed back to just about where it traded before the invasion and the Russian economy is doing “better than you think,” according to the London Economist. Biden bragged that the U.S. had reduced “the ruble to rubble.” He spoke too soon. He declared that Putin “can’t stay in power.” Looks like he can and he will. China’s sitting on the sidelines enjoying the show, and India, which refused to support sanctions against its longstanding ally Russia, will sell the Russians’ consumer goods.

U.S. officials can scream all they want about Russian “war crimes” (I don’t know the facts and take no position on whether war crimes were committed or not). I think that Putin is a bad guy and that the Russian invasion was a wicked enterprise. But Putin isn’t going anywhere, Russia isn’t collapsing, and the Russian Army is demolishing Ukraine.

What, then, does the Biden administration do next? Russia outguns us in nuclear weapons (and can deliver them from submarines firing hypersonic cruise missiles underwater). We don’t want a nuclear confrontation with Russia.

That’s why I signed this statement calling for de-escalation of the conflict sponsored by Compact Magazine, founded by my friends Sohrab Ahmari and Matthew Schmitz. Biden, Blinken, Nuland et al. have led us into a dead-end crisis that threatens to have a horrifying outcome—and maybe even a nuclear fireball. If you think I’m exaggerating, read this Asia Times analysis by editor-in-chief Uwe Parpart and myself. There’s still time to back out of the cul-de-sac. But not a lot.


Late-breaking news: The Wall Street Journal reports:

Mr. Scholz made one last push for a settlement between Moscow and Kyiv. He told Mr. Zelensky in Munich on Feb. 19 that Ukraine should renounce its NATO aspirations and declare neutrality as part of a wider European security deal between the West and Russia. The pact would be signed by Mr. Putin and Mr. Biden, who would jointly guarantee Ukraine’s security.

Mr. Zelensky said Mr. Putin couldn’t be trusted to uphold such an agreement and that most Ukrainians wanted to join NATO. His answer left German officials worried that the chances of peace were fading. Aides to Mr. Scholz believed Mr. Putin would maintain his military pressure on Ukraine’s borders to strangle its economy and then eventually move to occupy the country.

U.S. and European leaders held a video call. “I think the last person who could still do something is you, Joe. Are you ready to meet Putin?” Mr. Macron said to Mr. Biden. The U.S. president agreed and asked Mr. Macron to pass the message to Mr. Putin.

Mr. Macron spent the night of Feb. 20 alternately on the phone with Mr. Putin and Mr. Biden.

The Frenchman was still talking with Mr. Putin at 3 a.m. Moscow time, negotiating the wording of a press release announcing the plan for a U.S.-Russian summit.

But the next day, Mr. Putin called Mr. Macron back. The summit was off.

Mr. Putin said he had decided to recognize the independence of separatist enclaves in eastern Ukraine. He said fascists had seized power in Kyiv, while NATO hadn’t responded to his security concerns and was planning to deploy nuclear missiles in Ukraine.



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