Dear President Putin: You Screwed Up!                                          

A. Altieri D’Angelo

Photo: Protests in Russia against Putin Unsplash License

It is too early to know if Ukraine will remain a sovereign country. But, regardless of the outcome, Putin and Xi Jinping will be the biggest losers tactically and strategically.

Russia is isolated. The U.S., EU, and other countries have imposed sanctions and shipped weapons to Ukraine. The Ukrainians are putting up a strong defense and are slowing down the Russian armed forces. World opinion overwhelmingly favors Ukraine. Russia’s standing in the world has dropped to a low level. The cost of Putin’s miscalculation is immense.

Putin misjudged the reaction of the U.S., EU, and the rest of the world. He assumed the U.S. could not lead a unified response given the Afghanistan debacle. The Russian President also underestimated the courage and patriotism of the Ukrainian people and forces as well President Zelenskyy’s leadership. He overestimated the political leverage of his gas exports to Europe and his ability to dominate Germany. His actions drove Switzerland to join the EU in sanctioning Russia.

Tactically, Putin’s decision to invade is turning out to be a disaster. The defiance of the Ukrainian people coupled with arms supplied by the West will lead to a higher civilian death toll. The Red Army will see higher than expected causalities. Even if Russia succeeds in taking control of the major cities, the fight will continue; it will face a guerrilla war. The sanctions are crippling the Russian economy; interest rates and inflation are rising. Protests are occurring throughout Russia and in many countries. But the strategic impact of the invasion will create even more significant problems for Putin. History will remember Putin as the man who caused Germany to step up and lead Europe; this will be his legacy.

Germany has been unable to deal with Russia as an equal since WW ll. Germany’s guilt over what it did in the war, particularly against Russia, created a reluctance to use its great economic power. It was unwilling to take any action that could offend Russia. It never adequately invested in its military because of its wartime guilt. However, Russia’s attack on Ukraine caused Germany to leave its shame behind; it is sending arms to Ukraine. But that is not the only thing that has changed. Germany has announced that it will modernize its armed forces. These two actions signify that Germany will no longer seek to operate in the shadows. Germany will take up its rightful role in the EU. A guilt-free Germany will significantly strengthen the EU, NATO, and the U.S.

Putin’s blunder will also lead to more defense spending by other NATO members. All NATO countries now realize that the Russian President will not stop with Ukraine. Members understand that Article 5 of the NATO Treaty may be used in the future. Therefore, each NATO country will need to build up its military capability to meet future challenges.

Moreover, Putin’s actions have led to a massive increase in NATO forces at Russia’s borders. The Russian President is facing the most extensive NATO border presence in years. Strategically this is the exact opposite of what he tried to achieve by invading Ukraine.

(It is important to note that a robust NATO will allow the U.S. to divert its attention to Asia and confront the threat posed by China. The Chinese will not be happy as they expected the U.S. to remain distracted by Russia for the foreseeable future.)

Sweden and Finland are not members of NATO. These countries have remained neutral for many decades. But they have decided to break with the past and are sending arms to Ukraine. These two nations realize that Putin must be stopped. However, Sweden and Finland understand that they, like Ukraine, would not be defended by NATO troops. NATO would only supply weapons and impose sanctions on Russia in the event of an invasion. Such measures are not as effective as Article 5 protection. Finnish and Swedish citizens realize their cities could be destroyed and citizens killed while NATO sanctions Russia. The idea of joining NATO is now more appealing than before. Thank you, Vladimir!

Taiwan and all Asian/Pacific Rim nations are watching the Ukraine invasion unfold. They see similarities between Russia/Ukraine and China/Taiwan. These countries face a Chinese leader who seeks control of Asia and the Western Pacific. The success or failure of the U.S. and NATO will significantly impact how these nations deal with China. If Ukraine can retain its sovereignty, then confidence in the U.S. will be restored. Asian/Pacific Rim countries will be encouraged to enhance their collective security agreements with each other. They will see that it is possible to stand up against China if all are united.

Putin’s actions have set in motion democratic forces that will inhibit and obstruct the expansionist ambitions of Russia and China. Neither Putin nor Xi Jinping can be happy at the moment.

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