I have been following the war in Ukraine through Twitter, Telegram and other real time social media channels since the very beginning on daily basis. Right now that Zelensky is giving a press conference with Biden in White House, and we are 300 days from day one, I have the feeling there might be a calmer period ahead but no immediate end in sight. So I thought it could be a good time to gather my thoughts together.
It is still obvious that nobody knows how the war will end. Not Putin, not Zelensky, not Biden, not anybody else. Some patterns and possible outcomes can be however identified:
1. Putin’s mission has been and remains to take over the whole Ukraine and he can be only stopped by a bullet, coup or the like. It doesn’t count a cent what Russia says and lies about their goals, peace talks etc. Their take over can go militarily up to the Polish border or at minimum they want Zelensky gone, Ukrainian surrender and some random puppet government placed in Kyiv. In this sense this war is comparable to WWI or WWII. Putin’s Russia is essentially running an old school conquest mission we haven’t seen in this world in a generation or two.
2. Ukraine will never surrender. They will fight until the last man standing no matter how much they are attacked or how much support they get from the US and EU. Before the war it was unclear to me if there will be genuine, large-scale conflict between Russia and Ukraine or if Russia will just march in like in Crimea back in 2014. This has no longer been the case after the first two weeks of the war or so. Ukraine has kind of reborn as a fully independent, sovereign nation and founding story in the past 10 months. They stand united. Ukraine will not stop until pre-2014 borders are back on the map.
3. EU, US, China, Israel and others were initially just following and reacting to the events as they unfolded. Since then the Free World has step by step increased the absolutely critical military support to let Ukraine defend its territory and stop Russia. But that is not enough. Now after significant Ukrainian gains over the past few months I get the feeling the military support for Ukraine should be still couple magnitudes higher If we want to see Russia defeated and retreat back to the pre-2014 borders in months instead of years. We also need to continue to build up unified political pressure and sanctions against Russia and all the Kremlin agents across the world.
4. Before February it was somewhat unclear to me who leads Russia. Was Putin just a puppet of some of the top oligarchs or vice versa? Now it is clear that everyone in Russia is under Putin who runs some kind of Peter the Great reality show on TV. Pretty many oligarchs and other regional bosses must hate big time letting their country get into this stage. Their capo has sucked all the power and runs a war economy in an unpredictable, dangerous way. Late John McCain has still the best description of what Putin’s Russia is all about: “A gas station run by a mafia that is masquerading as a country.”
5. Russian army is the black horse. They could simply stop the war if there is still some independent command structure left. They could do a quick power transition like has happened in some of the other modern-day dictatorships over the past 50 years or so.
6. Another random rider are nukes. It seems like Putin can at some point simply order Russian army to nuke any target and then we see what happens. In any event Putin is the only known person in this world both capable and even possibly willing to detonate a nuke on people. If they would nuke I think nobody would really respond in kind unless Russia would like bomb Kiev to the ground or something as crazy as that.
7. The default scenario is that the war goes on with conventional weapons until the bitter end. We will have more blood in the snow when the Christmas comes and the year turns into 2023. Where the borders lie next year — nobody knows. In the long term it is obvious Ukraine will take over the lost land, join EU and so on. Right now it feels like this journey will just take a long time.
8. What happens to Russia after the war is another major question mark but it has to be addressed because this kind of wars cannot happen again. One scenario is they follow the North Korean complete isolation model but I have hard times to believe in that because Russia is just too big, diversified and unstructured to be as tightly controlled. At the other end if Russia would succumb into chaos some independent regions could rebel and declare independence. Even if that would happen I don’t think anybody wants to go there, occupy, “peace keep” or grab any of that land with any pretext. They need to somehow sort it out themselves. Like Zelensky said in his address to US Congress: “The Russians will stand a chance to be free only when they defeat the Kremlin in their minds.” They do it either region by region, which I guess would be most likely, or then in some miraculous way as a reborn, unified, democratic nation among other nations.