Spravdi announcements from Ukraine’s Armed Forces claim that they have killed double the number of Russian troops in 12 days than Americans lost in both the Iraq and Afghan wars across 20 years, claiming that 12,000 Russian troops have been killed, along with 81 helicopters and 317 tanks destroyed.
While impossible to verify, even conservative estimates from the same American sources who claimed that Kyiv would fall in hours suggest that at last 4,000 have died.
With Russia outlawing using the word “war” to describe the conflict, along with suggestions that Putin may cut Russian access to outside internet sources, it is becoming increasingly clear that Putin is willing to end the modern Russian state in order to achieve his personal aims.
The US and EU seem to have formed their symbolic border for intervention at the edges of NATO, an organization which they have been unwilling to expand for decades to the most at risk states, likely out of fear of Russian economic retaliation. For this reason, not only direct military intervention but even establishing a no-fly zone at the request of the sovereign Ukrainian government in their own territory have been ruled out. The justification is over fears of nuclear retaliation, and this hysteria has even spread to the crippling economic sanctions applied against Russia after Lavrov’s comments linking sanctions to war.
The West is in a conundrum, because there are many that believe that a cornered Putin who finds that he can neither win the war nor back down, rather than admit defeat and potentially lose power, would simply end the world. On the other hand, allowing Putin to unilaterally end the international world order with its inviolable sovereign borders with impunity is also untenable. The reality is that the Russian regime is toying with the West psychologically. Putin is keenly aware that the West will hesitate before spreading disorder by opening the nuclear gauntlet simply to defend a different form of the order. The regime is populated by skilled pathological liars, who only a month ago claimed that Russia had no intention to invade, and that suggestions by the UK and US that they were seeking regime change in Ukraine were dangerous hysteria and disinformation.
We must continue to assume that Putin and his entourage are rational actors who simply miscalculated the resolve of Ukraine, perhaps after watching Kabul fall in hours just last year. An irrational leader does not pilfer more than 100 billion dollars from his country and build a mega-mansion with state funds, and then poison and imprison the man that exposes his misdeeds, a materialist hedonist obsessed with exploiting his position does. Putin knows that all is not lost, even with temporary reversible sanctions.
No one obsessed with national glory would strangle their potential with a kleptocratic mafia-state as has happened in the long stagnating Russia. Putin will not end the world, even if all of Ukraine was occupied by the US and nuclear bases were stationed there, because he does not actually care about Russia or its people, as long as he can maintain his advantage. He will also do everything in his power to cling to his position, knowing that if he loses control, everything will be lost. Therefore, the most crippling sanctions possible, reversible should the invasion stop, are the best way to threaten his control. He fears instability, and an impending irreparable collapse of the Ruble and the financial system would be enough to provide this. No matter how popular United Russia may be, or how strong his security apparatus is, a nation watching its savings evaporate in two weeks and unable to import food will revolt, especially if the state can no longer pay its police and military.
If the West does truly want to stop the devastation in Ukraine, the remaining 30% of Russia’s financial system that has been spared as well as its oil and natural gas sectors must be cut off from the privilege of being able to sell to Western markets, whose continuance allows to subsidizing genocide. Higher gas prices will look like a party favor compared to the costs of a war between Russia and NATO should Putin cling onto power if the West chooses to allow the regimes expansionism. If the West is unwilling to intervene militarily, at the very least, it must not allow its markets to fund atrocities and the end of the world order. If specter of totalitarianism is allowed to flourish, then the spectators are just biding their time.