The Endgame Remains Elusive in the West’s Attempt to Force Russia from Ukraine

While Western officials applaud themselves for acting quickly and harshly in reaction to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, they’re also scratching their brains, unsure of what their efforts will achieve.

The United States, NATO, and the European Union have concentrated their efforts on crippling Russia’s economy and supplying Ukrainian fighters. However, it is unclear how this will bring the battle to an end. Nobody knows what Russian President Vladimir Putin is thinking, but there’s little reason to suppose that even the most severe sanctions will dissuade him from bringing the Western-leaning former Soviet republic back into Moscow’s circle.

Officials in the United States and NATO allies don’t see a breaking point for Putin — either a heavy economic toll or catastrophic combat defeats — that would persuade him to withdraw his forces and allow Ukraine’s authorities to govern in peace.

On Tuesday, Biden proposed a US restriction on Russian energy imports, saying, “Ukraine will never be a win for Putin.” However, Ukraine may not be a complete setback for Putin.

Sanctions and military help may have slowed Russia’s advance in Ukraine and deterred Putin from invading other nations. They might act as a deterrent to other powerful countries that might be inclined to target weaker neighbors. Western leaders, on the other hand, have been ambiguous about how the steps will bring the violence to a conclusion.

Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland, the third-ranking US diplomat, gave one of the most forthright responses. She stated on Tuesday that domestic pressure on Putin will be more effective than external pressure.

“The way this conflict will end is when Putin sees that this endeavor has put his own leadership in jeopardy with his own troops and people,” she told Congress. “Either Putin changes his mind, or the Russian people will take matters into their own hands.”

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina made a more extreme comment, calling on the Russian people to murder Putin. The White House soon backtracked on the remark.

In fact, there are no signs that his stranglehold on power is loosening. There’s also the terrifying unknown of how a nuclear-armed Putin might behave if confronted with a true danger to his rule.

And no one expects Ukraine to win a military triumph outright. While Ukrainian soldiers have put up a valiant battle and are prepared to fight as long as Russian forces remain on their country, they are outgunned and would have a difficult time pushing Russian troops back across the border. Meanwhile, NATO countries aren’t about to risk igniting World War III by fighting for a non-member state.

In light of this, a diplomatic settlement looks improbable. Since initiating the assault last month, Russia has only increased its demands, and attempts at negotiation by French, Israeli, and Turkish officials have so far failed. The top diplomats from the United States and Russia aren’t even communicating, and recent lower-level conversations have centered almost completely on the expulsion of diplomats from their respective nations.

“No one knows how this will finish, and it will take time to see how the Russians react to the evident dead end that they’ve found themselves in,” said Jeff Rathke, a European scholar and head of Johns Hopkins University’s American Institute for Contemporary German Studies.

“There’s not much you can do until the Russians are ready to negotiate something serious and meaningful,” he remarked. He went on to say that the US and Europe should avoid the temptation to bargain with Putin over Ukraine, particularly as the economic consequences of isolating Moscow rise, especially in Europe. “The Ukrainians will have to determine what they would accept in the endgame,” he added.

“As long as Putin is in power, I don’t see this ending well for Ukraine,” Ian Kelly, a retired US diplomat and former ambassador to Georgia who now teaches international affairs at Northwestern University, said. “He’s stated his maximalist aim, which is essentially capitulation, and that’s something the Ukrainians will not accept and the Russians will not be able to achieve.”

“Withdrawal means death for him.” Kelly stated, “It’s too weak.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that the West’s power to stop the crisis was limited.

“What we’re looking at is whether President Putin will finally try to cut the losses he’s imposed on himself and the Russian people.” “We can’t make the decision for him,” he remarked on Wednesday.

British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, who appeared beside Blinken, hinted that the Western response may go beyond aspirations of getting Russia out of Ukraine.

She stated, “Putin must fail.” “Aggressors only comprehend one thing, and that is power, as we know from history.” We understand that if we don’t act quickly, other aggressors throughout the world will gain confidence. And we know that if Putin is not stopped in Ukraine, the consequences for European and global security would be disastrous.”

With the ambiguity, US officials have stated that they are confident of only one thing: that an enraged and dissatisfied Putin would send more soldiers and artillery into Ukraine, escalating the slaughter and delaying any return to normality.

CIA Director William Burns, a former US ambassador to Russia, told senators this week that he believes Putin underestimated the level of opposition and resolve that his soldiers would face from the Ukrainian people. He also predicted that Putin would quickly realize that occupying Ukraine or imposing a pro-Russian administration there would be impossible without confronting years, if not decades, of intense and brutal resistance.

“I believe it leads to a nasty next few weeks in which he doubles down with little concern for civilian losses, in which urban conflict can get more worse,” Burns warned.

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