No Options: Literally Life or Death for Putin
Have you ever had a friend who decided to risk everything he had on what you considered a questionable investment?
Sometimes people win. If you invested and held Bitcoin when it was $50 a coin, you are very rich now. If you bought Google when it was $50/share then your investment has paid off.
More often, though when someone bets on a high risk investment, they lose. If they go “All In” like in Texas Hold’em, then they lose everything. Most people are smart enough to hedge their bets, not bet everything and sometimes even have insurance just in case.
Follow my logic.
Putin has bet everything on a victory in Ukraine – including his life.
If he is successful, he has two new allies that were once part of Ukraine, the sanctions go away easily, he solidifies his alliance with China, and possibly makes diplomatic inroads into India, Israel and several others who have chosen to remain neutral. He controls a major world food source, provides the access he needs for oil pipelines, secures a seaport. Plus he is a hero to the Russian people and he consolidates his power in Russia.
It is tough for an outsider to know the inner workings of Russian politics, it could be that his invasion of Ukraine was in part a response to tough internal political maneuverings by his rivals there. And make no mistake, he has rivals there. But he may be able to oust the strongest ones and replace them with men who are at least loyal for the time being (such never lasts…).
If Putin loses, he embarrasses himself, he embarrasses the Russian people, takes Russia to near bankruptcy. China will be disappointed at the results of the experiment, and Putin will become much less in their eyes. Putin will have lost any international influence he had previously, recognized as a paper tiger.
More importantly for Putin, if he loses he gives his rivals more power and influence. They will oust him one way or another. Since Putin is not a wallflower to be set to the side, he will be thrown in prison, charged with war crimes and likely dead from “suicide” within months. Or dead from an assassin’s bullet, or put in front of a firing squad. The Russian oligarchy cannot afford to have a failed Putin still alive.
There is no “morning after” for Putin, no opportunity for regret. It is LITERALLY win or die.
With this in mind, the psychology becomes very simple.
Putin not only will not back down, but he will escalate to every piece of equipment, technique and piece of propaganda at his disposal. He has stated his goals publicly, so he cannot waver too far from that in the final outcome. It must be clear victory.
What does escalate mean? Just what we described before. Not likely nuclear weapons, but he can be less careful in his shelling and make life more and more miserable for the Ukrainian people (as he has started to do). He can destroy infrastructure, he can trap people into situations where they are starving, and he can level the major cities to the ground. Ukraine in its current form will no longer exist.
For the rest of the world, the trade-off is daunting. We can save Ukraine by surrendering to Putin’s demands.
But if we do that, then we have an emboldened Putin, who will have tremendous power and will likely invade more countries.
We will have shown the impotence and apathy of NATO in the face of naked aggression and massive human suffering, the likes of which we haven’t seen in generations.
We will have shown a formula for success to China’s Xi, who is ever in waiting for his chance to conquer Taiwan and dominate other countries in his region of the world.
Perhaps our clever leaders can find a different way.
But if we had clever leaders, we would not have been maneuvered into this choice, and the war in Ukraine would never have started in the first place.