Putin’s Titanic has hit the rock of solidarity of the Ukrainian people and Kremlin’s false and delusional hero is on its knees. Now Russia, as a military superpower and a permanent member of the UN Security Council enjoying the veto power, must reflect on how its global power, with its various political and military advantages, failed to pose a serious challenge to its Western enemies. Russia is lucky if it is not completely cast aside from the international community.
In Putin’s utopian dream, in the battle between the great and hostile powers, Moscow must change the function of the international system which has not changed since the era of American imperialism. There is no doubt that Moscow’s intention in military aggression against Ukraine was to change the world order by resorting to war and bloodshed. Now Putin’s ambitions as a champion of the geopolitical game in relations with Europe and the United States have become a geopolitical tragedy in Ukraine’s burnt earth. In less than two months, this war has thrown Moscow out of conventional international relations, especially in foreign policy and security issues. Putin, who is seeking to return the former Soviet Union borders to Russia’s strategic depth, has now woken up to the reality that changing world order is not possible by merely relying on past historical developments and optimistic predictions about military equipment and operations. Of course, this situation will lead to the escalation of imminent tensions and all-out wars which bear no resemblance to the East-West conflict during the Cold War.
Russia’s growing political isolation will further deprive the Kremlin of the opportunity for international maneuvers, and it will never be able to reap the political-strategic benefits of its previous military measures in Georgia and Syria. If Putin is not a loser in the Ukraine war, he is definitely not a winner. The Russian military has lost its ground, air and missile deterrence to advanced Western weapons and the only option left for Moscow is to resort to nuclear war. But Moscow‘s miscalculations and strategic mistakes have rendered its threats empty and sheer propaganda and psychological warfare.
Now that Putin is carrying his nuclear bag, he must either use it or see its strategic deterrence to NATO and the West fade away altogether. It can be said that Russia is caught in the vicious circle of its military power and propaganda to the extent that no choice is left to them but to sit at the negotiating table with Ukraine in an equal position. Russians are well aware that even by annexing the Donbas and Crimea they will lose the war if they do not resort to nuclear weapons as the West will keep Putin and his economy in this costly war for years.
Moscow knows that sanctions against Russia will not be lifted even after the end of the war and the damages and costs of sanctions will force Putin to either surrender or consider using nuclear weapons. Putin’s only hope against the West is to maintain nuclear deterrence. Of course, Putin might be able to carry on for a while through a balance of terror but soon he will give up in the face of international sanctions and isolation.
But if Putin decides to use nuclear weapons, he might be able to destroy much of Europe and the United States, but they will act reciprocally with the Cold War doctrine of “mass murder” or “first blow” and eliminate Russia from the face of the earth within twenty minutes. Russia cannot manage to destroy all European countries, all 50 US states, and the territories of its Western allies in 20 minutes. Russia’s domestic and foreign security system in the Ukraine war has proven flawed so before Russia decides to launch a nuclear attack, the United States and Britain will most likely take a preemptive step.
Russia has hit a dead end. Of course, over the last century, the former Soviet communist regime and Putin have been building and destroying Russia. This vast country has collapsed twice in its historical self-destruction and is on the verge of a third collapse due to Putin’s strategic mistake in invading Ukraine.
Basically, the Kremlin’s problem over the last few centuries has been its avarice for the expansion of its geographical boundaries. Russia has no cultural or civilizational similarities with China in its political geography in the East. Russia is neighbor to polar ice caps in the north and Islamic countries in the south. Western European countries have also closed all avenues of interaction and cooperation with Russia and its capabilities.
Thus, Russia‘s geopolitical entanglement in Confucian, Islamic, and Western civilizations has led to a conflict of interests in the Kremlin Palace. Border restrictions have emptied Russia of its cultural and vibrant life for centuries. Therefore, national capacities, which are supposed to be the determinant of Russia’s right to freedom and independence in securing its interests and values, have become a major problem due to cultural obstruction and corruption to the extent that Russia can neither determine its geographical borders nor feel cultural, physical, and identity security.
On the other hand, the separation of the Russian government from the people, as well as the corruption of the oligarchs, have paved the way for the Kremlin-ruled security order to take on all political, economic, and cultural dimensions. This security presence has led to a rift that has seriously challenged Russia’s interests and values, and even its independence internally. Historically, Russia has been constantly involved in wars to increase its territory or to maintain its security. In contemporary history similarly, Russia’s interests and values, even in opposition to imperialism and liberal democracy, conflict with the values of Europe and the United States. Moscow has not been able to achieve a balanced capacity to regulate foreign relations with the West. This unbalanced approach has created a context in which Russia is neither satisfied with the existing borders nor feels secure about the status quo.
The invasion of Ukraine will also undermine international relations and disrupt global rules as was common in the political, economic, and international dimensions. This will spread skepticism and distrust about foreign relations, and henceforth all data will be presumed as misinformation. This can change the conventional view of international order and world relations to some extent, even in the short term. Even if the war ends, the world conditions will not return to how they were before the Russian invasion.
*Timothy Hopper, an international relations graduate of American University.