German Chancellor Olaf Scholz recently remarked that only Russian President Vladimir Putin can bring peace to Europe by withdrawing his troops from Ukraine and seeking out peace talks. This sort of thinking isn’t just a fanciful departure from what we can reasonably expect to happen — it’s absolutely wrong. Only a sound Russian military defeat in Ukraine coupled with Putin’s removal from power can truly end the conflict and cast out the specter of war that now haunts Europe.
To say that there can be no peace with Putin is not to say that we must, or even should, seek out regime change in Russia. Putin controls a nuclear arsenal and has shown a blatant disregard for human life. As such, we must embrace the possibility that a true and lasting peace may not come in our time. In fact, it is entirely reasonable to believe that we are in the midst of a new multigenerational Cold War — one that will be principally defined by a long, simmering conflict in Ukraine.
To establish why Putin himself is an intractable obstacle to peace, we need only look to his own words. His desire to conquer what he sees as Russian leads him to compare himself to the empire-building Peter the Great. The despot is hellbent on conquest, and he sees his legacy as dependent on it. Putin can therefore be expected to continue seeking glory through territorial expansion, whether in Ukraine today, Belarus by 2030, or back to Georgia, as Russia already tried in 2008. He will keep this up so long as he remains in office, regardless of how much it costs his people or the world. (RELATED: New Revelation on Putin’s Long Plan to Partition Ukraine)
No country outside of NATO near Russia’s orbit can feel safe, as evident from their own behavior as of late. Take, for example, Sweden and Finland, which were long satisfied with neutrality but are now both eagerly applying for entry into the alliance. A supermajority of the citizenry in these countries now feels the need for the security that the defensive pact brings.
Even when these countries come under the umbrella of Article 5’s protection — the NATO provision treating an attack on one member as an attack on them all — the resulting stalemate that we can expect between Putin and the West is best described as “a peace that is no peace,” with both sides saber-rattling at the edge of nuclear Armageddon. With no Western leader placing even a speck of trust in Putin, it becomes hard to see how either side could ever deescalate tensions until a change in Russian leadership occurs.
Not only must Putin be out of power for true peace to be achieved, but so too must Russia be decisively defeated in Ukraine. By this, I mean to say that they must not only lose their recently annexed regions in the eastern regions of Ukraine, but also Crimea itself. Any peace built on pressuring Ukraine to accept territorial concessions will only work to further destabilize the global order.
Allowing Russia to gain at all from this war risks the erosion of the global norm against territorial conquest. A return to a world where “might makes right” means that international conflict becomes an increasingly easier means by which powerful countries led by ruthless dictators can take what they want from their weaker neighbors.
Additionally, Russia must be defeated for the impact it would have on Putin’s tenure. At the very least, a humiliating loss in Ukraine would greatly weaken his grip on power such that, were he still able to cling to power, he would be forced to focus all of his efforts inward. In all likelihood, Putin would not survive a loss of such magnitude. The nation’s oligarchs would revolt, and, in looking for a replacement, they would be keen to seek out a figure who could begin to repair Russia’s badly damaged relationship with the West. Until such a figure takes charge, peace will not be possible.
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