What is the Endgame?

Published at 08:22 on 10 March 2022

That is easy: Russian forces slink back across the border in defeat and leave Ukraine, much like they did some decades earlier with respect to Afghanistan.

How do we get there? Most likely, same way we got to the Afghanistan endgame: a long, brutal, bloody process that the Russians eventually tire of.

It’s all genuinely horrible, particularly for the people of Ukraine.

The only practical alternative, because we can only control our reaction to Putin and not Putin himself, is to relax the sanctions, stop aid to Ukraine, and let Putin have what he wants. Of course, that teaches Putin the lesson, par excellence, that he can get away with grabbing whatever he wants, because the West really is weak and timid and will just let him have it. It is, after all, precisely what Putin learned from the generally non-confrontational responses to his invasions of Crimea and Donbas. And that, in turn, merely paves the way to even worse bloodshed later.

Well, there is also the alternative of dramatic escalation, i.e. entering the conflict and having NATO face Russia directly. In other words, World War III. We have seen over the past two weeks the quality of the Russian military, so it is pretty clear that Russia would start losing such a war, badly. At that point Russia will turn to its nuclear arsenal, and we all know where things end up from there. Note that a no-fly zone is such an escalation, because it will result in NATO shooting down Russian planes.

So the only other class of alternative is so dramatically worse than the other alternatives, that no sane person would want to consider it. This is why even hard-headed military types like the head of NATO want nothing to do with a no-fly zone in Ukraine.

This lack of any good response, and the resulting certainty of a period of prolonged bloodshed and suffering, is in fact what upset me the most when I heard the news that Putin had launched a full-scale invasion. When I have talked earlier about the responses being as good as I could have imagined, I meant they were so given the overall circumstances, which are pretty bleak.

So make no mistake: what the West is doing is definitely going to prolong an already bloody war, and guarantee a huge amount of civilian deaths and utter destruction for the infrastructure of Ukraine, and cause no shortage of misery throughout Russia as well. Yet it is simultaneously the best response possible.

And that is the real tragedy of the current situation.

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