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Until Vladimir Putin launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in the early hours of February 24, he was winning his standoff with the West. He had compelled the United States and Europe to take his demands seriously; he experienced the pleasure of being treated as the head of a great power; and he had succeeded in intimidating the Ukrainians as well as the other states neighboring Russia and the rest of the world.

All he had to do to cement his victory was to recognize the independence of the so-called breakaway Donbas republics, recognize that Ukraine’s chances of joining NATO were nil, and continue his subversion. creeping out of Ukraine in the hope that sooner or later it would return to Russia’s orbit.

And then he ruined everything by invading Ukraine.

Overnight, Russia became a pariah state. The West has already imposed a growing range of sanctions and more are expected. International opinion almost unanimously condemned Putin’s war of aggression, and thousands of his own citizens expressed their opposition to the war in demonstrations and petitions.

More importantly, the Ukrainians fought back fiercely. It was something Putin probably did not expect. In his initial announcement of a “special military operation,” Putin called on Ukrainian soldiers to lay down their arms, not out of concern for their lives, but because he truly believed they would be happy to do so. But they weren’t and they didn’t. Instead, they inflicted punitive casualties on his invading force and inspired the watching world with their courage.

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Now supposed chess grandmaster Putin has effectively maneuvered himself into an unwinnable position. Ukrainians across the country, whatever language they prefer to speak, religion or ethnicity, rallied around the flag. Tens of thousands of people volunteered for home defense units. Many others gave their blood. Countless others have donated their life savings to help fund the country’s defense. A historic wave of patriotic fervor has gripped Ukraine.

The Ukrainian nation has been joined by Ukrainians in the diaspora, who are now busy organizing rallies and raising funds for their homeland. All of these Ukrainians now see themselves as part of a modern Ukrainian nation that is as diverse as it is united in its opposition to Putin and all he stands for: dictatorship and vassalage. Ukrainians have shown that they love their country, despite all its faults, and that they are ready to make great sacrifices for it.

Ukraine’s dramatic wartime display of national unity and strength is exceptionally embarrassing for Putin. In his increasingly haphazard attempts to justify his war, the Russian leader has claimed to be battling a ragtag band of ‘fascists’, ‘Nazis’ and ‘drug addicts’ who only represent their own interests and ‘payers’. in the country. the west. It turns out that Putin has declared war on a patriotic nation of over 40 million people in a country the size of France.

His options are now all bad. He could still physically destroy Ukraine and commit massive genocide against its people, but even the craziest Russian imperialist would probably balk at the thought of what would be the most colossal atrocity in human history.

Putin could still try to establish a puppet Ukrainian regime in Kyiv that would be happy to do as he pleases, as intelligence reports have long predicted. However, that would mean occupying a huge country indefinitely. This would probably require around a million troops, all of whom would become targets for a Ukrainian resistance movement that was sure to emerge.

Alternatively, Putin could try to strike some sort of deal with the current Ukrainian administration, but that would amount to effectively admitting to those around him, if not the Russian people, that his bloody enterprise had in fact achieved nothing but negotiations. could have produced by far less cost.

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Why did Putin act so stupidly? One answer is that he may have lost touch with reality after hiding from COVID-19 in a bunker for two years. Another is that, as undisputed boss of the Kremlin for more than two decades, his advisers are reluctant to tell him what they fear will upset him.

Putin’s recent meeting at the Russian Security Council was particularly revealing of the dangerously dysfunctional power dynamics in the Kremlin, with Putin alone in a throne-like seat while his henchmen sat in the vast hall on wooden chairs, facing him like school children.

Another possibility is that he completely bought into Russian Imperial and Soviet historical propaganda narratives that have traditionally relegated Ukrainians somewhere between non-existence or Russia’s servile younger brother status. It is entirely possible that this ideology blinded Putin and many of his followers to the reality of a Ukrainian nation with its own interests and culture.

Putin therefore lost. Ukraine and Ukrainians will suffer terribly from its criminal invasion, but they will survive and emerge as a strong and modern nation. Putin, on the other hand, faces a much more uncertain future after this senseless war.

Alexander Motyl is a professor of political science at Rutgers University-Newark.

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The opinions expressed in UkraineAlert are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Atlantic Council, its staff or its supporters.

the Eurasia Center mission is to strengthen transatlantic cooperation in promoting stability, democratic values ​​and prosperity in Eurasia, from Eastern Europe and Turkey in the West to the Caucasus, Russia and the Central Asia to the East.

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Image: A person holds a banner with the joined faces of a portrait of Vladimir Putin and Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler during an anti-war demonstration, after Russian President Vladimir Putin authorized a massive military operation against Ukraine . Barcelona, ​​Spain, February 24, 2022. (REUTERS/Nacho Doce)