New Worry in Ukraine: Putin's 'Exit Ramp'

Concern is rising about what a 'cornered' Russian leader might do
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 1, 2022 8:48 AM CST
New Worry in Ukraine: Putin's 'Exit Ramp'
This handout photo released by Ukrainian Emergency Service shows emergency service personnel inspecting the damage inside the City Hall building in Kharkiv, Ukraine, Tuesday.   (Ukrainian Emergency Service via AP)

A familiar theme has emerged in coverage about Ukraine: It's the notion that Vladimir Putin is growing frustrated with how badly the war is going, which is raising fears about what he may do to try to fix things. (Ukraine already has accused him of war crimes by shelling civilian areas.) An NBC News analysis quotes Democratic Virginia Sen. Mark Warner as summing things up:

  • No ramp? “This is somebody that’s clearly been caught off guard by the size of the Ukrainian resistance,” Warner said on MSNBC. “He has isolated himself. He’s not been in the Kremlin very much. ... You’ve got less and less inputs, and these inputs are from sycophants." All of which leads to: "I do worry that he’s been backed into a corner. I do worry that there is no obvious exit ramp.”
  • Ditto: A post at Axios frames this as a dilemma for President Biden: How to remain tough while keeping a face-saving "off-ramp" open for Putin. "A cornered, humiliated Putin could unleash untold pain on the world, from cyberattacks to nuclear threats," write Jonathan Swan and Zachary Basu. "After enacting brutal sanctions, the White House now must consider how the invasion can end without a new catastrophe." The post quotes a European diplomat: "It's like the Sun Tzu thing of giving someone a golden bridge to retreat across. How do you get him to go in a different direction?"

  • Rubio's warnings: Sen. Marco Rubio, who sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee, suggested last week that Putin seemed less stable than even just a few years ago. On Monday, he tweeted another stark warning: "Putin’s legitimacy built on image as the strong leader who restored #Russia to superpower after the disasters of the 90’s," he writes. "Now the economy is in shambles & the military is being humiliated & his only tools to reestablish power balance with the West is cyber & nukes."
  • Similar: You'll find the sentiment expressed by Rubio all over. “He is no longer the same cold-blooded, clear-eyed dictator that he was in 2008,” former CIA Director John Brennan tells NBC. The outlet's sources say Putin, long known for his calm, has been lashing it out in anger at aides over the military campaign and the world's reaction.
  • Or a bluff: That Putin might be "unhinged," with his finger on the nuclear button, is a matter of open speculation in intelligence circles as well as cable news shows, notes the New York Times. The alternative possibility: "Others wonder if Mr. Putin wants to create that impression, to add to Washington’s unease." An AP assessment notes that foreign leaders have been trying to get inside Putin's head for years, usually unsuccessfully.
(More Russia-Ukraine war stories.)

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