Putin's Goal: Avoid Being 'Jailed, Exiled or Killed'

Russia's president is unlikely to compromise with Ukraine, analysts say
By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 22, 2022 1:15 PM CDT
You Can't Negotiate With Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin listens to Novgorod Region Governor Andrei Nikitin during a meeting in Moscow on March 22, 2022.   (Mikhail Klimentyev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

The media has reported on peace talks between Ukraine and Russia—including fresh headlines just this weekend—but as Vladimir Putin targets Ukrainian civilians in a ruthless assault, he seems unlikely to cede ground at the bargaining table. "Putin's own penchant for risk and the patterns evident in other authoritarian regimes suggest that doubling down to secure his maximalist aims in Ukraine is the more likely outcome," Andrea Kendall-Taylor and Erica Frantz write in Foreign Policy. Putin couldn't bear "any perception of loss" that might topple him from power, they explain: "If Putin is ousted, similar leaders' track records suggest Putin stands a high likelihood of being jailed, exiled, or killed."

  • Even a ceasefire. "The current assumption in Washington is that the Russians are probably not negotiating in good faith," writes Gideon Rachman in the Financial Times. "Even the announcement of a ceasefire is likely to be treated skeptically—since Russia may just use it as an opportunity to regroup militarily."
  • Siege tactics. Top US officials say airstrikes on Ukrainian civilians are designed to reduce Volodymyr Zelensky's leverage, forcing him to proclaim his nation's neutrality while ceding southern and eastern territories. "It does appear that [Putin] is reverting to siege tactics," a US official tells the Wall Street Journal. Analysts from two Washington think tanks agree that Putin has reverted to "siege" or "siege-and-starve" tactics that deliberately target civilian infrastructure and unarmed civilians, "which are war crimes."

  • Putin's Plan "B." With Russia's land assault sputtering, "the next best thing would be to drive five or 10 million Ukrainian refugees, particularly women, children and the elderly, into Poland, Hungary and Western Europe—with the purpose of creating such intense social and economic burdens that these NATO states will eventually pressure Zelensky to agree to whatever terms Putin is demanding to stop the war," Thomas Friedman writes in the New York Times. "Putin's plan B seems to be unfolding as planned."
  • Sanctions. Anyone hoping sanctions will spur peace talks should consider a comprehensive study that shows sanctions have worked partially just 34% of the time, the Week reported last month. Le Monde Diplomatique notes that previous sanctions actually pushed Russia to improve its domestic economy, making it a net exporter of agricultural products for the first time since the Soviet Union. "A pitiful substitute for diplomacy, a spiral of unilateral measures now threatens to lead to war in Europe," per LMD.
  • A failed state. While NATO refuses to fight, Ukrainians are being killed and their infrastructure destroyed—which may satisfy Putin's alternate goal of crippling Ukraine without having to occupy major cities. Putin wants Ukraine to become a failed state "because it would bring an end to the threat of Ukraine as an intractable adversary" and remove "the prospect of a thriving and prosperous democratic model in the cradle of East Slavic civilization," Alexander Vindman and Dominic Cruz Bustillos wrote earlier this year in Foreign Affairs.

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(Meanwhile, some say World War III has already begun.)

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