Here’s how America can achieve its goals in the Russian-Ukrainian war

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Like many people, I was hypnotized by the images coming from Ukraine. Miles of Russian convoys, Russian missiles deliberately targeting schools and hospitals, Russian troops shooting at women, children and the elderly whose only crime was queuing for bread. A brave and articulate Ukrainian hero president leading his army and countrymen to defend against the cruel Russian invaders. I know which side I am on. I know how I want it to end. But can someone tell me how it will end?

America just fought and lost two wars partly because for twenty years we never had clear or realistic goals. It’s Ukraine’s opinion that counts, of course, not ours, but it’s worth thinking about now. At some point, things could escalate, which would present the United States and NATO with some tough decisions that we had to make very, very quickly.


What are our goals in the Russia/Ukraine war? Is there anything the United States can do now to help achieve them? How can we separate what we would like from what is possible?

  • Is our goal the total defeat and removal of Putin? But Putin could not survive politically if he brought the troops home in humiliation. Before that happens, he will switch to weapons of mass destruction, including chemical or even tactical nuclear weapons.
  • Is our goal to change the regime in Moscow? A palace coup orchestrated by Putin’s inner circle is unlikely given his paranoid control over everyone around him. The oligarchs are unhappy with Putin, especially because their own wealth has been confiscated or sanctioned. But they are not politically powerful in Russia – most of them live abroad. We may hear anecdotal stories from disgruntled Russian citizens, but that’s far from hoping for a nationwide anti-Putin uprising. Putin is more likely to launch a Stalin-style purge of his enemies, given his call to strengthen the country with a “cleanse” of traitors and his promise to “spit them out like gnats.”
  • Putin’s goal is to do whatever it takes to bring Ukraine to heel. Would we be willing to sit idly by while Putin levels Ukraine like he did with Chechnya in 1999, and bombs kyiv to smithereens like he did with Grozny? If Ukraine became a killing field, it would be a stain on the soul of the world. It would also destroy the international system that has maintained world peace since the end of World War II, the longest period since the fall of the Roman Empire. Biden called Putin a war criminal and warned the international community would treat him like an outcast. But this threat is unlikely to have much effect on changing Putin’s behavior. Does anyone seriously think they care what they say about them at diplomatic cocktail parties?


  • Is our goal an impasse followed by a negotiated solution, where neither side gets everything they want, but both sides can get enough to live with? What could such an agreement look like? Zelenskyy now says NATO membership is out of the question for Ukraine and hinted that the fate of two eastern provinces could be negotiable. These were Putin’s main demands before the invasion. Will they be enough for Putin now? Can he present this to his own people as a victory and bring his troops home? Or will he demand all of eastern Ukraine?

No matter what Putin accepts now, he will come back. He will rebuild his army and return to the rest of Ukraine in a few years. But a few years would also give Ukraine a unique opportunity to rely on Western investment to rebuild itself, strengthen its economic and political ties with Europe and North America, and wean itself off Russian energy. Even if the sanctions are lifted, Putin’s Russia is unlikely to receive much Western investment. Ukraine, on the other hand, will.

What is our role in all of this? President Biden has so far been reluctant to do anything that might drag the United States into the conflict or give Russia an excuse to escalate. Biden wants a diplomatic solution. But history shows that the most effective diplomacy is backed by a strong economy, a strong military and strong alliances.

No matter what Putin accepts now, he will come back. He will rebuild his army and return to the rest of Ukraine in a few years.

The best weapon the United States has to stop Putin and help Ukraine, and other countries Putin might be watching, is not military. It’s economic – liberate the American energy industry. If Biden is willing to end or delay his “war on fossil fuels,” the United States could produce more oil and natural gas. This would bring energy prices back to where they were under President Trump.

That would halve Putin’s export revenue. He could not afford a costly occupation or further invasions. Biden sanctions could to punish Putin for invading Ukraine, and that’s fine. But removing his piggy bank would be to prevent prevent him from returning to war.


I visited Ukraine in the spring of 2014, a few weeks after the Maidan revolution, when the people rose up and overthrew pro-Russian President Yanokovich. The political, military and business leaders I met were euphoric, but I knew the Russians would be back. As I drove along the Dnieper River that runs through the center of kyiv, I wondered if this would ever be the border between Ukraine and Russia. Let’s hope not.



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