Washington, D.C. Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked war of aggression against Ukraine has soon nine months, but Russia loses ever more of Ukraine’s territory, while Ukraine has recorded three major victories: Kyiv, Kharkiv, and now Kherson. As Russia is being beaten on the battlefield, it appears increasingly unlikely that Putin will survive this folly of his.

Putin’s key problem is that war is his main political tool. In 1999, he came to power thanks to house bombings in Russia and by launching a second war in Chechnya. In 2003, he started an admittedly bloodless war against the oligarchs. In August 2008 he seized one-fifth of Georgia, driving his popularity rating to 88 percent, according to the independent Levada Center. In March 2014, he annexed Crimea with force, again reaching a popularity rating of 88 percent. His current war in Ukraine led to a new peak of 83 percent.

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Since Putin does not do anything else for the Russian people, he needs war. Wars justify his ever aggravated repression. Today, Russia is more repressive than the USSR was under Leonid Brezhnev. The Russian economy has stagnated since 2014, after the Western sanctions had been imposed because of his war in Ukraine. His kleptocracy guarantees that the Russian economy declines for as long as he stays in power, but hardly fast enough to stop Putin’s war.

Such a society cannot live and evolve. This year alone, probably one and a half million young well-educated Russians, the flower of the nation, have fled his oppression to wherever they can go. Putin’s mobilization might have caused as much damage to the Russian economy as the Western sanctions this year. All media, institutions and feedback mechanism have been stifled. The remnant of the Russian state is a barren skeleton of security police forces. Putin’s Russia is beyond repair. As long as Putin stays in power, repression in Russia will only increase. Thus, no modernization is possible with Putin at the helm.

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ISW Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, July 23, 2024
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ISW Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, July 23, 2024

Latest from the Institute for the Study of War.

Fortunately, “the collective West,” as the Kremlin now calls it, has come together sharing the insight that as long as Putin stays in power, he will pursue wars. The collective West has widely concluded that it needs to box him in with arms deliveries and severe sanctions. The containment of Russia is no longer controversial but so self-evident, even if some laggards persist.

So far, the main Western sanctions are financial sanctions, export controls of technology, and personal sanctions. The financial sanctions appeared rigorous, but their impact has been far less than initially expected. Recent forecasts expect a decline in Russia’s GDP of only 4 percent this year and about as much next year. The Western prohibitions of export of many kinds of technology to Russia appear to be comparatively more effective than the financial sanctions and their impact will only increase over time, as Russia runs out of spares and the West tightens its controls.

Altogether 1,800 Russians are now subject to personal sanctions, prohibiting them to travel to the West, and their villas, jets and yachts have been impounded. The sanctioned individuals are likely to hold some $500 billion of financial assets in the West, but only about $40 billion has been frozen and hardly anything confiscated. The West, primarily the United States and the United Kingdom, needs to opt for serious financial transparency so that these deep hidden treasures can be unearthed and frozen.

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Seven Western countries have frozen a total of about $300 billion of currency reserves of the Central Bank of Russia. This money is just sitting on Western central bank accounts. It should be confiscated and deployed as Russian war reparations to Ukraine. There is no reason not to do so. This is verified Russian state property; the assets are known, located and frozen; it is all liquid; Russia is guilty of horrendous war crimes in Ukraine, which the International Court of Justice in The Hague has recognized. This is the most urgent action the West should undertake, which will finance the suffering Ukrainian state.

Even if Putin is losing the war and is likely to lose power, this is no time for complacency. Ukrainians are dying every day and Russia is systematically bombing Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure. The cost of Putin to both Russians and their neighbors will increase over time, as Putin may be able to pursue a frightful war of attrition for a long time. The longer Putin stays in power, the more damage he will cause. The risk of him using nuclear arms or other arms of mass destruction might not be great, but increases over time, since he has always escalated. Nobody should worry about his replacement. Just like Stalin and Hitler, Putin is the worst possible dictator, so his replacement must be an improvement. Khrushchev followed after Stalin and Gorbachev after Brezhnev.

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Putin destroys everything in his way. He has already destroyed the Russian military through larceny and extreme petty tutelage. Since he uses various ethnic groups as cannon fodder, such groups are increasingly likely to revolt as happened when the USSR fell apart. The probability of the dissolution of Russia increase the longer Putin stays in power.

The obvious conclusion is that the earlier Putin is being terminated the better for all but Putin. The collective West needs to adopt a clear goal on Russia, namely the termination of Putin and his regime. As President Joe Biden stated so wisely in his great speech in Warsaw on March 26:

“This man cannot stay in power!”

Anders Åslund is a senior fellow at the Stockholm Free World Forum. His most recent book is “Russia’s Crony Capitalism: The Path from Market Economy to Kleptocracy.”

The views expressed are the author’s and not necessarily of Kyiv Post.

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