Even if Russia's Army was defeated and all of the occupied territory of Ukraine was liberated tomorrow, Putin would still retain the ability to wreck Ukraine. He could continue to bomb Ukrainian cities with impunity for years into the future. 

What impact would that have? Ukraine’s partners would be very hesitant to pour money into rebuilding a country while attacks and destruction were ongoing. International companies would be averse to entering a marketplace where international insurance was unavailable. Exports and imports via the ports would be constrained. In short - Russia would be able to poison Ukraine's attempts to “return to normal” and to create a functioning economy.

Strategically, we must also look beyond victory on the battlefield with a wider view of what the future will hold. Any Ukrainian win would mean nothing if Russia can continue hostilities, not with troops on the ground, but via terrorism. Terrorism from the skies via missiles would result in economic terrorism, that would guarantee that the 26% of Ukraine remains unemployed with few prospects of jobs and the several million refugees and internally displaced people have no certain future or motivation to return home.

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The only way to stop the hostilities is for the Kremlin to decide it wants to stop the hostilities. The only way to persuade the Kremlin to have a “change of heart,” would be to remove Putin from power. 

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Some would argue that Russia's history shows its autocrats are followed by yet more autocrats: Why would it be different this time?

Countries can change. Until 1945, Japan under an Emperor who people thought of as divine, was hardly a country that outside observers would have thought would become, an advanced democracy with one of the world's largest economies within mere decades.

A more immediate issue is the “legitimacy” question: how was the dictator replaced and does whoever replaces him represent a legitimate government in the eyes of the people.  Is the new “president” anything more than a simple usurper? 

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A key means of achieving that legitimacy is through international recognition. If the international community recognizes you as the president - then you really are the president. 

Anyone who comes after Putin would need to make several guarantees to Washington and Brussels to gain their recognition. Most especially by guaranteeing that the world's largest nuclear arsenal will not fall into the wrong hands and by ending the war in Ukraine. The West would not cut deals with someone who is going to only exacerbate the global security situation.

The West needs to accept the harsh reality: For Ukraine to have the certainty of a peaceful future: Putin must go. Now is the time. 

The views expressed in this opinion article are the author’s and not necessarily those of Kyiv Post.

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