Gerard Baker warns in the WSJ: anything that looks like capitulation by Ukraine to Putin’s central demand (Ukraine must never be allowed to join the West) only strengthens VP.
But we can’t risk pushing (Putin) to the brink. As unedifying as it seems, we have to find a way to end the suffering in Ukraine, secure the principle of national self-determination, and yet provide Mr. Putin with something that enables him to escape without the excuse for further escalation.
Whatever misgivings we have about the quality of Joe Biden’s diplomatic team, we had better pray they have the precise mixture of intestinal fortitude and intellectual suppleness to pull this off.
Referring to Russia’s bravery during the ambitious offensives from Napoleon in the 19th century and Hitler in the 20th, Mr. Baker writes: “the aftermath of disastrous wars can be profound, not only for czars or their modern counterparts, but for the rest of us too.”
The Patriotic War of 1812
The Holy Alliance that Alexander formed in 1815 with Prussia and Austria was the ancien régime’s monarchist bulwark against those currents that had flowed from the French Revolution, and it survived for about 40 years.
In 1905 defeat in the Russo-Japanese war led to the First Russian Revolution. Czar Nicholas II was compelled to introduce reforms to temper the despotic rule that had been reimposed after Alexander II’s assassination, but Nicholas’s temporizing and authoritarianism were his undoing.
It took defeat in World War I to crush not only the czar but any hope of a genuinely democratic Russian revolution. Russia replaced one dictatorial regime with another with the massacre of Nicholas II … and the ascent of Vladimir Lenin in Moscow.
The Great Patriotic War of 1941-45
In the second half of the 20th century, when Russia reached global superpower status, Joseph Stalin was the most powerful Russian ruler since Alexander.
It gave Moscow control over the territory of half of Europe and, for a while at least, a controlling influence over the minds of almost half the world’s population.
Putin’s Long Historical Precedent
Russia, reminds Baker, has disastrously lost wars too.
… on every occasion in the past century and a half, defeat has led to regime change at home and crushing reversal on the world stage.
Mr. Putin is now firmly impaled on (a) long historical precedent. It already seems that a possibly inconclusive struggle for Ukraine is a likely outcome, but history suggests there are only two alternatives for the Russian leader—a victory of some sort, at any cost, or the collapse of his regime.
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