At first, no one could imagine that the Russo-Ukrainian war could begin. And yet it began. And now, no one can imagine how it will end. And yet end it will.
War is ultimately about politics. That Ukraine is winning on the battlefield matters because Ukraine is exerting pressure on Russian politics. Tyrants such as Putin exert a certain fascination, because they give the impression that they can do what they like. This is not true, of course; and their regimes are deceptively brittle. The war ends when Ukrainian military victories alter Russian political realities, a process which I believe has begun.
The Ukrainians, let’s face it, have turned out to be stunningly good warriors. They have carried out a series of defensive and now offensive operations that one would like to call “textbook,” but the truth is that those textbooks have not yet been written; and when they are written, the Ukrainian campaign will provide the examples. The have done so with admirable calm and sang-froid, even as their enemy perpetrates horrible crimes and openly campaigns for their destruction as a nation.
Right now, though, we have a certain difficulty seeing how Ukraine gets to victory, even as the Ukrainians advance. This is because many of our imaginations are trapped by a single and rather unlikely variant of how the war ends: with a nuclear detonation. I think we are drawn to this scenario, in part, because we seem to lack other variants, and it feels like an ending.
Using the mushroom cloud for narrative closure, though, generates anxiety and hinders clear thinking. Focusing on that scenario rather than on the more probable ones prevents us from seeing what is actually happening, and from preparing for the more likely possible futures. Indeed, we should never lose sight of how much a Ukrainian victory will improve the world we live in. [Continue reading…]