Putin has gravely miscalculated
Russian President Vladimir Putin is running out of time. Will he be able to declare some sort of victory by May 9, the date that marks Russia's victory over the Nazis in 1945? Ukrainians, after all, are putting up fierce resistance in the face of Russia's aggression, defending their homes and families.
Russia, by contrast, isn't showing such determination. The world has repeatedly seen that Russian forces are suffering from low morale and that its soldiers — some only just 18 or 19 years old — do not want to fight this war. They are not finding a fascist regime in Ukraine or a Russian-speaking minority waiting to be liberated. The Russians are being greeted with fierce resistance, not flowers. In fact, Ukrainians enjoy greater freedom at home than ordinary Russians in their country, where fear reigns, where media outlets lie and where authorities crack down on every sort of dissent.
Living a lie
Russia's army has failed Putin. His propagandists will need to dream up some sort of victorious achievement in time for the May 9 parade, then disseminate this fabrication on state-controlled television. This, alas, is nothing new in Russia. It is, after all, the country of Grigory Potemkin.
Every day the war drags on, the grimmer the lay of the land and the greater the number of dead Russian soldiers. At the same time, Moscow's restaurants, cafes and bars are brimming with patrons drinking vodka and dancing. Life goes on.
And there it is again — the collective schizophrenia that is standard for "homo sovieticus."' He lives and survives on lies, with fear of the secret service, with shame about his own cowardice.
Many Russians continue to look away today, trying to suppress any knowledge of crimes committed in their name. One day, when the slaughter of their Ukrainian brothers and sisters can no longer be denied, they will claim not to have known, not to be responsible, and will try to get away with it all, just as they did after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Putin must further isolate his country and escalate the conflict for his own political survival. How great must his desperation be, if he now resorts to threats to use nuclear weapons? Conventional weapons have apparently not delivered the expected results.
His actions are also leading the West toward independence from Russian energy imports within months, something it would never have done otherwise.
Putin's conduct has convinced the majority of Germans, a population that usually prefers harmony, to approve of a tough stance toward the aggressor. They are willing to make sacrifices to ensure Ukraine maintains the upper hand. German lawmakers reluctant to send heavy weapons to Ukraine are under pressure. Left-wingers in the Social Democratic Party and the Green Party have given the go-ahead for billions of euros in defense spending to strengthen Germany's own armed forces.
Within months, normally sleepy Germany has changed in ways it has not done in decades. It is tapping into its traditional talents: organizational prowess, industriousness and a willingness to make sacrifices. Other European countries have reacted in a similar way. Finland and Sweden are considering joining NATO. And pacifist Japan has decided to boost its defensive capabilities in light of Russia's aggression. All this is thanks to Putin.
He has reinvigorated NATO, which some members previously described as "brain-dead." The US has pledged over $30 billion (€28.5 billion) to help Ukraine defend itself. The European Union is following suit. Thanks to Putin, the order books of arms manufacturers are as full as they were during the Cold War.
Nobody is talking about a swift victory over Russia — on the contrary. NATO expects this confrontation to drag on for many years. Moscow must never be allowed to be so strong again, able to wage war on other nations.
Russia must be forced to pay for Ukrainian postwar reconstruction, it must be made to withdraw its troops from Georgia and Moldova, and to leave Belarus. During the 1980s, the economically superior West used the arms race to bankrupt Russia. History is repeating itself. However, today's Russia is weaker than the Soviet Union was at the time. And the West is bigger, more united and more powerful than ever.
How did it come to this? Nobody in Russia dares to contradict Putin. Even Soviet dictator Stalin was smarter. The Politburo feared him, but some of its members did warn him when he was wrong. Stalin was more down-to-earth than Putin, choosing to sleep on a simple field bed.
Putin, by contrast, enjoys a luxurious life in palaces and on superyachts. Stalin was careful, while Putin is a player. He does not understand the modern world. It's said that he doesn't use the internet on his own, nor does he know how to send e-mails.
His conduct most resembles that of Russian czar, Ivan IV, also known as Ivan the Terrible, during the 16th century Livonian War. Russia lost that war, fighting numerous smaller powers, and descended into what would come to be known as the politically tumultuous "Smutnoye Vremya" or "Time of Troubles."
So how long will Russia's war on Ukraine last? As long as Ukrainians are willing to defend their homeland. And as for Western support for Ukraine, it's really only just beginning.
This article was originally published in German