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What in the World?

Putin will fight to the bitter end in Ukraine, and then some


Peter Zeihan

Geopolitical Strategist


Western countries like the U.K., France, Poland and even Germany have pledged to deliver tanks to Ukraine. While this may enrage Putin and perhaps even slow down Russia’s military gains, many don’t believe it will bring him to the negotiating table. Some experts think Western leaders make the mistake of hoping there’s a point where Russia could be compelled to back down and compromise. But Putin, like all authoritarian leaders, isn’t beholden to public pressure from an electorate, no matter how many body bags are sent home. What does this mean for Ukraine? As Straight Arrow News contributor Peter Zeihan explains, it means that despite Putin’s past comments that suggest he’s willing to negotiate – Russia will not relent, ever. 

Excerpted from Peter’s Feb. 9 “Zeihan on Geopolitics” newsletter:

Perhaps the scariest takeaway from the Ukraine war is that it’s just beginning. To fully understand what is at stake here, we must look at Russia’s motivators and the possible outcomes.

Russia is looking to reclaim enough land for them to reach the geographical strong points that were once part of the Soviet Union. Beyond that, Russia is essentially fighting for its existence. So the only viable option for them is… winning… at whatever cost. That is a terrifying reality.

If the Ukrainians hold Russia off, we’ll see a long, drawn-out war over disputed land until Russia makes enough progress to launch another large-scale assault. For Ukraine to prevail, they would have to destroy sufficient Russian industrial and logistical capacity within Russia to render another assault impossible.

If the Russians get past Ukraine, they won’t stop there. Poland and Romania will be next, but the Russians know that facing off with NATO isn’t going to end well. And that’s when the nuclear question comes up.

Regardless of how this plays out, we know Russia doesn’t give in lightly. What we’ve seen so far is just a warm-up and the real war is only now starting.

Everybody, hello from Colorado, I thought today would be a great day to underline for everyone what’s at stake with the Ukraine war and why the war to this point really is just the very beginning of what’s going to be a long protracted conflict that is going to stretch well beyond Ukraine’s borders. 

All right, with that in your back pocket, let’s launch. And this is a map of the Russian space. And that green area is the Russian wheat belt, that is the part of Russia that is worth having, where the weather is not so awful, it’s still awful, that you can’t grow crops. Can’t grow much, you get one crop of relatively low quality wheat, because the growing season is very short. Summers are very hot and dry and windy. And winters are very cold and dry and windy. If you move to the right, you’re in tundra and that’s the blue, and if you go to the left, you’re in the desert. So North to tundra, south to desert. 

But what really drives the Russians to drink is the beige. Territories that even by Russian standards are useless. But they’re flat, and they’re open. And you can totally run a Mongol horde through those. So what the Russians have always done is reached out past the green, tried to expand, get buffer space, get past that base, that area that’s useless and reach a series of geographic barriers, where you can’t run a Panzer Division through it. And then forward position, their relatively slow moving, relatively low tech forces in the access points between. During the Soviet period, the Russians controlled all of those access points. It was the safest that the Russians have ever been. And then they lost it all. And what they’ve been trying to do under Putin and Yeltsin both has been to re-expand back to those footprints so that they can plug the gaps, plugged the places where the invaders would come. Get static footprints, lots of troops are right on the border, where you can’t avoid them, you can’t outmaneuver them. And this has been what they’ve been trying to do. This is the cause of intervention in the car about war and the Georgian war and the Donbas war in the Crimean War. This is what it’s all been about. Ukraine, unfortunately, for the Ukrainians is not one of these access points. It’s on the way to the two most important ones in Romania, and Poland. So this war was always going to happen. And this was never going to be the end of it. The Russians have launched eight military expansions since 1992, this is the ninth and it wasn’t going to be the last one. Eventually, they would come for Poland, and they would come from Romania. So we know that when they do eventually come if they make it past Ukraine, they will use every tool that they have, and that includes nukes. The Russians feel that they are fighting for their existential existence. And because of the demographic collapse, they are, if they fail to capture Warsaw and northeastern Romania and the bolts, they will shrivel in an open zone, wracked by internal disruptions and interfered with from outside powers. And over the next decade or three, they will cease to exist as a functional country. Winning here is their only option. And since its death are winning, every possible tool that they have, will come into play. And that includes the nuclear question when it becomes their only option. If the Russians win in Ukraine, we will have a nuclear exchange. But if you’re Ukrainian, obviously, you have a different view on how this should go. What we’re looking at here is an old industrial map of industrial assets in the former Soviet system. The box there indicates approximately the Ukrainian borders. And you’ll notice that there’s a whole cluster of these little industrial circles, just beyond the Ukrainian space. Now we know if the Russians win in Ukraine, where they’re coming, but think about what it means if the Ukrainians win if they succeed in rejecting Russian forces from their entire territory, the Russians aren’t going to stop. Remember, this is for them an existential fight for their survival. They will continue doing cross border raids until they feel they have an advantage, they can make another try of it. So the only way that the Ukrainians can win and then live in peace afterwards, is to disrupt logistics that prevent industrial plant in those circles from contributing to a war effort on the Ukrainian border zone. And that means the Ukrainians have to cross the border into Russia proper. Whether they do this with planes and missiles, or artillery and rockets or general army that will determine be determined by the facts on the ground when this finally happens. But we’re talking about deep strikes in excess of 100 to 200 miles into the Russian space to deliberately destroy industrial plant and especially connecting infrastructure. So we know now that if the Russians win, we’re gonna have a nuclear They’re crisis. And if the Ukrainians win, it’s the beginning of a long slog that will take years to resolve one way or the other, until either Ukraine loses the capacity to function, or Russia loses the capacity to function. Russia has never backed down from a war without a series of mass casualty events that were so severe that they’ve lost the ability to maintain a military position at all they fight until they can’t, especially now, considering what is at stake. This is going to get a lot more intense before it gets resolved. And 2022 was honestly just the warm up in the skirmishes. Fighting in 2023 is going to be a lot more severe. Because the Ukrainians are finally getting some real heavy equipment and tanks, and the Russians are doing a second mobilization and they’re gonna have three quarters of a million troops in Ukraine by the end of May. The real war is only now starting.

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