KYIV — Russia wants you to believe the war in Ukraine is expensive and unwinnable, but the truth is: Russian President Vladimir Putin is losing in Ukraine.
Russia’s performance is poor.
The ruble is facing a steep decline. Russian inflation is raging.
More political uprising is on the horizon.
Putin is losing his international allies.
Ukraine and the West are not out of the woods yet, however.
Putin’s goal is to fight a protracted war in Ukraine and exhaust the West.
Helping Ukraine is in America’s interest. The long war in Ukraine is not.
Now is the time for Washington to exploit Putin’s vulnerabilities and prepare for a post-Putin world.
What are the emerging scenarios that would most likely trigger a chain reaction, breaking Putin’s grasp on power?
Economic collapse: Recent Ukrainian drone strikes in upscale parts of Moscow have contributed to the elite’s jitters while the drone strikes on Russian maritime oil shipments will cause insurers to increase prices, thus cutting even further into the slim profit margin on Russia’s exports.
Just this week, Russian oil sold to India reached its lowest price ever.
All this is happening with the backdrop of China having its own economic woes and clear signals it is tiring of Moscow’s war.
Russia has been burning incredible sums of foreign-currency reserves to maintain the ruble — which has lost more than 50% of its value this year and 20% just in the past month.
But the Central Bank’s strategy to control inflation, increasing interest rates from 8.5% to 9.5% last week, is being undermined by the Kremlin, which continues to pour money into the nation’s domestic economy, creating an illusionary bubble of growth with the false appearance of normalcy.
Economists have warned that this artificially created bubble is getting nearer to bursting, like all bubbles always do, which would set Russia on the road to hyperinflation.
Military collapse: Within the Russian army, according to the Institute for the Study of War, there are increasing signs of insubordination.
As the czar saw in 1916, troops refusing to obey their officers can be a harbinger of a crisis unfolding within the ranks.
Another Prigozhin-like incident could well cause a total lack of confidence among Russian soldiers.
Even more likely, though, is a trickle of soldiers deserting will turn into a steady stream as no one is keen to be the last man to die in an abandoned military campaign.
Political collapse: A coup is always possible — Russian history is steeped in leaders’ sudden “removal” from power.
Mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin’s dash to Rostov showed that most of the Kremlin’s leadership, rather than rally behind Putin, remained silent.
It seems quite clear now that if there were a serious attempt to overthrow the government, the inner circles of Kremlin power would most likely be focused on negotiating their own escape, not pleading for the life of their former patron-dictator.
Though some fret that “perhaps a person even worse than Putin would fill his seat,” the new leader’s top priority would be to gain “legitimacy” so his own claim to power is not challenged.
The new ruler, out of self-interest, would more than likely be willing to cut deals with the West, including to give up on the imperial claims on Ukraine, in exchange for the West’s backing.
To ensure that, the United States should be working — now — with the Russian democratic opposition, friendly to American interests, that’s been on Ukraine’s side since the war began in 2014, to plot how to best prepare for a post-Putin world.
There is little time to lose as Russia has entered its death spiral, and any day a black-swan event could suddenly cause the ruble to hyperinflate, leaving the army without money and the government falling.
We need to guarantee America’s interests by making strategic allies who vow “Never again” to a Putin-like government.
If we act now, the collapse of the Putin regime and the victory of Ukraine will pay America dividends for generations to come.
Jason Smart, PhD, a specialist in Russian affairs, is a special correspondent for Ukraine’s Kyiv Post.
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