Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Putin and His Country will Lose Even if Russia ‘Wins’ in Ukraine, History Teaches

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Feb. 22 – It has become commonplace to assert that if Putin loses in Ukraine, not only his personal political future and that of his increasingly authoritarian system but also the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation will be at risk. But it is less often recognized that if the Kremlin leader “wins” there, he and his country will face disaster as well.

            Initially, of course, were Putin to succeed in having his army advance to the western borders of Ukraine and likely absorb much of Ukraine and perhaps other border countries into his Russia, he would proclaim victory and that claim would be accepted by many in Russia and the West as genuine and even encourage him to engage in more aggression.

            But there are compelling reasons, suggested by the historical experience of the Soviet Union after World War II that such “a victory” would be Pyrrhic at best and more likely would set the stage both for the demise of what is now the Russian Federation and for the trashing if not of the lives but the reputation of the author of Moscow’s aggression in Ukraine.

            Had Stalin not occupied Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and portions of Belarus, Ukraine and Moldova, all of which consisted of populations unalterably hostile to Moscow’s rule, much of the impetus that led to the demise of the Soviet Union would have been absent and the world might well be still living with the USSR.

            In the event of a Putin victory in Ukraine, the same thing would be true with regard to the current Russian Federation. The addition of millions of Ukrainians, almost all at least as hostile to Moscow as the Balts and Western Ukrainians were, would push the ethnic Rusisan share of the population to what it was in 1991, with other non-Russians ever more anti-Russian as well.

            But most immediately, such a Russian “victory” would lead to the rise of a partisan army in Ukraine at least as large as the one that Stalin and Moscow faced after restoring Soviet “control” over Ukraine, the Baltic states, Belarus and Moldova as well. And that partisan army which took Moscow 11 years to defeat would likely fight as long as its predecessor did.

            Moscow might eventually “win” that battle this time around but only at the cost of intensifying anti-Russian sentiments in Ukraine just as it did earlier. Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians have always celebrated the Forest Brothers who fought the Nazis and the Soviets, and Ukrainians look back at the Ukrainian Partisan Army of the 1940s and 1950s with pride.

            These reflections are prompted by an article in the Belarusian newspaper Nasha Niva which reports that the archives show there were at least 15,000 members of the UPA fighting in Belarus alone and that the last UPA partisan in that republic died in 1956 only after holding out for more than a decade (

            Putin and his henchmen may believe that they can defeat a new partisan army more easily and quickly; but they are likely wrong  because such an army in the future just as in the past will have the support of the Ukrainian people and because such a force will inflict such damage on Russian occupiers that eventually even the population of the Russian Federation won't support what the Kremlin is doing.

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