Vladimir Putin’s dream of a greater Russia is unlikely to be realized. His full-scale assault of Ukraine began falling apart nearly as fast as it started. Even as the Russian president clings to his definition of the conflict as a “special military operation” aiming to cleanse Ukraine of “Nazis,” the troops that briefly threatened Kyiv are barely holding on to the east of the country. His decision to conscript hundreds of thousands of new soldiers sent military-aged men pouring out of the country. Meanwhile, Ukraine’s army — buoyed by territorial gains, Western arms deliveries and captured Russian equipment — continues to keep up the pressure.
Putin has long yearned to restore Russia to the great-power status it held during the Soviet period. Instead, his incursion has relegated his country to third-rate status, unable to overcome an opponent it underestimated and held in contempt. Under Western sanctions, with its petroleum exports flagging and its allies increasingly recoiling from the stench of weakness, Russia has resorted to sham referendums and nuclear saber-rattling to try to pressure the West to allow Putin a veneer of victory.
Others would cut their losses and retreat, but Putin’s stubbornness means the war is likely to drag on. For Europe, that will continue to mean rampant inflation, sky-high energy prices, fertilizer shortages and gas shortfalls that will put pressure on the economy and the political system. Putin’s inability to realize his dream doesn’t mean he won’t continue to be a nightmare for his neighbors.