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Putin set to lose war and peace in Ukraine

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Saad Hafiz
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Vladimir Putin followed a familiar playbook in Ukraine. After months of posturing, propaganda, threats, and brinkmanship, Putin launched an unprovoked war of aggression on a sovereign country. Reminiscent of other notorious warmongers in history - Mussolini in Ethiopia, Hitler in Czechoslovakia, and Stalin in Finland.

Putin used the age-old excuse of emerging threats to national security to order the invasion of Ukraine. But Russia's "special military operation" is a ploy to cover territorial expansion. It blatantly violates the United Nations (UN) Charter and international law. Because Russia is a permanent member of the UN Security Council, wielding veto power magnifies its crimes.

The immediate aftermath of the Russian invasion of Ukraine is thousands of civilian and military casualties, millions of refugees, and billions of dollars in economic damage. Despite vast military superiority, a quick military victory appears out of reach. Unexpected Ukrainian resistance has stymied the formidable Russian war machine. A stalemate is a loss for Putin and Russia.

Putin's roll of the dice carries massive personal risk. History has not been kind to authoritarian leaders who start unsuccessful wars. Biting international sanctions affecting living standards and mounting casualties will test Putin's popularity with the Russian people. Putin could go down in history as a ruthless adventurer, not a nationalist hero as he sees himself. But this will bring little solace to the survivors of his brutal crusade.

Russia's murderous assault and allegations of war crimes could become grounds for future prosecution of its leaders. It will not help Russia win the peace either, as the indiscriminate use of power amplifies its role as the aggressor, increasing worldwide sympathy for the Ukrainian cause. Ukraine is receiving material aid and moral support from many countries.

But it is doubtful that Putin and the Kremlin, so immersed in pride and jingoism, have factored in the far-reaching consequences of the invasion of Ukraine. Putin's dream of reclaiming an empire lost after the break-up of the Soviet Union is a delusion with long-term political, economic, and social costs for Russia.

Putin may not care for international opinion, but flattened cities and mounting civilian casualties from lethal weapons like missiles and aircraft will not endear him or Russia to the rest of the world. And the rising diplomatic and military costs of the war effort outweigh Russia's long-term self-interest in wanting a satellite state in Ukraine as a buffer against NATO.

Russia's war of aggression may well have the opposite effect. We could see a resurgent NATO and rearmed European democracies seeking to protect themselves from the growing threat of Russian imperialism. In such circumstances, the only interests served are those of the global military-industrial complex, which thrives on fear and turmoil and profits from selling advanced weaponry to adversaries.

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Saad Hafiz is an analyst and commentator.

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