“I’m trying to figure out what is Putin’s off ramp?” Biden said during the event, “Where does he find a way out? Where does he find himself in a position that he does not not only lose face but lose significant power within Russia?”
There may have been a window, before the full extent of Russia’s land seizures, when Russia could have conceivably claimed a win. In the face of Ukrainian resolve, an off-ramp created by the West would be equivalent to Neville Chamberlain’s 1938 selling, in the Munich Agreement, of Czechoslovakia to Hitler, in exchange for “peace in our time.”
In contrast to the majority of world leaders, who are dyed-in-the-wool for life from an early age, Putin’s thought has had epochs of roughly seven years, morphs of transition from a vaguely liberal figure to the autocrat we see now. In the twilight of his life, Putin finds attraction to some of the sticks of the fascist bundle:
- Lebensraum, in his demand for the soil of Ukraine.
- Blood, in the exaltation of Russian culture.
- Primacy of the Russian cultural corpus over the inalienable rights of the individual.
- Use of the above to justify a lot of killing. War for the interests of the state.
- A “Grand Council of Fascism” to help him run the country.
- The dictator’s confidence that he is always right. Science fiction writer L. Sprague de Camp called this the “right man personality.”
To set into motion a process that would kill so many people, especially Russians, with the prospect of many more, requires both an ancient type of mind, and elevation of a cultural corpus that is strange to the modern West. In 2003, Putin was part of a political process. He killed off that process, and with that, the part of his mind amenable to conciliation. Conciliation cannot be authored by the West, because Putin’s political mind is in eclipse. It may be useful imagine we are dealing with Stalin, with the mistakes of Yalta in mind.
To put it another way, we can’t trade horses with Putin as if he is a pol, because he is no longer a pol.
The eclipse of Putin as a political figure, with his transition to a “czar”, is mirrored in larger Russian society, where he has mostly escaped derision of some of his subordinates. This redirection of blame is key to a potential off-ramp, authored entirely by the Kremlin.
The key to this is recognition by Russians that the grotesque failure of their armed forces is not due to a few people. The quality of an armed force is one index of the complex of human potential. Russian government and society have defects that permit large scale enterprise, such as military, to evolve without any awareness of relative inferiority.
The growing volume of criticism from inside Russia does not mention this. Instead of blaming the culture, they are blaming individuals who are merely manifestations of the culture. Barring exceptional circumstances, it takes about 30 years to evolve a Western military culture. The exceptions are provided by:
- Necessity, which manifests in cohesion, sacrifice, and even love.
- Entrepreneurship, which allows for small unit initiative and improvised industrial response.
All of these are absent in today’s Russia. Recognition by Russia of inferior military culture as the cause of their Ukraine failure is the key to their own off-ramp:
- Essential to the sale is sacrifice of Shoigu and some generals, in show trials followed by execution.
- An explanation to the Russian public that complete withdrawal is necessary to reform the Russian military.
- A small DMZ in the east.
- The promise that Ukraine will be conquered in the near future.
A frozen conflict is not pleasant to us, but allows for evolution. From Note to China re Russia; Dmitry Medvedev Threatens to Use Nuclear Weapons in Ukraine,
Russia has taken a wrong turn, away from high culture to a murderous form of cultural narcissism. In consequence, we are in danger of a new dark age.
This will take time to change.