We don’t know how exactly this war will end, but we do know that Russia will not win. Even if Russian President Vladimir Putin’s strained mobilization of hundreds of thousands of inexperienced new troops leads to some tactical wins, his invasion of Ukraine is already a strategic loss. Russia is weakened economically, politically, and militarily. Putin has ensured a painful winter in Europe but hastened Europe’s energy diversification and transition. The Russian military’s failures and resort to widespread atrocities have exposed Moscow’s conventional military capabilities as a Potemkin force. We can only imagine what the Chinese are thinking today about their de facto ally—or how the Turkish general staff is now recalculating Ankara’s strategic options in the Black Sea region and beyond. If Putin were to follow through on his threat to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine, it would only compound his strategic defeat.
Therefore, even as Western analysts and officials warn against placing too much hope on a quick Ukrainian victory, Russian power and influence is already visibly weakened. Russia is not withdrawing so much as it is deflating. Consequently, there is a kind of giant geopolitical sucking sound all around Russia’s periphery—from Eastern Europe to Central Asia—as a diminished Russia creates a vacuum that could unsettle an already fragile status quo.