What would a diminished Russia do? (analysis)

(CNN) — The Russian war in Ukraine It has proved almost every assumption wrong and has left Europe wondering what is safe.

His invasion in February was terrifying in every way. For those who thought that Moscow He was prudent enough not to attempt such a huge and reckless task. For those who felt that the Russian army would switch to mobbing operations in 10 days over a territory of 40 million people. For those who felt they had the technological and intelligence prowess to bomb civilian areas randomly with aging artillery; The Kremlin’s military has grown since the demolition of Grozny in Chechnya in the 1990s.

Finally, for those who feel that nuclear saber rattling in 2022 is an oxymoron: you can’t casually threaten everyone on the planet with nuclear weapons once the destruction they’ve brought is done.

And yet, as 2022 draws to a close, Europe faces many unknowns that could not have been imagined in January. In short: an army once considered the third most powerful in the world invades its small neighbor, which a year ago excelled mainly in information technology (IT) and agriculture.

President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky delivers a speech before the House of Representatives of the European Parliament on March 1, 2022 in Brussels, Belgium. (Credit: Thierry Monas/Getty Images)

Russia spent billions of dollars to modernize its military, but it turns out that it was mostly a sham. It has discovered that its supply chains do not work within a few dozen kilometers of its own borders; His assessment that Ukraine is desperate to break free from its own “Nazism” is the deranged product of a President Vladimir Putin who gave him what he wanted to hear in pandemic isolation and shook his head.

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Russia also faces a West that remains divided and reticent and welcomes some arms shipments to its eastern border. As Moscow realizes how limited its non-nuclear options are, Western officials also seem to be shifting Russia’s red lines. None of this should happen. Having done so, what is Europe preparing to do now?

What matters is how united the West unexpectedly became. Divided by Iraq and divided by Syria, Europe and the United States have spoken to Ukraine about this in a single letter, even though the United States is unwilling to spend the 2% of GDP on defense that the United States has long demanded of NATO members. At times, Washington may have seemed more cautious and authoritarian outsiders like Hungary. But the change is towards unity and not difference. It was very surprising.

Local resident Valentina Temura, 70, stands next to her destroyed apartment building in the southern port city of Mariupol. (Credit: Alexander Ermoshenko/Reuters)

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A soldier’s body is covered in snow next to a destroyed Russian military multiple rocket launcher vehicle on the outskirts of Kharkiv, Ukraine, Friday, February 25, 2022. (Credit: Vadim Girida/AP)

Reports that Russia has already lost the war are premature. Yet there are variables that could lead to a stalemate or reversal of fortune in your favor. NATO may lose patience with arms exports and seek economic comfort over long-term security, making for an unfavorable peace for Kiev. But that seems unlikely at this stage.

Russia is digging in the eastern part Dnipro River Front lines in southern Ukraine, and Donetsk and Luhansk in eastern Ukraine, have the advantage of being close to its border. His challenges, however, are enormous: poorly trained and conscripted personnel make up 77,000 of his front-line soldiers, by Putin’s disclosed estimate. He is scrambling for ammunition and seeing the usual outspoken internal criticism of his winter supply chain.

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Ukraine remains on national territory, morale is still high and Western weapons are still arriving. Ever since the patchwork of forces around the city of Kharkiv, northeast of Moscow, collapsed in September and its supply lines cut by an overzealous Ukrainian army, all momentum has been against Moscow.

The prospect of a Russian defeat lies in the bigger picture: they don’t win quickly against an inferior opponent. As if not exposing an already withered fist, state television spokespeople spoke of “taking the gloves off” after Kharkiv. Revealed as almost a paper tiger, the Russian military will struggle for decades to regain even equal status with NATO. That may be the biggest damage to the Kremlin: Years of efforts spent rebuilding Moscow’s reputation as a smart, asymmetric adversary, with conventional forces backing it, evaporated in about six months of mismanagement.

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Russian soldiers are seen in a tank in the Volnovaka district of Donetsk, Ukraine, which is controlled by pro-Russian separatists, on March 26, 2022. (Credit: Sefa Karacan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

The question is Nuclear power still lingers, mainly because Putin likes to keep calling it that. But here too the Russian threat has diminished. First, NATO has sent clear signals about the conventional devastation its forces would cause if any kind of nuclear device were used. Second, Russia’s allies, India and China, have been quick to assess their series of failures and have publicly condemned Moscow’s nuclear ambitions. (His personal messages may have been harsher.)

Finally, no one in Moscow wants to know the answer: How can they be sure that the supply chains for diesel fuel for tanks 40 miles from their border are not working? button Would it work if Putin frantically pressured him? There is no greater risk to nuclear power than to reveal that its strategic missiles and retaliatory capabilities are not operational.

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Despite this apparent decline of Russia, Europe has not welcomed the age of oversecurity. Even at a time when Russia, an issue that has defined European security for decades, is emerging as a non-threatening threat, calls for higher defense spending are loud and clear.

Europe has realized that it cannot depend on the US – and its wild swings between political poles – solely for its security.

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The Total Energies Leuna oil refinery, owned by French energy company Total, is seen near Spergau, Germany on April 12, 2022. (Credit: Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Meanwhile, thousands of innocent Ukrainians Are they dead? In Putin’s selfish and misguided attempt to revive the Tsarist empire. More generally, dictatorships are exposed as a destructive system, waging wars of choice.

However, one good thing has come out of this debacle. Europe knows that it must stop using Russian gas immediately, and hydrocarbons in general, in the long term, as economic dependence on fossil fuels on dictators cannot bring stability in the long term.

How does the West deal with Russia, which has suffered this colossal loss of face in Ukraine and is slowly wilting under sanctions? Is a weak Russia something to fear or weakness? It’s an unknown that the West has to wrestle with. But that’s no longer a scary question.

For more than 70 years, the Russians and the West held the world in the grip of mutually assured destruction. It is a fear-based silence. But Moscow’s fears may be slowly receding, and with it comes the danger of miscalculations. It also raises a less chilling possibility: Russia, like so many autocracies before it, may disappear, undermined by its own clumsy reliance on fear at the national level.

Europe’s challenge now is to deal with Russia in a state of chaotic denial while waiting for it to evolve into a state of controlled collapse. A lasting consolation is that after underestimating Moscow’s potential for harm, the danger to Europe is to understate its potential.

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