Long Term End-Game on Russia-Ukraine War Requires Open Minded Way Ahead

Russians do not handle defeat well. When soldiers returned home from war against Germany in 1917, the Czar’s government was soon overthrown. The Afghanistan defeat in 1989 was the forerunner of a series of events that collapsed the Soviet Union.

The question for Russia today is if the military, economy, or Putin will collapse first. The expectation of an easy victory in Ukraine has turned into a fiasco. It’s only a matter of time before social media overcomes government propaganda and troops returning from Ukraine expose the truth. International sanctions have put the Russian economy into a tailspin. Despite Kremlin denial, Putin’s medical condition is serious and potentially fatal.

Western governments need to start preparing now rather than repeat the do-nothing mistakes made following previous Moscow melt-downs. Ultimately, the Czar’s downfall produced Stalin, and the Soviet Union’s collapse produced Putin. If the west fails to fulfill its leadership role, China will be more than willing to step in.

A similar dilemma faced the west with the inevitable defeat of Nazi Germany. While the war was still raging, western powers drafted a way ahead. After the war, and to prevent Stalin’s exploitation of a struggling Europe, America’s former Army Chief of Staff, turned Secretary of State, Marshall developed the European recovery plan given his name. Chaos was prevented, and today most European countries are solid democracies.

A plan was developed by the US State Department to rebuild Iraq following the 2003 invasion. Unfortunately, it was scrapped by Defense Secretary Rumsfeld in favor of his Coalition Provincial Authority which lacked a realistic course of action. Unlike General Patton, who kept former low-level Nazis in their work places, Ba’athists at all levels were fired.

In both Nazi Germany and Ba’athist Iraq, citizens had been required to be party card holders to attain advanced employment. Most were not aggressive members. In both cases, they were the technocrats who ran the daily operations. In Iraq, following the firings, positions were filled by people who did not have a clue about their responsibilities. Chaos was the result.

As Russia continues to disintegrate, the west must quickly determine if its post-Putin course of action will follow Germany’s success or Iraq’s failure. The expression “failure is not an option” needs to be applied. Having no contingency plan will achieve the same result as the Rumsfeld disaster.

The only promising solution is to develop a way ahead using the lessons from WWII and its aftermath. Restoring Ukraine cannot be at the expense of a future stable Russia. A primary contributing factor to the start of WWII was the 1920s stripping of German industry and resources as reparations for WWI. In the late 1940s, President Truman and Secretary of State Marshall ensured all of Europe was rebuilt at the same time.

Ukraine’s President Zelenskyy has shown great restraint in not attacking Russia, which could escalate this territorial conflict into a world war. His law degree, his family’s history as Holocaust survivors, and natural leadership abilities, are helping his decision-making process. It’s going to take all of his skills to convince people of both Ukraine and Russia to work for the common good. This includes developing a future out of the tyranny Putin and his friends have brought to both countries. Zelenskyy is going to need to continue receiving North American and western European support.

Next comes the need to understand that not all Russians are hard-core Putinists any more than all German’s were die-hard Nazis and all Iraqis were radical Ba’athists. The Nuremberg trials did a good job of separating Nazi criminals from society and holding them accountable. That, not the “deba’athification” model, must be applied to Russia.

Likewise, involvement of the oligarchs and major corporations in Russia must be judged individually, not collectively. Current sanctions against both groups are having a necessary impact. After the conflict is over, fair evaluation and long-term consequences must be applied. Today’s Russian oligarchs have escaped prison, death, and total confiscation of their financial empires because they have surrendered a sizable portion of their wealth to Putin.

In Germany, nationalized industrial businesses were allowed to return to their civilian enterprises after the collapse of Hitler. Russian companies must be able to do the same. Those industries will be critical for restoring a successful, financially independent, and democratic Russia.

In Germany today, the general population has complete contempt of Hitler, his Nazi regime, and the generals who followed his orders. If today’s Russians are able to do it right, with the support of the west, their descendants will have that same contempt for Putin, his inner circle, and his generals. As in the 1940s with Germany’s Konrad Adenauer and the survivors of Nazi Germany, there are Russian patriots alive today who can lead the country out of the tyranny that Putin fostered to it. These patriots must be supported in future challenges awaiting them.

The collapse of Putin’s Russia will come from within as did the Czarist Empire and the Soviet Union. When it does, the west must be ready to be part of the solution.

- Colonel Martin worked with the Soviet military in Berlin Brigade and the Ukrainian military in Iraq

©2022 Wes Martin