bildt100_SERGEI SUPINSKYAFP via Getty Images_ukraine eu SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP via Getty Images

Europe’s Fate and Ukraine’s Survival

By recognizing Ukraine as a candidate for European Union membership, the bloc has committed itself fully to that country’s continued existence as an independent nation-state. The question now is whether Russian President Vladimir Putin can agree to back down.

STOCKHOLM – Russian President Vladimir Putin’s intentions in Ukraine are not in doubt. He wants to end its status as an independent political entity and incorporate its territory within the Russian Federation. In his opinion, achieving this goal would undo two great historical errors committed in the last century: first, allowing a Ukrainian republic to exist within the Soviet Union, and, second, allowing this republic to become an independent nation-state.

How likely is this outcome? In theory, the Russian army could slog brutally across Ukraine’s vast plains for many years, reducing its urban centers to rubble. But one lesson from the areas Russia has managed to occupy since February 24 is that it also would need to establish a harsh regime of repression, forced Russification, and outright elimination of opponents. This would require a massive, widespread mobilization of resources in Russia.

So far, Putin has been reluctant to order any such mobilization, or even to speak in terms of war. In the four months since the invasion began, the Russian people have been told that there is merely a “special military operation” in Ukraine. Additional army recruitment has largely come from Russia’s less developed areas, where high unemployment leaves young men with few alternatives.

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