As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine goes ever more bloody and ever more of a military disaster for the Kremlin, it has become trendy to talk of giving Putin an “off ramp” that allows him to save face, whilst also bringing to an end the senseless murder being unleashed on Ukraine. Putin’s people themselves offered one yesterday: talks with senior Kyiv figures, with significantly reduced demands to recognise Crimea as Russian and recognise two breakaway provinces as independent.
Let’s be clear: Ukraine shouldn’t have to compromise on a damn thing. This is not a war they asked for, not a war they provoked, and Crimea, Donetsk and Luhansk have been recognised as Ukrainian by Russia as recently as 2014. It is Vladimir Putin that must sacrifice.
The end of this war – and let us hope it comes soon – will come most likely as a result of dogged, robust, and staggeringly brave Ukrainian resistance giving time for western economic sanctions to inflict enough pain on the Russian economy and the Kremlin’s war machine. As the brilliant King’s College London war studies professor Lawrence Freedman has written this week, war is an expensive business.
Indeed, pressure is everywhere. One example: Russia’s inability to sell much of its oil on the global market means storage capacity is almost used up. Oil wells are not like taps; they are designed to flow continuously. Turning one off does not mean it can be turned back on again easily. Is Putin willing to risk sabotaging his own oil fields?
There are other ways for the west to offer Putin a way out that doesn’t include Ukrainian territory. The ICC could gently be encouraged to wave off war crime charges, upsetting as that is. But there is also the very real possibility that life could become so uncomfortable for the Russian people – and the people sat at Putin’s ludicrously elongated table – that Putin doesn’t get the choice. If this war leaves Putin on the ropes, it will be a brave west that lets him off them.