Opinion | Biden Is Still Right. Putin Has to Go.

The horrific scenes of mass murder on the outskirts of kyiv should shock everyone and surprise no one.

The brutalization of civilians has been the calling card of the Putin regime since its inception, since the Moscow apartment bombings of 1999, where the weight of circumstantial evidence points the finger at Vladimir Putin and his henchmen of the security service, to the murders of Anna Politkovskaya, Alexander Litvinenko. , Sergei Magnitsky and Boris Nemtsov to Russia’s atrocities in Grozny, eastern Ukraine, Aleppo and now Bucha.

In general, the world has found it easier to make excuses to get along with Putin than to work against him. One example: In 2015, Germany got about 35 percent of its natural gas from Russia. By 2021, the figure had risen to 55 percent. Berlin is now a major diplomatic roadblock to imposing tougher sanctions on Russia, and Germany continues to buy Russian gas, oil and coal, to the tune of $2 billion a month.

To put this in simplified but precise terms, Germany, having fiercely resisted years of international pressure to lessen its dependence on Russian gas, finds itself in the position of financing the Russian state. That is the money that helps keep the ruble and the Kremlin’s war machine afloat. Surely this cannot be the role that Berlin wants to play.

But this requires a clear articulation of Western objectives in this crisis. Do we want peace now, or at least as soon as possible? Do we want Ukraine to achieve an unmistakable victory over Russia? And do we want Putin gone?

The advantage of peace now, a ceasefire followed by a negotiated settlement, is that it would end both the immediate fighting and the risk of wider war. These are not small things, and the temptation to seize them will be great, especially if Putin hints at an escalation that terrifies the West. A further temptation is to assume that Russia has already suffered a “strategic defeat,” as Antony Blinken argued on CNN on Sunday, on the pretext that a truce would represent a victory for both Ukraine and the West, while also giving Putin the “off ramp” I needed. he supposedly needs.

Problems with this course of action? It would consolidate most of Russia’s territorial gains in the war. It would allow Russian forces to continue to terrorize their captive Ukrainian subjects. It would give Putin a chance to present himself as a victor to his national audience. And it would give him the option of restarting the conflict at a future date, an exact repeat of what happened after Russia’s first invasion of Ukraine, in 2014.

The second option is to help Ukraine seek a decisive military victory. That would mean more than simply pushing back Russian troops in the vicinity of kyiv. It would also mean clearing them from all the other areas they have seized since February, if not what Russia seized in 2014.

This would require months of bloody fighting, a small but real risk of a broader war, and the long-term economic consequences of trying to wean the West off Russian energy. It would also require the West to supply Ukraine with the kind of weaponry it needs to win: anti-ship missiles, high-altitude anti-aircraft missiles, mine-resistant armored personnel carriers, and so on.

Critics will argue that this option would put the long-term interests of Ukraine ahead of the immediate interests of the West. But the West also has a deep interest in seeing Russia lose decisively. It would save the principle that sovereign borders cannot be changed by force. It would deter similar forms of adventurism, especially a Chinese attempt to take over Taiwan. It would send illiberal nationalists, quietly or not so quietly, supporting Putin, from Tucker Carlson at Fox News to Marine Le Pen in France, back to their feverish swamps.

It could also seriously undermine Putin’s political control. To argue that the West has no compelling interest in wanting to see it fall is to pretend that this time it will slink back into its corner and leave the world alone.

This opens up the broader question of what else the West can do to hasten Putin’s departure. Addressing the issue always runs the risk of pointless accusations of seeking regime change, as if someone seriously contemplates deploying the 82nd Airborne to take over the Kremlin.

But there is a range of options that the West has yet to touch when it comes to Putin. We could convert Russia’s frozen foreign reserves and other assets into an escrow account for reconstruction, rearmament, and resettlement of refugees from Ukraine. We could counter the Kremlin’s dezinformatsiya campaigns in the West with information campaigns for Russian citizens, particularly when it comes to highlighting the ill-gotten wealth of its leaders. We could set an ambitious date for imposing sanctions on all Russian energy imports. Brussels could invite kyiv to a formal accession process to the European Union as a sign of moral solidarity.

None of these can be a silver bullet when it comes to overthrowing the Putin regime. But regimes facing military defeat, economic impoverishment and global pariahism, as the Soviet Union did in the mid-1980s and Argentina after its failure in the Falklands, are the ones most likely to fall. The job of the Biden administration is to persuade our allies to go after all three while the horrors of Bucha remain fresh in our minds.

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