The realest politick of all (Part 2)

The good news: even without much Western help, Ukraine appears to be standing up for itself, exposing the lie that this is anything but a war of conquest.

The bad news: Ukrainian resistance raises the stakes enormously. A quick win would show the dominance of Russia’s military and increase Putin’s leverage over the rest of Eastern Europe. A prolonged fight does the opposite. No one can be overly impressed with Russia’s performance so far.

Maybe the Russian army will suddenly break through. Otherwise, at least some level of escalation appears inevitable.

Of course, Russia has the artillery and air force to level Kiev if it likes. But mass civilian casualties would hardly match the Kremlin’s propaganda. And at some point the West might feel obligated to get involved, whatever the risks.

On the other hand, what if Russia tries to keep the invasion relatively light and casualties mount for weeks or months without a decisive win? I don’t pretend to know the machinations of the Kremlin’s inner circle, and Putin seems to have complete control. But this is his war, and everyone knows it. Could he survive losing it? Would his ego even permit him to walk away?

Of course, it’s very early days yet. Perhaps Russia will break through in the next week.

But with every day that the Ukrainians fight, the risks to Russia and Putin - and thus to the world - mount. We all may have forgotten about RAND and Mutually Assured Destruction and blast radii and the rest, but Putin hasn’t. And the nukes are still there. The risk is very, very low, but it’s a little higher today than it was last week for sure.

So what happens next? The choice - as it has so far - will be the Kremlin’s.

And that’s not a comforting thought.