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Closing in on 2 years: What if Putin ‘wins’ in Ukraine?

There is no escaping that for both sides, the ongoing conflict in Ukraine has been costly, in terms of both blood and treasure. It has revealed the shattered, weakened state of Western “industrialised” economies and accelerated the rise of a parallel system that is seemingly immune to our best efforts, begging the question: What if Putin “wins”?

There is no escaping that for both sides, the ongoing conflict in Ukraine has been costly, in terms of both blood and treasure. It has revealed the shattered, weakened state of Western “industrialised” economies and accelerated the rise of a parallel system that is seemingly immune to our best efforts, begging the question: What if Putin “wins”?

In the space of just a few hours, as Russian Army units crossed the eastern border of Ukraine and a combined force of Spetsnaz and paratroopers descended from the skies to capture critical chokepoints and infrastructure, the post-Cold War world and paradigm was shattered.

As the first shots were fired, it became clear that the post-Second World War order, led in large part by the United States, was now under direct assault by a coordinated group of emboldened nations, committed to overthrowing the global paradigm, replacing it with a new law: the law of the jungle.


For the world’s massing bloc of revolutionary powers largely spearheaded by a resurgent Russia led by Vladimir Putin – keen to rebuild the glories of Imperial Russia and the Soviet Union – and the world’s other emerging superpower, the People’s Republic of China, this new global paradigm of dog eat dog is very much of their own design.

In stark contrast, the emergence of this multipolar and intensely competitive world has revealed the fragility of many of the world’s once great powers, particularly across Europe as nations like Germany, France, and even the United Kingdom face down a hotbed of competition.

Meanwhile, for the world’s pre-eminent superpower, the United States, the rapid destabilisation and collapse of its hard-fought global order is stretching the once unopposed hegemon to the very edge of its capacity, and indeed, willingness to maintain global peace, prosperity, and stability.

Yet, if one is to believe most of the media coverage, Putin’s Russia has been on the verge of economic, political, and strategic collapse every week since the second month of the failed offensive and its failure to decapitate the Ukrainian military and leadership as decisively and swiftly as it did during the Russian invasion of Crimea in 2014.

This is not to understate the absolute basket case that has been Russia’s “special military operation” in Ukraine that has seen the once-feared Russian Army largely become a laughingstock for many analysts and commentators across the West.

Yet, slowly but surely, Russia has reverted to their tried and true, deeply historic strategies combining overwhelming firepower and deep defensive lines designed to slowly grind down their adversaries, draining them of manpower, materiel, and resolve.

In light of this, there is now a growing recognition that perhaps, the “narrative” isn’t as we’ve been told and perhaps we should prepare for at least a partial Russian “victory” in Ukraine, with potentially devastating implications for the broader global paradigm.

There is no escaping it, Putin is ‘winning’

I am not going to establish a broad and detailed list of victory “preconditions” for Russia’s success in Ukraine. I will also make a small disclaimer: this is not me shilling for the Russian regime or Putin. I think it goes without saying that I am not pro-Russia or pro-Putin (nevertheless, there will no doubt be an accusation of that).

On the sheer numbers, Putin’s Russia, despite a false start and vast volumes of US and Western money and materiel invested in Ukraine’s war effort, seems to be heading towards a victory, in a comparatively stronger economic and strategic position.

Highlighting this, The Economist, in a piece titled, Putin seems to be winning the war in Ukraine - for now, is just one of a number of recent pieces that have begun to accept that Russia may, in fact, be winning the Ukraine conflict.

The Economist states, For the first time since Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine on February 24th 2022, he looks as if he could win. Russia’s president has put his country on a war footing and strengthened his grip on power. He has procured military supplies abroad and is helping turn the global south against America. Crucially, he is undermining the conviction in the West that Ukraine can – and must – emerge from the war as a thriving European democracy.”

Unpacking this further, The Economist adds, The reason a Putin victory is possible is that winning is about endurance rather than capturing territory. Neither army is in a position to drive out the other from the land they currently control. Ukraine’s counter-offensive has stalled. Russia is losing over 900 men a day in the battle to take Avdiivka, a city in the Donbas region. This is a defenders’ war, and it could last many years.”

In defaulting to the tried-and-true method of Russian warfare, Putin has actively positioned itself to play the long game, not just directly in the Ukraine conflict, but more broadly as the world shifts from a monopolar world to a multipolar world.

Driven largely out of necessity as a result of US-led and broader Western sanctions designed to cripple the Russian economy and turn Russia’s oligarchs against Putin’s leadership to trigger a period of regime change, Putin’s Russia conversely is emerging significantly stronger than would be expected.

Highlighting this, The Economist explains, In 2024 at least, Russia will be in a stronger position to fight, because it will have more drones and artillery shells, because its army has developed successful electronic-warfare tactics against some Ukrainian weapons and because Mr Putin will tolerate horrific casualties among his own men.

Increasing foreign support partly explains Russia’s edge on the battlefield. Mr Putin has obtained drones from Iran and shells from North Korea. He has worked to convince much of the global south that it has no great stake in what happens to Ukraine. Turkey and Kazakhstan have become channels for goods that feed the Russian war machine. A Western scheme to limit Russian oil revenues by capping the price for its crude at $60 a barrel has failed because a parallel trading structure has emerged beyond the reach of the West. The price of Urals crude from Russia is $64, up nearly 10 per cent since the start of 2023.”

This position also depends on an increasingly strengthened position at home, which Putin has rapidly solidified, highlighted by The Economist, which states, Mr Putin is also winning because he has strengthened his position at home. He now tells Russians, absurdly, that they are locked in a struggle for survival against the West. Ordinary Russians may not like the war, but they have become used to it. The elite have tightened their grip on the economy and are making plenty of money. Mr Putin can afford to pay a lifetime’s wages to the families of those who fight and die.”

Russia’s position of economic resilience is further reinforced by Paul Sonne and Rebecca Ruiz writing for The New York Times in a piece titled, How Putin Turned a Western Boycott Into a Bonanza, where the pair state, “Mr. Putin’s economic counterstrikes have helped to fortify support among the elites profiting from the war and to blunt the effects of Western isolation. While Ukraine is preoccupied with short-term imperatives like shoring up international support, the relative resilience of the Russian economy has enabled Mr Putin to play a long game.”

Equally, Russia’s expanded military expenditure and economic resilience which is underpinning their strategy of slow, grinding operations against Ukraine is supported by the developing” world that has long harboured resentment towards the Western, developed world.

Unpacking this is Alexandra Prokopenko of the US-based Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center, where she explains that far from being the West against Russia, it is increasingly a case of the West versus “the rest”, stating, Russia is paid by receiving revenues from China, India, Turkey and other buyers of Russian oil products and a big part is so-called non-oil-and-gas income which economy produce itself. So the economy is working, and it’s creating taxes, government collecting taxes and paying with these taxes for the spending. And the third part, of course, there was a slight devaluation of ruble and tolerance to inflation.”

Detailing this further, Prokopenko adds, Because price cap and oil ban, which was imposed by G7 countries, wasn’t enforced immediately, Russia had time to prepare. And Russian businesses – they were able to establish a significant number of tankers, so – to make logistical bridges to bring the Russian oil to their new customers. It’s not a secret that Russia using shadow fleet, which serves its oil export. There is also pipeline export to China. And China is the largest buyer of Russian oil. So all this combined, it’s a big amount.”

Each of these factors combined present an uncomfortable picture for the Western world. On the economic front, it is clear, Putin is winning, on the strategic and tactical front, Ukraine’s counteroffensive has ground to a halt and Western support for the besieged nation is rapidly diminishing, resulting in a devastating loss for the post-Second World War order, emboldening the new multipolar order.

So, we must ask ourselves, what does Putin’s victory mean for this new multipolar world order?

Final thoughts

If Australia is going to survive and thrive in this new era, Australia’s policymakers and the public are going to have to accept that while the world is increasingly becoming “multipolar”, the Indo-Pacific, in particular, is rapidly becoming the most hotly contested region in the world.

All of this is underpinned by the emerging economic, political, and strategic might of powers like China, India, Pakistan, Thailand, Vietnam, and the established and re-emerging capability of both South Korea and Japan in particular, are serving to create a hotbed of competition on our doorstep.

As we grapple with the challenges presented by the rapidly evolving global geopolitical order, enhancing Australia’s capacity to act as an independent power, incorporating great power-style strategic economic, diplomatic, and military capability serves as a powerful symbol of Australia’s sovereignty and evolving responsibilities and commitment to supporting and enhancing the security and prosperity of Indo-Pacific Asia.

Equally, the Australian public needs to be educated on the challenges we face in our region and, more broadly, the post-Second World War order upon which our wealth and stability are built, because without it, many Australians will blindly simply go with the flow and watch as we fade into the pages of history.

Australia is consistently told that as a nation, we are torn between our economic relationship with China and the longstanding strategic partnership with the US, placing the country at the epicentre of a great power rivalry.

Get involved with the discussion and let us know your thoughts on Australia’s future role and position in the Indo-Pacific region and what you would like to see from Australia’s political leaders in terms of partisan and bipartisan agenda setting in the comments section below, or get in touch at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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