When the world gets closer.

We help you see farther.

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter.

Already a subscriber? Log in .

You've reached your limit of one free article.

Get unlimited access to Worldcrunch

You can cancel anytime .


Exclusive International news coverage

Ad-free experience NEW

Weekly digital Magazine NEW

9 daily & weekly Newsletters

Access to Worldcrunch archives

Free trial

30-days free access, then $2.90
per month.

Annual Access BEST VALUE

$19.90 per year, save $14.90 compared to monthly billing.save $14.90.

Subscribe to Worldcrunch

Reality Check For The West: Putin Is Neither Weak, Nor Isolated

An effective foreign policy means facing the truth with clear eyes: Ukraine cannot defeat Russia, a country with ten times its firepower. What's more, economic sanctions cannot bring down Vladimir Putin. The West only has one option left.

Russian President Vladimir Putin with his Iranian counterpart​ Ebrahim Raisi

Russian President Vladimir Putin with his Iranian counterpart Ebrahim Raisi in Tehran, Iran earlier this month.

Jacques Schuster


BERLIN — Let’s get one thing out of the way from the start: the West had no alternative to the policies it adopted towards Russia after the invasion of Ukraine. If the United States and Europe had not used every economic and diplomatic weapon available to them — only stopping short of being drawn into the conflict themselves — Vladimir Putin would have taken such an apathetic response as a sign of weakness. He would have seen it as an invitation to expand his ambitions even further west.

Stay up-to-date with the latest on the Russia-Ukraine war, with our exclusive international coverage.

Sign up to our free daily newsletter.

Germany has an important role to play in the alliances between Western countries. If it had broken ranks and tried to position itself as a mediator between East and West, refusing to supply Ukraine with weapons, that would have had damaging consequences for years to come. Europe would have been confronted once again by a new "German question" and by all the consequent mistrust.

The art of determining foreign policy involves weighing up possibilities and considering subtle differences, constantly asking what would be in a country’s own best interest. Anyone who has given the matter serious thought will conclude that the West’s decisions so far have been correct. They would still be correct if Moscow decided to cut off the continent’s entire gas supply. Germany has survived far worse crises in its history.

Effective foreign policy also means shedding as many illusions as possible. In times of crisis, we are surrounded by comforting myths and it is incredibly tempting to believe them. In Germany, this is making people reluctant to face facts, leading them to adopt a narrow perspective and cling to a misguidedly optimistic view of how easily the war and crisis might be resolved.

We must shake off three dangerous illusions: (1.) Western sanctions will force Russia to back down; (2.) Moscow is isolated from the rest of the world; and (3.) Kyiv will emerge victorious.

Sanctions are undeniably an important part of the West’s response to Russia’s war of aggression. That goes without saying. The U.S. and E.U. have imposed 830 different sanctions. Russia has been cut off from the SWIFT system of international payments, effectively shut out from much international trade, and blocked from importing high-tech goods.

Sanctions don't topple regimes

It is now very difficult for Russian citizens to travel to the West. Their automobile industry – which employs 600,000 workers – is at a standstill, as is the aviation industry because 700 of 1,100 aircraft are produced in the West. Moscow is not able to buy high-tech goods elsewhere – it is dependent on the U.S. and the E.U., as they supply it with 66% of its imports in this area. Experts predict that the Russian economy will shrink by 10% by the end of the year.

Dictators couldn’t care less about the suffering of their subjects.

But this pressure will not bring Putin to his knees. Partly because Russian sales of gas and oil are still booming, but mainly because dictators couldn’t care less about the suffering of their subjects. For centuries, the Russian people have learned to live with hardship and deprivation. Throughout the entire history of the twentieth century, sanctions have not forced a single authoritarian regime to change.

For decades now, North Korea and Iran have been subject to the harshest of sanctions, but the ruling elite in those countries are not concerned. Why should Russia — a country that is too large and has too much military power to be truly isolated — capitulate when Pyongyang and Tehran have not?

Despite what German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock have been insisting for months now, Russia is by no means isolated. Not only because the Kremlin can draw on the support of a global superpower in China, but also because most countries across the world see the war in Ukraine as a European problem. The majority of African states are remaining neutral, and — aside from Japan — the same is true of Asia.

What about South America? On Wednesday, the governments of countries in the Southern American Mercosur trade bloc were not even prepared to allow Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to speak at a summit. There is only one possible conclusion Moscow could draw: Putin’s war is against the West alone, and its prospects are by no means as gloomy as we would like to think.

sident of the French Council Edgar Faure, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Robert Anthony Eden, President of the Council of Ministers of the Soviet Union Nikolai Alexandrovich Bulganin and President of the United States of America Dwight David Eisenhower at the Big Four Conference \u200bin Geneva in 1955

Big Four Conference in Geneva in 1955

Mario De Biasi/Mondadori Portfolio/ZUMA

No outright victory for Ukraine

After the early days of the war were marked by serious strategic failures, Russia is now bringing its full military might to bear. Moscow has ten times the firepower of Kyiv. The Ukrainians are fighting for survival, so their troops have often been more successful than Russia expected. However, Russian soldiers are starting to gain significant territories, while all the Ukrainian army can do is promise that the counter-offensive is on its way.

However many bridges and munitions depots the Ukrainian army blows up — and hopefully it will be many — Kyiv will not be able to defeat the military superpower that is Russia. There will be no victory for Ukraine — at least not a victory as we have understood it since the time of Prussian general Carl von Clausewitz: "The military power must be destroyed, that is, reduced to such a state as not to be able to prosecute the war."

Washington should seek talks with Moscow, while never losing sight of the Ukrainians’ suffering

Ukraine’s only hope is to make Russia suffer enough losses that Moscow realizes its war of aggression is no longer tenable. But it will be a long time before the conflict reaches that point.

Humble lesson from Eisenhower

Germany must recognize that wars can last many years, and this one is likely to. It is time for the government — and all public representatives — to open up an honest discussion about what sacrifices their citizens are prepared to make to win this war, and what disappointments may still lie in store. It is the duty of politicians and commentators to think ahead, to condemn warmongering and never to settle for easy answers — even when that is painful.

It is painful to recognize that Ukraine does not have enough military power to win this war outright. Their hope lies in victory through guerrilla warfare. But sooner or later that would mean negotiations with Moscow, and Russia is not ready for that yet. But Washington — as Kyiv’s most important ally — should seek talks with Moscow, while never losing sight of the Ukrainians’ suffering.

Even in the darkest days of the Cold War, U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower and his Foreign Minister John Foster Dulles — both politicians who favored war over de-escalation — persistently sought meetings with the Soviets, as the history of the Geneva conferences in the 1950s attests. They failed, but it was worth trying. Just as it is worth trying now.

In times of war, foreign policymakers should turn to the famous line by Samuel Beckett: "Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better."

You've reached your limit of free articles.

To read the full story, start your free trial today.

Get unlimited access. Cancel anytime.

Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.

Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries.

FOCUS: Israel-Palestine War

How October 7 Has Sabotaged Israel’s Tech And Spyware Sector

Hamas’ unprecedented attack last month reflected an intelligence failure for Israel, which raises questions about the country’s dominance on the global market for sophisticated espionage technology and other hi-tech offerings. Meanwhile, some of the best young Israeli coders have been called up for military service.

Two men look at various computer screens and point out details.

March 17, 2021, Haifa, Israel: The Israel Innovation Authority at stage one of eight in a two year plan to create a national mesh network of drones

Nir Alon/ZUMA
Elias Kassem

Beyond the horror and loss of human life wrought by Hamas, the collateral damage of the October 7 attack stretches into all corners of Israeli society. The complex, multi-front attack demolished Israel’s sense of security and military superiority in the face of Palestinian armed forces and other groups and countries in the region.

For the latest news & views from every corner of the world, Worldcrunch Today is the only truly international newsletter. Sign up here.

But alongside the political, military and intelligence failures, the attack has been a blow to Israel’s thriving technology sector — notably its world-leading spyware — that will reverberate through the economy in the months and perhaps years to come.

The way Hamas fighters breached Israel’s defenses (pushing through a fortified border barrier, sneaking through the Mediterranean, or flying over the border) may have seemed rather low-tech. Yet the raid on more than 20 Israeli towns and army bases in southern Israel, and reported death count around 1,200, must make Israel’s spy agencies question its tools and methods.

“Hamas surprised us. It was both a military failure and an intelligence failure,” Yaakov Amidror, a former national security adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, told The Hindu newspaper. “I can say that everything went wrong.”

Keep reading...Show less

The latest