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To Endure, Peace Needs to Weaken Putin But Not Ruin Him
Richard Stallman, 2022-03-28

Calling for regime change in Russia can make for a worse outcome for Ukraine.

Biden has called for removing Putin from power in Russia. Even though officials then insisted that removing Putin is not US policy, the president's statement still conveys that demand.

I believe that demand is strategically unwise, as it will encourage Putin to keep fighting.

Putin is likely to continue fighting as long as he believes he can defeat Ukraine through war and get his demands. However, handing him his war aims without a fight is no solution, as that victory would encourage him to seek gains through war again. We must try to get him to stop the killing — but not by by offering him a shortcut to victory.

If Putin says he is willing to end the war without victory, what will Ukraine need in a peace agreement? Whatever will make Putin keep the deal he made.

Putin won't keep a deal just because he made a deal; it would have to be clear to him that breaking the deal would do him harm. Thus, if we want Putin to make peace and stick to it, we must create a situation that will dissuade him from restarting the war. The easiest way is to make sure the war leaves him weaker than before — enough so, that he sees little chance of winning a renewed war and feels no appetite for another defeat. Perhaps losing Crimea and the two puppet "republics" he set up inside Ukraine would be sufficient to convince him of this.

This is the point missed by some commentators such as Anatol Lieven who recommend giving Putin much of the Ukrainian territory that he has taken so far. Given such a success, he would think of rebuilding his army and starting another war to conquer more.

On the other hand, if he he can't get that, why would he agree to any deal? It would have to offer him something he wants, even though not everything. His principal desire is to remain in power in Russia. He will never make a deal that includes giving up that. Thus, I conclude that demanding "regime change" in Russia is a misguided approach, bad strategy. We must aim for the middle zone, enough defeat to discourage Putin but not so much he will never agree.

Putin is not now ready to accept a peace deal that Ukraine ought to consider. It would not satisfy him, as long as he hopes to seize Ukraine by continuing the war. But if things get worse for him, there may come a day when remaining in power only in Russia, plus the lifting of some sanctions, becomes the best outcome he can hope for. We must keep the door open for that.

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