If Putin succeeds, what exactly, will Russia have won?

In any war, in this war (Putin’s attack on Ukraine), we are seeing massive destruction of the infrastructure of entire cities with factories, homes, businesses and apartments in ruins. Of course we also see and prioritize the loss of human life above all, but my focus here is about the massive physical destruction that Russian bombs and missiles are inflicting on Ukraine. The images are staggering and depressing. Chunks of concrete and rubble everywhere, buildings with massive holes through them, a hellish landscape resembling destruction that might have been caused by a natural catastrophe like an earthquake, tsunami, hurricane or a tornado.

The destruction includes power stations and oil refineries, economic centers that will cost tens of millions to rebuild. The financial cost to rebuild surely will be in the billions. We know that the Russian economy was not strong before the war. Now, with foreign sanctions imposing over a falling Russian ruble, Russia’s economic standing has fallen further still. If measured at today’s exchange rates, Russia’s economy would be the 22nd largest in the world, with a gross domestic product (GDP) not much larger than the state of Ohio’s. Yes, they are a huge land mass, and have vast resources of their own, but if they “win” this war (I put win in quotes for a reason) what have they won, exactly, except huge liabilities, given the requirement to rebuild all that they so insanely destroyed.

I fully understand, have read extensively about and researched the reasons that Putin took this action, many which have been discussed here on Medium by knowledgeable and thoughtful writers. Before invading, Russia made a list of far-reaching demands to reshape what he considers their sphere of influence, positions NATO and the United States rejected (had they not, or had they tried to compromise on this list, could this terrible war have been avoided)? Putin has long been tormented, insiders say, over the loss of Ukraine and other republics when the Soviet Union broke apart some thirty years back.

Thus there is no need to rehash the Geo-political aims of Russia or to try to get inside the head of one egotistical world leader to gauge upcoming events. The pundits of the all the major networks and newspapers can do that, and are doing that. Most of these foreign policy “experts” I ignore because they are the same lot that gave nothing but terrible advice and predictions about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

What strikes me is that no one seems to state the obvious, that Russia will, if they succeed in overtaking Ukraine, have inherited a colossal financial liability of their own making. Since when do you blow up your neighbors house and occupants, go stand in the smoldering rubble and celebrate what has been “won”? But alas, I suppose that is the sad and tragic nature of war, this war, or any war.

We also have to consider the environmental impacts, the pollution of war from the smoke, bombs and the emissions of toxic chemicals. The West was supposed to cheer when the Russian warship sunk, but what is the environmental impact of a ship like that lying on the ocean floor — does anyone care about that? Then there is the fact that to rebuild Ukraine, there will be the expending of precious resources to replace what should have never been destroyed in the first place.

I’m writing this on Earth Day, and with deep sadness for what war does to our already struggling planet. It is sheer madness, and the leaders of any or all concerned neighboring nations, the EU, the Pope, whoever has influence — have to make it stop. Not by sending in more arms to do more destruction, but by reaching out their arms toward the only viable solution: a negotiated ceasefire, a compromise, a treaty that will be highly imperfect but will bring peace, and end the suffering of both people and place.

UNICEF/Anton Skyba for The Globe and Mail



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Writer, researcher, internationalist, an anti-racist who supports reparations for Black and Indigenous people. American settler of Swedish descent.