The history of the last century reveals a pattern that goes as far back as Ancient Greece. The surest way to end a tyrannical regime is to start a war, which more often than not backfires spectacularly. In the case of Greece it wasn’t just in ancient times but in the modern world as well. When the Greek junta in conjunction with Cypriot allies overthrew the government of Archbishop Makarios in an attempt at unification, the results were disastrous. It gave the Turks a pretext to invade which in turn led to the collapse of the junta. When the Argentine military regime decided to seize the Falkland Islands it resulted in a war with Britain that also resulted in the end of that junta. Then there was the Serbian regime that met its demise in the Kosovo war.
But those are just the smaller examples. Catastrophe resulted in World War II when Germany, Japan, and Italy invaded their neighbors ending the government of all three. Prior to that the whole world changed in World War I, when every empire on the European continent collapsed. Clearly when tough guys start a war the results are usually completely unexpected. Thus the question today is whether history might repeat itself in the case of Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
First it must be noted that there is a considerable difference between an authoritarian regime like Putin’s and a totalitarian regime like the Communists. In the former you can pretty much do what you want as long as you stay out of politics. In the latter the state controls all aspects of life. In an authoritarian regime power is less systematized, and usually there is not much of a binding ideology. This makes the levers of power more tenuous.
Second, on the surface Putin’s goals may not seem completely unreasonable given that Russia itself essentially began in Kiev until you realize just how strongly the Ukrainians actually feel. They have inspired leadership and a far more cohesive sense of national identity than we have been led to believe and they clearly intend to resist heroically to the last man. The problem for Putin is that contemporary Ukrainians clearly want to be free of Russia, which in turn may result in a prolonged occupation, which, given historical precedent, potentially could lead to the collapse of his government. The historical odds are not in his favor unless he cuts his losses and leaves quickly. There is virtually universal condemnation of the invasion and it appears that Putin has seriously miscalculated the consequences.
His cronies will be far less reliable once they start losing money, the public, because they do have access to information outside of state propaganda are not supportive, and the cooperation of an increasingly demoralized military cannot be guaranteed. The danger is that a man who seems to be increasingly unhinged and out of touch with reality has his finger on a nuclear button and we can only pray that in a worst case scenario cooler head prevail in the Kremlin.
It is heartbreaking to see the disruption of life for ordinary Ukrainians but at the same time inspiring to see the heroic resolve of these people in the face of such a daunting challenge. Against long odds my sense is that they will eventually triumph and that the fall of the Putin regime has begun. It will not be immediate but when it does happen it clearly will be traceable back to this ill-conceived invasion and the historical pattern will again be repeated.