Putin’s Strategy: Outlast The West. It’s Working.

MOSCOW, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 20 (RUSSIA OUT) Russian President Vladimir Putin looks on during the Strong Ideas For The New Times Forum on February 20, 2024 in Moscow, Russia. Putin visited a forum, hosted by the Agency for Strategic Initiatives prior to the 2024 Presidential Election, planned on March. (Photo by Contributor/Getty Images)
Contributor/Getty Images

One of the salient qualities of dictatorship is that dictators can hold the line even as democracies start to fade. That is the theory of virtually every dictator across history when faced with a democratic rival. That is certainly the theory of Vladimir Putin today, whether it is in Ukraine or whether it is with regard to him killing the people who oppose him, people like Alexei Navalny.

It’s becoming very clear this week that Putin is now settling all family business. This is the week where he feels like he has the capacity to do exactly what it is that he wants.

He feels that way because of a combination of fissures on the Right and the Left in the United States, as well as fissures in the European coalition.

With regard to Russia, when Putin invaded Ukraine, there was virtual unanimity that this was not something that the West could allow to stand. You couldn’t have Vladimir Putin simply waltzing into Kyiv, taking over the country, killing Volodymyr Zelenskyy, essentially setting up a puppet dictatorship, and turning Ukraine into a second Belarus.

You couldn’t have that because it would put Russia directly on the borders of a wide variety of NATO countries, including Hungary and Poland. You couldn’t have it because it would certainly threaten former Soviet satellite states like Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania — all of which are deeply fearful of a Putin-led incursion into their territory; Finland as well. You couldn’t have it because Ukraine is a relatively major producer of products such as wheat and oil.

But primarily, you couldn’t have it because Vladimir Putin has interests that are antithetical to those of the West.

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For all of the talk over the last 25 years about how Putin was just on the cusp of moderating, how there would come a moment when he was welcomed into the family of nations and then he would just be nice to everybody — that never happened.

Every single president of my lifetime has tried a reset with Putin. George W. Bush famously looked into Putin’s eyes and thought he had a sense of his soul. Barack Obama sent Hillary Clinton, his secretary of state, to Moscow to give them a button that didn’t actually say reset, but was supposed to symbolize a reset button. And then, Barack Obama offered flexibility to Putin in 2012 in the lead up to the 2012 election.

Donald Trump came into the office, and the basic assumption was that Trump was going to develop a warm relationship with Putin. Joe Biden came into office and was immediately pretty soft on Russia in terms of sort of geopolitical “strategery,” as George W. Bush once put it.

But that perspective has been proven false time and time again.

Putin is a highly-intelligent, highly-skilled adversary of the United States. His interests do not align with the interests of the West. 

Here’s the point: The chief Russian motivation — and this has been true for centuries — is territorial ambition. This has been true since the time of Peter the Great and Catherine the Great. To go back even further, it’s been true since Ivan the Terrible. If you look at or have any sense of Russian history, Russia’s great leaders are always measured by the amount of land they control, which makes a certain amount of geopolitical sense if you are Russia, because Russia is a giant steppe, open to invasion from all sides.

So Russians have historically tried to expand their borders so as to prevent invasion from all sides.

At a certain point, that defensive justification becomes an offensive strategy in which Russia invades sovereign nations that exist all around it and attempts to control them.

We are watching as Putin tries to expand the boundaries of what he sees as his new empire. He compared himself to Peter the Great just a couple of years ago after the invasion of Ukraine. In the interview he did with Tucker Carlson, the first 35 minutes are dedicated to his idea of Russian claims to Ukraine, in which he implies that Russia has claims to Poland and Hungary as well. When he says those types of things, we ought to take that seriously; he’s actually spelling out what he actively thinks.

There are bunch of people on the Left who think Putin is doing this because he is offended by the muscularity of the West, that if only the West had been more conciliatory toward him, then Russia would not, in fact, be an adversarial force, that everything Putin does is blowback to the West. That is the theory of people on the Left who are very much vacillating with regard to what Putin is trying to do.

Then there are a couple of theories on the Right, starting with the blowback theory, which people ripped off from the foreign policy scholar John Mearsheimer, who I think is wrong about a great many things. Mearsheimer has essentially theorized that it was NATO’s expansion that drove Putin to invade South Ossetia in Georgia or drove Putin to invade Crimea originally in 2014 and then invade the rest of Ukraine in 2022. That theory is coincident with the Left-wing blowback theory of American foreign policy that dates all the way back to people like Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky.

Then there is a theory that Russia is actually a bulwark against secular Leftism and a highly religious country that is against much of the Left-wing ideology with regard to gender, sex, and sexuality that the West has fallen for. So that has inculcated in many people the idea that because Russians are socially conservative as a general matter, this is what Putin represents, as opposed to believing his actual ambition is truly the defense of Russian territorial ambition.

It’s a category error. Many people on the Right have made that same category error, for example, with Sharia-law countries in the Islamic world, suggesting that because those countries are “socially conservative,” that somehow those countries have a commonality with American conservatism or American Christian conservatism.

No. They don’t. Their ambitions are not the same as your ambitions.

What this really reveals is a schism broadly writ in the United States and in the West as well, a schism about whether the West has any sense of internal solidity. What are the values of the West? Because if Putin is able to split the West on the basis of perceived values or perceived anti-Westernism, that says there are a lot of people in the West who really don’t like the West very much on the one hand, and a lot of people in the West who believe that the greater threat to the United States might be their neighbors, who disagree with them about social politics, as opposed to people like Vladimir Putin.

Putin is a huge indirect threat to people in the United States because geopolitics actually matter. When you cut off shipping routes, destroy the sources of international trade, and threaten American allies, these are things that actually will matter to American citizens writ large.


Putin has ascertained that the history of the United States since World War II shows that if you can split the American public, you can win. And it doesn’t matter how weak you are, all you have to do is outlast us.

Outlasting the West is the strategy. It’s been true since Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam. It was true of the Taliban in Afghanistan. It was true of Sharia law, Iranian forces in Iraq. If you can outlast the United States, you will win.

The time for outlasting is shrinking and shrinking and shrinking. It used to be that in order to outlast the American public, you would have to wait a decade, but now, because of the velocity of social media and the capacity of people to see these arguments in real time and split from each other and polarize very quickly, the West is sapped of its will incredibly quickly with nearly every conflict.

When there is a conflict, a true evil, Western powers immediately leap to fight the evil and then pretty quickly start to doubt themselves and figure, “OK, I think we’re done here. We need to move on with our lives.”

This would be a time when political leadership actually matters, but there’s a complete dearth of political leadership on both sides of the political aisle on these matters.

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The Daily Wire   >  Read   >  Putin’s Strategy: Outlast The West. It’s Working.