Predicting the Russian endgame

· 7 min read

Remember this?

Vladimir Putin

These military exercises, drills, are purely defensive and are not a threat to any other country. They were planned and all the objectives of these drills have been achieved.

☀ Six days before invading Ukraine

And then this?

Vladimir Putin

Our plans do not include the occupation of Ukrainian territories. We are not going to impose anything on anyone by force.

☀ Seven months before annexing 90,000 km² of southeastern Ukraine

And this, too?

Vladimir Putin

I emphasize that conscript soldiers are not participating in hostilities and will not participate in them. And there will be no additional call-up of reservists.

☀ Six months before declaring partial mobilization

Putin has an evident tendency of doing precisely what he says he will not. This makes predicting the next stage of his war an interesting exercise.1 In no particular order, let us list some noncredible predictions.2

Striking EU gas storage facilities🔗

The suspense of slowly tearing off a bandage is arguably worse than ripping it off in an instant. In much the same way, Russia halted its gas supply too early. European countries were given a few months to scramble for alternatives and prepare for the coming winter. Had Russia kept flicking the gas switch on and off unpredictably – dragging the process on and causing a pointless debate within the EU – it might have inflicted more pain when it shut off the gas entirely by the winter.

To atone for this mistake, Russia has devised a scheme to destroy or hinder European gas storage facilities. At some point of the winter, leaks start to form along natural gas pipelines. There might be deliberate explosions involved. The perpetrators are careful to hide their handiwork so Russia can claim plausible deniability, but intentionally leave enough evidence to get the implicit threat across.3

Striking EU nuclear power plants🔗

I’ve seen this before.

Using nuclear weapons against Ukraine🔗

With hope of defeating Ukraine waning and having already bottomed out its diplomatic credibility, Russia launches nuclear missiles at Ukraine. They wait until the coldest part of winter to maximize the pain.

Kremlin spokesperson

Earlier this morning, high-precision nuclear weapons of the Russian Strategic Rocket Forces were deployed ... an unavoidable action due to the continued defiance of the terrorist Kiev regime. All military targets have been completely destroyed in accordance with tactical objectives.

☼ Hypothetical scenario

Various Western pundits had entertained the notion of Russia using nuclear weapons in Ukraine to their superiors, but few had truly believed in this outcome themselves. Perhaps Russia would detonate a smaller sub-megaton nuclear device high up in Ukrainian airspace or deep below the Black Sea as a gesture of intimidation, but that would be stretching it. After all, Russia has a tendency to do the opposite of what they say, so repeated nuclear threats would surely only be a bluff.

But such predictions have lost their meaning. Ukrainians enter their bomb shelters preparing to sit through a conventional air raid, but are instead met with a nuclear blast. Millions of Ukrainians are killed; the Kremlin shifts the focus of the war from absorbing Ukraine to crush the country beyond any hope of Western-led recovery.

The shattering of the nuclear taboo is deafening in the West. To Russia’s more sympathetic ears in Asia and the Middle East, news of the blasts will be downplayed, denied, retroactively justified, or outright censored.

Using nuclear weapons against yourself🔗

Unwilling to risk the consequences of the above scenario, Russia instead decides to lob a nuclear cruise missile at one of its own peripheral cities. Russian state media blames Ukraine, fabricating a story about how Ukraine secretly resurrected its nuclear weapons program under the guidance of the United States.

Some Russians find the state narrative unconvincing and flee the country; some are more receptive to the manufactured consent. Putin orders another wave of mobilization.

Electing useful idiots abroad🔗

Unfortunately for Putin, the U.S. presidential election is not for another two years. Had it invaded during an election year, Russia could ardently promote Trump or another Russian sympathizer into the White House.

Still, Russia desperately needs to convince the world that it is willing to outlast Western support. They can achieve this by portraying the conflict as being too muddy to distinguish good from evil, too costly to continue paying for, and too irrelevant when compared to the domestic problems at home.

Selling Gazprom stake to China🔗

Having realized the war can remain stagnant longer than the Russian economy can remain afloat, Russia reluctantly offers to sell its state petroleum interests to the highest Chinese bidder. China wants to appear neutral in this conflict, but the offer is too good to pass up.

To make such a transaction even remotely tenable, Putin orders a mass purge of the dissenting oligarchs and offers to split the prize among a few trusted insiders within the military and his cabinet. The estates of the purged are liquidated for the war effort.

Russia, with its new injection of cash, gets to continue fighting in Ukraine. Unfortunately, rampant corruption within the military and horrific combat casualty rates result in this final sugar high being less helpful than imagined.

Attacking NATO🔗

Kalev Stoicescu

Many of Russia’s recent actions have achieved the exact opposite of what they were intended to do because of Moscow’s faulty understanding of events and processes in the outside world. For example, Russia makes military threats and launches military action in order to dissuade neighbours from joining NATO – with the only result being to demonstrate to those neighbours precisely why they need to join.

☀ Myths and misconceptions around Russian military intent

Russia hopes to distract the West from Ukraine, and somehow arrives at the conclusion that it must try to beat up a Baltic country.

Implementing a scorched earth policy🔗

FSB defector

The whole Donbas thing was just a gimmick. The true objective was to deny Ukraine from wrongly developing land that we rightfully stole.

☼ Reflecting on Russia's ultimate defeat in Ukraine


I make this all up as I doomscroll or shower.


Don’t get me wrong: in an ideal timeline, Ukraine continues to rout Russian forces back to pre-war borders, the West arms Ukraine with the longer-range weapons it needs to secure its advances, and Putin has the bitter but obvious realization that sacrificing a generation of economic development and imperiling millions of ill-equipped Russians is not worth the risk to his regime.


Such an intricate and coordinated attack requires an extreme level of operational competence and security. So I would suspect it is impossible for Russia to conduct.

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