William Wohlforth on the Crisis in Ukraine

Putin has already failed
Russia and Ukraine, backed by the US and Europe, are the midst of a battle of will and power in which the terms of their future hang in the balance. Five days into the war it's far too early to reckon the correlation of forces.   Ukraine has the advantage of right; Russia has the advantage of military might. The Ukrainians have the motivation of just cause and national feeling which the Russians lack. The West can inflict more economic pain on Russia than vice versa, yet the Russian leadership arguably cares more about the outcome than the West, and is more willing to inflict economic pain on its own people. Russia's power, however measured, is directed by a single leader; the West's far greater overall capabilities are governed by dozens of fractious democracies that must negotiate within and among themselves to wield it.
But at this juncture it appears that Putin has already failed in his main political objective, which always required a new bargain with the West, and especially the United States. The maximal political objective was a new security order in Europe that accorded Russia far greater influence that it has enjoyed since the Soviet collapse. It was a renegotiation of the outcome of the Cold War's end and the Soviet collapse. The focused aim was a recognized sphere of influence over Ukraine that prevented that country from determining its own course in world affairs.  The original military operation appears to have been designed to try to achieve both objectives: relatively rapid regime change in Kyiv without inflicting the kind of human suffering that would destroy Russia's ability to negotiate a new security order with the West. What appears to be clear already is that that plan was the war's first casualty, and Russia now needs to intensify operations to achieve the minimal objective of determining Ukraine's future. But, "intensified military operations," which are words for violence and death and bloodshed, seem set to destroyed the larger objective of a new relationship with the West. What we appear to be witnessing is not just a crime and a tragedy, but a strategic blunder of historic proportions.

February 28th