Putin’s Historical Error and Its Consequences – Jerzy J. Wiatr on the war in Ukraine

Prince Charles Talleyrand once said: „it is worse that crime, it is a mistake”.

News from Ukraine point to the serious war crimes committed by Russia in the aggressive attack on her neighbor. After two weeks of fighting, it has become evident that the president of the Russian Federation made three critical errors. He underestimated the strength of the Ukrainian patriotism and the ability of the Ukrainian people to defend their independence. He also underestimated the willingness and the ability of the democratic nations to give Ukraine a meaningful assistance. He overestimated the ability of the Russian armed forces to launch a short and successful campaign.

Ukraine fights and the end of the war remains unpredictable. What seems evident, at least to me, is the gigantic fiasco of Putin’s strategy. Even the destruction of Ukraine and the occupation of her territory – not very likely, as a matter of fact – would not change the fact, that Russia committed the most serious error in post-Soviet history. There is no way in which Russia could transform Ukraine in her satellite. Even the occupation of Ukraine would not mean Russia’s victory. Karl von Clausewitz taught us that winning the war means the imposition of one’s will on the adversary. This Russia is unable to achieve.

The crucial question is, how the war will end and how will it affect the future of Russia. In Russia’s best interest is losing this war, as it was in the best interest of the German people that Adolf Hitler had lost in 1945. Only by losing the aggressive war will Russia be able to free herself from the regime, whose policy is detrimental to the best interest of the Russian people and which makes Russia an international outcast.

In the present climate of nationalistic amok, the majority of the Russian people supports the war. Protests of the courageous minority will not force the regime to change its policy. Only the political and military elite can force such change. Will they commit the mistake of the German military commanders who remained loyal to their Fuhrer to the bitter end?

In my book on Polish-German reconciliation (Polish-German Relations: The Miracle of Reconciliation, Verlag Barbara Budrich 2014) I stressed the fact, that the reconciliation between our two nations became possible due to the fundamental change which took place in Germany after her defeat in the second world war. In the deepest sense, Germany’s defeat of 1945 turned into a victory since it allowed Germany to regain her place among democratic nations and to build friendly relations with former adversaries and former victims. Losing the war in Ukraine is in the best interest of Russia, since only such defeat could lead to the collapse of the authoritarian regime and allow Russia to join democratic Europe. Is it too much to hope for?


About Jerzy J. Wiatr

Jerzy Joseph Wiatr, born in 1931 in Warsaw, is Professor Emeritus of the University of Warsaw and Honorary Rector of the European School of Law and Administration (Warsaw-Brussels). He served as President of the Polish Association of Political Sciences, Vice-President of the International Political Science Association and President of the Central European Political Science Association. He received honorary titles from Russian, Slovenian and Ukrainian universities. He was a member of Polish Parliament 1991-2001 and Poland’s minister of education 1996-1997.

Read the latest interview with Jerzy J. Wiatr here



About the blog series

We want to make different perspectives on the Ukrainian war heard – we want to broaden debates, not narrow them. In the coming weeks, here and on our German blog, our authors from around the world will publish articles on the situation in Ukraine, in Europe, and globally. They will comment on current events, share opinions, short analyses, evaluations and their current thoughts – both scientific and personal.

Part 1 – Barbara Budrich – Möge nun Frieden ausbrechen (German)

Part 2 – John E. Trent – Ostracize Russia, Respect Russians

Part 4 –  Den Krieg in der Ukraine im Politikunterricht vermitteln (German)