Who Can Stop Putin?


Who can stop Putin’s war in Ukraine, and how can (or should) he be stopped? Those are arguably the most important questions in order to find a possible solution to this conflict. The answers, however, might not be very pleasant. 

After researching and attending’s IE’s panel on the War in Ukraine: A discussion with the IE Community, with professors Susana Torres, Nikolina Zidek, Andrew Bertoli, Evan Liaras, and Michele Testoni, one thing became clear: Putin is a power-hungry man with too much power. In a failed democracy like Russia, there are barely – if any- institutions that can keep his power in check. Still, there are two agents that can limit what may seem like an unstoppable leader. One of them is internal, and that is the very same oligarchs who put Putin in power and maintain him there. From that perspective derives the question, how effective can economic sanctions be? If they hit the oligarchs hard enough, will they stop supporting Putin and his war? The other agent capable of stopping Putin is the United States – which is the only country with enough military power to fight Russia and that doesn’t have ideological ties to the country. The questions that arise from that perspective are the following: would the United States be willing to intervene? And what costs would an American intervention entail? 

The economic sanctions have visibly been hurting Russia, from citizens to business makers. The ruble is devaluing at all-time lows, the stock market could collapse, and doing business with Russia will become increasingly more difficult. The fact that common citizens are being deeply hurt by the sanctions may also increase opposition to Putin’s campaign, but it’s hard to imagine a world where that is enough to stop Putin, considering that the country is known for successfully and repeatedly repressing its opposition. Additionally, the fact that there are American and European interests involved in all this mess just makes it all the more complicated – by that, I mean the magic word we’ve all been hearing so much: gas. How willing is Europe to impose harsh sanctions on Russia considering its heavy reliance on Russian gas? The truth is, the community has been going further than one might expect – Germany suspended the Nordstrem 2 Pipeline, which will most likely hurt Germany as well.

Nonetheless, one should consider that the extent of damaging effects of sanctions may take a while to materialize, as stated by Brian O’Toole:

“I do worry a little bit that if there’s no immediate economic impact on Russia, it may give Putin the idea that the pain of sanctions is less than he anticipates and gives him some incentive to keep pushing the envelope,”.

Brian O’Toole

Additionally, economic sanctions were also the tool used after the annexation of Crimea in 2014, and how effective were they, really? 

On the other hand, the alternative to economic sanctions is military intervention – which would more likely than not lead to an even bigger war. As mentioned before, the United States is the only country capable of matching Russia’s military capability. However, we all know that fighting war with war is extremely costly. It would lead to a lot more civilian casualties – that is not only morally repugnant but also very unlikely considering it’s far from the U.S.’s agenda as ‘leader of the free world’ to be responsible for civilian casualties (or for more than they already are). 

It’s very difficult, then, to answer the two questions posed in the beginning. This leads to the conclusion that the answer to the ‘who’ question is two-fold: internally, oligarchs could stop Putin, and externally, the United States. The ‘how’ question, however, leads to the conclusion that only by deeply affecting the oligarchs, who’d lessen the support of Putin as a consequence, is a viable solution – considering the unlikeliness and the side-effects of military intervention. Thus, one should hope that economic sanctions will be effective, as that might be the only option. However, some could argue that loss of popular support in Russia could stop Putin; that economic sanctions will not be effective and so that military action is the only option, or even that nothing could stop him – and they could all possibly be right, because the truth is, there’s very little rationality and predictability involved in this conflict. All in all, there are a lot more questions than answers, and perhaps we’ll just have to handle the consequences as they come. 

For now, here are some resources to support Ukrainians: 

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