What Happens if Ukraine Loses?

Wes O'Donnell
6 min readApr 19, 2023

This is a question I’ve thought about a lot over the past year.

For the record, all my experience as a forecaster and analyst for the DoD is telling me that Ukraine will emerge from this fight victorious, yet forever changed.

Changed how and to what degree?

That’s a topic for another piece, but I believe it is still helpful to ask the scary questions if for no other reason than to visualize how important this fight truly is.

First, let’s define “lose.”

Any scenario where Russia can claim land beyond what they grabbed in 2014 — this means any land beyond Crimea and the Donbas — would allow Putin to claim “victory” back home and spin the special military operation as a success.

Any scenario where the Ukrainian military falters because of a collapse of their anti-air coverage or artillery capabilities (due to ammunition shortages) which would allow Russia to push deeper west.

Any scenario where Putin takes Kyiv through a combination of political assassination, subterfuge, and direct military action. This would be a decisive victory for Putin and have the most dire long-term consequences.

So, let’s think about the unthinkable and perform a thought experiment about what would happen if Putin achieved a decisive victory over Ukraine…

A dark future for Eastern Europe

A Putin victory over Ukraine would immediately imperil the other former Soviet republics (except the NATO member Baltic states).

Putin will feel vindicated after Ukraine and emboldened to go after the former Soviet republics, imposing his playbook and turning them into client states in his grotesque vision to rebuild the USSR.

If he is successful, he would then establish Russia as a new anti-Western center of power to balance NATO’s growing influence. A hyper-conservative authoritarian regime in a new cold war against the liberal democratic order. But instead of names like the Warsaw Pact or the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, he may simply call the confederation “Z”.

Photo by Mehrnaz Taghavishavazi on Unsplash

The new front line between East and West will sit on the borders of Romania, Poland, and Finland. If Putin takes Ukraine, expect NATO to…

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Wes O'Donnell

Army & Air Force Veteran | Global Security guy at War is Boring, GEN, OneZero | Intel Forecaster | Law Student | TEDx Speaker | Pro-Democracy | Pro-Human Rights