Is Putin Holding a Dead Man’s Hand?

Putin’s vision of an easy victory rested upon three flawed assumptions.

President Putin ordered his army to invade Ukraine on February 24, 2022. At that time, he believed he was holding an invincible Royal Flush, a straight flush including an ace, king, queen, jack, and ten all in the same suit. However, three weeks later it is looking more and more likely that Putin is actually holding a Dead Man’s Hand, the cards “Wild Bill” Hickok held when he was shot at a poker table in Deadwood, South Dakota.

Putin’s vision of an easy victory rested upon three flawed assumptions. First and foremost, he believed the Ukrainian people would welcome the Russian forces. Second, he believed the fractured NATO alliance would offer only limited disapproval. And finally, he believed America would be too politically polarized to offer meaningful opposition.

Putin’s three assumptions have all proven to be wrong. Led by Volodymyr Zelensky, determined Ukrainian forces have fiercely resisted the Russian invasion. At the same time, a now unified and revitalized NATO alliance has imposed crippling sanctions on the Russian economy. In the United States, both Democrats and Republicans have delivered strong bipartisan support for banning imported Russian oil and shipping war materials to Ukraine.

Dead Man's Hand, poker

Putin must now realize that the war is entering a dangerous new phase. He can double down by ordering relentless airstrikes that will kill innocent civilians and reduce Ukrainian cities to rubble. He can also unleash cyber attacks on Ukraine and the NATO countries while threatening to use chemical and biological weapons.
Putin has another choice. Faced with mounting military losses and crippling economic sanctions, he can back down by ordering a cease-fire, declaring victory and negotiating a settlement. The political scientist and historian Francis Fukuyama argues that Putin must back down or face “outright defeat” and the subsequent loss of his power. If Fukuyama is right, Putin is now holding a Dead Man’s Hand.

Larry Krieger

Larry Krieger

Author · Instructor

In a career spanning more than 40 years, Larry Krieger taught a variety of AP subjects including Art History, U. S. History, European History, and American Government. Mr. Krieger has published popular books that have enabled students across the country to be confident in their abilities when facing AP and SAT exams.

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