Defeat for Putin wouldn’t be enough to radically change Russia’s trajectory.
Can Rússia recover its pride without recovering its empire? This would seem to be an important question. If Russia can recover its pride, perhaps by re-examining or recreating national mythology, then Russia could focus internally on national development. The truth is that Russia is a huge country with vast material and cultural wealth to draw on even without its former empire.
Not a bad article overall, but I am floored that your discussion of Germany after World War Two makes no mention of the fact that it was *cut in half and turned into two different countries* for 50 years. Two countries that were hostile enemies, for that matter.
While some sort of internal regime change would certainly be the most optimistic scenario, I think the chances that it would move in a liberal direction are slim (as the writer seems to imply). Another scenario - or at least a trigger - that could force Russia into a situation much more like post-WW2 Germany would be if Putin uses nukes, potentially bringing NATO into direct conflict and inviting an invasion of its own territory. The resulting defeat would (hopefully) completely humiliate the old guard, thus (hopefully) changing the direction of Russia's polity and Western involvement. Either way, admittedly, that's a lot of hopefullies.
Russia’s greatest concern from Ivan the Terrible to Putin has been territorial integrity and a wide buffer zone between other world powers it fears and its heart land.
For more than a a millenium it has been invaded by the Mongols, The Huns, the Norseman , by the Swedes , the Polish-Lituanian Empire, The Ottoman Turks, The French under Napoleon, The Germans under Hitler. During the Cold War, it was encircled on the West and South by NATO. Its imperial expansion into the Balkans from Lithuania and Estonia to Albania on the west and in the East across asia to the Chinese border were the defensive desire for population, resources, and especially buffer space to protect European Russia from easy invasion.
Putin surely realizes the restoration of that Empire given continuous population decline, a commodity economy, no allies equal to its revanchist vision, expulsion from the world economy because of its Ukraine invasion leaves him few realistic options.
What NATO, including Turkey must do is leave Putin his dignity and at all cost never accept a Ukrainian peace so humiliating that ,like German after WWI it spends the history it has left constantly wishing to get even by threatening nuclear war. That is where soft power has its great value.
The outlook is indeed bleak, especially considering that so many of the people who might have supported a democratic transition, and a modernization of the economy, have fled the country.