Putin took what he wanted from Ukraine and is keeping it. No one tries to dislodge him. Lost among the impeachable aspects of Trump’s Ukraine plots is the fact that Putin — now twenty years in power — has won in Ukraine. Trump will not go against Russia in Ukraine or anywhere else, and Putin, despite holding the weaker military hand, knows it.

Our Javelin missiles, some in Ukraine since April 2018, are to be used only to “deter” further Russian westward thrusts. The best deterrent is to knock out a few Russian tanks to show that Javelins really work and will be used. Unused they are just a bluff that Putin, likely not planning to grab more of Ukraine anyway, safely ignores.

Since taking office, Trump has repeatedly notified Moscow that a shattered Ukraine is acceptable, and we will not try to reverse it. Trump — blindly believing Putin — announced that Ukraine isn’t a real country but is the real 2016 electoral hacker (it ain’t). Ambassador Gordon Sondland said Trump told him he “doesn’t give a [expletive] about Ukraine.” Putin thus knows he can retain his conquests with impunity.

Russia has several motives in Ukraine. Moscow claims the Donets Basin (Donbass) and Crimea are historically Russian, won as the tsars pushed back the Ottoman Turks and settled it with Russians. Ukraine’s westward pivot in 2014 inspired Moscow to “rescue” its kinfolk in Donbass and Crimea, as it has done in other ex-Soviet countries. Want justice? Give part of Crimea back to the Tatars, whom Stalin brutally exiled.

Geostrategically, George Kennan in the 1990s warned that NATO’s eastward expansion would alarm and enrage Russia. In 2014, John Mearsheimer added that is precisely what happened when we discussed Ukraine joining the EU and/or NATO. Moscow would simply not let its Sevastopol naval base in Crimea become a NATO base to check Russia in the Black Sea. We should never have expected they would.

Actually, Mearsheimer’s theory of “offensive realism” predicts that major powers expand wherever they can to protect themselves — regardless of threat. Those that don’t shield their borderlands risk threats growing on their borders. Mearsheimer’s theory predicts recent Russian and Chinese behavior. Neither Ukraine nor the South China Sea is really a threat, but they add a layer of security and are easy pickings. So, intimidate and dominate them.

Mearsheimer points out that the one country that has fully pursued this strategy is the United States, which, except for Cuba and Venezuela, faces no hostile neighbors. We take as normal our supervision of all countries touched by the Caribbean and have intervened against dozens of annoying regimes, some of them democratic. Russia and China are just doing the same, argues Mearsheimer.

Ironically, given Mearsheimer’s opposition to the Israel lobby, Israel has long practiced Mearsheimer’s offensive realism, invading and sometimes holding bordering territories (Sinai, West Bank, South Lebanon). Israel’s argument: “We’ve got to. Anything less would be suicide.” (Not necessarily.) Secretary of State Pompeo recently announced that Israel’s West Bank settlements do not violate international law. Israeli annexations will likely follow. Thus ends Trump’s “ultimate deal” and any U.S. honest-broker role.

Is there any place we would oppose Russian expansion? By withdrawing almost all U.S. forces from Syria, Trump makes Russia Syria’s protector, restoring Russia as a major Mideast player, a role it has sought since the 1853–56 Crimean War, which started over Moscow’s expansionist aims in the declining Ottoman Empire. Venezuela gets Russian financing and security personnel as we watch passively.

Iran has become a junior partner to Russia and China in their quasi-alliance, although Tehran has its own interests. Iran has emerged as a major hacker of U.S. networks, but Iran hates Trump for his economic sanctions, whereas Russian troll farms work for Trump, who in turn defers to Putin. Potentially, this difference puts Iran and Russia at odds and could open a small window to improving U.S.-Iran relations in 2021. Don’t count on it.

Putin’s victories are wasting assets, costing more than they yield. A major Russian presence — as in Egypt and Afghanistan — is often unwelcome. Putin cannot stop an Israel-Iran war blowing up in Syria. Russia’s economy depends on world oil prices, now under $60 a barrel and likely to drop. Russia, much weaker than China, is now its junior partner and supplier of raw materials and weapons. Many Russians fear China’s growing dominance.

The question is what we do after Trump and Putin depart the scene. Should we attempt to restore a leading U.S. role? Or stand by and let China organize and lead through its Belt and Road Initiative and Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, a trade pact that covers Asia from China to New Zealand. The Trans-Pacific Partnership could have headed off RCEP, but Trump immediately dumped TPP, little noticed but perhaps his most enduring mistake.