In war and diplomacy — among other things — it helps if all sides are speaking the same language. In the crisis over Ukraine right now, we’re not. The Russians are counting on this continuing to be the case.

A new piece by Francis Fukuyama, author of “The End of History and the Last Man” (1992), this past week suggests that Russia faces outright defeat in its campaign to crush Ukraine, and that this will lead to the end of Vladimir Putin. If true, that would be great. But Fukuyama’s predictions about what would happen in the wake of the Soviet Union’s demise as he was writing his best-known book haven’t aged well.

If there is a change at the top in Russia, the West should be prepared to engage the new order there more effectively than we did after 1991. The Russians then felt we treated them with the same disdain that the victorious coalition did Weimar Germany after WWI, and when they called us on that, we over-compensated by adding them to the G-7 despite the fact they didn’t qualify.

Mixed messages.

We have a tendency to lose ourselves in wishful thinking. They, in contrast, ground themselves in worst-case scenarios and operate on the premise that things suck and always will. That’s a macro misunderstanding, if you will. The crack here lies in the fact that Putin succumbed to some wishful thinking — or corrupted intelligence — in planning his assault. Russian troops packed their dress uniforms for what they assumed would be a rapid welcome parade in Kyiv.

The Biden administration’s flip-flopping last week over whether to take Poland up on its offer to give us MiG-29s we could then transfer to Ukraine also sent mixed messages. Moscow can take umbrage at the fact that we even considered such a swap, and then take note of our fearfulness about actually doing it. If we had stuck to our guns, one wonders whether Western Ukraine near the Polish border would have been hammered the way it was over the weekend.

This morning I read the most remarkable statement in Politico, a well-sourced outlet of the current thinking in Washington. Our policy now is to help Ukraine without provoking Russia. That is an attempt to put a happy, focus-group face on an untenable position. Moscow has already said that our sanctions are a declaration of war. A policy that seeks not to provoke a country that launches unprovoked wars is a born loser. One wonders who is coming up with these policies.

Another bit of wishful thinking is that Russia’s failure thus far to take Kyiv (I’m writing this on Monday) proves that its military might has been overrated, leading to an army of memes online having (well-deserved) fun with Ukrainian tractors pulling defunct Russian armor and the like. Making fun of the world’s second-biggest military has plenty of potential to backfire, and I fear we’ll see that this week with more indiscriminate killing of civilians.

Russia doesn’t want an “off-ramp,” as some Western diplomats have suggested. They want to subjugate Ukraine and compensate for their inability to do so more quickly, which means an uptick in violence. Just because they’re seen as negotiating does not mean that the current talks will lead to much. Turning up the violence gives them something to negotiate with: how many degrees to turn it further up or down depending on our response.

To us, disruption is incidental. We act as if we are earnest about everything we say and then change our mind or “evolve” our positions, resulting in disruption. To them, disruption is an intentional tactic. Isn’t that what we learned from the Russia-gate investigation? While the number of Republicans who will say Putin has a point is thankfully dwindling, there are still some, like the easily confused representative from North Carolina Madison Cawthorne.

This is one of the only silver linings of the horrendous aggression on Ukraine I’ve seen at home. Putin is no longer a straw man, or a counterpoint to an argument. He is not Alexander Solzhenitsyn at Harvard inveighing against American soullessness and materialism. He is a thug. That’s probably what the cherubic-faced Cawthorne really meant….

If we could will Putin’s fall, count me in. But in the meantime, we can continue to show stronger support for Ukraine, without being too afraid of offending Russia. Our intelligence agencies said not so long ago Russians were paying bounties for the lives of American soldiers in Afghanistan. If this is true, there’s little reason for us to be squeamish about sending Ukraine more arms.

Sam Patten is a recovering political consultant who was raised in Knox County and worked for Maine’s last three Republican senators.