Putin and the Dogs of War
The dogs of war were howling at the moon in Vladimir Putin’s Russia last week. You could hear them all the way in California. And they sounded for all the world just like nuclear bombers.
General Herbert “Hawk” Carlisle broke the news: “They've come with their long-range aviation off the coast of California, they circumnavigated Guam,” he said, showing a picture of a U.S. F-15 fighter “intercepting” a Russian Tu-95 “Bear” bomber off the Pacific island.
The United States does not buzz Russian shores with nuclear bombers, forcing Russian fighters to scramble to ward them off, at any time and certainly does not do so at a time of heightened international tensions such as those taking place now in Ukraine. Yet Russia does not hesitate to take such wantonly provocative acts, heedless of the potential consequences.
And Russia isn’t limiting itself to threatening Americans directly; it’s also funneling huge amounts of dangerous weapons to American enemies in our hemisphere, including Cuba and Nicaragua.
But the clearest proof that Putin means us harm may be the simple fact that he swears he doesn’t. As U.S. Air Force General Philip Breedlove stated: “Remember that [Russian President Vladimir] Putin denied their presence and now he has admitted to their presence in Crimea. The same thing will come out of Ukraine as time rolls out.” What Breedlove meant was that he has conclusive proof that Russian special forces are currently operating in Eastern Ukraine just as they were in Crimea a few weeks ago, when Putin openly declared he would never enter the peninsula with military force.
When Putin said last week he’d moved Russian forces away from where they had been massing on Ukraine’s borders, appearing poised to invade, you almost didn’t need to pick up a newspaper to know Putin was not telling the truth. And sure enough, satellite photographs showed that he wasn’t. Another picture that was worth a thousand words was one showing a separatist fighter, who told journalists he sought federalism, not separatism, carrying a rocket launcher emblazoned with the phrase “For Holy Russia.”
Ukraine borders not one but three NATO members. An attack on any one of them is an attack on the United States. Yet Putin has no hesitation in escalating tensions and creating a tinderbox situation where a single spark could enflame a global conflict. Indeed, a recent poll (Russian-language link) shows that Russians believe the next target on Russia’s agenda of protecting Russian speakers from foreign oppression should be Latvia, a NATO member, and tumult is already rife there as well.
Putin’s “logic” in all this is apparently that Russia feels threatened by the overthrow of the maniacal dictator Victor Yanukovich in Kiev, and believes that his downfall was a CIA-sponsored plot. So Russia feels it should threaten the U.S. with the same type of activity, hoping it will induce us to back away from supporting anti-Russian forces in Kiev.
But this “logic” does not consider the overwhelmingly superior economic and military power wielded by the U.S. and its allies, nor even the basic fact that Russia has just entered a devastating period of economic downturn and recession. Just last week, for instance, the European Central Bank declared that capital flight was out of control in Russia, reaching levels perhaps five times what the Russians themselves are willing to admit.
Nor does it pay any heed to the simple fact that there is no evidence, none at all, that NATO poses a military threat to Russia. Is it really possible for Russians to believe that the U.S., France, and Germany covet Smolensk or Belgorod or even Kaliningrad? Russia, of course, has a nuclear deterrent, and that deterrent functions just as well no matter who Ukraine is allied with.
And most of all, of course, it ignores that modest U.S. financial support for democracy in Ukraine is the exact opposite of massive Russian military support for dictatorship all around the world, from North Korea to Syria to Cuba. The entire world can clearly see that the purpose of Russian involvement in Ukraine is to annex territory, while the purpose of U.S. involvement is to permit democracy to thrive.
Russia recently celebrated its “victory” in World War II by parading nuclear missiles and other massive offensive weapons through Red Square just as was done in Soviet times. What Russians chose to overlook in putting for this grotesque spectacle is that in that war Russia first sided with Adolf Hitler and helped give him the opportunity to launch his war of aggression, hoping to share in its spoils with him. Not a single word of atonement for these actions was heard from the Russians.
Russia fought Hitler only when he turned on it, and after helping defeat him Russia took his place as the oppressor of Eastern Europe, committing untold atrocities. Russian troops sat on the opposite river bank from the City of Warsaw and watched the uprising against the Nazis get crushed, then moved in and took the Nazis’ places.
And now it seems quite clear that Russian regret having to give up their dominion over Eastern Europe and pine to recover it. In fact, there is already talk of a “digital Iron Curtain” descending across the continent as Putin chokes the last life out of the Russian Internet and purges the last dissenting voices from parliament.
Those facing Russia at close range have few illusions about what the future holds for them. Two-thirds of Finnish generals and the prime minister believe that Finland, long independent, must now join NATO in order to protect itself from potential Russian aggression. Even in the parts of Ukraine that supposedly have affection for Russia, polls clearly show that Ukrainians do not want to break up their country or be annexed by Russia no matter where they live. A poll on Whitehouse.com to declare Russia a state sponsor of terrorism has over 50,000 supporters, and the Russian entry in the Eurovision competition was actually booed off the stage.
And Americans get it, too. American travel to Russia is expected to fall by one third or more this year, and the U.S. and Europe are coordinating ever more effectively to ratchet up the pressure of economic sanctions on a weekly basis. Indeed, a very compelling argument can be made that Vladimir Putin has done the United States and NATO a very large favor by taking actions so extreme that their feeble leadership simply has no choice but to do the right thing.
Follow Kim Zigfeld on Twitter @larussophobe.