Time to dismantle some Russian delusions
With the disintegration of the Soviet Union, everyone breathed easier. Russian communists tacitly, and in some cases openly, acknowledged that Reagan was right about the "evil empire." Religious extreme Marxism followed dinosaurs into extinction. Over a dozen countries emerged from behind the Iron Curtain.
With his attack on Ukraine, Putin shows himself as a species of dinosaur. He believes that Russia, with a GDP smaller than those of California and Texas, is a world power that deserves special spheres of influence. He believes that Russia's nuclear arsenal allows him to claim a more aggressive role than that of a normal European country. Virtually the entire world rejects that claim. We will not be safe from WWIII until Putin, or his successor, accepts that rejection. If not, everyone will be open to Russian bullying, which could easily lead to nuclear war.
Normal European countries neither need nor desire to invade one another. Putin claims to fear that NATO poses an invasion threat to Russia. To be clear, there is no reason to invade Russia. We can dismiss the notion that Estonia wants its troops patrolling the streets of St. Petersburg. Those commodities, including oil, that Russia might choose to withhold can be acquired in quantity elsewhere. The one exception is its pool of superb hockey players. That's important, but it's not worth a war.
That Putin fears the armies on his border means they are doing their job. A deterrent force that isn't feared doesn't serve its purpose. That deterrence is necessary is demonstrated by Russia's multiple attacks on Ukraine and its attacks on Georgia, Chechnya, and others. Putin wants to eliminate this deterrence in order to attack his neighbors. There is no other plausible reason.
Some people argue that having an armed alliance on his borders is enough to provoke Putin's anxious aggressions. They cite the long history of Western armies invading Russia. Every country in Europe has been on both ends of invasions. Hitler and Napoleon invaded Russia just as they invaded everyone else. Charles XII of Sweden invaded Russia, and he and his predecessor, Gustus Adolphus, invaded as many others as they could. No one thinks we need an anti-Swedish alliance. It's also worth noting that there are no fortresses at the foot of the Chunnel protecting France from a resurgence of the Hundred Years' War.
People apologizing for Putin up the ante. It's nuclear weapons close by that are the problem. We didn't tolerate nukes in Cuba. But there are no nukes in countries adjacent to Russia. These people should contemplate Russia's nuclear-armed submarines that routinely patrol our coast, often at distances closer than Cuba.
There are no excuses or justifications for the vicious Russian invasion of Ukraine. It is clear that Ukraine, along with Poland, Czechia, and a score of other countries, has no interest in being ruled by Russia and equally clear that they have no interest in ruling or incentive to rule Russia.
At the war's beginning, Russia had a per capita income equal to Panama's. That's quite good for a Latin American country, but Russia is European and more. It is the country that produced Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Pasternack, and Solzhenitsyn. Russia could be much greater than it is — not greater in the raw, brutal Putin way. Russia could once again be a center of human progress instead of human degradation.
The future is not promising. The economic sanctions imposed by most of the world are crushing an already fragile economy. The stock market has been shuttered for five days. The ruble is worth less than a penny. These effects will only worsen till this once great cultural center is reduced to the economic level of Afghanistan. It's terrible to inflict this pain, but it is minor compared to the pain suffered by Ukraine, or what we all would suffer in a shooting war.
This can end only when Russians decide to rid themselves of egomaniacal dictators with paranoia about attacks from the West. There are some signs that this could happen. Several thousand scientists signed a petition calling for an end to the war. Several hundred Russian Orthodox priests are publicly doing the same. There are indications that the army is sabotaging its equipment to avoid killing fellow slaves. There are even signs that elements of the Russian government are risking their lives by sharing sensitive intelligence with Ukraine. Every dictatorship looks powerful until it isn't. It wasn't impossible for Russians to throw out the communists. It may not be impossible to throw out Putin.
The people have an additional incentive. While no Western country covets Russian territory, there is a country in the East that does. A Russia not blinded by fear of the West may realize that it needs the West to defend its vast, sparsely populated territory from expansionist China.
Image via Public Domain Pictures.