The War That Would Not Start
What's taken Putin so long to invade Ukraine?
In 2014, I delved into the Russia-Ukraine question: what would Russia do?
This followed Russia’s annexation of part of Crimea, something that received relatively little attention before it happened, unlike the present situation.
It turns out that no one should be surprised that Russia wants a stronger buffer against NATO.
In my March 2014 post, I relied heavily upon George Friedman’s 2009 book, The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st Century.
The piece so perfectly predicted today’s headlines, I thought I’d simply drop in an extended chunk. More originally commentary follows this extended quote.
On the Orange Revolution in Ukraine
The Orange Revolution in Ukraine, from December 2004 to January 2005, was the moment when the post–Cold War world genuinely ended for Russia. The Russians saw the events in Ukraine as an attempt by the United States to draw Ukraine into NATO and thereby set the stage for Russian disintegration. Quite frankly, there was some truth to the Russian perception.
On Russia’s Strategic Need to Dominate Ukraine
If the West had succeeded in dominating Ukraine, Russia would have become indefensible. The southern border with Belarus, as well as the southwestern frontier of Russia, would have been wide open. In addition, the distance between Ukraine and western Kazakhstan is only about four hundred miles, and that is the gap through which Russia has been able to project power toward the Caucasus (see map, page 71). We should assume, then, that under these circumstances Russia would have lost its ability to control the Caucasus and would have had to retreat farther north from Chechnya. The Russians would have been abandoning parts of the Russian Federation itself, and Russia’s own southern flank would become highly vulnerable. Russia would have continued to fragment until it returned to its medieval frontiers.
Ukraine and Belarus are everything to the Russians. If they were to fall into an enemy’s hands—for example, join NATO—Russia would be in mortal danger. Moscow is only a bit over two hundred miles from the Russian border with Belarus, Ukraine less than two hundred miles from Volgograd, formerly Stalingrad. Russia defended against Napoleon and Hitler with depth. Without Belarus and Ukraine, there is no depth, no land to trade for an enemy’s blood. It is, of course, absurd to imagine NATO posing a threat to Russia. But the Russians think in terms of twenty-year cycles, and they know how quickly the absurd becomes possible.
On What Russia’s Doing About It
After what Russia regarded as an American attempt to further damage it, Moscow reverted to a strategy of reasserting its sphere of influence in the areas of the former Soviet Union. The great retreat of Russian power ended in Ukraine. Russian influence is now increasing in three directions: toward Central Asia, toward the Caucasus, and, inevitably, toward the West, the Baltics, and Eastern Europe. For the next generation, until roughly 2020, Russia’s primary concern will be reconstructing the Russian state and reasserting Russian power in the region.
On What Happens Next
But the real flash point, in all likelihood, will be on Russia’s western frontier. Belarus will align itself with Russia. Of all the countries in the former Soviet Union, Belarus has had the fewest economic and political reforms and has been the most interested in re-creating some successor to the Soviet Union. Linked in some way to Russia, Belarus will bring Russian power back to the borders of the former Soviet Union.
From the Baltics south to the Romanian border, there is a region where borders have historically been uncertain and conflict frequent. In the north, there is a long, narrow plain, stretching from the Pyrenees to St. Petersburg. This is where Europe’s greatest wars were fought. This is the path that Napoleon and Hitler took to invade Russia. There are few natural barriers. Therefore, the Russians must push their border west as far as possible to create a buffer. After World War II, they drove into the center of Germany on this plain. Today, they have retreated to the east. They have to return, and move as far west as possible. That means the Baltic states and Poland are, as before, problems Russia has to solve.
America and NATO Are Powerless #
Guys like John McCain just don’t get it. America’s ability to intervene in Europe ended when the government and the fed transferred trillions in real and future dollars from the US economy into the hands of Wall Street favorites.
Plus, the US is without a president capable of the most basic geopolitical strategy. I know Obama fans think he’s brilliant. He’s not. Assad, Putin, and others have run mental circles around our president. Oh, an Iran. Remember the “peace in our time” John Kerry announcement on Iran? Iran didn’t skip a beat in its march toward nuclear weapons. He seems to lack even the intellect to recognize when he’s been had.
The world is falling apart and looking for someone to lead. Obama just ordered our armed forces to shrink back to pre-World War II size just in time for World War III. Vladimir Putin seized the moment to fill the void.
History may not repeat, but it rhymes.
Russia’s need to create a buffer in Ukraine is no surprise. Friedman predicted it in 2009, and I recognized it following the annexation of Crimea in 2014. The question, though, is why did Putin wait eight years to complete his mission?
The answer, of course, is Donald J. Trump.
Had Putin moved on Ukraine proper immediately after his incursion into Crimea, his intentions would have struck the world as far more sinister and expansive. It would like a lot like Hitler’s early actions in World War II. NATO might have countered militarily to head off a larger conflict.
Had anyone other than Trump won in 2016, Putin likely would have used the new administration’s settling-in period to make an advance on Ukraine. But Trump won and brought with him no track record on foreign policy. Like Reagan, Trump’s ginned-up reputation with the press was that of a cowboy, a warmonger, a dictator, and a trigger-happy fool. While Putin and Russian intelligence wouldn’t fall for such obvious ridiculous characterizations, they couldn’t be completely dismissed. Trump was an unknown. As such, he had to be observed and not provoked.
It likely became clear to Putin that Trump would avoid prolonged foreign wars, but he might avoid them by use of overwhelming initial force. Additionally, Trump spoke in vague but concrete terms making his plans impossible to guess but easy to visualize. When 1,000 people listen to a Trump speech, they come with 1,000 mutually exclusive images of what he said. That makes predicting his actions impossible.
So Putin bid his time and waited. Biden improbably won and immediately destroyed the US military’s reputation as a fighting force through wokism and the botched Afghanistan abandonment. This gave Putin all the information he needed: America will do nothing but bluster.
Thanks to an American election, we could be on the brink of World War III.