Russian leaders have many qualities but unpredictability isn’t one of them. Events unfolding in the Ukraine have followed a pattern blazed by Soviet tanks crushing rebellions in Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia 12 years later. The only question at this point is where will they stop?
Any world leader that reacts with surprise over recent events in the Crimea, the appearance of soldiers wearing uniforms without insignia outside of airports, then the appearance of similarly clad men at other key facilities in the peninsula, followed by a formal request for Russian troops by the puppet authorities put into place by the men in the insignia-less uniforms, should be immediately impeached. Since his rise to power Vladimir Putin has acted the way one would expect the former head of the KGB in Soviet times to act. Putin sees the world in zero sum, Cold War era terms, and has acted accordingly.
While the US and Europe viewed the Cold War as long over, Putin evidently failed to get the memo. George W. Bush believed his personal relationship with “Pootie-Poot” would help him in his global war against terrorism. Putin provided little support, instead bolstering socialist regimes in Nicaragua, Cuba and Venezuela, capping off 2008 with an invasion of the former Soviet Republic of Georgia. By then relations with Russia had deteriorated to the point where Secretary of State Hillary Clinton promised a reset of relations with the Kremlin, blaming the problems with Russia on the Bush administration. Putin acted accordingly, helping Iran develop its nuclear capabilities. Missing an opportunity to bolster the Libyan regime of Mohamar Khadaffi, Putin didn’t pass up the chance when the Arab Spring swept into Syria. While the West dithered over the support of rebels against Bashir Assad’s regime, Russia didn’t hold back. It provided money and diplomatic cover for the regime in the United Nations, the favorite playground for the post-Cold War thinkers proliferating in the West, and did the same for Assad’s primary backer Iran.
For those of us educated during the Cold War, none of this is surprising or new. Of course Obama and his crew were all educated during the Cold War as well, but evidently they were educated into believing the US was the reason the Soviets did the things they did. Such an attitude also manifests itself in what is called “beaten spouse syndrome” where an abused person believes he or she can control the abuser if only he or she did the right thing. This attitude is narcissistic, fantasy-based and wrong.
The control the US had against the Soviets was blunt. Brute force, mountains of men and material and lots of cash. Truman used it in Berlin in 1948, and for the next 40 years this power was wielded by his successors with varying degrees of effectiveness. That was pretty much it. Every word we said was backed up by the use of force. It was a simple language originating from the dawn of Time and the Soviets understood it.
Now Putin and his Soviet-era thinking has confronted Obama and his liberal idealist philosophy. And the winner? Well… The Russians still control most of Georgia. Iran is still refining uranium. Syria still has its chemical weapons. And the Ukraine is experiencing the same type of fear and hysteria Czechoslovakia felt in 1968.
A famous Democrat once said, “No man can tame a tiger by stroking it.” Before him one of his relatives once cautioned, “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” These lessons have been lost on Obama and his minions who have lived in their comfy cocoons for too long. They are about to be schooled by Putin and the Russians, and this time Obama’s transcripts will be there for everyone to see.
There is nothing short of full-out war that Obama and the European leaders can do about Putin’s annexation of the Crimea. Putin knows the West has no stomach for war, so it will acquiesce to his aggression. Then the question is, where should Putin stop?
From a realpolitik standpoint, I see no reason why Putin should not fan his forces northward out of the Crimea to liberate Ukraine. At this point the only hindrances would be logistical. Do his forces have enough supplies to make it to Kiev? My guess is that local resistance would be miniscule in the countryside, and that most small and medium sized towns would side with the Russians. Only in Kiev would the Ukrainian regime be able to mount any type of notable resistance, and that could be handled through deals with many of the Ukrainian oligarchs supporting the regime. With Russia in control of the countryside, funding in-fighting and supplying anti-regime forces inside Kiev while laying a de facto siege to the city, resistance wouldn’t take long to overcome. Putin then could sweep away the current regime, promise elections in the fall to give a veneer of Democracy to the re-installation of a pro-Russian regime. This playbook was written in Eastern Europe after World War 2.
Will he stop with Ukraine? Success breeds success which is another way of saying people get greedy. I have no idea, but I’m reminded of something said long ago after another “surprise” annexation in Europe. When Chamberlain returned from Munich, Winston Churchill said, “You were given the choice between war and dishonor. You chose dishonor and you will have war.” Obama and the Europeans have shown their dishonor, and as a result the likelihood of war next week is much greater than it was last week.