Sunday, February 27, 2022

Putin's Looking to Rebuild Russia's Empire

 It's Niall Ferguson, at the Spectator U.K., "Vlad the Invader."

The pun refers to Vlad the Impaler:

‘War’, in Prussian military theorist Carl von Clausewitz’s most famous dictum, ‘is nothing but a continuation of politics with the admixture of other means.’ A generation of Democrats — the American variety, but also European Christian and Social Democrats — have sought to ignore that truth. Appalled by the violence of war, they have vainly searched for alternatives to waging it. When Vladimir Putin ordered the annexation of Crimea in 2014, Barack Obama responded with economic sanctions. When Putin intervened in the Syrian civil war, they tried indignant speeches.

When it became clear that Putin intended a further and larger military incursion into Ukraine, Joe Biden and his national security team opted for sanctions once again. If Putin invaded Ukraine, they said, Russia would face ‘crippling’ or ‘devastating’ economic and financial penalties. When these threats did not deter Putin, they tried a new tactic, publishing intelligence on the likely timing and nature of the Russian assault. Cheerleaders for the administration thought this brilliant and original. It was, in reality, a species of magical thinking, as if stating publicly when Putin was going to invade would make him less likely to do so.

Those who dread war approach diplomacy the wrong way, as if it is an alternative to war. This gives rise to the delusion that, so long as talks are continuing, war is being averted. But unless you are prepared ultimately to resort to force yourself, negotiations are merely a postponement of the other side’s aggression. They will avert war only if you concede peacefully what the aggressor is prepared to take by force.

Putin decided on war against Ukraine some time ago, probably in July when he published a lengthy essay, ‘On the Historical Unity of the Russians and Ukrainians’, in which he argued tendentiously that Ukrainian independence was an unsustainable historical anomaly. This made it perfectly clear that he was contemplating a takeover of the country. Even before Putin’s essay appeared, Russia had deployed around 100,000 troops close to Ukraine’s northern, eastern and southern borders. The response of the United States and the European Union was to make clear that Ukraine was a very long way indeed from either Nato or EU membership, confirming to Putin that no one would fight on Ukraine’s side if he went ahead with his planned war of subjugation.

Over the past few months, Putin has used diplomacy in the classical fashion, seeking to gain his objectives at the lowest possible cost while at the same time carefully preparing for an invasion. Western leaders have achieved nothing more than to remain united in saying they will impose sanctions if he invades. But a Russian invasion of Ukraine beyond the Donbas will create an entirely new situation. Politicians on both sides of the Atlantic may express a common outrage, but it will not take long for their unity to be eroded by the altered reality and their fundamentally divergent interests. The US does not need Russia’s natural gas. At least in the short run, Europe does.

If war is the continuation of politics — ‘policy’ is, in fact, a better translation — then what exactly is Putin trying to achieve? This question has elicited many wrong answers over the years...

 Still more.