Until now, I considered Russian President Vladimir Putin to be dangerous but pragmatic. Now I am no longer sure about the pragmatic part.
Until now, I considered Russian President Vladimir Putin to be dangerous but pragmatic. Now I am no longer sure about the pragmatic part.
Recently, Vladimir Putin has earned respect among certain quarters in the conservative movement over his self-declared championship of ‘western values’. He has fearlessly stood up to the forces of Political Correctness by opposing gay pride parades in Moscow, as well as cracking down on blasphemous displays in churches, as per the Pussy Riot incident. He also unabashedly extolls ‘western values’ against the forces of Islamic fundamentalism. In contrast, the number of western politicians who are willing to stand up to PC totalitarianism is small, and when they do, they do so much more timidly. And these are not your typical western politicians, who are craven in their subservience to PC doctrine to the point of effeminate disgracefulness. Looking at things solely from this angle, Vladimir Putin looks good.
Well, let me throw some cold water on this nonsense. There is nothing ‘Western’ about Putin, nor commendable. He is a brutal savage, disgorged from the bowels of the KGB. He is a barbarian who needs to be defeated. If you have any doubts, watch this Bill Whittle video about the ‘workplace culture’ that spawned this evil man. One incident in particular reveals the character of Vladimir Putin, and it played a pivotal role in his coming to power: the apartment house bombings.
In August 9 1999, President Boris Yeltsin selected Vladimir Putin, then-head of the FSB (the successor organization to the KGB), to be his new Prime Minister.
Prior to Putin’s ascension, there had been a few terrorist bombings. First, there was a market-place bombing in North Ossetia on Mar 19, killing 62. This was widely attributed to Chechen terrorists as Russia was conducting a brutal campaign against them at that time.
The first bombing with Putin as PM occurred in a shopping center in Moscow on Aug 31. One person was killed and 40 were injured. A group calling itself “The Liberation Army of Dagestan” claimed responsibility. The next bombing – Russia’s first apartment bombing - occurred on Sept 4 in Dagestan, near the Chechen border. 64 Russian border guards and their family members were killed, and 133 were injured. So far, the bombings were either of small-scale or in the Caucuses near Chechnya.
The next bombing broke that pattern. It occurred on Sept 9 in Moscow. 400 kg of explosives was detonated beside an apartment building, destroying it, killing 94 people and wounding 249. On Sept 16, another apartment building was blown up, this time in Volgodonsk – killing 17 and injuring 69. In addition, on Sept 13 and 14, two more apartment bombs were discovered and diffused. Clearly, this put average Russians on edge, but now they were vigilant.
On Sept 22, locals in the town Ryazan (south of Moscow) noticed two men carrying sacks into an apartment building, from a car with Moscow plates. The local police found three 50 kg sacks filled with an explosive they identified, using state-of-the-art equipment, as RDX. This fact was initially confirmed by the FSB. The timer and detonator were armed. A local telephone operator intercepted a suspicious phone call suggesting a plot. Vladimir Putin praised the vigilance of the local residents. Composite pictures of the suspects were circulated, and they were soon arrested by local police.
At the police station, they produced FSB ID cards and were released. At this point the official story changed 180 degrees. It was not an attempted bombing, but a ‘readiness exercise’, and the sacks did not contain RDX, but sugar.
The car used by the FSB was listed by the local police as missing. And the FSB operators, whose pictures were widely circulated in the media, were never identified.
Why was the type of explosive important? Because RDX is a military explosive produced at one military factory. How did a large quantity of explosive disappear from this closely guarded facility?
On Sept 13, the speaker of the Russian Duma claimed to have received a report that an apartment building on the city of Volgodonsk had been blown up. The only problem? The Volgodonsk apartment bombing did not happen until Sept 16 – three days later.
Oh yeah. After the Aug 31 shopping center bombing, nobody had claimed responsibility for any bombings. And after Ryazan, no more apartment bombings occurred or were attempted.
A number of Muslims were convicted in some of the bombings but their convictions have been mired in controversy.
On New Year’s Day, Vladimir Putin surprised the world by announcing that he is now the acting President of Russia because Boris Yeltsin had abruptly resigned. On March 26, 2000, Vladimir Putin was elected President of Russia with 53% of the vote, campaigning in large part on finishing off the Chechen threat. Later that year, the Russian Duma sealed all information related to the Ryazan bombing for 75 years, on a pro-Kremlin party-line vote.
Considering all of this, Occam’s Razor leads one inescapably to the conclusion that the FSB, likely with the knowledge, and quite possibly under the direction of, Vladimir Putin, were responsible for at least some of the bombings – most likely the later, more destructive events that occurred away from the Caucuses – with the purpose of sowing an us-vs-them mentality among the Russian people that could be politically exploited.
Is it possible that this was some kind of a coincidence, and that Vladimir Putin is just unlucky in that all of these coincidences end up making him look guilty of something he didn’t do? Yes it is, but it’s not the way to bet. In Putin’s Russia, coincidences have a funny way of always breaking in the same direction. And for an unlucky guy, Vladimir Putin sure has led a charmed life.
Ultimately, the thing about Vladimir Putin is that he does believe in Political Correctness. It’s just a different Political Correctness than what rules in the West, and it is enforced by much more fearsome and ruthless means.
Tom Nichols, of the US Naval War College, offers the best assessment of Vladimir Putin I have yet read:
“Putin is not a realist: very few national leaders are. Realism is much loved by political scientists, but actual nations almost never practice it. Nor is Putin a nationalist: indeed, he hardly seems to understand the concept, or he would not have embarked on his current path.”
“Like others of his generation, he is part of a cadre of men who came of age in a massive, multinational, nuclear-armed superstate in the early 1970s. The faceless cogs who made this system work were unremarkable people like Putin, trained in ideology and imbued with the false faith that the USSR’s greatest days were yet to come.”
“In 1975, Putin was just 23 years old. For most of us, our twenties are a great time of life: most of our schooling is behind us, our careers, our mature romances, our children and families, all lie ahead. For Putin, that meant joining the KGB, the most elite Soviet institution, and the one that would give him entry to halls of power that would make his fellow citizens both fear and fawn on him.
He would be somebody in the brave new Soviet future.”
“Men like Putin are not brilliant, but they are cunning. (The Soviet system excelled at weeding out genuinely creative people while rewarding excessively clever people. There’s a difference.) Seeing the writing on the wall in the late 1980s, Putin did what many older and less able Soviet men could not do: he jumped from the crumbling Soviet state to the new democratic movement.”
“Aside from these showy moments, however, we have no real evidence Putin is a nationalist. Rather, he has used his considerable power to build Soviet, not Russian monuments to power.”
“Finally, if Putin is a realist, it is a strange realism indeed. This is where counterfactual thinking might help: a realist seeking to increase the power and influence of his state simply would not do most of the things Putin is doing. The Kremlin’s foreign policy at this point violates almost every rule of competent strategy, to say nothing of common sense. From the injunction to avoid the needless multiplication of enemies to the danger of letting emotion overcome policy, Putin has trampled all over “realist” expectations.”
Multiplying enemies and amplifying emotions are realist goals, if your real goals are not foreign but domestic. As I have argues, Putin’s real goal is ensuring his domestic popularity.
“Putin also shows no understanding of the forces in Ukraine he is creating or manipulating. He has now re-awakened and invigorated Ukrainian nationalism, a notional threat to Russia he could have averted by leaving Ukraine saddled with a large number of Russian voters. (This also is part of what convinces me that Putin really has no understanding of nationalism, and that deep in his Soviet heart, he detests it in all its forms.) Elsewhere in Europe, of course, Putin has reminded a previously slumbering NATO why it exists. He has greatly empowered a traditional Russian opponent, Poland, both in the Atlantic Alliance and the European Union. If that’s part of a master plan, the logic seems murky.”
“War has returned to Europe because of Vladimir Putin, and solely because of Vladimir Putin. Negotiation has failed because it is impossible to negotiate over revenge. If a wider war lies further down the road, it will result, not from the realism of a Russian nationalist, but from the unrealized dreams of an angry old Soviet who wants to go back and live again in a time that was quickly swept away by the emergence of a better world.”
But these are just the highlights. Read the whole thing.
A good strategic synopsis of the situation in Eastern Europe can be found in the American Interest:
“It is time to discard any delusional or half-hearted approaches toward Moscow that bring only temporary pauses in this geostrategic struggle. The West confronts two stark choices: either help facilitate the collapse of Putinism, or face years of insecurity that will undermine both NATO and the EU and subvert the stability of Russia’s numerous neighbors. Trying to alter Moscow’s destructive international goals through negotiations is a forlorn hope: The Kremlin is engaged in an extensive “shadow war” to dominate its post-Soviet neighbors, and Putin has staked his presidency on rebuilding an extensive “Russian world.” The Western powers therefore have a direct security interest in minimizing future regional instabilities by constricting the Russian state and encouraging all sectors of Russian society to replace the destructive Putinist system.”
What are Russia’s weaknesses?
“There are three indicators of Russia’s creeping state failure, and they will be magnified in the coming years: economic decline, escalating repression, and reckless imperialism. Russia’s economy was deteriorating even before the limited Western sanctions were applied. GDP is contracting, industrial production is declining, capital outflow has reached alarming proportions, consumer demand is shrinking, and the country will soon enter a prolonged recession. In addition, the “phase three” sanctions imposed by the EU in the oil, defense, technology, and banking sectors in July will restrict Russia’s access to European capital markets and further damage its economic performance.
One of the themes running through my writings is that democracies are never as dysfunctional as they seem to be, while dictatorships are never as efficient and capable as they appear. In western societies, our dirty laundry is aired for all to see. In dictatorships, like Putin’s Russia, and Communist China, everything seems gleaming, modern, and efficient, at least from afar, but less so if you poke around a bit. Unfortunately, you are not allowed to poke around.
For Russia’s ruling clique, economic decline will necessitate political repression, while nationalist triumphalism over the seizure of Crimea, the alleged protection of ethnic Russians abroad, and staunch opposition to the West is intended to distract attention from decline and repression.”
As I have argued, the real cause for Putin’s military adventurism was his increasing unpopularity at home in the leadup to the 2012 Presidential election. Russia has real enemies, such as Iran (if it were to become nuclear), and China. But Putin is making deals with them. The most secure borders that Russia had are in Eastern Europe and they are what Putin is attacking.
“The coming crisis of the hyper-centralized Putinist system should be welcomed by U.S. and EU leaders, rather than viewed as a destabilizing prospect. If indeed Putin is replaced by an even more rabid nationalist, as some policymakers fear, then Russia will simply experience further decline and international ostracism that will rebound on its citizens. Moscow will not start a frontal war with the West because its military is simply no match for an American-led NATO, and it can only operate against weaker neighbors.”
A point Mark Steyn frequently makes is that foreign policy experts often make the mistake of valuing stability above all else. In a bad situation, stability only freezes the undesirable in amber.
“The demise of Putinism as a system of internal rule and international ambition can be hastened by a coordinated Western approach with three core components: international isolation, imperial indigestion, and regime replacement.”
“Economic sanctions will be more effective if they impact on Russia’s citizens as well as on leading oligarchs and Putin cronies. Falling government revenues, a downturn in living standards, shortages of consumer goods, difficulties in travelling abroad, and rising unemployment can help fuel revolt against a regime that will become increasingly isolated and seen to be stumbling economically.”
This is an absolutely critical point. To defeat Putin, the Russian people must be given a stark choice: themselves or Putin. Remember, Putin’s Achilles heel is his popularity, as evinced by the below 50% approval rating prior to the 2012 Presidential election. In trying to boost his popularity with military adventurism, he is playing a dangerous game. This is what Argentinina dictator Leopoldo Galtieri did, and look how long he lasted after he lost the Falkland Islands War.
“To thwart Russia’s expansionism, external pressure must be combined with efforts to undermine Putinism from within. Kremlin controls can be weakened by supporting genuine federalism, decentralization, minority rights, regional self determination, and embryonic national independence movements throughout the overstretched Russian Federation. All such initiatives are consistent with broader campaigns for democracy and human rights in which both the U.S. and EU excel.”
The West can itself conduct a “shadow war” against Putinism, just as it did against Soviet Communism throughout Eastern Europe, by aiding democratic initiatives and supporting sovereignty movements among numerous nationalities.”
In the age of nuclear weapons, the indirect approach is a must. This is what Putin has been practicing against the West. So should we, but against him.
“More than a fifth of Russia’s population is non-Russian, and many of these nations, from the North Caucasus to eastern Siberia, have been deprived of their elementary right to promote their indigenous languages, cultures, and identities. Russian federalism is simply a cover for rigid authoritarianism in which the Kremlin appoints or approves local leaders in Russia’s 85 federal units. An international campaign for genuine federalism inside Russia will be supported by many of Russia’s regions, where a growing number of people increasingly resent Moscow’s political controls and economic neglect."
There are many non-Russian people trapped in that jailhouse of nations, and not all of them are in the Caucuses, or are Muslim. Take the Mari and the Komi people. They are not in the Caucuses and they are not Muslim but they are being continually persecuted and their culture is being systematically eradicated.
“Ultimately, if Putinism is not replaced with a non-imperial and democratic alternative, Russia will face a shrinking economy, which will fuel social unrest and compound ethnic, religious, and regional conflicts, culminating in potential territorial fracture. Although the West cannot guide Russia’s internal development, it can help promote opportunities for the emergence of a new Russia in which domestic dictatorship and imperial ambition are perceived as weaknesses and rejected by a disillusioned public.”
This will only happen after Putin has been served a defeat.
Whenever I write about the Kremlin’s military adventurism, in the Ukraine or elsewhere, I invariably receive comments in response extolling the brilliance of Russian President Vladimir Putin vs. Western leaders (“Putin’s is brilliant,” or “our leaders are weak and corrupt”, “it’s useless, forget about it. Putin has us over a barrel,” etc., etc., etc.).
I believe these comments are half-right in that the leaders of the Western world have not exactly covered themselves with glory in their recent dealings with the Kremlin, whether it be President Barack Obama, Chancellor Angela Merkel, former French President Nicolas Sarkozy (who OK’d the deal to sell Mistral amphibious assault ships to Russia), or other feckless Euroweenie politicians. In addition, there are the corrupt German businessmen in bed with the Kremlin, and the useful idiots among the American isolationist movement (like Pat Buchanan and Ron Paul). It is also true that Vladimir Putin has been effective in putting into practice the tactics developed by Hitler in the 1930’s for playing Western democracies like a fiddle. In spite of all this, it nevertheless is true that whatever brilliance Putin possesses, it is only of a short-term tactical variety. Strategically, he is a dunce.
Why do I say that?
Consider this, until about 2008, the most secure borders the Russian Federation had were all in Eastern Europe. At that point in time, peace reigned in Eastern Europe. While there were some discordant notes, they were all created by the Kremlin, with every Eastern European country sincerely desiring peaceful relations and mutually beneficial trade with Russia. (They still do, they just know they aren’t going to get it.)
In contrast, Russia’s relations with Muslims, who live in the Russian Caucuses and control a number of countries that border Russia to the south, are very tense, if not hostile. This is partly because Russia has prosecuted a brutal war of occupation in Chechnya. Until the mid-90’s, Chechnya was led by Dzhokhar Dudayev, a western leaning, thoroughly secular, former Russian Air Force general. Unfortunately, in 1996, the Russians (using technology that may have been supplied by the Clinton administration) killed Dudayev, when he was talking on a cell phone. As a result of this decapitation strike and the wholesale brutalities inflicted on the Chechen people by the Russian military, the Chechen opposition has metastasized into the brutal Islamofascist terrorist movement that doesn’t think anything of massacring schoolchildren or taking over the Ost-Nord Opera House in Moscow. While a graveyard peace is currently in effect in Chechnya, one gets the sense that at the first opportunity, Putin’s corrupt stooge there will be overthrown and replaced by an ISIS-type hydra. The anti-American left always talks about ‘blow-back’ - well this is what real blowback looks like.
Another threatening border is the one with China. Eastern Siberia, a sparsely inhabited treasure-house of oil, gas and minerals, is under direct demographic threat from illegal Chinese immigrants pouring across the Russian border to out-compete the local Russians (where alcoholism is a chronic problem) for jobs. It is clear the Chicoms are biding their time until Eastern Siberia reaches a demographic tipping point.
So, what does Vladimir Putin do about this situation? He has systematically created provocation and fermented war in Eastern Europe, while providing aid and comfort to Russia’s real enemies in the Muslim world and with China.
With regard to the Muslim front, Russia is busy supplying nuclear technology and advanced anti-aircraft missiles to Iran. So, what will the mullahs in Teheran do with their nuclear missiles and no-return-address A-bombs to a country famous for brutalizing Muslims? I don’t know, but I am sure we will find out if the Ayatollah’s finally get the bomb that the Kremlin is helping them build.
With regard to the Chinese threat, Putin supplies them with advanced weapons (like the SU-27 fighter - the best Russia has got), and signs sweetheart oil and gas deals with them.
Oh yeah, I almost forgot. Russia also has a northern border: the arctic. What has Putin done there? He is currently fermenting friction and discord with Canada over who owns the Arctic sea (and all the oil, minerals and gas that is to be found there).
With all this misplaced aggression on his part, the one thing I am sure of - no matter what happens to the peaceful, freedom-loving republics of Eastern Europe - the consequences of this large a quantity of strategic blunder won’t be good for Russia, or for the career (and longevity) of Vladimir Putin.
Here is an article by Ron Unz questioning whether the Russians shot down Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17. I bring it to your attention only because Ron Unz is not a nut (or rather, he used to not be a nut), and he is not a leftist whacko. He is – or was – a respectable conservative. For instance, he was one of the driving forces behind Proposition 227, the successful ballot measure that banned bilingual education in California. So when he outs himself as an MH17 truther, one must wonder, how many less-well-credentialed conservatives are similarly deluded.
The primary evidence he highlights is via a left-wing Washington Post blogger, Erik Zuesse, who claims that a photograph of a piece of aircraft wreckage proves that MH17 was shot down by Ukrainian jets. His argument is that this photo shows penetrations coming from both sides, which is inconsistent with an exploding SAM. Earth to Erik Zuesse, I have a one-word rebuttal: secondary explosions.
Of course, my assertion that secondary explosions occurred is just as much speculation as Zeusse’s elaborately constructed theory based on a picture one piece of evidence. A catastrophic aircraft loss is a complex event that requires a full analysis to make sense of each piece of evidence. To this Zuesse states, “Only idiots would trust Britain to interpret these black boxes to determine what or who brought down that plane.” Well it must be nice to cavalierly dismiss evidence, even before you see it, simply because you do not like it.
But this remark perfectly illustrates the most debilitating intellectual error made by conspiracy kooks, their shifting standards of evidence. The weakness of their conclusions does not come, as is commonly supposed, because they are ‘ignorant’ or they ‘don’t know anything’. This is not true. Often quite the opposite is true: their heads are positively bursting with facts. It is just that they don’t judge facts dispassionately. The tiniest fact that supports their conclusion is hailed as a world-beating revelation, while, at the same time, entire lines of reasoning and fact are cavalierly dismissed as evidence planted by the Freemasons or the Jews or the neocons.
In this case, the fact that a Ukrainian Air Force IL-76 was shot down on June 14 was ignored, as was a report on June 19 from Russian News agencies that the rebels had acquired a Buk missile system from a captured Ukrainian military base; as was a tweet the same day from rebels confirming the same; as was the downing of a Ukrainian Air Force AN-26 on July 14; as was subsequent social media claims from rebels that it was shot down by a Buk missile; as was the shoot-down of a Ukrainian Air Force Su-25 on July 16; as were eye-witness reports of a Buk M-1 missile system in rebel-held territory operated by men with Russian accents16 km south of the crash site; as was a tweet appearing shortly after the shoot-down from an account of a prominent rebel leader claiming credit for the shootdown, a tweet that was quickly deleted; as is the fact that the range of a BUK M-1 missile (35 km) requires that it must have been fired in rebel-held territory; as was the fact that rebels shot down several aircraft after the MH17 shoot-down; as was the fact that the rebels systematically obstructed crash-site investigation.
Hmm… Ron Unz and Erik Zeusse. Wouldn’t Occam’s Razor conclude that the most likely explanation is that Putin’s ne’er-do-wells in Eastern Ukraine deliberately shot down the Boeing 777 in the mistaken belief that it was a Ukrainian Air Force transport? Wouldn’t the evidence at hand make this explanation so likely that the burden of proof now falls on the proponents of opposing theories to provide the extraordinary evidence now required to make their case?
At this point, the conspiracy kooks reading this might sputter, “oh yeah, well what about global warming, aren’t the experts and authorities wrong there?” Let me tell you Mr. Kook, if the evidence opposing anthropogenic global warming (AGM) were as weak as the case put forward by kooks like Unz and Zeusse, then I would an evangelist for AGM. The reason AGM can today be legitimately doubted is that people like Steve Macintyre went into the weeds with the data and deconstructed the evidence in a rational manner. In other words, they provided the extraordinary evidence required to challenge the scientific establishment. Macintyre isn’t a conspiracy kook who babbles on about dark forces. He makes rational arguments based on a dispassionate analysis of all the evidence. And he has a treasure trove of East Anglia e-mail backing him up.
Until they can do that, the isolationist MH17 truthers should crawl back under the rock they came from and leave normal people be.
John Schindler, over at the XX Committee blog, has the most illuminating article about the current war in the Ukraine I have yet read.
While he has no illusions about the straits that the Ukrainians find themselves in, he also has no illusions about Vladimir Putin, whom he correctly notes is not as strong as he seems. He quotes one of the last remaining independent journalists in Russia, who says:
“Time, that trickiest of strategic concerns, is not on Putin’s side any longer, as Felgenhauer observes accurately, between weather and the Russian military’s conscript cycle:
“There is not much time left. Fall is approaching. The short hours of daylight and low clouds will complicate the matters for the air force. It will have difficulty supporting ground troops — pilots in Su-25 ground-attack planes need to see the targets on the ground. In addition, starting 1 October, it is necessary to conduct a new draft and begin the demobilization of those conscripts who are stationed on the border as part of the artillery battalion groups. It is specifically for these reasons that the question must be resolved now.”
We will know in a few days, then, if Putin has achieved his relatively limited military aims in eastern Ukraine. If he does not manage a quick win, there is every reason to think Ukraine and Russia will become embroiled in a protracted war for which neither Moscow nor Kyiv is ready.”
As I have been saying all along, Putin’s Achilles heel is time. The longer his military operations take, the more unpopular he will get at home. The anti-Putin resistance in the 2012 Presidential election really spooked him, and this is why he is cultivating an us-against-them mentality in Russia. Maybe next time, ballot-box stuffing and a 24/7 non-stop orgy of pro-Putin propaganda on every TV station in Russia won’t be enough.
Schindler’s remedy is spot on:
‘Sanctions will have no short-term impact on Russian behavior at this point. Vaunted Western “soft power” has been run over by Russian tanks. The decision for war has been made in Moscow, and it will be prosecuted until Putin achieves his objectives or the cost — rising numbers of Russian dead — becomes politically prohibitive. Putin knows that the Russian public, heady after the nearly bloodless conquest of Crimea, has no stomach for a costly war of choice with Ukraine, their “Slavic brothers.”’
As I have said, the worst case scenario for Putin is that he gets himself mired in lengthy counterinsurgency operations. In that situation, he will have to mobilize the less-than-elite conscript and reservist units. When conscript sons and reservists called back to active duty start coming home in body bags, Putin’s days in the Kremlin will be numbered. Already, as Schindler points out, “Dead Russian paratroopers are coming home for burial.”
“If the West wants to prevent more Russian aggression and save Ukraine from further Kremlin depredations, it must offer Kyiv armaments, logistics, training, and above all intelligence support without delay. Nothing else will cause Moscow to back down. Only by arming and enabling Ukraine’s military can the West make the cost of Putin’s war prohibitive for Russia. Ukraine’s defense ministry and armed forces require major Western aid to transform its underperforming military from bad Soviet habits to real fighting capability, but that is a long-term enterprise. Right now, Kyiv needs direct military aid. If NATO does not provide it, a wider war for Ukraine becomes more likely by the day, with grave consequences for the European peace that NATO has preserved, at great expense, for sixty-five years.”
This proscription is absolutely right. The sooner the West takes a stand, the better it will be. As in the 1930’s, appeasement only postpones the problem, allowing it to metastasize into something bigger and more terrible. Right now, time is of the essence. If the Ukrainians are backed to the hilt with weapons and training, they will do all the heavy lifting for us. Not because they owe us, but because they have no choice. If we let the Ukraine fall, NATO will have to fight Putin directly – with all the strategic risk that portends.
Anybody but a strategic nincompoop (like Pat Buchanan and the Pauls –father and son) should be able to see that.
Apparently, Vladimir Putin said this to the President of the European Union Commission, “If I want to, I can take Kiev in two weeks.”
If the United States had a real President, he would resound, “Go ahead, and try it. See what happens to you.”
The implication being that Putin would end up with a repeat of the large-scale partisan warfare the Soviet Union faced in the Ukraine after World War II, and that didn’t really end until Stalin died in 1954; except this time with the West funneling material aid to the Ukrainians through neighbouring countries like Poland. One of the lessons military history teaches us about guerilla insurrections is that their chance of success are greatly increased if they have a source of foreign support, support that the Ukrainian freedom fighters lacked the last time around. Occupy the Ukraine and Mr. Putin will spend years on the wrong end of asymmetrical warfare.
Many western commentators have remarked on the great increase in the professionalism of the Russian military since the military reforms of 2008 were enacted. What has not been evident so far to outside observers is that the professionalism of the Russian military has likely not extended past its elite units, like the 76th Airborne Division and the Spetznaz units of the GRU. These are exclusively the forces that have been employed in Georgia, the Crimea and eastern Ukraine – as well as Chechnya. Faced with a lengthy counterinsurgency campaign, Putin will be forced to rotate through conscript and reserve units.
When conscripts and reservists start dying en mass in the Ukrainian hellhole, Putin’s popularity will follow the trajectory of Leopoldo Galtieri – and early 21st century Russian government will follow the trajectory of the Russian Empire after the Battle of Tsushima Strait, and the Soviet Union during the Afghanistan debacle in the 1980’s.
If the United States had a real President, this would be made crystal clear to Putin. Unfortunately, the US currently does not have a real President, and, as Ralph Peters has pointed out, Putin has the current White House inhabitant’s number: zero.
On July 20, I wrote a piece about the shootdown of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 over the Ukraine. Some of the pro-Putin comments I received reminded me of an important intellectual error on the right: isolationism. Specifically, I was reminded about how isolationists start out as nationalists, nativists, and patriots but end up as stooges for nasty foreign powers.
To understand why, one must first examine what isolationism is. Isolationism is the idea that a country should avoid foreign entanglements and commitments, that the only criteria for foreign policy decisions should be a direct cost/benefit valuation for the home country. Another country is in trouble? Fuggettabout it. Given that Canada has always played second fiddle to somebody else – first Great Britain, and then the United States, Americans are more susceptible to isolationism than Canadians are.
In truth, much of the appeal of isolationism is inspired from the loony internationist excesses of the cosmopolitan left. The UN is an obvious popularize of isolationism. In Europe, it is the EU: the biggest failed economic experiment since the fall of the Iron Curtain. The costly failures of the EU and the silliness of the UN make the idea of cutting off foreign entanglements appealing.
Unfortunately, isolationism requires a ruthlessness when thinking about foreign policy that few actual isolationists possess. It is common for isolationists to imagine themselves to be ‘realists’, but in truth, they are not as realistic or tough-minded as they think they are. Among other things, it requires watching strong but bad regimes bully weak but good nations with complete disinterest, nations that have much in common with Canada and the US in terms of the rule of law, property rights, respect for the individual, and democracy. Very few people have the stomach to say, over the Russian attack on Georgia for example, or Russia’s recent attempts at parceling the Ukraine, that this is too bad, that while these are good countries, or alternately are countries aspiring towards Western standards, but it is simply none of our business if a KGB goon like Putin destroys them.
The trouble is, most isolationists cannot bring themselves to make such an honest argument. In short, most isolationists are too good for isolationism.
So, what do they say instead?
Like most people when faced with a moral dilemma, they rationalize. Humans are the greatest rationalizers, never more so when they want to convince themselves that they aren’t so bad. And in their rationalizations, they become toadies.
A good modern example of a modern-day patsy is Pat Buchanan. Isolationism led Buchanan to oppose wars that are fought with at least a partial moral goal. He calls them moral crusades. World War II was a moral crusade; at least it was on the English-speaking side. So, for this reason, Buchanan argues that Britain and the United States shouldn’t have fought the Third Reich. Of course, the Holocaust is a major sticking point in this argument, so he is forced to argue that it wouldn’t have happened if Britain hadn’t ‘provoked’ Germany. This is of course magical thinking, for too many reasons to catalogue. If Buchanan had been an honest isolationist, he would have said, OK, the Holocaust was a really bad thing, but it was none of our business. As cold-blooded as this sounds, the correct course of action would have been for the US to have stepped aside and watched from afar. But Buchanan isn’t cold-blooded enough to take his argument though to its logical conclusion, so he concocts an elaborate alternate history of unicorns dancing around rainbows, with the principal hero of World War II (Churchill) cast as a villain. Such is the folly that you lead yourself into believing when you are not intellectually honest with yourself.
An example from the past was Neville Chamberlain. In his case, it was fear and cowardice, which drove him towards isolationism. He didn’t have the guts to confront Hitler directly, so he sold the Czechs out at Munich, rationalizing that Czechoslovakia was “an obscure country, far away.” In reality, Czechoslovakia had 35 well-equipped divisions posted in terrain ideal for defence. If Hitler had been forced to wage a two-front war in 1938. France would likely not have fallen and World War II would have been a much smaller affair. But the Allies refused to stand up to Hitler until September 1939, and the result was the apocalyptic agony of World War II. Such are the fruits of isolationism.
Even worse, if France had stood up to Hitler in 1936, when he took back the Rhineland, World War II would have been reduced to a month-long policing action.
Back to today’s isolationists. Because they are afraid to confront Putin, they end up pretending that he is a good guy, proclaiming him to be a ‘champion of Western values’. What Western values? Like the KGB, or the Russian mafia, or looting one’s own country. The pattern of behaviour is there for all to see. The apartment house bombings, the War in Chechnya (the conduct of which is known for both its brutality and its ineffectiveness), the Invasion of Georgia, the Invasion of Crimea, and now the chaos in eastern Ukraine. But because they are afraid to see the truth, afraid to be honest enough to admit that their foreign policy preferences enable all of this, they refuse to see it. The byproduct of this self-delusion is a Niagara of rationalized excuses for Putin: Georgia attacked Russia, Crimea is traditionally Russian, and who knows who shot down MH17? Even though Occam’s Razor points straight at Putin, they prefer the deferents and epicycles of isolationsim, er, I mean realism.