Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Vladimir Putin: The World’s Greatest Fool

 

With an eye on Napoleon Bonaparte and his nephew Louis, Karl Marx once observed that history sometimes repeats itself — first, as a tragedy; then, as a farce. Something of the sort can be said of Lenin and Stalin in relation to Vladimir Putin. The current Russian leader is pathetically and dangerously intent on refighting the Cold War. It is, I suppose, the only thing that he knows.

There is nothing that post-Soviet Russia could do that would be more self-destructive than to attempt to re-litigate the verdict reached late in the twentieth century, and that is precisely what Putin is doing.

First came Chechneya. To recover that lost imperial province, Putin had to send the bully boys produced by the old KGB to blow up some apartment blocks in Moscow, kill a few hundred Russian citizens. blame it on the Chechens, and send in the Russian army to level the place and massacre the locals. If you doubt the truth of what I say, you should read The Moscow Bombings of September 1999: Russian Terrorist Tactics at the Onset of Vladimir Putin’s Rule by John Dunlop (whose office is two doors from mine this year at the Hoover Institution). Hardly anyone (apart from Holman Jenkins at The Wall Street Journal) has bothered to read John’s book — which does not fit the predilections of an administration set on a “reset” of relations with Russia — but it leaves little doubt that Putin’s aims and methods are incompatible with our own.

After Chechneya came Georgia. Then, Syria. And, of course, now it is the turn of the Ukraine. Do not kid yourselves. The masked gunmen who seized the Parliament building in the Crimea earlier today were not locals. They were Spetznatz — special-purpose forces — dispatched by Moscow to carry out a coup d’etat and prepare the way for Russia’s seizure of that Ukrainian province, and the odds are tolerably good that they will succeed in doing just that. Vladimir Putin knows that words of warning from Barack Obama mean nothing at all. The only people who have any reason to fear retaliation on the part of the President of the United States are the man’s domestic opponents.

Nor will this stop with the Ukraine. Consider Wednesday’s news:

Russia is planning to expand its permanent military presence outside its borders by placing military bases in a number of foreign countries, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Wednesday.

Shoigu said the list includes Vietnam, Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua, the Seychelles, Singapore and several other countries.

“The talks are under way, and we are close to signing the relevant documents,” Shoigu told reporters in Moscow.

The minister added that the negotiations cover not only military bases but also visits to ports in such countries on favorable conditions as well as the opening of refueling sites for Russian strategic bombers on patrol.

As things stand, the Russians have only one foreign base — at Tartus in Syria. But that is not enough for Barack Obama’s “strategic partner.” Vladimir Putin wants to be remembered as the man who restored Russia to its proper place in the sun as a world power.

There is only one problem with this ambition. Russia does not now have the means by which to pursue it, and it is not going to acquire the requisite means. Even if Putin succeeds in dismembering the Ukraine, he and his country will lose, and they will lose big.

To begin with, they will alienate all of their neighbors in Europe, and they will persuade not just Poland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, the Czech Republic, Roumania, and Slovakia that Russia is a rogue power that must at all costs be weakened and contained. They will persuade the Germans, the Italians, the French, and the British that their neighbors to the East are right. And this means that NATO will be rejuvenated, and that the Europeans will once again look to us for leadership.

That is one problem. There is another. The Russians do not have the economic base requisite for such an assertion of power. Russia is a banana republic with nuclear weapons. Economically, it is almost as dependent on resource extraction as Saudi Arabia, and the pertinent resource is slowly being depleted. In effect, Putin’s Russians are eating their seed-corn. They could have liberalized the Russian economy. They could have drawn closer and closer to the European Union with an eye to joining it eventually. They could have reinvested the profits from their sale of oil and gas in industry. They could have prepared for a future in which they will have little in the way of oil and gas to sell. Instead, they are wasting their resources on ships, planes, and soldiers that they do not need and cannot to good effect use.

At the same time, Putin’s Russia is ignoring the only strategic threat it faces. The United States is not Russia’s enemy. It is not even a rival. We once had an interest in containing and dismembering the Soviet empire in eastern Europe and the Soviet Union itself. We have no interest in further reducing Russia’s extent; and, insofar as we see Russia as a potential trading partner, our interest lies in Russian economic development. The same can be said even more emphatically for Germany, France, Britain, and the other countries in Europe.

There is, however, one country with an imperial past and a renewed craving for empire that has territorial ambitions which make of it a threat to Russia, and that country is China. Russia is suffering a demographic implosion. It will be difficult for it to hold what it has. It is, moreover, well nigh impossible to get Russians to move to Siberia. It is not a pleasant place in which to live. The majority of those who live there today are not Russian. Many of them are Chinese who have journeyed north in search of well-paid work; and China, which is just across the border from Siberia, is an economic juggernaut increasingly desperate for resources of the very sort that are found in abundance in Siberia.

Vladimir Putin should think hard about the precedent he is setting in the Crimea. The day may come when China does to Russia in Siberia what he is trying to do right now to the Ukraine in the Crimea. Putin’s government piously states that its only concern is to protect the majority Russian population in the Crimea from the Tatars and the Ukrainians there. China, in time, will say the like about the Chinese in Siberia. And when that day comes, he will have alienated everyone of any significance who might otherwise have rallied to Russia’s defense.

Our aim for the past seven decades has been to reorder the world in such a fashion as to make war counter-productive. The name of the game is commerce. The weapon we deploy is simple and powerful. Those who agree to leave their neighbors alone and to allow freedom of commerce can profit from a a world-wide economic system that will enrich everyone. Those who buck that system and opt for imperial ventures will be contained, weakened, and defeated.

This is a lesson that France and Germany have taken to heart. But Vladimir Putin is simply too dumb to notice. He is a product of Russia’s attempt to imitate Charles V of Spain, Louis XIV and Napoleon Bonaparte of France, and Adolf Hitler of Germany in attempting to establish a universal monarchy in Europe and beyond. They failed, as did Joseph Stalin and his successors, and Putin, who has forgotten nothing that the Soviets taught and learned nothing from the failure of the old Soviet Union, will fail as well. In failing, moreover, this product of the old KGB will do his long-suffering compatriots a great deal of unnecessary harm.

In folly, in today’s world, there is no one to compare with Vladimir the Great!

There are 35 comments.

  1. Dan Hanson Thatcher

    The time to solve this is now, through the use of hard diplomacy. But the Obama administration doesn’t have the spine or the strategic insight to do it. 

    Crimea is a difficult problem, but the U.S. should react to Putin’s plan to put Russian military bases around the world by immediately announcing something that Putin can’t tolerate – new missile defense installations in Europe, offers of military assistance to Ukraine or other threatened states, whatever. In the cold war, this kind of tit-for-tat was done all the time to force one side to back down from a particularly offensive aggression. Reagan used those tactics to great effect against the Soviet Union.

    Threats and speeches at the U.N. become self-parodying when they’re followed up with nothing but more speeches. At some point, you have to actually inflict discomfort on the other side if you hope to get them to the bargaining table. The Obama administration has a hard time with that.

    • #1
    • February 28, 2014, at 2:25 AM PST
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  2. Nick Stuart Inactive

    We can be glad that we have the firm hand of Barack Obama on the tiller, and his cool and sagacious head charting our course.

    • #2
    • February 28, 2014, at 5:39 AM PST
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  3. Lash LaRoche Inactive
    Paul A. Rahe: Vladimir Putin knows that words of warning from Barack Obama mean nothing at all. The only people who have any reason to fear retaliation on the part of the President of the United States are the man’s domestic opponents.

    Brilliant!

    • #3
    • February 28, 2014, at 5:43 AM PST
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  4. Danny Alexander Member

    The Karl Marx-source observation brings to mind one of current-day vintage but in much the same category. Indeed it’s possible that I saw it here on Ricochet (and apologize for the “borrowing” if this is so).

    The observation goes like this:

    The political gestalt of each of the major FSU states is a reflection of the formative experiences of their current-day leaders. To wit,

    Russia, as a police state these days, reflects Putin’s KGB “upbringing.”

    Belarus, as a suffocating Soviet-style throwback, reflects Lukashenko’s “upbringing” in the managerial hierarchy of collective farms.

    Ukraine, now struggling to throw off the shackles of a prison-like existence, reflects the felony incarceration background Yanukovych brought to his “presidency.”

    All of which leads me to add this:

    The United States of America — its true civil rights yanked hither and thither by willfully misleading declamations about the essence and proper/permissible allocation of same, and its genuine sources of wealth depleted by shakedown artists who function, in effect, as the cats’ paws of crony capitalists — at present reflects the Chicago South Side community organizer “credentials” Barack Obama has brought and applied to his actions as so-called “Chief Executive.” 

    • #4
    • February 28, 2014, at 5:44 AM PST
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  5. Nathan Harden Contributor

    Paul, c’mon. W looked into Putin’s soul, remember?

    • #5
    • February 28, 2014, at 5:47 AM PST
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  6. The Mugwump Inactive

    The Soviets committed numerous and horrendous crimes against their own populace, but none so ruthless as aborting entire generations of the unborn. The Russians might be the first people in history to cull themselves out of existence. Russia faces a demographic death spiral from which at this point there is no return. The Turkic peoples are having children. I wonder what St. Basil’s will look like festooned with minarets? Hagia Sophia in miniature? Tragedy and farce in equal measure by my reckoning.

    • #6
    • February 28, 2014, at 6:06 AM PST
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  7. John Walker Contributor
    Paul A. Rahe:

    But Vladimir Putin is simply too dumb to notice.

    Perhaps…but what it looks like to me is more of a visceral cunning. He knows his demographics are in a death spiral, that the only part of his population who are reproducing themselves are non-Russians outside the Russian cultural tradition, and that the Chinese regard the depopulating resource-rich vastness of Siberia with envious eyes.

    So, given that, when will be a better time to act than the present? Why not be aggressive in securing the near abroad? Russia’s economic and military prowess is a wasting asset, diminishing with every year. And potential push-back seems at present to be in a state of max feckless, which may not persist forever.

    Russia has, in fact, established effective sovereignty over Chechnya, and is in control of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, severed from Georgia. Why would Putin not expect to succeed in a similar operation in the Crimea, where Sevastopol has long been a key Russian naval asset?

    • #7
    • February 28, 2014, at 6:20 AM PST
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  8. Mallard Inactive

    The other thing that may be pushing him to act is the three year window remaining of Obama’s term. He is aware that the long term pattern is for the White House to change parties after a tw0-termer. He must act quickly before a spine arrives in the Oval Office.

    • #8
    • February 28, 2014, at 6:27 AM PST
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  9. Paul A. Rahe Contributor
    Paul A. Rahe Post author
    Nathan Harden: Paul, c’mon. W looked into Putin’s soul, remember? · 34 minutes ago

    I also remember Jesse Jackson saying, “I looked into Bill Clinton’s eyes, and all that I saw was appetite.”

    And, hey, Jesse knows a thing or two about appetite.

    • #9
    • February 28, 2014, at 6:29 AM PST
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  10. Paul A. Rahe Contributor
    Paul A. Rahe Post author
    John Walker
    Paul A. Rahe:

    But Vladimir Putin is simply too dumb to notice.

    Perhaps…but what it looks like to me is more of a visceral cunning. He knows his demographics are in a death spiral, that the only part of his population who are reproducing themselves are non-Russians outside the Russian cultural tradition, and that the Chinese regard the depopulating resource-rich vastness of Siberia with envious eyes.

    So, given that, when will be a better time to act than the present? Why not be aggressive in securing the near abroad? Russia’s economic and military prowess is a wasting asset, diminishing with every year. And potential push-back seems at present to be in a state of max feckless, which may not persist forever.

    Russia has, in fact, established effective sovereignty over Chechnya, and is in control of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, severed from Georgia. Why would Putin not expect to succeed in a similar operation in the Crimea, where Sevastopol has long been a key Russian naval asset? · 8 minutes ago

    To what end? He alienates all of his potential allies against China. No one was going to intefere against Sevastopol.

    • #10
    • February 28, 2014, at 6:31 AM PST
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  11. Paul A. Rahe Contributor
    Paul A. Rahe Post author
    Danny Alexander: The Karl Marx-source observation brings to mind one of current-day vintage but in much the same category. . . . .

    The observation goes like this:

    The political gestalt of each of the major FSU states is a reflection of the formative experiences of their current-day leaders. To wit,

    Russia, as a police state these days, reflects Putin’s KGB “upbringing.”

    Belarus, as a suffocating Soviet-style throwback, reflects Lukashenko’s “upbringing” in the managerial hierarchy of collective farms.

    Ukraine, now struggling to throw off the shackles of a prison-like existence, reflects the felony incarceration background Yanukovych brought to his “presidency.”

    All of which leads me to add this:

    The United States of America — its true civil rights yanked hither and thither by willfully misleading declamations about the essence and proper/permissible allocation of same, and its genuine sources of wealth depleted by shakedown artists who function, in effect, as the cats’ paws of crony capitalists — at present reflects the Chicago South Side community organizer “credentials” Barack Obama has brought and applied to his actions as so-called “Chief Executive.” · 46 minutes ago

    Edited 45 minutes ago

    Telling.

    • #11
    • February 28, 2014, at 6:33 AM PST
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  12. RushBabe49 Thatcher

    Here is a description of the Russian army, in a book I am reading:

    It was a system of brutalization at the hands of drunken noncoms and officers. It was daily beatings with fists and chairs, standing naked in freezing weather and the least sign of intelligence stamped out. It was a system that produced soldiers who went AWOL, strung themselves up by their belts or traded their weapons for vodka.

    Does that sound like a fighting force? I get the idea that the average Russian is demoralized, with very little to live for or get excited about; besides being full-blown or borderline alcoholic. I feel very sorry for the Russian people, who never really got a good taste of liberty after the fall of the Soviet Union.

    • #12
    • February 28, 2014, at 6:42 AM PST
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  13. Roberto, Crusty Old Timer Member
    RushBabe49: Here is a description of the Russian army, in a book I am reading:

    It was a system of brutalization at the hands of drunken noncoms and officers. It was daily beatings with fists and chairs, standing naked in freezing weather and the least sign of intelligence stamped out. It was a system that produced soldiers who went AWOL, strung themselves up by their belts or traded their weapons for vodka.

    Does that sound like a fighting force? 

    When was the book printed? 

    For the past few years a reorganization/modernization effort has been one of Putin’s priorities. The structure of the military itself has been altered moving to a more focused brigade structure, changing the proportion of officers/NCOs/conscripts in order to create a more professional force.

    It is still early days but I would say the current capabilities of Russian forces are a bit of a question mark and we cannot truly judge them based on weaknesses exposed after the fall of the Soviet Union. 

    • #13
    • February 28, 2014, at 6:56 AM PST
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  14. Marion Evans Inactive

    As the great American philosopher Clint Eastwood once said: “A man’s got to know his limitations.”

    Here is the clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_VrFV5r8cs0

    • #14
    • February 28, 2014, at 7:02 AM PST
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  15. Brian McMenomy Inactive

    We won’t have Tom Clancy’s The Bear and the Dragon reenacted; no US President would see any value in getting between two large land armies in Siberia. Instead, we would likely see significant Chinese success (Russia doesn’t have the transportation infrastructure to get reinforcements to the region quickly, a la Germany in WW1). The question would then be; what will Russia do? Attempt a long, protracted delaying action? Beg/blackmail the West for assistance? Use unconventional (read nuclear) weapons to deny the Chinese their prize? Putin would be much wiser if he saw to the repair of his eastern defenses & transportation infrastructure rather than trying to reconstitute the Russian Empire (much less the USSR). He would preserve actual Russian territory, while preventing (or forestalling) a cataclysm. Of course, as Prof. Rahe says, the chances of Putin following that course of action are somewhere between slim & none.

    • #15
    • February 28, 2014, at 7:09 AM PST
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  16. Dan Hanson Thatcher

    Putin may be starting a losing gambit, but don’t underestimate the amount of destruction he can cause before the inevitable fall. Germany made a foolhardy gambit when it opened a second front with the Soviets, and the Japanese were crazy to attack America. Imperialism carries its own logic, and we would be wise not to succumb to attribution error and assume that Putin thinks like we do.

    Putin comes from a background of force and thuggery, and has gotten to the position he’s in by knowing when to take advantage of his enemy’s weaknesses. And that’s what he’s doing right now. He may know that he’s undertaking a big risk, but he also knows America has an incompetent hand-wringing fool for a president, and the window of opportunity presented by that fact will not be open forever.

    • #16
    • February 28, 2014, at 7:09 AM PST
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  17. OkieSailor Member

    In the short run Germany or France will neither one stand up to Russia because they need Russian gas and they don’t really care much what happens to eastern Europe. So it makes sense from Putin’s position to move now to seal Russia’s sphere of influence while he can easily get away with it. The sad fact for Ukraine is that it is a divided county, the west is European, the east and Crimea are Russian/Asian. And they are ruled by the oligarchs who will not allow democratic liberty to develop. they are also dependent on Russian gas. So it is ludicrous for president Obama to talk tough about consequences when everyone knows nothing will be done. Why did he do this? I think it is because he is a bully (“If Congress won’t act I will. I have a pen and I have a phone.” Is just one example.) Bullies bluster and threaten to intimidate the weak. They seldom intend to follow through, but until their bluff is called, the intimidation works. Putin knows what is going on here, so he just ignores the empty threats. Pathetic.

    • #17
    • February 28, 2014, at 7:28 AM PST
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  18. Valiuth Member

    Frankly, Russian hints at an anschluss of Crimea convince me that the current Russian state needs to be dismantled and broken apart even further than was done with the fracturing of the USSR. Russia needs to beaten down until it no longer can or wants to threaten its neighbors. 

    Unlike Nazi regime of Germany that was defeated and discredited to its own people the USSR was only defeated. The Russians have never once apologized or sought to deal with the ramifications of their totalitarian past. Clearly our defeat of the USSR was not complete enough. 

    A Russian take over of Crimea may have the Europeans scrambling back into NATO, but Obama isn’t going to provide any kind of leadership. I think the Europeans need to realize that they are very likely on their own. I just hope they keep it together long enough for some competent American leadership. 

    • #18
    • February 28, 2014, at 7:49 AM PST
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  19. Richard Fulmer Member
    Paul A. Rahe
    John Walker
    Paul A. Rahe:

    But Vladimir Putin is simply too dumb to notice.

    Perhaps…but what it looks like to me is more of a visceral cunning. He knows his demographics are in a death spiral, that the only part of his population who are reproducing themselves are non-Russians outside the Russian cultural tradition, and that the Chinese regard the depopulating resource-rich vastness of Siberia with envious eyes.

    So, given that, when will be a better time to act than the present? Why not be aggressive in securing the near abroad? Russia’s economic and military prowess is a wasting asset, diminishing with every year. And potential push-back seems at present to be in a state of max feckless, which may not persist forever…

    To what end?

    Perhaps he understands that Russia will eventually have to concede Siberia to the Chinese, and is looking to grab “compensation” while he can. Siberia does have extensive natural resources, but so does Ukraine.

    • #19
    • February 28, 2014, at 8:05 AM PST
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  20. Douglas Inactive

    Putin is not trying to re-fight the Cold War. Putin doesn’t give a rat’s rear about Communism, especially spreading it across the word. Putin has no Comintern. Putin’s fight pre-dates the Cold War and everything it was about. Putin’s fight is pure, European power politics. Russia wants Ukraine, the cradle of Russian civilization, and Belarus,”White Russia”, back into the Motherland. And they’ll get it. They’ll try to dominate their traditional sphere of influence… Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia, etc… but tanks aren’t coming through the Fulda Gap. Russians just aren’t interested in that. And the notion of Germany suddenly wanting a revival of NATO and American military power in Europe? LOL. No, not going to happen. NATO will continue to shrink and drift away. Germany wants no part of increasing militarization, for any reason. Nor do their Dutch, Belgian, Spanish, Italian, and Scandavian neighbors. As for the China threat, Putin knows it’s there, he just knows they’re nowhere near ready to move on Siberia yet. He’s preparing for it. He knows it’s coming in the future. But for now, China is a useful ally against the US.

    • #20
    • February 28, 2014, at 8:18 AM PST
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  21. Viator Member

    He’s not as big a fool as our fool.

    • #21
    • February 28, 2014, at 9:13 AM PST
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  22. James Lileks Contributor
    RushBabe49: Here is a description of the Russian army, in a book I am reading:

    It was a system of brutalization at the hands of drunken noncoms and officers. It was daily beatings with fists and chairs, standing naked in freezing weather and the least sign of intelligence stamped out. It was a system that produced soldiers who went AWOL, strung themselves up by their belts or traded their weapons for vodka.

    Does that sound like a fighting force? I get the idea that the average Russian is demoralized, with very little to live for or get excited about; besides being full-blown or borderline alcoholic. 

    I remember reading a book in the 80s called “The Threat,” by Andrew Cockburn; it concerned the myriad problems with the Red Army, but also had an amusing quote from Edward Luttwak: “Drunk they defeated Napoleon. Drunk they beat Hitler. Drunk they could win against NATO.”

    • #22
    • February 28, 2014, at 9:52 AM PST
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  23. Paul A. Rahe Contributor
    Paul A. Rahe Post author
    Douglas: Putin is not trying to re-fight the Cold War. . . . Putin’s fight is pure, European power politics. Russia wants Ukraine, the cradle of Russian civilization, and Belarus,”White Russia”, back into the Motherland. And they’ll get it. . . · 1 hour ago

    You are surely right that he is a nationalist, not a communist. Many of the Soviets were just that. From their perspective, communism was a vehicle for asserting Russian power and grandeur. Putin regards his country’s loss of the Cold War as one of the worst events in human history and has said so with some frequency. In that sense, his aim is to reverse that loss, and we are the enemy. In the process, he will show western Europe that they need a defense and that building up Russia is dangerous. When China strikes, no one in Europe will care one whit. The Europeans may even cheer. He is a fool.

    • #23
    • February 28, 2014, at 10:01 AM PST
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  24. Paul A. Rahe Contributor
    Paul A. Rahe Post author
    Jackal: So what makes Putin a fool is that he is not planning for a Chinese invasion of Siberia? That sounds like quite a stretch. . . . 

    Balanced against that is a possible threat someday from China going into Siberia. Do we really think Russia would not fight back if China did that? Are nukes somehow irrelevant nowadays? Who would be cheering such a war (any war) with Russia and China? · 9 hours ago

    Will American, French, and British nuclear weapons matter if Russia moves into the Crimea? If a “local” uprising in Siberia gets in the way of Russian control, if the population there is overwhelmingly non-Russian, and if China offers the uprising protection, will Russian nuclear weapons matter?

    With his eyes firmly fixed on the past, Putin is alienating those who might rally to the defense of Russia’s territorial integrity. Russia is an economically and militarily weak state, and in relative terms it will grow economically weaker year by year. It is also facing a demographic implosion. Every year, there are one million fewer Russians. It is biting off more than, in the long run, it can chew.

    • #24
    • February 28, 2014, at 10:01 AM PST
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  25. Paul A. Rahe Contributor
    Paul A. Rahe Post author
    Dan Hanson: The time to solve this is now, through the use of hard diplomacy. But the Obama administration doesn’t have the spine or the strategic insight to do it. 

    Crimea is a difficult problem, but the U.S. should react to Putin’s plan to put Russian military bases around the world by immediately announcing something that Putin can’t tolerate – new missile defense installations in Europe, offers of military assistance to Ukraine or other threatened states, whatever. In the cold war, this kind of tit-for-tat was done all the time to force one side to back down from a particularly offensive aggression. Reagan used those tactics to great effect against the Soviet Union.

    Threats and speeches at the U.N. become self-parodying when they’re followed up with nothing but more speeches. At some point, you have to actually inflict discomfort on the other side if you hope to get them to the bargaining table. The Obama administration has a hard time with that. · 7 hours ago

    Economic sanctions can also be useful in a situation like this.

    • #25
    • February 28, 2014, at 10:03 AM PST
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  26. Paul A. Rahe Contributor
    Paul A. Rahe Post author
    Viator: He’s not as big a fool as our fool. · 52 minutes ago

    Actually, I think that he is an even bigger fool. Ours will leave us weaker but in a position to rebound. He will leave Russia much, much weaker, isolated, and apt to lose territory of vital importance to the country’s well-being. Putin can posture on the world stage, but Russia does not have the economic base to sustain the effort. It is economically stagnant. The population of Russians is declining rapidly. The country faces a genuine strategic threat, and it is ignoring threat and creating trouble for itself where there need be no trouble.

    Don’t get me wrong. I regard Barack Obama also as a fool. With firm support from libertarians such as a Chuck Hagel, he is, at a time of growing danger in the Far East, circumscribing our capacity to project power. But, I believe, we can weather the troubles he is creating. I doubt that Russia can. Banana republics cannot afford overreach.

    • #26
    • February 28, 2014, at 10:14 AM PST
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  27. Douglas Inactive
    James Lileks
     

    I remember reading a book in the 80s called “The Threat,” by Andrew Cockburn; it concerned the myriad problems with the Red Army, but also had an amusing quote from Edward Luttwak: “Drunk they defeated Napoleon. Drunk they beat Hitler. Drunk they could win against NATO.” · 13 minutes ago

    I bought that book assuming it was a serious analysis of Soviet military power. What I remember after reading it was it being one long screed about how the Soviets were weak as kittens and how the American military industrial complex were using them as a boogieman to justify the purchase of useless weapons (when we could be spending it on social programs!). I was a teenager at the time, and didn’t know anything about the Cockburn family. After I learned about them, the book made more sense. I was really PO’d, because I bought it through a military book club, and apparently, they had no idea that it was an anti-western military book by a British Marxist. They probably just saw a tank on the cover and offered it for sale.

    • #27
    • February 28, 2014, at 10:17 AM PST
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  28. Terry Mott Member

    With respect Professor, while I agree with most of what you’ve written here, I believe you overstate the importance of European opinion to Russia in both the short- and long-term. Assuming things shake out as you’ve outlined and China makes a move toward parts of Siberia, I don’t see where European moral disapproval toward China would carry much weight. What would Europe do beyond make some frowny-faced speeches at the U.N. and maybe impose some weak, short-lived economic sanctions? They’d probably do these things regardless of the state of Ukraine’s independence. Making the frowns more frowny and the sanctions a little stiffer wouldn’t be that much of a deterrent.

    Put simply, Putin has the guts and resolve to do as he’s doing. He doesn’t worry about isolation, and I suspect he’s correct in his analysis — I doubt Europe collectively has the guts and resolve to make him pay much of a price.

    • #28
    • February 28, 2014, at 11:03 AM PST
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  29. Solon Inactive

    This may be irrelevant to this thread, but I was wondering: What about the fact that there were no terror attacks in the Olympics? Doesn’t that make Putin look good right now? Or did that maybe just make him over-confident in terms of throwing Russia’s weight around at this point in time?

    • #29
    • February 28, 2014, at 11:03 AM PST
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  30. Douglas Wingate Inactive

    If we can trust Index Mundi’s figures, Vladimir Putin had just under 17 million men in the range between 20 and 35 years of age in 2013, which I’ll use as a proxy for fighting age. In 2028, he or his successor will have just under 11 million men in that age range. By that crude measure, he 2.4 percent of his forces per year, so if he’s aggressive, he must also feel some urgency.

    • #30
    • February 28, 2014, at 11:26 AM PST
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