On 25th October 1854, during the Battle of Balaclava, 670 British soldiers under the command of Lord Cardigan, launched an ill-fated attack upon a well-defended Russian artillery battery and sustained 40 percent casualties in the form of approximately 120 killed, and at least 160 wounded. Fifty were taken prisoner. Also killed were 375 horses. The carnage must have been unimaginable. For most of us, anyway.More
Welcome to the 1930s, Comrade. The Ukrainian language is now forbidden in Crimea. That’s not all that the Russian government has forbidden there. The Ukrainian Orthodox and Catholic Churches are also forbidden. The forbidden list also includes Ukrainian political parties and Ukrainian-language media. History is repeating itself in the Russian ethnic cleansing of Crimea.
The ethnic cleansing is not restricted to Ukrainians. Crimean Tatars who returned to Crimea decades after the mass deportations ordered by Josef Stalin have been targeted as well. In 2016, the Russian government banned Crimean Tatar organizations. One activist, Ervin Ibragimov, was abducted in May 2016; his whereabouts are unknown to this day. Ukrainian activists have also been abducted and disappeared as well.More
Graham Allison, an entirely reputable scholar of International Affairs at Harvard University, and Dimitri K. Simes, president of the Center for the National Interest, recently published a piece reminding us that Russia is a nuclear power “capable of literally erasing the United States from the map.”
And while most Americans dismiss the possibility of a US-Russian war, they do not:More
At the Hoover Institution, we’ve just released a new set of podcasts from our Strategika series on military history and foreign policy (subscribe to Strategika on iTunes here). We begin this series — which focuses on Russia and Ukraine — with a conversation with the great Victor Davis Hanson, who, amongst his many other accolades, chairs the Military History/Contemporary Conflict Working Group at Hoover that produces Strategika. In this episode, Victor attempts to get inside Vladimir Putin’s mind: analyzing his motivations, his ultimate goals, and the possible means of deterring him.More
In a new piece I have up at Forbes, I lay out exactly what’s at stake for the West with Vladimir Putin’s continued aggression in Ukraine. In short, Putin wants nothing less than to unravel NATO. The U.S. has been decidedly unhelpful in assisting Ukraine, even though our allies there are much more reliable than the ones we’ve been arming in Syria, Iraq, and Libya. So what should Ukraine do now? My suggestion:
If I were Ukraine, I might concede Donbass and Crimea on a de facto but not de jure basis. Russia will not let them go under present circumstances. Let the Donbass (or that part that it presently holds) be a problem for Russia and the separatists to contend with; don’t let its self-appointed leaders dictate Ukrainian policy. When the time is right, the Donbass can come back into the fold. I would maintain a formidable standing army to defend the remaining Ukrainian provinces that have come to hate Putin’s Russia with a vengeance. I imagine that Odessa, Kiev, Zaporozhe and Lviv will make short change of self-appointed Muscovites when they arrive to proclaim new people’s republics. Who knows? If active hostilities ended, maybe even Barack Obama would supply defensive weapons. He’s good at shutting the gate after the horse has bolted.
In our recent conversation for Uncommon Knowledge, I asked the Hoover Institution’s Michael McFaul — only a few months removed from his tenure as the US Ambassador to Russia — what advice he would give Vladimir Putin if he were guaranteed the Russian president would listen. Here’s how he answered:
I chose that word carefully: idolisation. We in the West are enthusiastically and appropriately critical of our own leaders. That is fair enough, given the amount of ammunition with which they provide us. But we seem to view the enemies of the West as super-beings, chess masters in a real world board game.
Based on much of the media coverage, you’d think that Vladimir Putin has manipulated things ever so cleverly, whereas the reality is that he has messed up big time.More
Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula and its continuing military pressure on Ukraine demonstrates that the United Nations-centered system of international law has failed. The pressing question is not whether Russia has violated norms against aggression – it has – but how the United States and its allies should respond in a way that will strengthen the international system.
It should be clear that Russia has violated the U.N. Charter’s restrictions on the use of force. It has resorted to “the use of force against the territorial integrity” and “political independence” of Ukraine in violation of Article 2(4) of the Charter’s founding principles. Russia has trampled on the fundamental norm that the United States and its allies have built since the end of World War II: that nations cannot use force to change borders unilaterally.More
Fred Cole’s post, “Thoughts on a Libertarian Solution to the Crisis in the Crimea,” posted yesterday, has sparked an energetic conversation in the comments—a success in that regard and well worth reading. But while libertarian thoughts were aired, *SPOILER ALERT* those thoughts were not woven into a solution.More
I have to take issue with Ron Paul’s extolling the virtues of the recent independence vote in the Crimea. While independence may be the mood of the citizens of the Crimea, a vote to join the country that has just invaded and occupied you, while the troops are still there, is illegitimate. The Crimea vote a scam. Self-determination is great thing. More places should declare their independence from far-away capitals, as Venice has recently done. But such a vote should never be done at barrel of a gun.
Russian actions during the current crisis are unacceptable.
Russian actions during the current crisis are unacceptable.
For those who believe that the recent annexation of Crimea by Russia might actually unite Americans of all ideological stripes in opposition to the thuggishness of the Putin regime, I give you this piece by editors of the Nation. It shows that even now, in the immediate aftermath of the annexation, while historical memories are still fresh, there are those who are willing to rewrite current events in order to advance a narrative filled with desperate attempts to explain away unjustified Russian bellicosity. And of course, it ought to surprise no one that the editors are willing to put forth false attempts at establishing moral equivalence in order to leave readers with the idea that the United States is really at fault in this story.
The urgent issue today is to stop the drift toward hot war. Yes, Vladimir Putin’s annexation of Crimea trespasses on international law, though it is difficult to bear US officials’ invocation of a principle that Washington itself has often violated (see, most recently, Kosovo and Iraq, the latter now marking the eleventh anniversary of an illegal US invasion and occupation). Financial and visa sanctions, while inflicting a cost on Russia, will not deter Moscow. As Putin argued in his March 18 speech before the Russian Federal Assembly, Russia feels “cornered” and has been repeatedly “deceived” by the West—particularly Washington—since the Soviet Union broke apart more than two decades ago, especially in light of the expansion of NATO to its borders.
The typical conservative criticism of the Obama Administration’s foreign policy — one yours truly has indulged on repeated occasions — is that it fails to account for willful aggression. Under the White House’s reading of the world, there are no animosities, just misunderstandings. Given this line of reasoning, the imperative of international relations is not so much deterring hostility as it is lifting our antagonists out of their false consciousness.
There are two varieties of liberal rejoinders to this proposition. The more forceful rebuttal is that this is nothing more than a caricature, a confusion of diplomatic subtlety with outright weakness. The more guarded version concedes that the president may have been naive in his earlier days, but has developed a more sophisticated reading of the world in office. Evidence for either is hard to find in the interview the president gave to CBS’s Scott Pelley this week, as reported by Politico:More
Last week, a colleague and I were having a broad-ranging conversation over lunch, highlighted by some armchair analysis of the recent Russian aggression and subterfuge in the Ukraine sprinkled with our shared concern over the trade-off between entitlement and defense spending, particularly over the next decade. A key issue raised in that discussion was trying to assess the point where perception becomes reality with regard to the diminishing influence the Unites States has on world affairs. At that point, my friend said flatly, “we are losing the peace.”
I had to stop and think a moment, because my first reaction was that he was overstating the case. The United States is still a force to be reckoned with in world affairs economically and militarily. And yet, as the week wore on, I began thinking about the “signals” that have sent to our allies, the public announcements of dates-of-withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan, our “leading from behind” resulting in failed states across North Africa (Libya, primarily), our canceling of missile defense deals in Europe, and our dithering in the face of Chinese and Russian adventurism. And now the Chinese and Russians are upping their game in Latin America? Haven’t we been here before? Suddenly, I find myself quite open to the idea that we are at risk of losing the peace.More
Even if President Obama demonstrated an appetite for imposing serious sanctions on Russia, it’s not at all clear that the European Union would support him. Why? From the London Spectator:
[T]he gaping rift between the EU and America stands exposed. The Washington hawks gained almost no traction in western Europe, where there was little appetite for conflict. Even if Russia didn’t supply a third of Europe’s oil and gas, other commercial ties still bind. EU trade with Russia was £280 billion in 2012. America’s total was a twelfth of that, little of it in hydrocarbons. No wonder the hawks have been frustrated that the EU won’t do more.
Three weeks ago, in a Ricochet post, I suggested that Russia’s President is a clown, posturing in a manner apt to do his country and his own standing enormous harm. “Vladimir Putin,” I wrote, “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.” Then, I explained,
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 my open letter to our own Paul Rahe the other day, I noted a problem for our side with events in Ukraine: Although Viktor Yanukovych, the now former president, had won his office in a free election, he had been overthrown by what amounted to a mob—a mob that was on our side, but a mob all the same.
I was correct that Yanukovich had been duly elected. But in saying he’d been tossed out by a mob—in suggesting, in short, that he’d been forced from office by a mere convulsion, without regard to constitutional processes or democratic legitimacy—I was thoroughly mistaken. From Timothy Snyder’s overview of events in the New York Review of Books:More
In his speech annexing the Crimea yesterday, Russian President Putin complained that when the Soviet Union became defunct back in 1991, “[m]illions of Russians went to bed in one country and woke up in another.” Herewith, three minutes and twenty-three seconds suggesting that Russians, like all Europeans, had a thousand years in which to get used to the experience.More
Or why only the French can stop Putin.
I am only 5’7” tall, 5’8” on warmer days or when I feel magnanimous. One day, soon after my wife and I started dating, she was in one of her it-is-better-to-be-honest-than-tactful moods, and she casually observed that I was the shortest boyfriend she had ever had. Since my height was a pre-existing condition, I was eminently prepared to face down this abject rebellion and I immediately shot back that I was “tall inside.” The trick worked and we have been married for over 10 years. This is what short guys do. We act and talk tall in the hope that other people will not notice or care. We also adopt some defensive measures, such as avoiding parties where everyone is standing up in close quarters. Dinner parties are so much more civilized anyway.
Another thing we enjoy more than the average American is overseas travel. This is so not only because cattle…uh, coach class on airlines feels roomier to us, but also, more importantly, because people in most other countries are shorter than Americans. Standing tall in the Tokyo subway a decade ago, I marveled at my unrestricted panoramic view of bobbing Japanese heads on their way to work. And then, there is France. The French are not as short as the Japanese, but they are short enough. A persistent theory claims that Napoleon culled the tall gene by recruiting the tallest for his endless battles at the four corners of Europe.
Which brings us nicely to the Napoleon-Hitler-Putin axis of history. Do you see a pattern here? Napoleon was short (5’6”), Hitler was short (5’8”), Putin is shorter (5’5”). Why is it always a short guy? Napoleon and Hitler set Europe aflame. If you think Putin is not as bad, it is only because you lack imagination. Or maybe you are blind. He participated in the destruction of a city inside Russia, Grozny in Chechnya (2000), and invaded two countries, Georgia (2008) and Ukraine (2014). He also bears some responsibility for the devastation of Syria (2011-2014). And, by the way, he does not particularly dislike Syrians. He had no reason to feel any envy or anger towards them. Just think what he would do to Americans if he could. Use your imagination. Assume the worst. And be pleasantly surprised if you are wrong. That is better than being naïve and hoping for the best.
Now, Putin may not completely live up to his Hitlerian potential. An accident may happen. One day, a pet tiger may not take kindly to the smug humanoid fondling his luxurious coat to impress the cameras. Or he may fall off his horse or suffer hypothermia while bathing in a Siberian lake and be thus incapacitated. Or Pussy Riot may organize a simultaneous revolt across all of Russia’s nine time zones. That would be unfortunate, but here is a simple truth that is not always heeded: it can be reckless and dangerous to toy with unpredictable great forces such as wild animals, mother nature, angry women, and… well, the United States of America. But enough fantasy. Back to reality.
The reality is not only that Putin is short but that Russia is also “short.” I am not the kind of guy who can afford to pick a fight in a bar. And Russia today is not the kind of country that can afford to pick a fight with a superpower. Maybe the Russians are hoping that we will not notice. Maybe they are diverting our attention from their 12,600 miles of land borders, which are largely indefensible save through the threat of nuclear weapons. Maybe they are acting tall, or telling us that they are “tall inside.” Maybe that is why they are trying to rally more populous countries like China and India against us. It is no accident that Putin thanked both of these countries for their understanding just yesterday while he signed the annexation of Crimea. Ok, but problem! China probably wants Siberia and India is our friend.
Russia’s numbers speak for themselves. It has a population of 145 million people, expected to fall to 126 million by 2050 (UN estimates). It has the GDP of Italy (are you afraid of Italy?) and is very dependent on its energy resources. If oil fell to, say, $50 per barrel and stayed there for a few months, Putin would be more reasonable about Crimea. At $40, the Chinese would clear their throat about Siberia. And at $30, the Japanese would cough twice about the Kuril Islands. Remember that Putin’s last invasion (of Georgia) occurred in 2008, shortly after oil hit a record $150 per barrel. Keep that oil price down. Or better, drive it down to $50.
There has been a lot of criticism of President Obama regarding his response to the theft of Crimea. You see, the problem is that Obama is not short enough. Not only is he physically tall — not to say downright greedy — at 6’1.” He is also trying to keep things “tall”, dignified, on a higher plane. He thinks he is matching wits with Hillary Clinton or Mitt Romney.
What we need is a Putin-like leader on our side … and this is where the French come in. If you have ever been in a Parisian taxi, you know that you do not want to get into an argument with a Frenchman. It is true that they “took August off” during every month of World War II, but that is because they were deeply divided. Unlike the Germans or Soviet Russians, the French do not need a higher reason to antagonize you. No delusions about ideological struggle, or about master race or rebirth of empire. If you attack them or even just annoy them, they will lash back. What is more, as noted in a recent Ricochet article, in the sorry history of sub-5’9” mass murderers, Napoleon entered Moscow in 1812 (though mainly due to Russian withdrawal) and Hitler did not in 1942. Note that the Russians promptly returned the visit by occupying Paris in 1814.
The incumbent Francois Hollande is short enough (5’8”) to stop Vladimir Putin. But if not him, his predecessor and likely successor, Nicolas Sarkozy (5’7”), certainly has the goods. The super smart, short-tempered, streetfighting, supermodel-marrying Sarkozy has been working on a comeback and could well breeze into office in 2017. He is tan. He is rested. He is pro-Europe. He is pro-America. And he is short.
The unfolding drama in the Ukraine brings back memories — for those of us old enough to remember it — of the bad old era of Brezhnev and the Evil Empire. But also a certain nostalgia. Because, in those days, the badness of the USSR was understood — by most people not living on university campuses — to flow in large part directly from its (leftist) ideology. If the State is responsible for everything, then the State can do anything — and ultimately will.
While the better sort of classical liberals — the Moynihans — took care to point out that they believed there were things the State should not be responsible for, most ordinary people intuitively understood that if you pushed leftism beyond a certain point, bad things would happen. In effect, the Soviet Union stood as a kind of grim specter behind leftism, providing an ever-present reality check to liberal visions of the beneficent State. Whenever the true nature of the Soviet Union intruded into the consciousness of large numbers of Americans, conservatives, while sincerely empathizing with whoever the victims were, at least had the satisfaction of seeing their core beliefs validated, their ideas, arguments, and personalities taken a bit more seriously, and those of their opponents to some degree discredited.More
Your posts on Ukraine have turned my thinking right around: Either the United States stands up to Vladimir Putin over his invasion of a historically complicated but nevertheless sovereign nation or we’ll find Putin emboldened on the Black Sea and the Baltic, and other bad guys emboldened—well, everywhere from Syria to the inner counsels of the Chinese military in Beijing.More