Has it only been a little over a week? So many solidly held assumptions turned on their heads. The vaunted Russian military would make short work of the corrupt Ukrainians. We gave them some arms showing our compassion. Of course, not nearly what we could’ve, but they’d lose them in a short Russian victory. We could all wring our hands and then go back to our lives.
The always anti-war left, the never interfere abroad libertarians, and the “America First” conservatives echoed Nevile Chamberlain in their dismay of involvement in a “quarrel in a faraway country between people whom we know nothing.” Chamberlain’s appeasement was over the Sudeten in Checkoslovia. A less than a two-hour flight from his London. The world is much smaller now.
Supposedly intelligent people believed Ukraine was out to conquer Russia. Many agreed with Fox News’s Tucker Carlson and others it was our fault because we decided to extend NATO to so many ex-Russian-dominated Eastern Europe countries. By desiring to join them, Ukraine threatens Russia’s existence. It seems so quaint now.
The only one threatened was Putin. A prosperous capitalist Ukraine on Russia’s doorstep would illustrate his failures. The same threat Taiwan presents to China’s Xi. Even with China’s progress, the island’s per capita income is double the mainland.
As I said in my series on “More,” free market-based economies will consistently outperform the top-down government dominated. They’re more innovative and allocate resources better. Liberalizing an autocracy threatens those at the top, so ultimately, they become increasingly repressive to keep their yearning for better people in line. Those that can leave to find freedom. Russia, China, Cuba, Venezuela, and Iran attract few immigrants. Free nations are magnets.
In this short time, we’ve seen dramatic attitude changes. Germany, for instance, has gone from sending Ukraine some helmets to large quantities of lethal weapons. Its defense budget has exploded.
The reason is, unlike previous conflicts, we see everything in real-time. Everyone has a cellphone with a camera and connection. We get to know the people involved. The world could ignore the holocaust or the slaughter of the Watutsi in Rwanda until it was too late. Today we see the horrors instantly. Instead of saying if we only knew, the decision to save the innocents is right there. The filming and posting of what was happening to George Floyd brought this fact home.
As Putin’s barbarism plays on our screens, the cries to make it stop will only grow. Our humanity is in question. The unthinkable two weeks ago is now debated. CIA black opts, volunteer legions, to no-fly zones are on the table.
The argument is interventions bring Russian threats of a nuclear World War III. But this will always be the case. Even with NATO members, the Russian shakedown will be the same. The blackmail will be there. Who’s next on the list, Latvia, Poland? How do we know this? Because Putin tells us it’s so.
Once we realize we will face the same problem down the road if we don’t confront it now, it changes how we view our Ukraine options. Would we rather wait for a triumphant Putin to make demands on a NATO member at a time of his choosing or blunt his attack on Ukraine right now?
Moving now has definite attractions once we realize this is a face now or face later proposition. Russia is already fully committed to Ukraine. All Russia’s frontline units are fully engaged. Would it attack a limited “humanitarian ” no-fly zone and risk losing its airpower? Attack some other nation? With what? Elongating the war gives the already in place sanctions time to crush the Russian economy.
There is always the nuclear risk with a demented dictator with the bomb losing it, but the whole world loses horribly in a nuclear war. Radiation travels the globe. China would hardly back Russia’s failing war if it meant possibly suffering atomic devastation.
Given Russia’s precarious position, it may not be necessary to take actual action. Just moving the assets needed to secure air superiority over the area we choose into place may make Putin realize his bluff is about to be called and look for a face-saving off-ramp.
At that point, we have all the cards. Let Russia off with its military still intact back in the homeland or bleed a nation with the economy of Italy to death.
Russians may opt for the former in light of what Putin has given China to support his invasion, joint development of the Arctic and along the old silks road. The Chinese in the Russian arctic and along its southern border reduce Russia to a China satellite.
Suppose it weren’t for Putin’s obsession to restore the USSR’s hold on Eastern Europe. In that case, Russians might realize independence and territorial integrity would be more secure as a member of NAT0 rather than an opponent.
China needs raw materials and more fertile land. With global warming, the once frozen Siberia is too tempting to a China that thinks it should rule the world.
Russia’s needs and Putin’s goals have diverged. This fact has to be known to those in the government, military, and much of the public. Add the economic pain endured and lives lost for the wrong objectives, and you wonder how long this can continue.
Given all this, I wonder how well Putin is sleeping?