Blog Credo

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.

H.L. Mencken

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Realistic Limits

So, Vladimir Putin has pretty much invaded - slowly - Ukraine.  He has rhetorical designs on most of the country.

And there's really not a whole lot we can do about it, for the same reasons there wasn't a whole lot we could do about Stalin seizing Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and East Germany.  While it could possibly lead to a new Cold War with Russia, there's really not much we can do without risking a global war - same as in 1945-6.

Putin is smart enough to realize that and this is why he knows he can seize a great deal of eastern Ukraine without risking a wider war.  Nationalist radicals in Russia - like Vladimir Zhirinovsky - have argued for launching nuclear attacks on Poland.  While Putin is unlikely to go this far, he's creating the necessary doubt in European capitals to allow him to annex more of Ukraine.

Russia's economy is weak and overly reliant on the sale of commodities, especially energy.  And Europe is working on ways to replace Russia energy, but that could be a long process.  Putin is also not an ideologue so much as a nationalist.  Like most Russians, he's not a fanatic intent on burning down the world or risking his own privileged position.

The inevitable comparisons to 1939 are making the rounds, but it seems to me we are looking more at a 1914 situation.  After a long peace, European nations need to weigh the risks of potentially catastrophic war.  Only this time it could be the horror of nuclear weaponry rather than trench warfare.

Just as World War I "changed everything" a potential World War III would completely upend history.

So while Zhirinovsky and Lindsey Graham may beat their war drums and issue bellicose statements, it will be up to wiser, calmer heads to make sure that we aren't suddenly faced with a nuclear war over a country that sits on the periphery of Europe.

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