Pity the Vassals of Moscow

“Russia can have at its borders only enemies or vassals.” — George F. Kennan, America’s ambassador to the Soviet Union

Russia has long been a paranoid land power. It’s huge, mostly flat, and wide open to invasion. Just to name a few examples, it was invaded by the Mongols in the 13th century, Napoleon in the 19th, Nazi Germany in the 20th, and has been recently squeezed by NATO expansion in the former Soviet bloc. These events seared themselves into the Russian psyche. They breathe better with buffer states.

Whether we and the Ukrainians like it or not, Ukraine is still a buffer state within Moscow’s sphere of influence. The US has little more leverage there than Russia has in Canada. And since ethnic Russians outnumber ethnic Ukrainians in the Crimea by more than two-to-one, a Russian invasion of that part of the country is a bit like a French invasion of Quebec—troublesome indeed, and infuriating to the capital, but different from, say, a North Korean invasion of Quebec. That’s why Russia could take it without firing a shot and why nobody shot at the Russians.

Plenty of Crimeans are unhappy about it, of course. A fourth are ethnic Ukrainians, an eighth are Tatars, and one would have to be a truly obnoxious determinist to suggest every Russian on the peninsula is thrilled being occupied by a foreign army just because they speak the same language.

Ukrainians elsewhere in the country (especially outside the ethnically Russian east) are mobilizing for war.

The fact that Crimea has a large Russian population and is pro-Russian politically is no excuse for Putin to lop it off Ukraine. If the reason why is not obvious, ask yourself how you’d feel if the Mexican government seized San Antonio, Texas, and said, hey, it has a Hispanic majority, so it’s ours now. Or if the United States conquered and annexed Toronto and said, hey, we’re all English-speaking North Americans here with a common ancestry, so what’s the big deal?

That's basically what Russia is doing.

And that was Adolf Hitler’s justification for taking the German-speaking Sudetenland from Czechoslovakia in the run-up to World War II. Putin is not Hitler, but he’s pulling the same kind of stunt and expecting to get away with it for exactly the same reason. Nobody wants to blow up the world over this sort of thing.

It’s possible that Russia might take even Kiev if Putin thinks the response to seizing Crimea is sufficiently supine. I doubt it, personally, but I don’t know that he won’t. No one can know that.

He wouldn’t get much out of it, aside from a violent migraine, that he isn’t already getting by invading Crimea. Ukraine can’t fend off a full-blown Russian invasion, but it can make an invasion bloody and expensive. And what would Russians back home think? Ukrainians aren’t their enemies. There is little hatred between these two closely-related peoples.

Bullies drunk on power do reckless and unpredictable things sometimes, though, so the possibility of an all-out invasion—even if the odds are against it—can’t be ruled out.

So now what? The US and NATO are not going to declare war on Russia over Crimea or even Kiev, but that doesn’t mean Putin can just barge in wherever he wants. It goes without saying that the invasion of a European Union or NATO country is over the line and would be resisted with force. Putin surely knows that already. Everybody in Russia knows that.

What Putin does not necessarily know is whether or not the red line is closer to Moscow.

Kiev is almost certainly on Putin’s side of the red line, but no one has actually said that, so it’s ambiguous, as it should be. Ambiguity lends itself to restraint. Russian leaders tend more toward paranoia than American leaders at the best of times. And the expansion of NATO frightened the Russians as much as the expansion of the Warsaw Pact would have alarmed Americans had the Soviets won the Cold War.

So the last thing the West should do is tell Putin where the red line is located exactly. Want to prevent an explosion in far-eastern Europe? Let him think he’s in danger of crossing it now. Otherwise he may sense a green light from the West to swallow whatever he wants on his side of the EU. Let him see a yellow light, at least, if a red light is asking for too much.

READ ENTIRE ARTICLE HERE: http://www.worldaffairsjournal.org/blog/michael-j-totten/pity-vassals-moscow

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commented 2014-03-06 22:04:34 -0500 · Flag
Paul Hanway writes:

It’s both tempting and easy to relegate future generations to that which they have in part destroyed as they created the current tragic conditions, here and elsewhere.
As one of the last of a rapidly dwindling generation (and don’t give us more credit than is due wirh “The Greatest Generation” plaudit) , for the sake of my greatgrandchildren and their’s in turn I must disagree with A.A.‘s proposal.
Aprapo of practically nothing, after vainly trying for a year to enlist to fight Germany, Japan, and the largely-hapless Italy, and then our new ally, the USSR, who conned FDR while Stalin’s Communists were murdering millions of their own citizens and those of the invaded countries of the Balkans, etc., the draft finally satisfied my desire to be a tiny part of WW II.
As such I watched, sickened as the younger generation was lulled to sleep by the promises of Atheistic Secularism, initially in its demonization of the Un0American Activities Committees findings of widespread XX oof Communists in policy areas of government, in news and entertainment medias,, and perhaps worst, on the college campuses. 2 of my 4 sons enlisted in Vietnam, but were spared combat.
Not one of my 6 grandchi;dren has served in the military. My oldest greatgrandson is now eligible.
I certainly don’t wish any descendants or other re;ater individuals any harm or worse, but for some a stint in the military woild or woild have been a maturing experience, and perhaps a wake up call as to what this country has meant and that it should not only be respected — as sso few now do — but also its strengths and what is has offered to so many, and shoul, therefore, be protected bothfrom external and internal threats and destruction.protected.
All of which raises the quewstion that insomuch as we have a massive Defense force, DOD. why then do we need, and what is th real purpose of the Home Defense Department, huge increases in the FBI, NSA, FEMA, and a host of other assorted armed and snooping agencies and bureaus?
On that note I rest my case, yer onner.
The Blind Scribe
commented 2014-03-06 21:59:57 -0500 · Flag
Tom writes:

personally speaking, I couldn’t care if Putin decided to Light Up the United States of America, the infantile, self-seeking Brats that elected that buffoon Obama to a 2nd term truly deserve to Reap that which they have Sown, calamity ! and to be sure I will there with my cell phone snapping pictures of there soiled under garments as they shutter in horror and lose control of there bowels as they watch there contrived, child like world implode all around them, Bring It.
commented 2014-03-06 21:58:45 -0500 · Flag
Ed writes:

Let Putin look like a little Stalin, he will just alienate the border states even more. These people are ethnic Russians anyway.

I say we draw the line at Poland..
commented 2014-03-06 21:57:46 -0500 · Flag
Ben writes:

I was only talking of using military power. I certainly agree to using pressure to restrain Putin such as sanctions, kicking him out of the WTO and the like. But to expect him to give up the Crimea is not realistic and there is no way we can stop him if he invades the Ukraine. He certainly is a dictator much in the mold of Kim Jung Il, but if that continues his country will lose its power and influence worldwide, but remain as a nuclear threat.

Splitting it is certainly up to the Ukrainians, not us.
commented 2014-03-06 21:55:59 -0500 · Flag
A.A. writes:

I have to fundamentally disagree. I believe the Ukraine should probably split (like Czechoslovakia split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia peacefully; they still trade with each other and share travel rights but they are separate countries) and the Western (Ukrainian-Cossak, Catholic, Ukrainian-speaking region) should join NATO as soon as possible and the Easter part can revert back to their Russian masters. We are not dealing with a communist Russia now, there is no dualism of systems this time around. We are dealing with an upcoming dictatorship in Russia – where the leadership of an autocrat has left the realm of rationality. The party is completely submissive to him. So is the Russian “Parliament”. Nobody dares to challenge the great leader – and if you follow the Russian state media these days it sounds and looks like straight out of North Korea. Therefore rationality is no longer the basis of Russian decision making, but dictatorship and submission are. We cannot sacrifice the people of neighboring countries to Russia as a “buffer zone”. These people want and deserve to strive for freedom, human rights and the wealth of capitalism just as all the other eastern European countries which joined the EU and NATO in the 1990s. The West must keep up the pressure and help the Ukrainian people to be free from Moscow’s hollow grip. Putin is a prototypical thug…he won’t respect anything but power.
commented 2014-03-06 21:54:33 -0500 · Flag
B.S. writes:

Russia is not even close to being the threat the Soviet Union was when Reagan went about stopping them so successfully. Their military today is a shell of its previous self. We have no reason to become involved. The Crimea was a part of Russia for many years and they need it as an outlet into the Med for trade and for their Navy. We would certainly fight for our rights to have access to both the Pacific and Atlantic and Med. Why should Putin have less? I doubt he wants to accept the problems of the Ukraine and if he does he is biting off more than he can chew.

Stop trying to police the world. Set the example. We have far more serious problems at home. We are not setting the proper example we once did. Putin is definitely a bad guy, but then so are a whole bunch of others.