by Dan Ehrlich
The United States, and much of the world, has applied all manner of economic sanctions on Russia. But so far none has stopped Russian President Vladimir Putin from continuing his bloody assault on Ukraine. That’s because Putin has his own agenda and whatever it takes to complete it.
The televised tragedy unfolding in Ukraine has exposed the limitations of U.S. and NATO military forces in the face of volatile a strongman willing to invade a sovereign country without concern for civilian casualties.
Yet, for the barbarian, he feels his destruction of Ukraine in the face of international isolation will be a lesson in ‘realpolitik’ for his former Warsaw Pact allies. What eastern European nation will now dare cozy up to the West knowing it might incur the wrath of Russia and end up as Ukraine has.
Carrying this further will there be a ‘red line’ established by NATO? How far will NATO allow Russia to go before military confrontation?
After Ukraine and the unexpected heavy Russian troop losses in the bloody invasion, Putin’s appetite for expansion will probably be suppressed for a few years. As with Crimea, he will wait and regroup his forces…hoping the West’s anger will have cooled until his next outrage.
On this score, he may have a long wait. The site of a war-ravaged nation and millions of refugees in 2022 is what NATO was supposed to prevent. But Putin knows this and could care less, so he will pick the time and place for his next move
Three nations are on his hit list and they’re all NATO members…Poland, Latvia and Estonia. All three form a northwestern buffer between Russia and western Europe, something Putin wants to re-establish, but with Russian allies.
Estonia is the most likely state on Putin’s menu since it’s small in size and has a large Russian population, a pretext for invasion. Such an action would test NATO’s promise of not surrendering a single inch of land to Russia.
As with Ukraine, brinkmanship favors Russia… a country with a leader not afraid to wage war…partly because it has less to lose than any country in the West.
Russia is at least 25 times the size of any European nation, yet it has a gross domestic product half that of the UK. Its population spread out over 11 time zones at 148 million is less than half that of the US, with only a few major cities.
But probably most importantly, in more than 1,000 year history Russians have never known freedom of democracy for any length of time. The nation has always been ruled by often ruthless autocrats. In fact, serfdom in this largely peasant society, lasted far longer than in any European country, being abolished in 1861. Coincidentally, that’s the same year the American Civil War erupted, a conflict centered on freeing the slaves.
Instead of building a modern consumer-driven industrial base to serve a budding consumer society, Putin has invested in weaponry and expendable energy exports. It often serves dictators well to keep their people less than affluent and under heel.
It also maintains Russia as a nuclear powerhouse with less to lose in case of war, the main factor that keeps NATO from direct military involvement in Ukraine.
Yet, there’s no evidence he has his sights set on the wealthy West…Instead, he’s seeking to isolate Russia from it. To do that he needs a shield of post-WW2 Soviet satellite nations, which will mean stepping on NATO’s toes.