If Putin Loses

I frequently agree with Walter Russell Mead’s assessments. Not this time. His latest Wall Street Journal column bears the title “What if Putin Loses His War in Ukraine?”.

Let’s pause right there. It is not merely Putin who is at war with Ukraine. If Vladimir Putin were to vanish from the face of the earth, in all likelihood whoever replaced him would not only continue to prosecute the war, they’d be more likely to deploy the Russian military directly or to use nuclear weapons.

Then there’s this paragraph:

A Ukrainian victory—which we can describe as an end to the conflict that leaves Ukraine with all or most of its original territory, independent of Moscow and aligned with the West—would be a geopolitical earthquake. The Russia that Europe has known and feared since the 18th century, an immense and looming presence relentlessly bent on expanding westward, will be gone. The consequences would reshape the politics of Europe and the Middle East and define a new era in U.S.-China competition.

If Dr. Mead has evidence of Russian westward expansionism since the 18th century, he should produce it. Not Soviet expansionism. I concur that the Soviet Union was expansionist.

France invaded Russia in 1812. Britain invaded Russia in 1807 and 1919. Poland invaded Russia in 1919. Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, inflicting more casualties than were suffered by any other country during World War II. Even the U. S. invaded Russia in the 20th century. These repeated invasions are exactly why Russia wants a buffer area against possible invasion. Most important in that is Crimea.

Or this:

A Russian defeat would basically strengthen America’s hand globally, but there would be complications. On the plus side, with Russian expansionism firmly checked, the task of maintaining the status quo in Europe would require less U.S. investment. American and Western prestige would be significantly enhanced by victory and would be gravely impaired if Russia wins. As I noted last week, a victorious Ukraine would join Poland, the Baltic states and the Scandinavian countries in a pro-defense bloc of European countries who understand the value of the American alliance.

I don’t believe that’s what would happen. I believe that Poland and Ukraine would continue to do what they’ve been doing for the last 30 years: try to enlist the U. S. to further their national interests for them. I suspect the Baltic countries would be encouraged to de-Russianize their own territory. I have no idea what Sweden or Finland would do. BTW don’t expect Poland and Ukraine to play nicely together. There’s already friction between the two countries, see here.

5 comments… add one
  • Andy Link

    Yeah, not a good take by Mead.

  • steve Link

    “If Dr. Mead has evidence of Russian westward expansionism since the 18th century, he should produce it. Not Soviet expansionism. I concur that the Soviet Union was expansionist.”

    Doesnt fly. Even when you look at Germany invading you need to remember that Russia was initially partners with Germany in splitting up Poland and their occupation was pretty brutal. Russia saw a chance to expand and took it. They were just unlucky having their partner betray them. When Russia occupied and refused to return sovereignty to the countries it occupied it was not the USSR at that point.

    Russia renamed itself the USSR when it decided to incorporate territory it conquered in the 1920’s when the Red Army was trying to re-establish the Russian Empire. They may have named it USSR because they were communists then so they had to work in Socialist somewhere, but it was really about trying to subjugate former parts of the empire back into another Russian empire.


  • You’re changing the subject. The subject is western expansionism by Russia. Russia and the Soviet Union are not synonymous. The Soviet Union was universalist and apocalyptic; Russia is irredentist. If you have evidence that Poland, Germany, Britain, or France are at risk of invasion by Russia, please produce it.

  • steve Link

    Nope, you just want to forget 70 years of history. Russia’s neighbors lived through it and they are less forgiving. The USSR was just another name for Russian empire. They may be ruled by kleptocrats and oligarchs now instead of communists but Russians still feel entitled to their empire justifying the invasion of other countries. You are the one who keeps writing that if Putin dies or leaves his replacement will continue the war as it’s what the Russian people want.

    Pretty sure Britain, France and Germany were not historically part of the Russian empire. When Russia had the opportunity to add part of Poland back to the empire in 1940 with minimal effort they jumped on it. Evidence? Well, the Poles seem worried about it and they know the Russians better than we do. Also, shouldn’t recent history indicate that if the Russians are denying an interest in invading Poland that means they really are interested? How comfortable should Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia feel?

    To be clear, after their failure in Ukraine I dont see anyway they try to invade Poland. Their military is so awful that even you think it plausible that Ukraine bombed the dam.

    Query- If, as you seem to think, we shouldn’t count Russia’s invasion of Poland and occupation of parts of eastern europe against them since they were communists then, why do you keep mentioning Germany invading Russia? Germany was ruled by fascists then and now they are not. Germany has not since invaded another country and doesnt have the ability to do so if it wanted. France was also on your list but it was ruled by a dictator, essentially a king and has a much different country now. Why does that count against France?


  • Andy Link


    Yes, the history of this region is a long tale of empire-building and invasion and counter-invasion by various powers. And one of the big factors for that is geography and the lack of natural borders. All the people in this region understand this history and fear being dominated by outside or neighboring powers or being cut up. And that includes the Russians. Poles, the Baltic states, etc. fear Russian domination – and, at the same time, the Russians fear yet another country-destroying invasion from the West from a hostile alliance that is stronger than them.

    Too many in the West are insisting that the longstanding fears of all these people are entirely legitimate except for the Russians who, we are told, could never possibly have a reason to fear a hostile military alliance on its borders that incorporates its former territories and buffer states. The Russians don’t see it that way regardless of what one thinks the Russians ought to feel.

    That isn’t an excuse for the Russian invasion of Ukraine. But one must understand that it wasn’t done for shits and giggles, there is a historical context here that is important to understand, as well as Russia’s long-standing fear of invasion – which isn’t an irrational fear given their history.

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