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.
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.