It’s Not Just Putin

There’s a lot that I agree with in former Defense Secretary Robert Gates’s op-ed in the Wall Street Journal on the challenges that Russian President V. Putin presents to the West. For example his list of Russia’s particular grievances is pretty good:

His list of grievances is long and was on full display in his March 18 speech announcing the annexation of Crimea by Russia. He is bitter about what he sees as Russia’s humiliations in the 1990s—economic collapse; the expansion of NATO to include members of the U.S.S.R.’s own “alliance,” the Warsaw Pact; Russia’s agreement to the treaty limiting conventional forces in Europe, or as he calls it, “the colonial treaty”; the West’s perceived dismissal of Russian interests in Serbia and elsewhere; attempts to bring Ukraine and Georgia into NATO and the European Union; and Western governments, businessmen and scholars all telling Russia how to conduct its affairs at home and abroad.

I also completely endorse something that’s written between the lines of the op-ed but from which, unfortunately, he steps away. It’s not merely President Putin we have to worry about. He is merely an expression of what most Russians believe:

The only way to counter Mr. Putin’s aspirations on Russia’s periphery is for the West also to play a strategic long game. That means to take actions that unambiguously demonstrate to Russians that his worldview and goals—and his means of achieving them—over time will dramatically weaken and isolate Russia.


No one wants a new Cold War, much less a military confrontation. We want Russia to be a partner, but that is now self-evidently not possible under Mr. Putin’s leadership. He has thrown down a gauntlet that is not limited to Crimea or even Ukraine. His actions challenge the entire post-Cold War order including, above all, the right of independent states to align themselves and do business with whomever they choose.

Let me suggest something that may not have occurred to you. The largest problem in the crisis in the Ukraine isn’t Putin or Russia or Ukrainian right-wing extremists or weakness in U. S. policy. It’s Germany.

As with so many other European crises over the last twenty years the crisis in the Ukraine was fomented by Germany and is insoluble without German cooperation which so far has not been forthcoming. The reason that Germany was divided after World War II wasn’t to protect Germany from Russia. It was to protect the Europeans including Russians from Germany. Recently, some commenters here have expressed discomfort with Germany’s shouldering the cost of its own defense on the grounds of the dangers of an armed Germany. Why is a Europe dominated militarily by Germany unacceptable while a Europe dominated economically and politically by Germany is acceptable?

8 comments… add one
  • Ben Wolf

    Wasn’t it Ismay who said the point of NATO was to keep the Russians out, the Americans in and the Germans down? It seems clear we’ve already abandoned the third goal while clinging to the first two. Looking back the U. S. foreign policy establishment has, for the last twenty years encouraged Germany’ transformation into the dominant power on the continent without actually considering whether this would be a good thing or how Russia, which had 26 million of its citizens murdered by Germans, would react.

    Personally I think Germany should have been put permanently into a box.

  • ...

    I’m not sure why Germany should get put in a box and not, say, France. And Russia/Soviet Union and Communist China were pretty much as evil as the Nazis, and the Commies still rule in China!

    The Great War was a breakdown of an entire European system and hardly Germany’s sole fault. The groundwork for WWII was largely established by the conditions imposed by the victors of WWI plus the birth of international communism in the old Romanov empire. I’d be as inclined to blame the House of Hanover (especially Queen Victoria) for Europe’s attempts at mass suicide last century as I would the German nation.

  • michael reynolds

    The difference between economic and military dominance is the difference between paying too much for a Mercedes and being bombed and gassed.

    We have wanted to keep Germany down for the same reason we want to keep Russia down – both nations committed atrocities on a scale and of a brutality not seen since Genghis. Nations that behave like rabid beasts bear watching for a while at least. I don’t know what the statute of limitations is on crimes against humanity, and maybe it has run its course, maybe France and Poland have nothing to fear from a resurgent Germany. I don’t know what their position is on re-arming Germany. I can guess what Russia’s position is.

    Germany is obviously the natural counterbalance to Russia. The question is whether Putin will make such a balancing act necessary.

  • The line isn’t quite as bright as I think you’re trying to make it, Michael. As von Clausewitz put it, war is the continuation of politics by other means. We kill people all the time here just not with soldiers but by police and executioners.

    My points are

    a) at the very least Germany should be paying for its own self-defense. It isn’t.
    b) Germany qua Germany poses problems not just Germany with an army.

    I think the problem is that we didn’t divide Germany into enough pieces.

  • Andy

    “He is merely an expression of what most Russians believe”

    I would just add that this isn’t over yet given the continuing build-up of Russian forces near Ukraine’s border.

  • michael reynolds


    Yeah, it’s looking bad. I thought it was 50/50 he’d go in, but it’s feeling more 70/30 now. Putin boxed himself in when he subtracted the Russian voters in Crimea from the Ukrainian polity.

    Time to buy defense stocks.

  • michael reynolds

    I hope someone is keeping an eye on the Chinese, by the way. If Putin moves it’d be a great time for China to snatch up some minor islands.

  • steve

    How do you keep the largest, most prosperous nation in the EU from dominating it economically?


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