Things to Think About Russia

by Dave Schuler on March 23, 2014

I am more inclined to forgive Ross Douthat’s maunderings on Russia than I am Anne Applebaum’s or Zbigniew Brzezinski’s. I would expect that they, at least, should know what the heck they’re talking about. I don’t expect Mr. Douthat, on the other hand, to know anything about Russia but what he reads in the newspapers.

What I’ve been trying to explain to people, both here and at Outside the Beltway, are the realities of dealing with Russia. Let me summarize what I think people should recognize:

  1. Russia has interests and a foreign policy which are not ipso facto opposed to ours.
  2. One of those interests is access to its base at Sevastopol which from Russia’s point of view is not negotiable.
  3. Having hostile countries on its border is a persistent irritant to the Russians.
  4. The present Ukrainian government is an illiberal kleptocracy.
  5. If pressed hard enough, Russia will use nuclear weapons.
  6. The EU is unlikely to impose economic sanctions on Russia with any bite.

I do not support Russia or Putin but Russia is not the Soviet Union and does not present anything remotely like the threat to us that the Soviet Union did. The Soviet Union was not only run by violent thugs, from the 1920s to the 1950s those thugs had dreams of riding to victory on the wings of world revolution and they had some reason to believe that was possible.

Ukraine is not worth risking nuclear war over.

If you want to read something reasonably sensible about the Ukrainian situation this piece by Christopher Booker in the Torygraph is closer to the mark:

The EU knows it is powerless to prevent Mr Putin in due course absorbing Ukraine’s Russian-speaking industrial heartland, leaving the EU to look after what remains of that bankrupt country, like a dismembered corpse. But there is no sign that those impotent nonentities who pose as our leaders have yet realised that their ambition to take over Ukraine must now rank alongside the euro as the two leading examples of how their collective act of make-believe is finally hitting the brick wall of reality.

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Jimbino March 23, 2014 at 12:50 pm

I guess Chamberlain was right: it’s not worth fighting over the Sudetenland, which no Amerikan could nowadays find on a map anyway, or even over Poland or Serbia, Japanese islands, South Korea or Taiwan.

If Putin took New Zealand, who’d notice, unless it were an important source of video games or somesuch?

TastyBits March 23, 2014 at 1:09 pm

At some point, there will be a shift in thinking, and everybody will act as if that was what they thought all along. They will forget you were trying to tell them what they now know, and some of them will begin to school you on their newly found knowledge.

It never fails.

steve March 23, 2014 at 2:52 pm

I tend to be a bit more forgiving of the EU experiment. Europe was destroyed in WWII. We faced a tiny fraction of the problems they had. I think a lot of what they do needs to be interpreted with that history as a background. Trying to eliminate nationalism is probably a worthwhile goal. For the most part, I think they are doing OK. However, I think they have stretched too far in trying to take in countries that are not ready. I had always thought of the Eastern European countries as simply too poor and too corrupt. Your point about lack of institutions is a more encompassing way to describe it.

I also think that our Cold Warriors have had a hard time giving up the war with Russia. For them it is always the 1970s. We dont seem to be alone in that.

Steve

Dave Schuler March 23, 2014 at 3:19 pm

I think the EU has always been suspect—a way of subsidizing French farmers and German factories at the expense of everyone else—but German reunification has made it worse. I’m not sure what benefit expansion eastward beyond Poland has given them other than the factors that Mr. Booker mentions.

PD Shaw March 23, 2014 at 8:29 pm

A more cynical reading of Russian interests are:

1. One of Russia’s interests is to counter/restrain/embarrass the U.S. simply for its own sake.

2. Since there is no evidence that Russia’s control of its Sevastopol base was in jeopardy, this interest is either irrelevant or a sign of Russian imperial expansionism that will create increased conflict. Whither the Hellespont?

3. Moscow cannot stand chaotic democratic movements in neighboring countries that challenge centralized authority. Putin wants to deal with supplicants that don’t have to answer to the street.

4. Ukraine is more liberal than Russia, moreso now that Crimea has been taken.

5. The fact that Russia will use nuclear weapons without provocation is the reason it needs to be contained and isolated.

6. The EU has long-term capabilities to restrain Russia by developing energy independence. I expect change now that crazy is revealed.

Dave Schuler March 23, 2014 at 8:43 pm

One of Russia’s interests is to counter/restrain/embarrass the U.S. simply for its own sake.

There’s very little evidence of that but there is ample evidence that the U. S. has gone out of its way to counter/restrain/embarrass Russia.

Since there is no evidence that Russia’s control of its Sevastopol base was in jeopardy, this interest is either irrelevant or a sign of Russian imperial expansionism that will create increased conflict. Whither the Hellespont?

Actually, there’s pretty good evidence that’s exactly what the new Ukrainian government was preparing to do. Their very first actions were to purge Russophones from the government. The Russians interpreted that as a move towards abrogating the lease agreement that had just been negotiated and which the opposition had opposed.

Ukraine is more liberal than Russia, moreso now that Crimea has been taken.

I see no evidence of that.

The fact that Russia will use nuclear weapons without provocation is the reason it needs to be contained and isolated.

That’s certainly not what I said. I said that they’d use them if provoked. Many of the actions recommended by hawkish Americans have been specifically intended to escalate the situation, tempting nuclear war.

I wish Andy would chime in on this. His intelligence connections are much more current than mine. I’m just judging from knowledge of Russian diplomatic history and open sources.

jan March 23, 2014 at 10:49 pm

I think we will rue the day that Russia was allowed to steamroller over Crimea, and now is setting eyes on the rest of Ukraine, as his troops assemble along it’s border.

michael reynolds March 24, 2014 at 12:24 am

Actually, there’s pretty good evidence that’s exactly what the new Ukrainian government was preparing to do. Their very first actions were to purge Russophones from the government.

That doesn’t strike you as rather overwrought, Dave? Do you have any credible evidence that weak Ukraine was even remotely intending to try and push the Russians out of Sevastopol? Ukraine had no capacity to deny the bases to the Russians. Russia, as you keep pointing out, is a nuclear power. I think that’s just nonsense.

Russia had nothing to fear as regards the Black Sea. Ukraine had no capacity to force them out and would have been mad to try. Sheer paranoia. In fact, so thoroughly ridiculous that I don’t believe Putin thought any such thing, though of course that would be his propaganda line.

I think you’re making the rational man’s mistake of believing others are rational. This was a stupid move by a small, insecure thug of a man at the head of a fading kleptocracy. The new Tsar wants to be important. He wants to be respected. So he stole what he already owned.

michael reynolds March 24, 2014 at 12:26 am

Jan:

Do tell us, Jan, what you’d have done to stop him. Does it involve more penis? More clenched jaw? A hairier chest? Why don’t you take a look at a map and explain just exactly what we or anyone else should have done about it. Be specific, and if you spout the usual macho posturing bullshit we’re going to have to go back to Reagan and Lebanon and Bush and 9-11.

Go ahead. Show us your plan.

michael reynolds March 24, 2014 at 12:32 am

A a matter of fact, Jimbino and Jan, I’ll make it easy for you: https://www.google.com/maps/place/Ukraine/@48.383022,31.1828699,5z/data=!4m2!3m1!1s0x40d1d9c154700e8f:0x1068488f64010

That link should take you to a map of Ukraine. Take a look and tell us all how we or our allies culd do a single thing. Show us how the naval and air and ground forces should be deployed. Of course first, show us how they get there.

Zachriel March 24, 2014 at 7:57 am

michael reynolds: Take a look and tell us all how we or our allies culd do a single thing.

The same way they saved Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and found Flight 370 — technology, er, magic!

Dave Schuler March 24, 2014 at 8:23 am

It may be overwrought on the Russians’ part but not on my mine. I’m just reporting to you what the Russians have said. Example: in Putin’s recent speech he said the Ukrainians were preparing to turn the Black Sea ports over to NATO.

Cstanley March 24, 2014 at 9:46 am

In my opinion EU energy independence is the only thing that could have stopped this, and the question is whether or not it is now too late.

Of course in the face of that circumstance, it was completely foolish for EU and the US to have provoked the bear.

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: