If you believe the news, never a good idea, you’d believe that Russia was acting with unpredictable aggression towards Ukraine. Of course, you’d also be incorrect. Russia is certainly acting with aggression, but it’s entirely predictable and entirely logical. Much has been said about Vladimir Putin’s argument that the collapse of the USSR was a geopolitical catastrophe. Many people in Russia agree with him. Far fewer in countries such as Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Hungary or Ukraine would agree with him. The truth is, of course, that it was for the best for some countries, for the worse for others and, on the global scale, a calamity. The absence of an alternate power centre meant that the US was able to do as it wished on the global scale. Under Clinton, the US had a largely responsible foreign policy. Under Bush Jr. and Obama, the US behaved with reckless disregard. American intervention in the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia led to chaos and misery.
I do not wish to defend Russian aggression per se. I also do not wish to be seen as an apologist for socialism or the USSR. If Russia had all that much to offer, then countries that were once part of the Russian Empire and the USSR wouldn’t have been so keen to get out from under Russia’s shadow. Even in Ukraine, one of the more troubled post-Soviet European states, the benefits of independence have far outweighed any negative consequences. Europe is not, however, the entire world.
Russia’s unease is understandable in its proper context. Russia has two main cities: St Petersburg and Moscow. Moscow has no natural defences and has been sacked many times. St Petersburg is very difficult to defend. It is easily accessed from the West. As it stands, St Petersburg is winched between two EU member states: Finland and Estonia. Estonia is a NATO member as well. In practice, there is precious little difference between Finland and Estonia. If Finland is in conflict, the EU is in conflict and that would drag the United Kingdom, United States, Canada and Turkey in with it as it would involve conflict with other NATO members.
Because of Russia’s lack of defences, especially in respect to where its population is concentrated, buffer states have long been a priority. Russia has not necessarily expected countries to be Russian allies. Finlandisation was a durable example of that. Finland was left in peace so long as it did not threaten the USSR’s security. Russia was more than happy to let sleeping dogs lie for many years. There was no real effort made to regain control over former Soviet republics after 1992. After all, Belarus and Ukraine were either favourably inclined toward Moscow or, at very least, neutral. Things began to change when NATO and the EU made it very clear that they would not adhere to their commitments. When the USSR gave its consent to German reunification, they did so under the explicit understanding that NATO and the European Community would not expand past Frankfurt-an-der Oder. By 1995, the EU expanded to Finland. Russia said nothing. By 2004, the EU and NATO had expanded to the Russian border with the inclusion of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, with the expansion of the EU to Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, etc.
The Obama-era US and EU were more active in Ukraine than many are led to believe. The Colour Revolutions were not quite so innocent and they definitely had American and European fingerprints all over them. Over the last years, things had gone relatively quiet and people could largely ignore it all. Whatever his personal foibles, Trump was taken seriously and his willingness to abandon diplomatic niceties and cut to the substance. The Americans could claim to be a reliable ally and counterweight.
Since January 2021, it’s all changed. There is a sense in Moscow, Tehran and Beijing that they have a window of opportunity to do their worst. The EU is not a credible force. Moscow knows full well that the EU is utterly reliant on Russian oil and natural gas. The EU can slap all the sanctions it wants on Russia. Russia’s primary exports to the EU are untouched out of necessity. Russia simply invested in its neglected agricultural sector and whatever it lost, it more than compensated for with increased exports of meat and cereals to China, Indonesia, Pakistan and India. Russia sees the Americans as weak and discredited, especially with an escapee from a Wilmington Alzheimer’s home wasting space at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Nor is Russia acting alone. China, which is the real threat, is running circles around the distracted and weakened Americans in East Asia. Russia and China are working together. By 2025, the situation will likely be very different. The mood music (outside the monoparty blue centres) is not friendly to the Democrats and there is a sense that the USA has been humiliated and discredited — not by outsiders, but by itself and people are in the mood for change.
Until then, Russia and China are doing their upmost to weaken, isolate and discredit the US. Even if the US proves to have more formidable leadership after the next general election, the balance of power will have shifted dramatically away from the USA. Ukraine is a distraction. Russia is moving into Cuba and Venezuela. China is cementing is influence over Africa and expanding it in Europe. The worse things are this year for the US, the more likely the Democrats are to lose badly in the midterm elections. With the Republicans likely to net about 40-45 seats in the House and 4 seats in the Senate, the administration will be completely crippled and Republicans are in the mood to drag Dementia 46 through the dirt. He will almost certainly be impeached, though not removed from office. His administration will face investigation after investigation, committee after committee tearing them apart. It will, of course, make for thrilling political entertainment but it will achieve little other than to make political points. The Democrats richly deserve it, but it will not come without cost.