In 1938, a ruthless autocrat named Adolf Hitler claimed to be protector of the Sudetenland, a border region of Czechoslovakia, in order to protect ethnic Germans who lived there.
In 2015, a ruthless autocrat named Vladimir Putin claims to be protector of the eastern border region of Ukraine in order to protect the ethnic Russians there.
Is Putin another Hitler? Would his next step be to conquer all Ukraine, as Hitler conquered all Czechoslovakia? Would Poland be next, as it was for Hitler?
I don’t believe these are Putin’s intentions. Everything he has done so far is consistent with his stated goal, which is for the world’s great powers to accept Russia as a peer and to take Russia’s vital interests into account.
But, for the sake of argument, suppose Putin’s aim is to reconquer eastern Europe or even all of Europe. How could he carry it out?
The old Soviet Union was unable to pacify Afghanistan, and had to retreat in ignominious defeat. Putin’s Russian Federation was barely able to crush the rebellion in tiny Chechnya. How could he hope to conquer a nation as large as Ukraine?
Germany in Hitler’s time had world-class science, technology and industrial power, an efficient government and possibly the best army, man-for-man, in the world.
The Russian Federation is ruled by a corrupt oligarchy. It lacks high-technology industry. Its economy is based on exports of natural resources, like Venezuela’s or Iran’s. The military potential of Putin’s Russia is not comparable to Hitler’s Germany
Russians would no doubt fight valiantly to protect their homeland, if invaded, as they always have. They have succeeded in protecting their compatriots in Crimea and eastern Ukraine, where most of the local people welcome them. The Russian army could probably occupy Kiev as quickly as the U.S. army occupied Baghdad.
But then what? The USA was able to quickly occupy Baghdad in 2003, but then became bogged down in a quagmire more. A Russian conquest of Ukraine would be an even bigger quagmire. The result would be a devastated Ukraine and a Russia that had been bled dry.
The Russian Federation has the power to destroy the USA with nuclear weapons, just as our government has the power to destroy them. What neither country has the power to do is to defeat a determined insurgent force being armed by the other side.
Vladimir Putin is too intelligent and realistic to put Russia into such a situation situation. I think that what he wants is a neutral and, if necessary, a neutralized Ukraine—to have enough of a foothold in that country, as in Georgia and Moldova, to prevent that country from allying itself to a hostile foreign power.
If that is his desire, I think it is completely reasonable—certainly not something for the USA to risk nuclear war over.
What does Russia want? by James Meek for the London Review of Books.
Russian science is amazing. So why hasn’t it taken over the world?, an interview of MIT’s Loren Graham for the Boston Globe.
Has the IMF Annexed Ukraine?, an interview of Michael Hudon for the Real News Network. Ukraine faces other worse threats than Putin.
Don’t Arm Ukraine by John J. Mearsheimer for The New York Times. (Hat tip to Bill Harvey).