Putin’s dream: A Russian Full House?
Let’s assume Russian President Vladimir Putin has an old map of Imperial Russia on his desk. A map fueling his dreams of a Russian Empire reassembled. Can Putin put the Russian House of Cards back together again?
On the western edge of that old map, Putin sees Finland was inside the Russian Empire until 1917, when the Bolshevik Revolution accelerated the dissolution of the Russian Empire. Moving eastward, his eyes would focus on Ukraine that left the Russian Federation in 1990. Moving further eastward Putin would see Crimea back inside the Russian Federation. Although Crimea was given to Ukraine by Premier Khrushchev in 1954, Putin pulled pro-Russian Crimea back into Russia in March 2014.
Further east and south, Georgia comes into view. Georgia declared its independence from Russia in 1918. Stalin, born in Georgia, forced Georgia into the USSR in 1922. But in 1991, like so many of the Soviet satellites, Georgia declared its independence. But, in 2008, Putin-directed fighting broke out between two pro-Russian provinces and the rest of Georgia. The Russo-Georgian War ended with Russia unilaterally recognizing the two pro-Russian provinces of Georgia as Russian. They are still occupied by Russian troops.
Actually, the Russian Empire began to spin apart when Czar Nicholas II wasn’t satisfied with merely leasing the warm-water Port Arthur from the Chinese. The Czar asked Japan to help Russia declare Port Arthur was inside the Russian Sphere of Influence. Japan, fearing Russian expansionism, refused. Russo-Japanese relations went from bad to worse in 1904 when a Japanese field artillery barrage sank Russian battleships at anchor in Port Arthur. The Russo-Japanese War ended in 1905 when the Japanese Navy, during the Battle of Tsushima, wiped out almost every ship in the entire Russian Navy.
President Teddy Roosevelt brought Imperial Russia and Japan to a peace conference in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, winning a Nobel Peace Prize for President Roosevelt. While Roosevelt was meticulously even-handed, the Japanese came away feeling they had been cheated. Perhaps, the resentment was still felt on December 7, 1941?
What we should learn from all this accordion-like expansion and contraction of the Russian landscape is that ethnic Russians are paranoid. And, following the collapse of the USSR, the Russians are more paranoid than ever.
That was when the western allies displayed their ignorance of Russian interests by pushing for some of the USSR’s former satellites to join NATO. Apparently, they did not understand the path to a peaceful Russia is for Russia to be surrounded by small, non-aligned Border States. Then, along comes Vladimir Putin and his grand vision of a Russia put back together as it was before 1905.
Putin knows the U.S. has no Vital Interests at stake in Ukraine, in Crimea, and in Georgia. And that most of the NATO nations will not make their measly two-percent contributions to their own defense. Putin knows the Obama-Biden* neutered U.S. military is no real threat.
So, will there be a war over Ukraine? The military-industrial complex would benefit. War might help the Democrats with the next elections. For sure, Putin holds a winning hand. But will it lead to a Russian Full House? That remains to be seen.
Selected Reading: The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman, 1962. The Russia House by John le Carré, 1989.
©2022. William Hamilton.