From the beginning of Vladimir Putin’s reign, the West has been slow to recognize or admit the Russian president’s long-term intentions. Western leaders have underestimated him willingly at every turn. This is not due to Mr. Putin’s political skill but is a historical flaw in the Western psyche that repeats itself every few decades. European and American leaders simply cannot deal with the fact that a strong, foreign government wants to employ its will through military force and conquest. Therefore, they will not face up to this fact until they can no longer wish it away.
Russia does not use force to remove a corrupt government, or an evil dictator, or to stop genocide; it uses force to take territory and expand Russian influence. Ukraine is a war to show other former Soviet republics that you do not ignore Moscow’s wishes.
The West should have seen this coming. If you read Mr. Putin’s words, his intentions have been clear, despite the false denials of Russian involvement in Ukraine. His statements about the tragedy of the fall of the Soviet Union or the use of the term Novorossiya are clear declarations of an agenda. Ukraine is not the end game; the agenda is much bigger. The goal is not to restore the Soviet Union, but to install a replacement entity. It is not communism, but an economic totalitarianism, an economic union that fosters Russia’s interests, or else. We are literally witnessing the creation of a new empire that wants to control all of former Soviet territory. This goal includes all of Eastern Europe, even countries which are part of NATO. President Putin simply does not believe that the West will stand up to his little green men, supported by Russian armor, in the Baltics, Poland or elsewhere.
To a Russian, military force is a natural, even inevitable tool for the state to use. It is something that has occurred repeatedly in their history. A leader deceiving the Russian people is also a natural thing.
On a recent trip to Moscow, I mentioned my frustration that the Obama administration has deceived the American people and my Russian friends just laughed. No one alive in Russia today, or dead for that matter, has lived under a leader who acted in the Russian people’s best interests, as far as peace and prosperity are concerned. For Russia, the goal has always been to control others, to take territory, and to harvest the wealth of those territories for the tsar’s and the Oprichnina’s gain. For this reason, there is no way Mr. Putin can allow the rebels to be defeated for public opinion at home. Russia doesn’t tolerate losers.
In Mr. Putin’s eyes, allowing the West to bomb the Serbs was one of the main reasons for Boris Yeltsin’s downfall. He also wants very much to send a message to Georgia and other former Soviet republics that have shown an inclination to cozy up to the EU. The message is, if you do so, you will be punished.
Mr. Putin has been very patient in exploiting opportunities as they arise in Georgia, Crimea, East Ukraine, and elsewhere. However, with his military improved and his economy weakening, he has nothing to lose. He is emboldened by the West’s weak response. He will employ the same tactics, picking off weak targets, one by one. NATO members will not be immune. Estonia has a 40 percent Russian-speaking population. Perhaps they will need protecting at some point in the future. Poland has been an arch enemy of Russia for centuries. Perhaps somewhere down the road, as the Kremlin grows stronger, they will need to be shown the error of their ways as well.
And then there is Germany. Russia would like nothing less than to pull the German leadership toward the Russian economic vision. Mr. Putin completely understands how to pressure the German corporate and political structure with the threat of loss of economic growth and a cut-off in natural gas deliveries. After all, German Chancellor Angela Merkel was born in East Germany and speaks fluent Russian. Mr. Putin speaks fluent German. They are said to speak often.
The point is, this conflict is not only about East Ukraine. Novorossiya is a stepping stone, one of the initial conflicts in a drive to rebuild a Russian empire. A drive to incorporate all of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet republics into a new commodity-driven, market-oriented, Eurasian economic and military powerhouse that could threaten the world as we know it. NATO be damned. The disintegration of the alliance will just be icing on the cake.
The sooner the West realizes Mr. Putin’s true agenda and takes the appropriate actions, the better off they will be.
Read more about Russia’s economy and Putin’s inside moves.
For more information about L. Todd Wood, visit LToddWood.com.