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Scott S
Scott S
10 months ago

Great article, I love these pieces that take a historic viewpoint. I think you have Putin spot on Dominic, he is a mixture of a Tsar and a Soviet leader. He, and no doubt many Russians do not view or want to view the world as the west does, especially now, as the west is in my opinion weak and seems to be pulling itself apart, and looking at its history in a very negative way. I also think, as a Brit, it is important to try and understand Central and Eastern Europeans view of Europe and Eurasia, as territories and countries have constantly shifted over the centuries, and security is a major factor, where Brits do not share this level of anxiety, due to our island nation (I’m open to be put right on this by any readers from Eastern Europe, as this is only my assumption, and is currently being reinforced by reading a biography of Otto Von Bismark). Putin is one of the last of his breed, only a few others still exist, and it is important to understand his mind set, no matter how wrong his actions and beliefs we deem (and are, see Navalny) unsavoury, and see the other side, as we could encounter serious consequences for all involved.

Last edited 10 months ago by Scott S
Martin Bollis
Martin Bollis
10 months ago
Reply to  Scott S

Unfortunately one of the others of “that breed” is Xi and I’m sure he and Putin talk a lot.

I’m very much in favour of taking a nationalistic and unemotional view of our country’s interests but think we should stop kidding ourselves that we are somehow always the good guys. The west’s actions over the last couple of decades, from bombing weddings to abandoning the Kurds, are pretty shaky foundations for the moral high ground.

Any arguments about getting involved in Ukraine must rest on an unemotional view of what’s in our short medium and long term interests.

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
10 months ago
Reply to  Martin Bollis

Martin, I agree with the sentiment that the UK trying to come over like the good guy is ridiculous. But what we should also focus on is how the values which are important to the UK (freedom, democracy, territorial integrity) are aligned with those of the Ukraine and provide support accordingly. The UK has got itself into a right old mess in the past by trying to foist these values on countries and people who did not want or understand our way of life…but in the case of the Ukraine it is different. These values are what is at stake for them in this situation and they are willing to fight for them themselves, but need our support. Support should be provided based on those beliefs rather than simply “interests”.

Last edited 10 months ago by Katharine Eyre
Martin Bollis
Martin Bollis
10 months ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Katherine

I absolutely understand where you are coming from but question whether the Ukraine case is different.

Democracy for Sale by Peter Geoghegan is a fascinating book tracking dark money to tax havens across the world. It identifies Ukraine as one of the most corrupt countries on earth.

The colour revolutions were encouraged if not aided and abetted by the west.

Did NATO promise not to extend eastward and therefore has it reneged?

Yesterday’s post by Jon Redman on the Foucault thread sets out Putin’s conservatism, which seems to be much more aligned with Eastern European value systems (Poland, Hungary) than the collapsing value system in the West is now.

In the world of realpolitik, is a justification for war based on shared beliefs valid, particularly when there are real grounds for debating whether those beliefs are genuinely shared?

Does the kleptocracy in Ukraine favour the West because it knows they can fill their personal bank accounts more easily under Western jurisdiction than they would be able to under Russian, or do they have a genuine commitment to democratic values?

I don’t know the answers to any of these questions, but feel I should before supporting policies that could commit the UK militarily.

All that’s before we even start thinking about the Biden family commercial interests in Ukraine!

Martin Bollis
Martin Bollis
10 months ago
Reply to  Martin Bollis

Probably also worth wondering whether Germany’s suicidal reliance on Russian energy is an act of incomprehensible strategic naivety, or the start of a conscious realignment with the Great Bear.

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
10 months ago
Reply to  Martin Bollis

I think what I’m basically trying to say is this: if the West wishes to survive as a power and a model to which others aspire, then there needs to be a full-throated support of the freedom and integrity of the Ukraine right now.
If, instead, we simply see this through the prism of interests and economic concerns, think “nah, it’s only post Soviet wasteland – not worth it!” and allow Putin to have his way – then that would be the end of the West.
Germany? No, this is no conscious realignment. It’s laziness and insecurity dressed up as WW2 atonement and a twisted interpretation of Ostpolitik where only Russia matters.

Ted Ditchburn
Ted Ditchburn
10 months ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

I think the constant mentions of NATO expansionism should point out that it was an EU treaty, and the refusal of the pro Russian Ukrainian leader to sign it, that kicked off the revolution that toppled him. The trigger has been the EU’s insatiable desire to expand not Nato’s. Putin feared behind the EU would follow NATO. This fact seems to get wafted away by commentators seemingly unable to ascribe any unworthy, or incompetent, actions by the EU to the EU.

Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
9 months ago
Reply to  Ted Ditchburn

Agree. The EU seems to be the expansionist imperial power, not so much Russia. Just because it’s with laws and economics rather than tanks makes it no less so.

Stephanie Surface
Stephanie Surface
10 months ago
Reply to  Martin Bollis

It is the latter: “an act of incomprehensible (strategic) naivety”. Perfect timing for Putin, especially as far as Germany is concerned. Germany’s government seems totally incompetent and rudderless: a children’s book author is her Economics and (green) Energy Minister, a young female Foreign Minister, who never achieved anything in her life apart from serving as an MEP in Brussels and mostly cheating on her academic achievements. There is also a new hapless Defense Minister sending 5000 helmets to the Ukraine, although Germany is the 5th biggest weapons exporter in the world.
As most of of Europe, especially Germany, is highly dependant on Russian gas, just the threat of Putin turning off the tap, sends chills down the spine of most European governments…

Warren T
Warren T
10 months ago

You failed to add a senile and buffoonish American President.

Ted Ditchburn
Ted Ditchburn
10 months ago

The attempts by ..who exactly? Berlin, Brussels, Paris, their sympathisers in the British establishment? to spin German actions in insanely complicated ways and not as the inevitable results of previous actions and policies, is incredible.
Germany stuck to the daft idea that *winning the cold war, did mean the end of history, longer than most. Maybe the actual reunification in the 90’s meant it’s politicians were thus the most persuaded that history had indeed *ended*?
Anyway the idea that if only we trade Putin and Xi’s countries will become more like us has been about as wrong as any in History.
Germany, sticking to this, axed nuclear power for largely internal political reasons (to steal the Greens clothes) and was left with literally nowhere to go but sell it itself to Putin for some of his gas…and when he bought Germany he in effect got the EU for free.

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
10 months ago
Reply to  Martin Bollis

The reason why the West is crumbling is because we don’t believe in anything anymore beyond purely economic interests and therefore not in ourselves. We have sold ourselves out to the God of GDP and made ourselves weak. Now is the time to refocus on those values and recognise who is in our tribe and who isn’t. There’s plenty of room for discussion about to what extent the countries of the former Eastern bloc are on our wavelength (probably not all the time and and about all things) but right now, when the basic question is a) do you want to be a free country, maintaining the existing borders and working towards Western-style democracy, however imperfectly, or b) would you like to be at least partially annexed by Russia, then I’m sure most Ukrainians would go for a).
Now is not really the time to be messing about with the finer details of Foucault. I’d be looking more towards his fellow Frenchman, Houellebecq, for answers right now. “Submission” is a powerful statement about what happens when lazy, decadent Westerners encounter the drive and power of a belief system.

Last edited 10 months ago by Katharine Eyre
Martin Bollis
Martin Bollis
10 months ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Katherine

Clearly you see it in pretty black and white terms. We have reached an inflexion point where we must support western principles of democratic self determination against an authoritarian regime, or forever give up on the western project. The only moral position is to fight (fortunately in somebody else’s country.)

I genuinely understand that point of view. I’m slightly surprised to find myself arguing against it, but I also see a rather murkier picture of a lot of dubious interests that aren’t entirely clear.

I think your point about lazy decadent westerners encountering a belief system is entirely valid. If there was a western politician with any coherent plan to reverse the decadence, I’d be very supportive. As things stand there isn’t, and you’re right, we are decadent. Something is rotting. Will fighting reverse that?

I’m not sure I agree entirely with “we’ve sold ourselves out to the God of GDP.” Realpolitik has always been a fairly naked power game. Whether that’s measured in GDP, territorial growth or whatever. Nations taking part have generally cloaked their ambitions in high sounding rhetoric.

The leaders we have will go to war, or not, based on their perceived self interest. Either way, it will be dressed up as a defence of the western way of life, or some variation on America First.

Perhaps we should do something about the rot before we facilitate yet another several hundred thousand deaths in another country, whose history, traditions and internal loyalties we only dimly understand.

It’s also entirely possible that I’ve reached a point of being distrustful of any “narrative.”

Increasingly I feel like a citizen of Oceania that’s twigged the citizens of Eurasia are being fed the same lines. Hence the effort to think through the contra position.

Last edited 10 months ago by Martin Bollis
Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
10 months ago
Reply to  Martin Bollis

“The only moral position is to fight (fortunately in somebody else’s country.)”
No, that’s a misunderstanding of my position – I am in favour of supporting the Ukraine in fighting its own battles. The last 20 years if nothing else should have taught us that intervention in terms of (our) boots on the ground is a mug’s game. I think the new doctrine of the West would be to first ascertain whether a country basically aspires and is committed to following our model and then say “right, OK – you can be a part of it, but you have to go out and fight for this yourself. We’ll help you…by training troops, supplying weapons, supplying moral support etc.”
We have to do a better job of articulating what “the West” still means, as without that – how are countries going to look at us and want to be a part of it? And this is where the rot comes in and I’m just as clueless as you when it comes to how to reverse it…perhaps a start would be if Putin did turn off the gas to Europe as part of this ongoing dispute. Lots of Europeans (including Brits) would suddenly feel physical discomfort flowing directly from a dispute where our professed core beliefs are at stake. Are people prepared to see the bigger picture and shiver a bit so that Ukrainians can be free? That is such a banal question and yet it goes to the root of whether the West can survive as an alliance held together by shared beliefs or not as it would show us what values are really worth when it comes to the crunch.

Martin Bollis
Martin Bollis
10 months ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Feels like we’re in agreement for the most part.

A foreign policy that “first ascertained whether a country basically aspires and is committed to following our model” before providing military support, would be an excellent idea. I’m not totally convinced Ukraine would pass that test but as a doctrine I completely agree.

I absolutely agree “We have to do a better job of articulating what “the West” still means,” but how can we when we don’t seem to know anymore? I know what I’d like it to mean, but my version would be substantially at odds with most people under 30 that I know.

If Russia invades, and we don’t support Ukraine, large numbers of people will die. If we do support Ukraine, the war will go on for longer, so even more people will die, and the risk of a much larger conflagration will increase significantly. Once it kicks off I think we might be grateful if being a bit chilly is the only consequence.

I supported the war in Iraq, which I now regret. On a personal level, I’m feeling some reluctance to generously offer up the lives of people in Ukraine in support of a narrative that is cloaked in high principles but I sincerely believe is probably hiding a number of much baser motives.

Maybe the last two years have just turned me into a conspiracy theorist! In any event, my views on the matter won’t change anything, but I’ve enjoyed the conversation, thanks.

Ted Ditchburn
Ted Ditchburn
9 months ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

I agree the whole *nation building* thing…or rather *national refashioning* …thing was always a hopeless, unattainable chimera to base anything on, let alone foreign policy.

However *nation supporting* when their is a clear indication, or set of indications, the nation wants our support is not only hard headedly, pragmatic it is also a moral imperative.

Cathy Carron
Cathy Carron
9 months ago
Reply to  Martin Bollis

Let Europe fight these European wars. It’s time for the USA to back out of NATO. It’s ridiculous that the USA military remain in Germany, decades past WW2 and knowing that Germany is now beholden to Russia for natural gas. It’s the definition of insanity.

Last edited 9 months ago by Cathy Carron
Johann Strauss
Johann Strauss
9 months ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

While I partly agree with you, I would also note that a war with Russia would be unwinnable and cost huge number of lives. I would argue that Ukraine is as much an integral part of “Russia” as Scotland is of the U.K., or California of the U.S. And therefore we should not interfere in what is really an internal matter, just as we didn’t interfere, for example, in the American civil war.
Now I think this whole situation could have been avoided if we currently had strong US leadership rather than somebody at the head who is and appears to be very weak. The situation could also have been avoided by not interfering in Ukraine, first by the EU and subsequently Nato expanding eastward. The truth is that the Russian reaction is no different from the US reaction to the installation of missiles in Cuba during the Cuban missile crisis.
Perhaps it’s time for cooler heads to prevail and make clear to the Russians that Ukraine will never be part of NATO. That’s all the Russians are asking and the US has not only failed to give that assurances, but as far as I can gather has indicated that they would welcome Ukraine into NATO vat some future date. That’s just plain dangerous and playing with fire for no reason at all. Further, it is simply silly because there is no way that NATO would come to the defense of Ukraine if it were in Nato, anymore than it would come to the defense of Estonia and Latvia, countries that very few in the West could even place on a map. But in the case of Estonia and Latvia, the failure to abide by Article 5 would effectively mean the end of NATO.

Kate Heusser
Kate Heusser
9 months ago
Reply to  Johann Strauss

In what sense is Ukraine ‘an integral part of Russia’ or their relationship in any way comparable with those of Scotland within the UK or California within the USA?
Scotland’s crown was merged with England’s at the beginning of the 17th century, and its government with England’s at the beginning of the 18th. They have been run as a single entity ever since – although some Scots would always have preferred separation and, if current polls are accurate, that now applies to about half of the electorate. California voluntarily joined the United States of America over 170 years ago, and hasn’t sought to change that position – although, of course, individual states (and politicians) will always seek to maximise their independent powers and characters within the federal country.
Ukraine was ruled by the Czars until the early 20th century, then by the Moscow-centred system of ‘soviets’ for over 60 years. When given the opportunity to stick with Russia voluntarily after the break-up of the USSR – it chose independence. More than that, it chose non-alignment. That status, as citizens of a sovereign, non-aligned country is what the vast majority of Ukrainians alive today have grown up with. If ‘the West’ no longer believes they have the right to keep their own government – because another country’s leaders want to take their country – which other countries will we weasel out of supporting, if Russia, China or another predator casts a jealous eye in their direction?

Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
9 months ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Submission is also what Islam demands. It’s not just Putin or China we need to be concerned about. Lebanon and Syria used to be Christian countries……

Cathy Carron
Cathy Carron
9 months ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

The Woke need to be brushed aside. Enough already.

David Nebeský
David Nebeský
10 months ago
Reply to  Martin Bollis

NATO never promised not to extend eastward. The “promise” is just a Russian lie.

Martin Bollis
Martin Bollis
10 months ago
Reply to  David Nebeský

This seems to be quite a thorough analysis of the sources

https://www.rferl.org/a/nato-expansion-russia-mislead/31263602.html

It supports your assertion but makes the point that it isn’t entirely clear cut.

David Nebeský
David Nebeský
10 months ago
Reply to  Martin Bollis

In 1990, the Warsaw Pact still existed. No one was even thinking of expanding NATO (beyond East Germany).
Later NATO countries did not want to expand NATO – it expanded mainly thanks to the diplomatic activities of Poland and the Czech Republic. And the expansion was cancelled once – during a visit to Prague in 1994, Bill Clinton rejected the already almost agreed admission of the eastern countries to NATO and only offered Partnership for Peace instead.

Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
9 months ago
Reply to  Martin Bollis

There are plenty of people in the West who feel more than a bit of kinship with Eastern Europe in their fight to resist wokery and Islamification

Sheelagh Hopkins
Sheelagh Hopkins
9 months ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

What territorial integrity have we got?

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
10 months ago
Reply to  Scott S

“it is important to try and understand Central and Eastern Europeans view of Europe and Eurasia, as territories and countries have constantly shifted over the centuries, and security is a major factor, where Brits do not share this level of anxiety, due to our island nation”
One of my best friends is Estonian, and you’re right. They’re a country of 1.2m next door to a country of 140m with a recent history of invading them and deporting their people to Siberia. She’s scared stiff and has every right to be.

Ted Ditchburn
Ted Ditchburn
9 months ago
Reply to  Drahcir Nevarc

And the Russians never shut up about the large Russian speaking minority..and all examples in history of massive countries who won’t shut up about supposedly done down minorities in other, always smaller, countries, has usually led only one way.

Martin Logan
Martin Logan
10 months ago
Reply to  Scott S

Sorry, this doesn’t get to the essence of Putin–and his alma mater, the KGB. It was created by Stalin using recruits from the lowest level of Soviet society, people who weren’t too fussy about killing people in large numbers. Still, worse, they were encouraged to see anyone better than them as both weak and an enemy.
Then, when the Soviet Union fell, they weren’t too fussy about stealing state assets, or hiding them abroad
Post-Soviet society isn’t called a “kleptocracy” for nothing. Putin and his cohorts have little desire–and less capability–to create a modern state. They fear the rise of anyone smarter or more capable than them. They would rather suppress their best and brightest than risk losing power to them. Russia is in stagnation, and will remain in that condition for the foreseeable future.
This is not war in the conventional sense. Rather, it’s a hare-brained “special operation,” dreamt up by people whose only real experience has been with spying. That Putin hasn’t decided whether to attack is not surprising. He’s no strategist. He simply hopes that if he keeps this up long enough, the other side will back down.
And, sadly, he may be right.

Scott S
Scott S
10 months ago
Reply to  Martin Logan

You are quite right, I should have mentioned the kleptocracy that Putin excels in, and his wealth seemingly spread throughout London.

LCarey Rowland
LCarey Rowland
10 months ago
Reply to  Scott S

He certainly seems to be more humane than Stalin, friendlier than Krushchev, and smarter than Yeltsin. Even so, I wish it were Gorbachev in top spot.
But hey, oh well, as the French say, C’est la guerre.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
10 months ago

I have very mixed feelings about it all. I think China is out to take over the world, and will if strength is not maintained. The Western Progressive Liberal loathes themselves, their history, their culture, their religion, and their Nations. This means inevitable weakness and fragmenting.

India is a other great power, but not quite yet. They are the only land with the demographics to project strength forward; China and the West in decline demographically, but India still poor. (“The Great Game” is one of histories most fascinating pieces – the long spur which comes off NE Afghanistan to Chinese Turkestan was established to stop Imperial Britain from sharing a common border with Imperial Russia to reduce the chance of war if their soldiers were face to face. (and Afghanistan kept independent mostly, but for 5 odd wars…)

The West is in Spiritual decline to the sickness of Postmodernism, and Russia is the other great World Power. I happen to like the Russian way of keeping its self true to its self – Ukraine being a satellite does a great deal in keeping it strong, and historically they are intertwined – kind of like the Russian Block needs to remain strong as China is very scary, and the West is weakening – so I think a Strong Russia helps keep the global balance of power. Decades ago I once Married a Westernized Ukrainian woman (for money – not illegally, but it was just one of those strings of events one gets caught up in…) and I remember how they despised the Russians – but really, they seemed more in common than dissimilar… although I may get flamed for saying that.

I hope it all works out – but just feel the Very last thing we need to be doing is making everything worse. I almost think it has some ‘Domestic Violence’ kind of thing about it – and getting in the middle of it, at this time of China intrigues, is not a good thing. Sort of like Europe is totally weak, and adding Ukraine will not make it stronger – but it will make Russia stronger if Ukraine stays out of Europe, and the enemy of my enemy is my friend where China is considered. But I do not know the situation much.

Adam Bartlett
Adam Bartlett
10 months ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

A really good balancing comment to the excellent article. To add another angle, over a century ago Spengler predicted that Russia would eventually cause the reversal of the West’s spritual decline, with a third great issue of Christianity. (Based on the Gospel of St John, characterised by universal brotherly love, inspired in part by the great open Russian plains). Not too confident about this, there’s obviously stacks of indications Russia hasn’t been developing that way, but on my limited experience with Russians I still think Spengler may turn out to be correct.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
10 months ago
Reply to  Adam Bartlett

I also have had the feel that Russia and its surroundings could be the reservoir of Christianity which may prove great worth one day. Christianity does not do well in Fat Times and places, it is an austere Religion at its core.

David Nebeský
David Nebeský
10 months ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

Christianity does not do well in Russia either. Holy Rus is a 19th century myth.
In Russia, Christianity always served the interests of the current Tsar – there has never been any such thing as a division of secular and spiritual power in Russia.
Moreover, Russian Christianity has an incredible tradition of ignorance. As late as the 16th century, most of the Bible was unknown. Very few ancient writings were known only from translations made for Russia in Bulgaria – no one in Russia knew Greek, and Latin writings were rejected a priori.

Claire D
Claire D
10 months ago
Reply to  Adam Bartlett

What an insightful essay from Dominic Sandbrook, and your comments both Galeti and Adam B, thank you. Fascinating.

Martin Bollis
Martin Bollis
10 months ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

Interesting comment, I have a lot of sympathy with your assessment but most particularly enjoyed your marrying a Ukrainian woman in “one of those strings of events one gets caught up in.”

Alas my strings have never been quite so interesting.

Justin Clark
Justin Clark
10 months ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

To conclude, it means Russia must join NATO…?
Whichever way you look at it, differences must be put aside…?
https://www.spiegel.de/international/world/open-letter-it-s-time-to-invite-russia-to-join-nato-a-682287.html

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
10 months ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

“China and the West in decline demographically, but India still poor.”
Moreover, Russia’s population is lower than Bangladesh’s – 140m vs 160m.

SULPICIA LEPIDINA
SULPICIA LEPIDINA
10 months ago
Reply to  Drahcir Nevarc

Ah, but who would you rather have on your side?

Alex Stonor
Alex Stonor
10 months ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

I was in Kiev circa 1987 for some months and the local young people/students (which we were), expressed their alliance with the Ukraine by using a smattering of their own language for generic things. Apart from that we all spoke Russian.

Kevin Dee
Kevin Dee
10 months ago

Reading Prisoners of Geography really opened my eyes to the Russian defensive situation and why they basically need to control Ukraine for their own defense.
I would challenge the article a bit in painting the West as somewhat naive to what is going on. They surely have people who know exactly what it means to Russia when Nato continually expands right up to the Russian border. They also know exactly what Ukraine means to Russia yet supported the overthrow of the Russia friendly government in favor of a western friendly government. I don’t think “supported” just means cheering from the sidelines either.
It suits them to paint themselves as simply reacting to aggression from a mad Russian dictator but I don’t really buy that.

John Fitzgerald
John Fitzgerald
10 months ago

Putin reminds me of De Gaulle in many ways. There’s the same understanding of the nation as a living, breathing, eternal thing. For CDG, for instance, the particular regime in charge – monarchist, revolutionary, republican, imperial, etc – was never the deepest reality. France was the deepest reality. The political styling and flavouring was secondary and disposable. He saw Germany and Russia in the same light too. Putin is cut from the same cloth. He tries to minimise the differences between the Tsarist and Soviet regimes. Western commentators don’t like it but De Gaulle would have understood.

This is why I think that Macron, for all his faults, has the best chance of anyone of getting through to VP. He’s the only Western leader – with the possible exception of Orban – who thinks in civilisational terms. Like Putin, he’s also very keen in projecting his own nation’s power. He doesn’t have the resources – militarily speaking – that the Russians have, but he does his best with what he’s got. Just like De Gaulle (who Macron has read, of course) used to do.

Margaret Tudeau-Clayton
Margaret Tudeau-Clayton
10 months ago

Just a reminder: in late 2019 Macron described NATO as brain dead – which doesn’t seem too far off the mark given the current incumbent of the White House…. A year later there were worries Trump might pull the US out of NATO altogether….
https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/03/us/politics/trump-nato-withdraw.html

Jürg Gassmann
Jürg Gassmann
10 months ago

I find this article disappointing – not so much for its pre-WW II history, but for its Social Darwinism bent and revisionism on recent history and current affairs.
It is important to appreciate that Russia under Putin has been meticulous about observing the letter of international law (something that certainly cannot be said for the US, the UK, or NATO, none of whom have any compunction about staging coups or waging unprovoked wars of aggression).
Russia did not invade Georgia – Russia patiently baited the vainglorious and megalomaniac Saakashvili, who – believing NATO and the US had his back – promptly fell for it and attacked the well-prepared Russians; Georgia suffered for having been used as NATO’s stalking horse. Georgians know this, and Saakashvili is correspondingly disliked in Georgia.
Similarly with Crimea. Russia did not invade Crimea, and did not “annex” Crimea (a term with a very clearly defined meaning under international law, and one that constitutes a grounds for legitimate war). The troops were already there, as part of the Russian Sevastopol naval base garrison. The garrison was not even up to the strength permitted by the treaty. Crimea – a region with limited autonomy under the Ukrainian constitution – declared independence, then voted to join Russia in a plebiscite held under international observers, with over 90% voting “yes”. Nobody has ever suggested this did not reflect the views of the people of Crimea. The rebelling eastern Ukrainian provinces also wanted to join Russia, but Russia turned them down.
The intermediate range missile spat of a few years ago revolved around a similar issue – under the treaty, the relevant criterion is the MAXIMUM range, and the Russian missile rang clearly exceeded that. But of course, their MINIMUM range was well within the treaty, but by the letter of the treaty not relevant.
Given that consistent record, an unprovoked attack by Russia looks extremely unlikely. The much greater danger is yet another NATO miscalculation in its provocations, without this time Russia remaining cool.

Colin Elliott
Colin Elliott
9 months ago
Reply to  Jürg Gassmann

How do you fit covert GRU operations, and the bombing of Syrian hospitals into your pro-Putin argument?

Justin Clark
Justin Clark
10 months ago

Tim Marshall’s book Prisoners of Geography(: Ten Maps That Tell You Everything You Need To Know About Global Politics) was quite revealing in respect of Russia…it’s first chapter: –
“President Putin is no fan of the last Soviet president, Mikhail Gorbachev. He blames him for undermining Russian security and has referred to the breakup of the former Soviet Union during the 1990s as a “major geopolitical disaster of the century.”
Since then the Russians have watched anxiously as NATO has crept steadily closer, incorporating countries that Russia claims it was promised would not be joining: the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland in 1999; Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, and Slovakia in 2004; and Albania in 2009. NATO says no such assurances were given.
Russia, like all great powers, is thinking in terms of the next one hundred years and understands that in that time anything could happen. A century ago, who could have guessed that American armed forces would be stationed a few hundred miles from Moscow in Poland and the Baltic States? By 2004, just fifteen years after 1989, every single former Warsaw Pact state bar Russia was in NATO or the European Union.
The Moscow administration’s mind has been concentrated by that, and by Russia’s history.”

Martin Logan
Martin Logan
10 months ago
Reply to  Justin Clark

I sincerely doubt that Putin is thinking in terms of the next one hundred years, or even the next one hundred days.
Everything he has done in the last 8 years to get Ukraine back has failed: Syria, Libya, the various assassinations, etc.
He simply thinks that it’s now or never.

Peter B
Peter B
9 months ago
Reply to  Martin Logan

I’m not sure he sees this as “failed”. I think he’s been quite happy to trash Syria and would do the same in Ukraine if that’s the only way to keep the West out. Funny how none of the Syrian refugees went to Russia – even though Russia broke it.

Judith Downey
Judith Downey
10 months ago

Excellent analysis, Dominic. I agree that it’s crucial to look to Russian history when considering Putin. I don’t think we can ignore how much Russia has suffered from invasions from the West. And how exposed they were. After all Napoleon made it to Moscow! Europe of the 21st century is not likely to pose such a threat but the US has seen no limits to the expansion of it interests and still maintains a central strategic role in Europe.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
10 months ago
Reply to  Judith Downey

Dominic Lieven’s book on this, Russia Against Napoleon, is interesting. He articulates the case, well known in Russia but less so in the west, that the 1812 campaign was not standalone. Since the Treaty of Tilsit in 1807, the Tsar’s plan was to defeat Napoleon once and for all in three campaigns: an invasion of Russia that would destroy his army, a follow-up counter-attack campaign into Germany the following year that would drive him back over the Rhine, and finally, a Russian invasion of France in 1814 that would remove him from the throne.
Russia executed this plan precisely, occupied Paris in 1814, and then marched her armies home without annexing a single bit of territory; as a service to Europe, in effect.
Putin has commented on the ludicrous contortions of wokery from the perspective that nothing about its proscriptions or intolerance is new; Russia tried the lot under Communism. As he sees it, 100 years ago there were liberalism, communism, and fascism in the world. The former two allied to extirpate the third, communism collapsed, and liberalism is now decaying and corrupt. The world needs a new, fourth philosophy to live by, and for Putin it’s going to be family-oriented and patriotic conservatism, Russian-style.

Last edited 10 months ago by Jon Redman
Justin Clark
Justin Clark
10 months ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

(thanks for book recommendation!)

SULPICIA LEPIDINA
SULPICIA LEPIDINA
10 months ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

Aren’t you forgetting the Austrians & Prussians to name but two?

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
10 months ago

In 1812, the Austrians and Prussians were on Napoleon’s side and both provided substantial contingents who joined the invasion of Russia. So their early help wasn’t counted on, although Russia expected that a successful campaign in Germany would strip away Napoleon’s puppet-state allies in the Rheinbund.
As it transpired, the war resumed in early 1813, but the Austrians didn’t join in against France until the autumn, and there were no serious German defections until Leipzig in October.

SULPICIA LEPIDINA
SULPICIA LEPIDINA
10 months ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

But that is my point, Leipzig* was crucial battle.
The Russians contributed about 40% of the forces involved whilst the rest were various types of German with a few Swedes thrown in for good measure.

(* Presumably you have seen the magnificent memorial at the site, the Völkerschlachtdenkmal?)

Peter B
Peter B
9 months ago

I think we Brits might have been doing something down in the Peninsula around this time … as well as bankrolling continental allies on and off for around 20 years.

Peter B
Peter B
9 months ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

You mean kleptocracy, oligarchs, state owned journalism, censorship and rule by the secret police ? No thanks. If this “fourth philosophy” is so great, it will naturally spread around the world (without military force). And people would be queueing up to go and live in the utopia of modern Russia. It’s not happening …

Martin Brumby
Martin Brumby
10 months ago

Whilst it is hard to take issue with Domonic Sandbrook’s article, so far as it goes, it misses out a most significant issue.
Holodomor.
Whatever the shortomings of recent governments in Ukraine, I suggest that most Ukrainians will remember Holodomor rather more readily than Poltava.
As to Putin and XI, I regard both as evil men. But either is likely far more intelligent than any dozen of our own Beloved Leaders put together.
And after the Kabul fiasco, I’m sure Vlad the Bad will remember how much dirt he and Xi Jinping have on Biden, Trudeau, Schroeder, Pelosi, Stanley Johnson, Jeremy Farrar, Peter Daszak and scores more.
Interesting that the UK has not won a war since Sierra Leone in 2002. The USA were victorious in Grenada in 1983.
Since then? You think Thoroughly Modern Milley will snatch any chestnuts from even the smallest fire?

Last edited 10 months ago by Martin Brumby
Peter Branagan
Peter Branagan
10 months ago

Really enjoyed your piece Dominic. Many thanks.

For over 60yrs I believed in the superiority of Western values over competing authoritarian regimes largely because I was led to believe we had some inalienable rights – like the right to bodily integrity and freedom of speech/expression.

After 2 yrs of being subjected to terrorising and subjugation by medico/pharma totalitarian cabals, we now know that the masses in the West value ‘security’ over freedom.

The Western masses (including many, many, professors, post docs, PhDs, Masters etc.) have now shown that ‘inalienable’ fundamental rights are entirely contingent on whatever cabal that can terrify them enough.

So now that we know that security trumps freedoms the only remaining question is: which type of polity provides more efficacious government in providing for human wellbeing?

Perhaps we should now look beyond Western style ‘liberal’ democracy.

Last edited 10 months ago by Peter Branagan
John Riordan
John Riordan
10 months ago

“To take an obvious example, Peter the Great, often seen in the West as a beacon of enlightened leadership, ruled with a savagery that would horrify us today. When the Streltsy army units mutinied in Moscow in 1698, he had some of them whipped to death, others stretched until their limbs snapped, still others roasted alive or torn apart with red-hot pincers.”

The rulers who did these things in the past might well laugh at our modern notions of progress, but I am certain that the people subject to such horrors would not, were they alive and in the position to make a choice in the matter. It is of course unfair to single out Peter the Great here: all societies prior to the modern age were infused with both casual and organised violence at a level that would terrify anyone today, there is an objective and utilitarian set of arguments which comprehensively prove the case for progress on this score alone.

However on the main point of the article I agree. My defence of progress generally does not in any way defend the hopeless mess that the modern western political class has made of things. We are ludicrously badly led in general, the Liberal Establishment has a great deal more to answer for than it has any intention of actually doing, evidently.

Last edited 10 months ago by John Riordan
Richard Riheed
Richard Riheed
10 months ago

Excellent article, Dominic, and an important one. Many thanks.

Andrzej Wasniewski
Andrzej Wasniewski
9 months ago

Putin’ KGB training prepared him to quickly spot potential assets , but even in his wildest dream he could not imagine the last two Democratic presidents. The first one a credentialed idiot who wanted to be on the “right” side of history, and the second a senile Roosevelt wannabe. In eight years of Obama administration he transformed Russia from a junkyard of the old military hardware to the status of superpower. But what he still cannot believe is that the US is undoing itself. And that is a problem. Because he does not need a war, he just need to wait.
But he may be too old to wait for a full impact of open borders, Soros prosecutors destroying the American cities, and the US military collapsing under the “leadership” of the woke losers of every war since the Korean war. So he may attack and that is potential disaster.

Last edited 9 months ago by Andrzej Wasniewski
Colin Elliott
Colin Elliott
9 months ago

Did the USA not win in Grenada?

Andrzej Wasniewski
Andrzej Wasniewski
9 months ago
Reply to  Colin Elliott

It is like US Army successfully invading high school. Great success it was

S Smith
S Smith
10 months ago

As someone in the US, it has become quite obvious to me that we (as in two generations of neoliberal and neocon politicians) have endlessly taunted Putin with the push-pull to get Ukraine to join NATO and support of very questionable leaders and movements, several of them unabashedly fascist, there as well. The Democratic hawks are, most especially, screaming for war here, partly because I think they will escape complete obscurity when then are annihilated in the polls in Nov of 2022 and 2024 if they get a bipartisan scramble to engage in military action in Ukraine. In this violent society, with nearly every federal politician in thrall to the military industrial complex, anyone questioning liberal interventionism is usually deemed traitorous and marginalized. Perhaps Biden can see that his people can further marginalize the “other” (i.e. the unvaxxed, critical thinkers on the left, moderate anti-war conservatives) by engaging in something as heinous as sending thousands of American men and women to be blown to bits by Russian Malkas and tanks.
Time will tell. The writing is on the wall for the left in America; unless something incredibly drastic happens they will be vanquished to relative obscurity for quite some time as on the ground families and individuals who have been utterly ruined by the vaccine mandates and extended lockdowns and out of control inflation are desperate to get out of this hellish, faux collectivist morass. I think those of us who are anti-war in the US would be well advised to keep poking our heads above the parapet and making our voices heard, but we are just as marginalized as those protesting these insane vaccine mandates, in my case we are protesting both the drums of war and the vaccine mandates and Covid hysteria. We are ignored, reviled, cancelled and in some cases our lives have been utterly ruined, The US is a badly broken place.

Dermot O'Sullivan
Dermot O'Sullivan
10 months ago

A well-written article. Thank you. I would recommend a fiction book of all things as background reading: The White Guard, by Bulgakov (he of The Master and Magritte fame). Set in Kiev in 1918 in the middle of a civil war it provided me with more insight than many historical pieces. And it’s a damn good book into the bargain.

Kevin Carroll
Kevin Carroll
10 months ago

It’s not just the Battle of Poltava. Its the battles that were fought in the same area. In the border lands between Russia and the Ukraine. Kursk the 1st 2nd 3rd 4th battles of Khavkiv. And the Autumn battles of 1943. That resulted in the deaths of millions of Russians. Thats still very fresh in there minds. And we in the west would do well to remember that.

Helmut Sassenfeld
Helmut Sassenfeld
10 months ago

Great article! I wouldn’t do it but I’m not Putin or indeed any sort of clever, tirelessly ambitious, capable leader. To me the biggest tragedy is that the West has no comparable leader to Putin or Xi and that may well be a big problem soon.

Tony Buck
Tony Buck
9 months ago

Surely you’re forgetting Boris Johnson !

Vince B
Vince B
10 months ago

Bottom line: it’s just a question of when Putin invades Ukraine, how much of it he permanently annexes, and when the victory parade in Moscow will be.
Putin knows NATO isn’t going to go to war over Ukraine (nor should we). So, we will send the Ukrainans lots of weapons and slap all sorts of sanctions on Russia to make an invasion more painful. But the Ukrainian army is tiny in comparison, and additional weapons can only do so much. As the Germans are already proving, any sanctions will be leaky and shortlived.
I predict the victory parade will occur May 9th, to coincide with Russia’s Victory Day, designed to commemorate their victory over the Nazis.

Last edited 10 months ago by Vince B
Paul Smithson
Paul Smithson
10 months ago
Reply to  Vince B

Can’t see it happening. Putin only needs to sit back for ten years and he’ll be able to take over the whole of Europe as all this woke, self-righteous obsession with climate disaster porn, gender definitions, and the like, will make it a soft target that will be gagging for someone to come in and turn the power back on.

Justin Clark
Justin Clark
10 months ago
Reply to  Paul Smithson

Oliver Stone’s interview of Putin was very very interesting. I definitely see the other side/perspective now. Recommended viewing.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
10 months ago
Reply to  Paul Smithson

Never mind the power..we will be gagging for someone to come in and rid us of the woke, self-righteous obsession with climate disaster porn, gender definitions, and the like

Harry Child
Harry Child
10 months ago

This might be a good appeasement essay but unless the consequences are savage why should Russia stop at the Ukraine. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are vulnerable with Kaliningrad as an excuse. We either believe that people of independent countries have the right to choose their leaders or sit back and watch foreign aggressive leaders take by force their neighbours.

Justin Clark
Justin Clark
10 months ago
Reply to  Harry Child

Kaliningrad was always a fascinating piece of the European map… I’ve been “watching that space” for years now… Russian Sudetenland

SULPICIA LEPIDINA
SULPICIA LEPIDINA
10 months ago
Reply to  Justin Clark

What about the ‘ Teutonic Knights’?

Anna Bramwell
Anna Bramwell
10 months ago
Reply to  Justin Clark

Only about 1 million population,because when the natives were killed or fled there was no purpose in repopulating it. See Refugees in the Age of Total War, ed Anna Bramwell, intro Michael Marrus. The Resettlement of Ethnic Germans 1939-1942, Bramwell, London 1988.

Anna Bramwell
Anna Bramwell
10 months ago
Reply to  Harry Child

Because Putin is a Slavophile. All Russia’s actions and interventions in CEE have been in Slavonic/Orthodox countries, Serbia, Montenegro, Bulgaria. He invaded Georgia and left again, after Georgia started shelling civilians in South Ossetia, a Tartar region divided from N Ossetia by Stalin, that fought to leave Georgia in 1991, declared independence in 1992, and was occupied by both Russian and Georgian forces. Nothing to do with NATO, btw.

Jonathan Weil
Jonathan Weil
10 months ago

Great article. I’d dispute “supremely unsentimental” though. Isn’t there something quintessentially sentimental about Putin’s nationalism, with its grand, sweeping idea of Russia‘s National Destiny?

Dennis Boylon
Dennis Boylon
10 months ago

Once again. An unherd Ukraine article is so full of errors and inaccuracies it isn’t worh reading. It substitutes Russian thinking and interests for historical fantasies and Western paranoia. The coup in Kiev and promise to kick Russia out of Crimea (because you can’t invade territory you already control) spurred Russia to annex Crimea as they accepted the coup as an end to coooeration with the central governmemt in Kiev. The only reason Russiq allowed the orange revolution to keep nominal control over Crimea was those leaders accepted the Sevastopol lease, conrinued military cooperation, and didn’t threaen to kick Russia out of Sevastopol. Russia’s only concern with Ukraine is to prevent membership with Nato and missle bases springing up in Ukraine. If it comes down to it the war will look like the Russo-Georgian war of 2008. There will be a permanent independent zone in East. Unfortunately for the coup governmemt in Kiev Russia has better weapons today. Russia is going to make an example of Ukraine if pushed into conflict. The Ukrainian military will be routed and political leaders targeted. I would suggest readers go to thesaker.is if they really want to know how Russians feel about this. From Russians instead of confused Western stenographers.

J Bryant
J Bryant
10 months ago

I suspect we’re underestimating Biden. He has defied expectations since his election.
Biden was supposedly a “nice” man and a welcome contrast to Trump. Since election he has effectively declared war on all Trump supporters. He’s willing to turn the FBI loose on parents who protest CRT in schools; he publicly comments on on-going criminal trials such as the Rittenhouse trial with a view to swaying the outcome; and turns out he has a bad case of potty mouth when he thinks the microphones aren’t on. He’s no nicer than Trump, just a bit more polished.
And he’s not afraid to take decisive action. He’s rammed through one major spending bill and will try any maneuver to push through his Build Back Better bill even if it massively increases the federal debt. He pulled all US troops out of Afghanistan almost overnight–I know there’s a difference of opinion on the way he handled that withdrawal, but he did it.
Now everyone thinks he’s too senile and spineless to stand up to Putin. I’m not convinced. At this point in his struggling presidency, Biden can’t be seen to be weak. He’s dispatched warships and promised 6000 troops if Putin invades, not to mention arms exports to the Ukrainians. He also appears to be teeing up a massive set of economic sanctions.
Everyone thinks he’ll blink at the last moment, but US presidents love some overseas conflict to distract from weakness at home. Let’s hope the situation doesn’t get out of control.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
10 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

I don’t know anyone who thought Biden was a nice man… his history in politics was there for all to see.
And he is certainly on the road to senility. I don’t believe for a second that he is calling the shots, so ‘his’ response to Putin will be decided by others.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
10 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

“I suspect we’re underestimating Biden.”

Obama also warned against underestimating Biden….

““don’t underestimate Joe’s ability to f*** things up”‘” were his exact words…..

Martin Bollis
Martin Bollis
10 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

Normally I’d agree, a good war helps politicians struggling in the polls. Does this still apply in the US right now?

With the humiliation of Afghanistan still so recent, and general war fatigue from all the questionable Middle East adventures, is the US public not more inclining to “it’s a European problem, if they won’t pay for their own defence why should we?”

Justin Clark
Justin Clark
10 months ago
Reply to  Martin Bollis

An American glance at the map of Europe, and then being told that “half of Ukraine is pro Russian” anyway, will confirm how much involvement is warranted.

Warren T
Warren T
10 months ago
Reply to  Martin Bollis

The U.S. public supposedly voted for this joker, so I wouldn’t give much credence to the U.S. public, who is more interested in tearing down statues and complaining about microaggressions than what’s going on in Eastern Europe.
I can’t help but think what these snowflakes would do today if they saw their friends’ bodies being pulled apart and whipped to death, like mentioned in this informative article. Perhaps they would suggest that Putin be given sensitivity training.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
10 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

“but US presidents love some overseas conflict to distract from weakness at home”……but only when the enemy is a walk over
As to Biden, at home he has abused his office and the power of the state, in a way without precedent since FDR, to shamelessly take out political opponents who are in no position to resist

Warren T
Warren T
10 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

Joe Biden has been a Washington hack for over 50 years. He has no spine whatsoever if it doesn’t involve his personal bank accounts. He has a very long, very well documented history of blatant lies in speeches and claims while campaigning. (every politician lies, but his have been especially egregious.) Back in the mid ’80’s he was declared dead as a politician due to his plagiarism.
Today, he is merely a sock puppet for the hard left. Not many other hollow, empty suits would have been willing to sell their souls to stand at a podium and move their mouth while reading off of prewritten cue cards, and still claim to be a man. He is the worst of kind of leader for today’s world.

Ian French
Ian French
10 months ago

Perhaps an acquaintence with Lindsey Hughes’s masterful and very detailed book on the life of Peter the Great might help reveal an insight into the enormous chip Russia has had on its shoulder since his enthronement. Russia was woken up abruptly by the moderniser acknowledging the fact the country was a large underperforming backward nation that needed to modernise rapidly and establish itself as a player in European affaires and beyond that benefited a nation of its enormity. That has been Russia’s path of travel ever since. Putin is entirely in that tradition and hence the the need to “take back” the lost and wayward Ukraine. He’s not interested by mere 17.3% who live there that are of Russian stock. This is about other matters essential to Russianess and their idea of it. The real problems for the West will occur if the Russians expect to push back control to the situation at the end of the WWII borders. You can be assured that the Poles, who hated the Russians and made it plain to me they did so, despite the fact they were still controlled by the Russians when I lived there. Likewise the Baltic seaboard nations all point West. Then we really could look forward to a war and swiftly.

Last edited 10 months ago by Ian French
Tony Buck
Tony Buck
9 months ago
Reply to  Ian French

Yes. Putin’s real target is surely the West.

Does he want to invade Ukraine ?

If so, advertising your intentions for months
beforehand, is a strange and stupid way of doing it.

But Putin isn’t stupid.

Colin Elliott
Colin Elliott
9 months ago
Reply to  Tony Buck

Yes, he wants to invade Ukraine. Or no, he wants to liberate it, as one of his officials said recently.
I think advertising one’s intentions for months has advantages; it confuses the enemy, and once carried out, proves that he means what he says. And have his Western opponents made effective use of the warning? None, and even what little they’ve done provides fuel for the ‘Western threat’ fantasy.
Is Putin stupid? Probably not, as achieving his sort of power requires skills of the type of ‘survival of the fittest’ rather than plausibility in promising better welfare benefits, but it would not be healthy to publish evidence of it, were one to come by it.

David Pinder
David Pinder
10 months ago

Superb article. Thank you Mr Sandbrook

Kristof K
Kristof K
10 months ago

We think of the Western-dominated, rules-based international system as the norm.” But unfortunately we forget that we can’t just pick up the phone and dial 00999 or 00911 to get a nice police person to come and break up ‘Domestics’ between two squabbling countries!

Colin Elliott
Colin Elliott
9 months ago
Reply to  Kristof K

One of the illusions which has taken hold in ‘the West’ is that there is such a thing as international law, and that the UN has meaning independently of its members, leading to an unjustified belief that the world is getting safer, despite the abundance of clues that it is not..
In fact, international law is but a mutually convenient arrangement between countries which believe their interests are served by cooperating, such as on trade, or international maritime rights, but which is ignored if other interests seem advantageous.
The UN only works when the major powers in the world agree on something, or by mistake. This was well known at its formation, because of the failure of the League of Nations, hence the permanent members of the security council and vetoes.

Last edited 9 months ago by Colin Elliott
George Knight
George Knight
10 months ago

Everyone is fixated on the Ukraine at the moment but what is Putin’s longer term ambition? Why would he stop there? He could quite easily go on and take the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. This would be advantageous for his navy. Then he could no doubt have a crack at Poland and Hungary. How much of a buffer does he actually want?
Personally, I have no idea but I do get the impression that he is a supreme strategist whilst in Europe our leaders hold office for relatively short terms and spend much of their time bogged down in insular, low level skirmishes.
Consequently, I do not believe that he will back down.

Tony Buck
Tony Buck
9 months ago
Reply to  George Knight

Correct. If he and Xi want to take on, and take down, the West, now is unquestionably the right time

Martin Logan
Martin Logan
10 months ago

What’s rather interesting is that, unlike 2014, there seems to be zero enthusiasm in Russia for going to war–despite a steady drumbeat from Russian media, and a total blackout of the free press. This is entirely Putin’s own idea.
I can’t see a major land incursion. But I can see a brutal air campaign, a rehash of the Russian actions in Syria. For people like Putin, it will also be revenge for the air campaigns in Bosnia and Kosovo. It will force many in the West to stop it on humanitarian grounds, whatever the long term cost to Ukraine.
We do at least need to be aware that any security gains Putin extracts from us will never solve the basic problem. He will always be threatened by states further West that are not under his control.
Why do you think he demanded that NATO roll back to the 90s?

james ub
james ub
9 months ago
Reply to  Martin Logan

I learned there was rather little enthusiam in Germany before WW2, but a lot before WW1? Not sure it tells us much.

Colin Elliott
Colin Elliott
9 months ago
Reply to  Martin Logan

Is his decision dependent on Russian enthusiasm? Is it not possible that he thinks that an invasion may in fact inspire enthusiasm?

George Kushner
George Kushner
10 months ago

Putin’s in a difficult situation. What’s the point of invasion of Ukraine? He’ll be facing endless partisan warfare generously sponsored by the US and EU, potentially destabilizing Russia itself. And besides, it won’t help with the missiles around the Russian borders ( or new borders ).
The best shot for NATO would be dragging endless talks.

Colin Elliott
Colin Elliott
9 months ago
Reply to  George Kushner

I’m sure Putin has ways of getting Ukrainians to be as loyal in time as are Russians, but it doesn’t matter what you or I think, but what Putin believes, and he doesn’t need to think forward to the possibility of losing an election, or being criticised and interrogated on Moscow radio.
Nor do I think he’d allow talks with NATO (or the US or France or the EU or anyone) to drag on longer than it suited him.

Samuel Gee
Samuel Gee
9 months ago

‘History being on your side or his side” is an odd idea. Not very historical really.

aelfwar
aelfwar
9 months ago

Chilling, Dominic, chilling.

james ub
james ub
9 months ago

Very informative article and comments, but for the UK is there not a simple, perhaps decisive, issue which is being overlooked?: That the USA, UK and Russia guaranteed the independence of Ukraine in return for the latter giving up all nuclear weapons (correct me if I am wrong, this is what I have read.)

Colin Elliott
Colin Elliott
9 months ago
Reply to  james ub

Yes, 1994. Why is not the BBC interviewing John Major about it?

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
10 months ago

Yep.

SULPICIA LEPIDINA
SULPICIA LEPIDINA
10 months ago

A stirring tale indeed, but for the sake of balance you might have mentioned some other incidents.

For a start two years after his stunning victory at Poltava, Peter was outmanoeuvred and outfought by that redoubtable Ottoman Turk, one Baltacı Mehmet Pasha. Faced with starvation and capture Peter was forced to sue for peace on the most disagreeable terms, including surrendering the recently captured Fortress of Azov. Had Charles XII of Sweden who accompanied the Turks had his way, Peter would have been destroyed and perhaps even dragged naked in a cage like a wild animal to Constantinople. In the event Baltaci appears to have been bribed! Thus Peter survived.

Fast forward to 1904-5, and our plucky Japanese allies gave the Russians a ‘dammed good thrashing’ at the Battle Tsushima, and at Port Arthur.

Finally in 1918, Max Hoffman and others destroyed the Bolshevik armies and forced them to make the humiliating peace at Brest-Litovsk. Has Ludendorff not insisted on his Spring Offensive, Hoffman would have been able to destroy the Soviet beast in its cradle and almost certainly take Moscow.

Last edited 10 months ago by SULPICIA LEPIDINA
Tony Buck
Tony Buck
9 months ago

If Ludendorff wanted Germany to win the Great War, he had to launch the Spring Offensive.

LCarey Rowland
LCarey Rowland
10 months ago

Perhaps, for Vlad and his people, the West’s taking of Ukraine would be comparable to a showdown in which Russia decided to occupy the Virgin Islands, or Guam, or Kenya.
How would our Washington brass take that scenario?

Michael Coleman
Michael Coleman
9 months ago
Reply to  LCarey Rowland

Duckduckgo “cuban missile crisis” for the answer to your question.
However, “the West’s taking of Ukraine” and the use of “occupy” are a bit over the top. I imagine you are referring to the possibility of Ukraine joining NATO and not a literal taking. That would require unanimous consent of the current members and will not be happening anytime soon.

Colin Elliott
Colin Elliott
9 months ago
Reply to  LCarey Rowland

Is the West taking the Ukraine? Russia took Crimea and industrial regions of Ukraine, not the West, against international law, but it seems you think it right.
Your references to the three, or rather four, assorted territories, for which international law is as unambiguous as for Ukraine, is too irrelevant to comment on.

Colin Elliott
Colin Elliott
9 months ago

I wonder if there were any ‘parties’ in the Kremlin gardens two years ago, and if someone will leak photographs and, it seems, ALL emails within it, to be duly published in the newspapers and broadcast by the national broadcaster?

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
10 months ago

“Fixated on their own modernity, obsessed with the here and now, many Western politicians seem unable to grasp that at the eastern edge of Europe, history really matters.”
Jeez Dominic, for a historian that analyses human flaws you seem to be suffering from some hubris yourself. I’ve already read several politicians writing about Russian history – they ain’t all as ignorant as your arrogance suggests.

Peter Mott
Peter Mott
10 months ago

I learn from Andrzej Kozlowski, a Polish professor who tweets about these things, that Kadyrov who is boss of the Chechen “republic”, boasted of having killed many Russians. The Russians did not win a victory, they installed a gangster and fled (very sensibly). Link below.
https://twitter.com/akoz33/status/1486784151839821832?s=20&t=KiyJgjJAod28vxjRkCwxQQ

willie.grieve
willie.grieve
9 months ago

The core of this is that the West is weak & that we’ve lost sight of the hard realities of power. And that the smell of weakness attracts wolves, of which the world isn’t short. The only question for me is whether we have weapons in our armoury – financial, economic – which will be a sufficient disincentive to deter Putin; or whether that’s just empty bluster. I wish I knew, because if we don’t have such weapons, there’s hard times coming down the road.

Kate Heusser
Kate Heusser
9 months ago

How on earth does the fact that several hundred years ago, Peter the Great beat Sweden to occupy/reoccupy land be an argument that the current inhabitants of Ukraine should just roll over and tell Vladimir Putin to roll his tanks into their country and take their freedom?
Which other countries would the author like to hand over, and to whom? Greece to Turkey? The USA to Britain? Or bits of it to Britain, France, Spain and the Netherlands?
At what date should ‘history’ be frozen?
The argument is absurd, and very dangerous thinking.

Earl King
Earl King
10 months ago

Right after the invasion. Putin will decide slightly more on the side of total invasion figuring if he is going to pay a price for invasion he might as well take over the the whole country. Ukraine is gone unless Putin is more worried about his income stream. He’ll need some kind of pyrrhic victory.

Terence Fitch
Terence Fitch
9 months ago

A good deal of Fin de Siecle pessimism and proto fascist admiration for a dwarf in giant’s clothing. I’m too old to fight so I’m certainly not going to be that old git posturing while young men bleed out their guts onto the snow but Putin is showing huge weakness. He really is terrified of Russia’s systemic weaknesses: a catastrophic fall in population; high male mortality rate; declining carbon fuels demand; laughably low cultural power- no one wants to be Russian including many Russians and finally- the big lies. To tell big lies is exhausting. A country with the richest ruler with an average salary of $16k! If Russia invaded, what then? Some years of infamy and further cultural decline and the West goaded into action. Meanwhile their longest border is of course with…China who will be dangling Russia like a puppet in a decade or so.

james ub
james ub
9 months ago
Reply to  Terence Fitch

Some dwarf – with 5000 nuclear weapons!

Colin Elliott
Colin Elliott
9 months ago
Reply to  Terence Fitch

If Putin is showing huge weakness, what is Biden showing?

Peter B
Peter B
9 months ago
Reply to  Terence Fitch

Correct. Russia is a declining power. They produce nothing – other than weapons and raw materials – that anyone outside Russia wants to buy. Putin is just papering over the cracks.

Margaret Donaldson
Margaret Donaldson
10 months ago

Thanks Dominic for expressing my own views exactly. Putin must be delighted with the systematic way our own media are undermining the strength of the British government at present. If Ukraine falls, none of the former Russian satellites are safe and neither are we. Here’s hoping Biden and Johnson have a plan. Boris does have a historical perspective on Britain and Europe and Russia and Putin can only be outfoxed by someone as ‘immoral’ as he is. Ironic!

Justin Clark
Justin Clark
10 months ago

and that’s why we voted for the unreliable, buffooning blagger(-who-is-actually-highly-intelligent-British-proud-and-knows-his-history).

Tony Buck
Tony Buck
9 months ago
Reply to  Justin Clark

Which makes his undoubted weaknesses all the sadder.

Tony Buck
Tony Buck
9 months ago

It’s fair to say that few in Britain are remotely worried about Ukraine.

The Iraq and Afghanistan fiascos have seen to that.

Besides, Britain is massively bankrupt.

So let’s talk about Partygate !

Peter B
Peter B
9 months ago
Reply to  Tony Buck

Britain is not “massively bankrupt”. Where does this idea come from ?

Nicholas Rowe
Nicholas Rowe
9 months ago

The Americans should know what an invasion looks like.
Britain lost her moral authority in the Great War when she imposed a savage blockade on Germany which caused immense suffering to the civilian population. Air Marshall Sir Arthur Harris reinforced that moral vacuum with his ruthless destruction of German cities and their working-class inhabitants, area by area.
Perhaps Liz Truss should allay the West’s moral panic by getting Putin to pledge not to invade Ukraine, Poland, Moldova, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Turkey, Iran, Myanmar, Easter Island, Greenland, Costa Rica, Botswana, and the Peoples’ Principality of Wales. 

Tony Buck
Tony Buck
9 months ago
Reply to  Nicholas Rowe

Wars aren’t about moral authority or the moral high ground.

They’re about winning.

And undoubtedly, the British naval blockade of Germany from 1914-19 played a large part in Germany’s collapse in 1918.

Colin Elliott
Colin Elliott
9 months ago
Reply to  Nicholas Rowe

When plunged into existential war, moral authority is not what one fears to lose most.
That said, I believe Britain has managed to retain more moral authority in war than most countries manage. One of my mother’s complaints about the last war was that the German POWs were better fed than British civilians.

Peter B
Peter B
9 months ago
Reply to  Nicholas Rowe

The suggestion that bombing discriminates by “class” (whatever that means) is absurd.
The Germans started both wars in the full knowledge that Britain had treaty commitments to defend Belgium and Poland, so blaming Britain for the consequences is ridiculous.