by Aris Roussinos
Friday, 30
September 2022
Analysis
13:15

Putin’s annexations may just be the beginning

Autocrats abroad appear to be following the Russian leaders' lead
by Aris Roussinos
Soldiers in Luhansk, a territory Vladimir Putin intends to annex. Credit: Getty

While it is a tiresome tic of liberal analysts to compare every world event to the dark 1930s, it must be said that in one respect the events planned for today genuinely threaten to return our continent to the worst days before the great global cataclysm. This afternoon, the Russian Duma is set to recognise the annexation of Ukraine’s partly-conquered provinces of Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhia. This is no no doubt a means to ward off any further Ukrainian counter-offensives — already threatening Russia’s meagre gains in this war — by making them at a stroke of a pen an assault against Russia itself.

By declaring these Ukrainian territories an inalienable part of Russia, Putin grants himself the right to respond with devastating force against any further Ukrainian gains. His acolytes have not been wary of threatening nuclear war, and the prospect of his using at least a tactical nuclear weapon on our home continent is now, unfortunately, not something we can easily dismiss. There is a clear path towards further, once unthinkable, escalation and no visible route towards de-escalation. The immediate prospects are extremely bad indeed.

But more generally, the breaking of the longstanding international taboo against the annexation of another country’s territory, foreshadowed by the 2014 annexation of Crimea, is not limited to Ukraine. Putin’s erratic frenemy, Turkey’s President Erdogan, has been emboldened by his quasi-annexation of much of northern Syria to now threaten an invasion of Greece’s Aegean islands, warning Greece that “support from America and Europe will not save you.” Such an assault would instigate a bloody war between two of NATO’s largest and best-equipped armed forces, drag in France (which is pledged to defend Greece) and sink the Atlantic alliance.

To Europe’s east, Azerbaijan’s aggressive dictator and Erdogan ally, Ilham Aliyev, has escalated from his successful war against the disputed Armenian-held territory of Karabakh to attempt an invasion of Armenia proper. It is a sad irony for Armenia that her only hope of fending off Azerbaijan’s aggression depended on Russia: distracted by his flagging war in Ukraine, and with a personal antipathy to Armenia’s weak and West-leaning leader Nikol Pashinyan, Putin is unlikely to come to the embattled nation’s rescue.

Across Europe’s eastern fringes then, from the Baltic to the Aegean and the Caucasus, Eurasian autocrats have been emboldened by the prospect of America’s seeming decline to redraw our continent’s map as they see fit, irrespective of the wishes of the peoples who live in the territories they now claim. Correctly, Macron made the inviolability of national borders, rather than vague appeals to liberalism or democracy, the focus of his recent UN speech, warning of a “new imperialism” that is setting the stage “for other wars of annexation in Europe, today and perhaps tomorrow in Asia, or Africa or Latin America.” And it is reassuring to see that the Biden administration, along with its support for Ukraine’s war for national self-determination, has come out, at least rhetorically, in strong and rare support for both Greece and Armenia’s right to the very same. 

But fine words may soon need to be matched by strong action if these dark trends continue. Before America is soon distracted by another great crisis in the Pacific, and by its own internal woes, us Europeans must learn to defend ourselves from our eastern rivals. A dark winter is drawing in, and the wolves are already howling at our door.

Join the discussion


To join the discussion, get the free daily email and read more articles like this, sign up.

It's simple, quick and free.

Sign me up
Subscribe
Notify of
guest
33 Comments
Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Betsy Arehart
Betsy Arehart
2 months ago

”…us Europeans must learn to defend ourselves from our eastern rivals.” That is totally correct. Europe should have long ago put resources into their military preparedness, instead of funding social programs because they knew they could rely on “Big Bad USA” to do their defense for them. The much hated Mr. Trump pointed out the practical and moral necessity for Europe to contribute greater resources for their defense instead of relying on American largesse. We are no longer in financial position, seeing our resources drained by problems generated by our decades long slide into European progressivism.

Last edited 2 months ago by betsyarehart
Peter B
Peter B
2 months ago

Any Russian annexation makes absolutely no difference. Everyone knows the referendums are faked and no one recognises them.
One might also ask why Russia did not do this months ago when they occupied more of these territories. If it were that important, why not do it then ? And how can you have a referendum when you do not control an entire territory and cannot count all the votes ?
And why has Russia moved from recognising the fake Donetsk and Luhansk “people’s republics” to annexation ? If “indepedence” was good enough for them in February 2021, why is it necessary to annex them now ?
It’s all nonsense. Ignore it and keep going.
It is Russia that is in terminal decline. The US is not. Anyone beting on the US’s decline is going to be sorely disappointed.

Aaron James
Aaron James
2 months ago
Reply to  Peter B

First, about USA Decline – ever watch Jo Biden trying to shake hands with an invisible friend? Or Kamala saying North Korea is a trusted Partner, and hearing her word salad fallowed with her unhinged laughing? But midterms, and 2024 may fix those, maybe – could be the rot is too deep. But…

”Any Russian annexation makes absolutely no difference”

Did you not read the article? It makes a huge difference, it changes the whole picture. It would make them Russian soil, and Putin said what attacking Russian soil will bring.

That this regional conflict was turned into a very weird WWIII by Biden and his man Boris, and the rest of the Bit Players, was insane.

As far as the article bringing in Armenia and Turkey.. If this had not turned into this Huge conflict by the $100 Billion Biden and the others pumped in – those would have been shut down because the world would not be in chaos. This war has shown the impotence of the World Powers to keep the peace. Now anyone may give it a go.

The treaty Table – that is where Biden should have sat, with Zalenski and Putin. This regional conflict did not need to be dragging the entire world economy into depression. It was none of our National Interests, and we should have not essentially gone to war with Russia over it.

Peter B
Peter B
1 month ago
Reply to  Aaron James

1) USA decline – meaning economic and military decline – is nothing to do with any personal failings of Jop Biden and Kamala Harris. This is just whataboutery. It’s about economic, military, demographics and political strength (or weakness) and the amount and quality of allies you have. USA wins hands down against Russia on China.
2) It would *not* make them “Russian soil”. Russia can claim whatever it wants about what is “it’s land”. It has no legal validity and no one is buying it. The Russian occupation of Crimea has never been recognised (and sanctions for that are still in force). So it makes absolutely no difference. I could move my fence 1 foot sideways into my neighbour’s garden and claim that land was now “mine”. It wouldn’t change the facts. This really isn’t difficult to understand.
3) It should by now be beyond doubt that Putin cannot be trusted and there is little point negotiating with him.
4) I suggest that Putin’s disastrous Ukraine adventure will have the exact opposite effect of encouraging others to “have a go”. They way it’s going, he may well end up losing everything in Ukraine, plus the illegal occupation of Transnistria. It’s time to clear up all the “frozen conflicts” deliberately created by the Soviet Union/Russia once and for all. The Russian empire is over. Whether Putin, you or I like it or not.
5) Russia’s Potemkin military has now been exposed for what it is. Good luck to anyone else going up against Western weapons and intelligence. They’ll certainly need it.

martin logan
martin logan
1 month ago
Reply to  Aaron James

But the reality is: we have gone to war with Russia.
And, sadly for you, we have destroyed the Russian army. Much more significant, however, the “mogilizatsia” has zero chance of changing the war’s course. Luhansk will fall and then Donetsk. Kherson may actually be last, since it is already an isolated “kettle.”
Putin might have opened negotiations two months ago, and kept some of what he’s taken.
Now he will lose everything.
The real question now is whether Russia survives this.

Emre 0
Emre 0
2 months ago
Reply to  Peter B

When you say things like this, are you actually aware of a plan or thought about Russia’s threats to use nuclear weapons, or is it another chapter of gung ho “we’ll invade Iraq and all will be fine” type of strategic thinking?

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
2 months ago
Reply to  Emre 0

So Russia should be able to do as it pleases? Does that logic also apply to the UK? Can they recreate the empire and threaten to nuke any country that refuses?
Whilst Russias threats have to be taken seriously, they also can’t be seen to be giving in to Russia just because they’ve made them, otherwise the same thing will keep happening again and again. Russia need to know that any use of nuclear weapons will result in a catastrophic response, the whole point of mutually assured destruction.
I don’t want to see any nuclear weapons used, but if Russia uses one because it’s losing territory that didn’t belong to it to begin with then the blame lies with the Kremlin and nobody else

Emre 0
Emre 0
1 month ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

It’s not the American intention that worries me here, it is the incompetence – in particular the incompetence to understand other cultures, which happened again and again in the last few decades across the globe. In this case it is the Russian culture, and given we’re looking at a MAD scenario, this is a much bigger problem and danger.

martin logan
martin logan
1 month ago
Reply to  Emre 0

One minute the US is the evil genius that so understands foreign cultures that it engineers uprisings everywhere.
The next, it is a fumbling idiot that can’t do anything right.
Please get your story straight…
But this is also exactly the way most Russians see reality. They are worse at understanding other cultures than almost any people–Ukraine’s most of all.
Russians just assumed that Ukraine would welcome them, and that Europeans were so soft that they would immediately acquiesce to the big, bold Russian army.
Indeed, Putin still reflects the old Soviet view that Russia is somehow leading a third world uprising against “neo-neo-colonialism.”
Russia’s current leadership is very poorly educated, and, like Putin, have almost no real experience in dealing with other cultures. So, for the most part they’ve just dusted off old Soviet cliches and continued.
Spying and invasion are their only skills. So they have to continue their old Soviet games–even when they don’t believe a word of Marx or Lenin.

Peter B
Peter B
1 month ago
Reply to  martin logan

Bang on.
The Russians have also replaced the Americans as the worlds’s least welcome and worst mannered tourists. Not that they’ve got much of that to look forward to these days.

Emre 0
Emre 0
1 month ago
Reply to  martin logan

Lol – you sound like those two things are incompatible. You only need to look at the – well-documented – case of Iran to see that.

martin logan
martin logan
1 month ago
Reply to  Emre 0

Indeed, the US (and their mindless puppets) was able to martial half a million people on Maidan.
Credo absurdam–which seems to be the latest Russian battle cry.

Emre 0
Emre 0
1 month ago
Reply to  martin logan

Beat that strawman with anger, maybe it calms you down to think about the original question I asked…

R Wright
R Wright
2 months ago

Pretty sure Turkey de facto annexed northern Cyprus decades ago. The taboo isn’t a real taboo.

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
2 months ago
Reply to  R Wright

There is a big difference between de facto and open annexation. You see it in Uraine too. As long as Russia de facto controlled Donetsk and Luhansk, future diplomacy was open to different solutions, incorporation as special regions in Ukraine, even withdrawal, while to some extent saving face. As integral parts of Russia any such move would be counted as ‘dismemberment of Russia’ and could only be seen as a disastrous defeat.
Politically the two are very different indeed.

Peter B
Peter B
2 months ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

Not really. Only if anyone other than the Russians accepts the illegal annexations. Just ignore them.
Putin’s actions have already taken any serious prospect of negotation off the table. No one can trust him.

Andrew Wise
Andrew Wise
2 months ago
Reply to  R Wright

Israel falls into much the same category, with UN resolutions ignored for decades
We can be very selective in our history when we want.
Im not being an apologist for Putin, just a realist

Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
2 months ago

America isn’t so much in decline as it is paralyzed by internal politics. To put it bluntly, we’re too busy fighting each other to coherently fight anyone else. There’s no foreign enemy Americans hate more than each other, so any war will be wildly unpopular with roughly half the population, and we’ve seen how well that works. If the Europeans want to stop Erdogan and his ilk, they can build their own armies. Also, we’re at the point where the possibility of actual civil war is openly discussed, so there’s a certain rationale for saving the army to put down possible rebellion.

martin logan
martin logan
2 months ago

Looks like every Russian just stepped aboard flight MH-17.
I hope they know what they are doing.
Because Putin doesn’t…

Dermot O'Sullivan
Dermot O'Sullivan
2 months ago

I find the article rather alarmist but I could be wrong.

M. M.
M. M.
2 months ago

Aris Roussinos wrote, “[We] Europeans must learn to defend ourselves from our eastern rivals. A dark winter is drawing in, and the [Russian] wolves are already howling at our door.”

No foreign power is imposing the government of Vladimir Putin onto Russia. This government exists because the majority of Russians support and maintain it. So, ordinary Russian people, not only Vladimir Putin, are responsible for the unjust war that Putin initiated against the Ukrainians.

All European governments must ban the entry of Russians into their countries. Russians who lack the citizenship of the European country in which they are residing must be expelled back to Russia.

The Europeans should aim the full intensity of their anger at the Russian people.

The New York Times translated the phone calls (by Russian soldiers in Ukraine) intercepted by Ukrainian intelligence officers. The Russian soldiers willingly (and, in many cases, enthusiastically) slaughtered Ukrainian civilians. (See the reference.)

Get more info about this issue.

Last edited 1 month ago by Matthew M.
martin logan
martin logan
2 months ago

That actually is an excellent reason to give still more aid to Ukraine.
Unless Russia suffers horrendously for this aggression, it will encourage others to do the same. Mussolini, Japan and Germany were all encouraged by the initial successes of each other’s foreign aggressions.
Bush’s go-it-alone policy in Iraq ended a decade of successful interventions by a coalition of nations.
No single nation should be a World Policeman. But we do on occasion need an efficient riot squad.

Josef Oskar
Josef Oskar
2 months ago

Devastating and true.

Chris Whybrow
Chris Whybrow
2 months ago

If Aliyev tries to invade and occupy a sovereign country, then we’ll have every reason, and every right, to deal with him as we are dealing with Putin now.

martin logan
martin logan
1 month ago

The only question now is: how much of the Russian Army will make it back to Russia?
Like Nasser’s gambit in 1967, this invasion has destroyed a once great army.

Aaron James
Aaron James
2 months ago

does anyone else get a large part of their comments sent to the moderators? The article above is Very deeply flawed – but I guess it is the agenda, and thus protected.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
2 months ago
Reply to  Aaron James

You flood every article with your pro Putin nonsense, almost none of based on fact or reality so to try and play the victim and complain that UnHerd has an agenda against you is another fantasy of yours.
Also how is it flawed? Has Russia not just tried to carve off another nations territory by force? Is Armenia not threatened with the same?

David Bell
David Bell
2 months ago
Reply to  Aaron James

Your comments are so extreme it is hardly surprising that they are moderated. Try Russian media for a more receptive audience.

Mark Goodhand
Mark Goodhand
2 months ago

There is a clear path towards further, once unthinkable, escalation and no visible route towards de-escalation

Surely the obvious route to de-escalation, unpalatable though it is, is for Ukraine and the West to accept the annexation, like they accepted the earlier annexation of Crimea.
To soften the blow to Ukrainian national pride, help the innocent civilians there, and discourage further encroachment (by Turkey as well as Russia), the EU could fast-track Ukrainian membership (perhaps along with Moldova), and vow to defend EU territory with the full combined military might of the member states, using French nukes if necessary.

Peter B
Peter B
2 months ago
Reply to  Mark Goodhand

The Western countries have *not* accepted or recognised the Russian occupation of Crimea. Sanctions were still in place for this even before the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
Hope we’ve got that clear now.
If I were in Ukraine, I wouldn’t want guarantees from the EU. Only NATO and the USA.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
2 months ago
Reply to  Mark Goodhand

How would rolling over, accepting a sham referendum and allowing Russia to carve off a large section of another nations land discourage further encroachment?

martin logan
martin logan
2 months ago
Reply to  Mark Goodhand

Rather laughable stunt, actually, considering that Novorossiya shrinks with every day.
There may have been nations that started negotiations when they had a good prospect of getting much more on the battlefield.
But they aren’t recorded in history.

Last edited 2 months ago by Martin Logan
David Bell
David Bell
2 months ago
Reply to  Mark Goodhand

Appeasing the bully never works.