Assumptions Beget Questions

It’s Saturday morning and time to write another Sunday article. The biggest, among many big, political stories of this week was Ukraine. If you are looking for a definitive prediction of what will happen and when, I’m sorry to disappoint you. If you are looking for some interesting insight and observations please read on.

Vladimir Putin holds all the cards and the world awaits his next move. Will he invade Ukraine – and if so to what degree – or will he simply take all his “checkers” off the board. I’m far from a Putin expert (assuming such a creature exists) but it seems he is concerned with his place in Russian history decades if not centuries from now. Americans think very much in the short term; most of the rest of the world doesn’t.

Putin has stated that he feels the collapse of the Soviet Union was the greatest tragedy of the 20th century. I am among the many who feels he wants to reconstitute it in one fashion or another. His real scope of interest is Eurasia with an emphasis on the European part. (Prediction: I think if it ever got to the point that he dominated Europe and effectively eliminated the United States from the “equation” – more about that below – he would turn on China.)

As a nuclear power and vast nation, Russia could probably defeat any isolated European nation. Its challenge is that as things currently stand it can’t get any of the major ones (and several of the smaller ones) into a one-on-one contest. They have a mutual defense treaty in NATO and it is augmented by the power of the United States. Putin’s strategy is that if you can’t defeat the whole divide the challenge into parts.

By his right wing mythology, he can justify taking over Ukraine. This is so similar to Hitler’s early actions. The difference is that it appears this time the West is absent a Neville Chamberlin. The timing is interesting and I think several factors are at play.

Germany has a new leader who is largely an unknown commodity on the international scene. NATO, especially its European version, is much weaker sans Germany. I think this was a test of Chancellor Olaf Scholz. At this point, while a bit quiet about it, he appears to be passing (from NATO’s standpoint) with high grades.

Unless you are an adherent to American right wing mythology it is increasingly obvious that Putin was a Trump backer and would love nothing better than to see him back in power. Joe Biden’s polling numbers are terrible. Kamala Harris’ aren’t any better. (Whether those ratings are deserved is a conversation for another day.) Trump is the assumptive 2024 Republican nominee and could win especially if the electorate perceives the Democrat as incompetent. If Ukraine blows up it will adversely affect the American economy, especially by at least a short run increase in petroleum prices and perhaps even shortages. Whether they deserve it or not the bulk of the electorate will blame Biden and Harris.

Saturday morning Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky was in Munich, Germany for a conference of western powers. I know that Germany in particular feels this conference is extremely important and did way before the current crisis. That Zelensky left Kiev at this time is huge (and many think a mistake; time will tell). I feel there could be three possible answers for his decision.

He may feel (and is possibly correct) that sans German cooperation and participation the NATO threat to Russia (which has to be a factor in Putin’s thinking) is largely diminished.

He may be playing the same timetable that I am and feels that if Russia invades it won’t do so until after the Olympics which allows him time to get home.

He may just be putting up a tough guy strong front.

Let’s get back to NATO for a moment. NATO is Putin’s biggest military challenge to overcome if he wants to take over Europe. If he weakens Biden and the Democrats to the point that Trump (or a Trumper) returns to the Oval Office he has effectively neutralized the United States as a factor and NATO is a shell of its current self.

If Scholz proves to be weak Germany is much less of an obstacle. In the UK Boris Johnson, assuming he can stay in power which considering what Russia did on Brexit is a real possibility, is another useful idiot much like Trump. Out of the powers that leaves France isolated and the right wing is gaining ground there. I could see an isolated Macron falling. This is the kind of long game Putin is playing.

In Ukraine a possible strategy of Putin’s is simply to undermine Zelensky to the point that his government falls. What he is doing currently lends itself to that strategy. Remember historically democracies die from within and all these moves are aimed in that direction.

The biggest unknowns at this point are what Putin thinks he found as he tested the waters and then, of course, what will he do about it. Assumptions beget questions and I’m a bit short on final and definitive answers today. In any event this is important including to Americans!

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