War And Death In Ukraine – And Sanctions

February 24th, 2022 by Tom Lynch

So, here we are.

Last night, moments after a threatening and vitriol-laden speech by Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin, the massive army he had assembled on the north, east and south of Ukraine’s sovereign borders began the full-out invasion all had been expecting. And innocent people began to die.

This afternoon, after conferring with the other 29 NATO countries, as well as the G-7, President Biden ordered profound economic sanctions intended to cripple the Russian economy. Today, even before the President announced those new sanctions, Russia’s stock market had dropped 45%. Will it matter?

For four years, Putin had a subservient partner in Donald Trump, but when Trump lost to Joe Biden Putin had to reevaluate his strategy. It appears 2021 was devoted to that reevaluation, and in 2022 he began revealing his true self.

On Monday of this week, the cover came off and the world got to see the real Vladimir Putin, the one former Secretary of Defense Bob Gates saw 16 years ago: “When I looked into his eyes I saw a stone cold killer.”

In a rambling, paranoid, seemingly-off-the-cuff, one-hour monologue filled with revisionist history, Putin laid out his case for the invasion of Ukraine. In the view of the Russian Federation President, Ukraine is part of Russia; always was, always will be, and wishing something else won’t make it so. He intends to return Ukraine to the bosom of Mother Russia, where it has always belonged. Same with the rest of the former Soviet Union. He blamed the unfortunate circumstance of Ukraine’s independence on mistakes made by Lenin following the 1917 revolution. He made it seem as if being part of Russia would be the best thing ever to happen to Ukraine. Of course, during his rant he conveniently forgot to mention anything about the millions of Ukrainians Stalin starved with cavalier cruelty during the famine of 1932-33. Thirteen percent of the population wiped out by another megalomaniac.

I know it’s asking a lot, but if you haven’t read his speech, you really should. It’s reminiscent of Hitler’s harangues prior to the annexation of the Sudetenland in 1938, which was the first step on the path to World War II. In a speech at the Sportpalast in Berlin prior to annexation, Hitler claimed that the Sudetenland was “the last territorial demand I have to make in Europe.” Sound familiar?

Putin has bent to his will the Russian Duma, the armed forces, Russia’s police, and what passes for a “news media.” However, the ultimate success of his invasion of Ukraine rests on his ability to continue to persuade the Russian people that Ukraine belongs to Russia and is vital for the country’s security.

It won’t be all smooth sledding for Mr. Putin. Last night, more than 1,000 anti-war protesters descended on Moscow’s Red Square demanding the troops leave Ukkraine. Russian police immediately began arresting them.  Mr. Putin will brook no protest. Which is one reason why Alexei Navalny is about to enjoy another 15 years of penal servitude. Putin failed to kill Navalny, so prison will have to do.

And what about those sanctions? Obviously, Putin has been planning this invasion for quite some time. As I’ve written before, he knows it would be foolish to move against a NATO country and risk the invocation of Article Five. But Ukraine is not a NATO country, so, in his mind, he can do pretty much what he wants. He doesn’t have to stand for any kind of legitimate re-election, so he can afford to play the long game. As Madeleine Albright wrote in a guest essay in this morning’s New York Times, “Mr. Putin is a planner.” She had first met him in early 2000, and was the first senior official in the Clinton administration to do so. Following that meeting she wrote in her notes, “Putin is embarrassed by what happened to his country and determined to restore its greatness.”

As a “planner” he must have taken full consideration of what the West can do to him economically. His apparent response? Sanctions? Shmanctions! They’re worth it for Ukraine, Europe’s second largest country (after Russia).

I am afraid this will not end well for anyone, least of all Russia. But Putin has gone all in. Given his history and his recent behavior, do you see him changing course anytime soon?

Neither do I.

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