By Stephen Blank
June 07, 2022
Real Clear Defense
Einstein memorably defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different result. With a persistence worthy of a better cause European governments, assorted “wise men”, and members of the Washington foreign policy commentariat continue to argue for Ukrainian neutrality, territorial concessions to Russia, and against American and NATO policy that supposedly are in some ways responsible for this catastrophe or liable to launch another Iraq or Afghanistan. These eminences also assert their fear of escalation—a fear Putin and his lackeys are all too willing to encourage—and an ostensible humanitarian concern. However, it would not be unduly cynical to suspect that energy and pecuniary concerns drive much of this activity in Europe, especially as many energy companies have covertly surrendered to Putin’s demand that they pay in rubles and the new energy sanctions are far from being sufficiently rigorous. Here we should also remember that as late as last year and despite sanctions on Russia, these governments were covertly selling military equipment to Russia.
Meanwhile the governments of France, Italy, and Germany have all engaged in fruitless conversations with Putin trying to find out what he will accept so that he will not be humiliated.
What these outpourings of solicitude for Putin at Ukraine’s expense have in common apart from fear of Russia – another sentiment Putin and his lackeys baying for blood assiduously foster – is what can only be described as a willed ignorance of Russia and of the nature of this war. As we all know, this war remains a classic example of an unprovoked aggression whose main objectives go back to the seizure of Crimea in 2014, if not earlier Russian efforts to subvert Ukrainian statehood. As I’ve written, the means used to pursue these objectives make this war a genocidal war, one that is inherently destructive of any kind of order, moral or political. And the overwhelming evidence shows that these genocidal policies are not aberrations but high policy ordered from Moscow.
These eminences also ignore the fact that Putin has spurned every offer of negotiations and actually believe that progress has been made to achieve a settlement comprising territorial concessions and neutrality. This assessment willfully misreads the actual picture. We must constantly remind people that in launching this war Putin broke at least seven solemn international treaties and accords to which Russia is a full signatory, including Ukrainian neutrality. Therefore, on what basis can we assume that he and his government will observe an eighth such settlement? None of these worthies can answer this question. This is especially important because Putin has refused every “off-ramp” or offer of negotiation since he thinks he can ratchet up the pressure on what he considers to be a decadent West until it gives him everything he wants. Apparently he still thinks Russia can prevail militarily. Indeed, his recent moves reveal an intention to mobilize the entire population and state for war. On this basis it is hardly surprising that Putin’s claque of bloodthirsty television announcers baying for a nuclear war in Europe in their regular 60 minute hate programs have coined a new Russian verb, Makronit’, from French president Macron’s name, meaning to spend hours in useless and pointless conversation. These are not the signs of someone interested in genuine negotiations.
Russian observers, like Tatiana Stanovaya, know better, and like this author, continue to be dismayed at Western elites’ failure to understand Putin and willingness, as in Einstein’s observation above, to pursue pointless efforts to convince Putin to see things as we and they do. As she rightly observes, the West remains paralyzed by myths, first that Putin thinks he is losing, second that we must help save his face to prevent nuclear escalation. This last and widespread myth misses the point, grasped by the Economist, that Putin escalates no matter what happens as the aforementioned examples of Russian mobilization show. A third myth is not only that Putin is losing but that elite solidarity is cracking and there is growing danger of a coup. This kind of thinking disregards the fact that Russian insiders are now thinking they can win by the fall because they have convinced themselves that the allies will tire of supporting Ukraine by the autumn.
We may also recognize that no Ukrainian government will accept an outcome leaving Russian forces on their territory and that may also include the territory seized before this war. Likewise, any observer of this war understands that an outcome leaving Russian forces in occupation of parts of Ukraine merely invites new rounds of warfare because Putin, like Catherine the Great, has no way to defend his frontiers other than by expanding them. Thus, this outcome will not only be portrayed as a victory for Putin but will ultimately furnish a pretext for further aggressions because Russia’s state system cannot function otherwise. Finally, it is distressing that so many experts, both real and self-styled, continue to get Russia wrong, unlike President Zelensky, and the Polish and Baltic governments. The Russian proverb that one who has been whipped is worth two who haven’t been, merits consideration here as those states have literally felt the Russian lash. But if we give Ukraine the unequivocal support it needs, those who now appease Russia might escape that fate. For it should be clear to all that Ukraine now is saving itself by its exertions and Europe by its example.
Stephen J. Blank, Ph.D., is Senior Fellow at FPRI’s Eurasia Program. He has published over 1500 articles and monographs on Soviet/Russian, U.S., Asian, and European military and foreign policies, testified frequently before Congress on Russia, China, and Central Asia, consulted for the Central Intelligence Agency, major think tanks and foundations, chaired major international conferences in the U.S. and in Florence; Prague; and London, and has been a commentator on foreign affairs in the media in the U.S. and abroad. He has also advised major corporations on investing in Russia and is a consultant for the Gerson Lehrmann Group. He has published or edited 15 books, most recently Russo-Chinese Energy Relations: Politics in Command (London: Global Markets Briefing, 2006). He has also published Natural Allies? Regional Security in Asia and Prospects for Indo-American Strategic Cooperation (Carlisle, PA: Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College, 2005). He is currently completing a book entitled Light From the East: Russia’s Quest for Great Power Status in Asia to be published in 2014 by Ashgate. Dr. Blank is also the author of The Sorcerer as Apprentice: Stalin’s Commissariat of Nationalities (Greenwood, 1994); and the co-editor of The Soviet Military and the Future (Greenwood, 1992).