Russia has reportedly massed up to 150,000 troops along its border with Ukraine, and it threatens to continue territorial conquest against its more democratic neighbor that it began in 2014 when it illegally seized and annexed Crimea and much of eastern Ukraine. Its deployment is the largest military build-up in Europe since the end of the Cold War. It could also presage Europe’s largest conflict since World War II.
It is doubtful if Russia would have moved on to Ukraine had it not so easily gotten away with its 2008 invasion of Georgia and its subsequent creation of pro-Russian proxy states carved out of sovereign Georgian territory.
Three dynamics are pushing Putin forward. The first is a delusion of grandeur. Putin wants to recreate the Soviet Union in all but name. Some American realists counsel appeasement, but there is no reason why the Soviet Union—one of the greatest colonial empires ever built—should be considered the natural state of affairs when the rest of the world has decolonized.
The second is an economic diversion. Putin has run Russia’s economy into the ground. It is a country of first-world restaurants and third-world hospitals. Elites in Moscow might jetset around the globe and the declining middle class might enjoy beach vacations in Turkey or Egypt, but the rest of the country stagnates if not declines. Military crises successfully distract the Russian public and allow Putin to wrap himself in a nationalist flag.
The third is weakness. Simply put, Putin does not take President Joe Biden seriously. Biden’s gaffes—think a “minor incursion”—only compound Putin’s assessment. Nor do Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov take Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan seriously. They see Blinken as weak, indecisive, and effeminate and Sullivan as young and inexperienced. It behooves the White House and Congress to remember that Washington spin seldom works outside Washington.
It would be unfair only to blame Biden, however. President Donald Trump’s rhetoric both bolstered Putin and diminished the White House. The Ukraine invasion began under President Barack Obama. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s “reset” was naive.
The real problem is deeper. Russia’s aggression and sense of impunity did not begin with Georgia, but rather with Japan. In the tail end of World War II, Russia seized southern Sakhalin and the Kuril Islands from Japan. While the Kremlin states the Treaty of San Francisco gave it legal cover to occupy and annex the Japanese territory, the United States disagrees. Indeed, the U.S. Senate found that “nothing the treaty contains is deemed to diminish or prejudice, in favor of the Soviet Union, the right, title, and interest of Japan, or the Allied Powers as defined is said treaty, in and to South Sakhalin and its adjacent islands, the Kurile Islands, the Habomai Islands, the Island of Shikotan, or any other territory, rights, or interests possessed by Japan on December 7, 1941, or to confer any right, title, or benefit therein or thereto on the Soviet Union….” Even those inclined to read the Treaty of San Francisco as giving Russia sovereignty over South Sakhalin and the Kuril Islands ignore that Russian occupation continues to extend beyond both.
Successive U.S. administrations, distracted by the Cold War and the threat to Europe, largely deferred criticism of Russia’s land grab against Japan. Time laundered Russia’s actions. In hindsight it is clear that the land grab against Japan hewed the path Putin now takes. It convinced the Kremlin that naked aggression and land grabs could work.
As Russia concentrates its forces on Ukraine’s borders, perhaps it is time to reassert U.S. support for Japan, to deploy U.S. forces off Sakhalin and the Kuril Islands, and to encourage Japan to do likewise. This need not presage conflict, but it would be useful to remind Russia that its past territorial aggression is not forgotten and its size is a liability, not an asset. If Russia is forced to divert some forces from Ukraine to watch its eastern flank, all the better.
Now a 1945 Contributing Editor, Dr. Michael Rubin is a Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). Dr. Rubin is the author, coauthor, and co-editor of several books exploring diplomacy, Iranian history, Arab culture, Kurdish studies, and Shi’ite politics, including “Seven Pillars: What Really Causes Instability in the Middle East?” (AEI Press, 2019); “Kurdistan Rising” (AEI Press, 2016); “Dancing with the Devil: The Perils of Engaging Rogue Regimes” (Encounter Books, 2014); and “Eternal Iran: Continuity and Chaos” (Palgrave, 2005).
February 18, 2022 at 12:35 pm
I don’t think the Russians will be impressed if US and Japanese “forces” show off the flag at the Okhotsk Sea. I think they will simply ignore them.
from Russia with love
February 18, 2022 at 4:11 pm
amazing! the representative of the country that killed thousands of people in Iraq, Libya, Syria, Serbia and other countries, without UN sanctions and any legal grounds, referring either to the daughter of a diplomat from Saudi Arabia, or to Powell with his evening dose of cocaine, decided to accuse someone of aggression and belief in impunity?!? what’s going on here? is this a “be the best example of hypocrisy” contest?
February 18, 2022 at 4:23 pm
Top rogue state is the genghis of our time, or the gazpacho global conquistador of the 21st century.
Today this rogue state is militarily squatting in 140-150 countries around the world, with or without permission or sanction, and keeps all kinds of weapons on their soil.
Fortunately, this much feared carpophorus is led by a senile old man and it has come right up against Putin, the ‘killer’ of carpophoruses.
from Russia with love
February 18, 2022 at 4:43 pm
“In hindsight it is clear that the land grab against Japan hewed the path Putin now takes. It convinced the Kremlin that naked aggression and land grabs could work.”
if someone doesn’t know the story, then I’ll explain … it’s written about the defeat of the Japanese Kwantung group by the USSR army in 1945, which led to the surrender of Nazi Japan, with which the United States also fought, on September 2, 1945.
why did the doctor undertake to write about historical events without knowing history even at the elementary school level?
I’m shocked! this article was written in order to demonstrate the depth of the degradation of education in the United States?
February 18, 2022 at 6:37 pm
ROGUE STATE ? The country that stores it’s nuclear weapons outside its borders and far, far from home.
The extremely ruthless angel of death of modern times.
February 19, 2022 at 1:06 am
I think Russia went rogue back in 969 when Sviatoslav I of Kievian Rus destroyed Khazarian empire and dared to challenge Byzantine power in the Balkans.
Reign of Sviatoslav I was when Russia clearly went rogue.
February 19, 2022 at 7:06 am
You are confusing a rogue country with a great power. Once the Russian tsars said that the country has only two friends – the army and the navy. Someone is self-sufficient, and someone is used to surrounding himself with vassals. Self-sufficiency is not an outcast. And surrounding yourself with vassals is pathetic cowardice.
February 19, 2022 at 9:30 am
It’s insane how hyper-focused people are (especially on the left) with Russia, when it’s china that is our biggest threat, Russia can only go through Ukraine any further it’s automatic response of war…so Putin’s not stupid…china on the other hand we have no real treaties with anyone in SE Asia…it’s open season on every country. But more importantly if Taiwan falls we’re in deep Ish….no more microchips for the F-22’s and F-35’s and the battle tanks and the sat’s and and and…figure it out.
February 19, 2022 at 11:44 am
Kievan Rus was not Russia. Russia has propagandized for 500 yrs that She is the Kievan Rus, but she is rather the conqueror and subjugator of Kievan Rus lands, and a mere pretender to a Rus inheritance. Russia is the greatest imperialist of all time, in terms of area and numbers subjugated. Whether Tsarist or Communist, Russia has oppressed and murdered its own people and striven mightily to export its poisonous aggression.
Stalin alone killed 20 million of his people. The sins of the West, excluding Hitler (Stalin’s brother in totalitarianism), pale by comparison. The West is full of Russian emigres, there are few going in the other direction. The Ukraine needs to be afforded the right of self-determination.
China is indeed a dangerous threat. Unfortunately, China controls the upper echelons of both US parties, the Federal bureaucracy, and major US businesses. There is no reason for the people of the West to feel comfortable. In the West, the greatest threat is from within.
February 19, 2022 at 1:55 pm
Lol.. the US is a rogue state.. at least Russia isn’t trying to genocide her own people.
February 19, 2022 at 7:40 pm
Michael Rubin is another neocon fool who wants to send our sons and daughters to fight for foreigners but certainly isn’t going to send his. Yes, this marionette sponsored by Raytheon says Russians are dreaming of conquest in other lands. How many wars has Moscow started in last twenty years? Then compared to how many we have started.
February 20, 2022 at 7:11 am
Michael Rubin is actually a war mongering leftist. Notice how he trashes Donald Trump. This guy is light years away from being an American patriot. Shame on Dan Bogino’s staff for using 1945. 1945 is a Far left site with nothing but anti-American propaganda
February 20, 2022 at 7:50 am
Kievan Rus this term appeared in the 19th century in historical books and defined the period when Kiev was the capital of Russia before that other cities were the capital! and as a state , Kievan Rus did not exist , taking into account its history , it was one country . Talking about oppression is insanity and stupidity how can you oppress yourself?))) You are also lying about the 20 million sentences killed by Stalin from 1920 to 1953, there are not even a million!!! you know more about imperialism, you live in it. The USSR was a country ruled by the working class, peasants, workers and intellectuals. A lot of people left for the West, including many who found refuge in the United States and Canada, being criminals and murderers who collaborated with the Nazi regime in Germany and did not feel very bad there, finding their friends and like-minded people, which suggests that Nazism is your native! The United States has staged 201 armed conflicts out of 248 that have occurred in 153 regions of the world since the end of World War II. These are figures only for the years 1945-2001. In particular, the wars unleashed by the Americans in the Middle East are not taken into account. Well, do you want to talk about aggression further?))))
February 20, 2022 at 9:14 am
If a resident of Ancient Russia were asked if he lives in Kievan Rus, he would simply not understand anything and would think that he was asking an idiot. Kievan Rus – a term coined to refer to the period when the capital was Kiev in those days. And there were many capitals in different periods.