We must look to history to understand the Putin speech today and the path forward for Russia: The second half of the nineteenth century was good for imperial Russia. While defeat in the Crimean War checked its expansion southward, its army steamrolled across Central Asia to Kamchatka and the Pacific Ocean. Russia appeared strong—a superpower of its day. Emancipation of the serfs encouraged urban industrialization. The Ottoman Empire may have been “the sick man of Europe,” but Russia was a force with which to reckon. There were hiccups. In 1861, Russian forces attempted to establish a permanent presence on Tsushima, a Japanese island in the Korean Strait, but Japanese and British resistance rebuffed the attempt. Still, the Russian rout of the Ottomans in the 1877-8 war laid the ghosts of Crimea to rest.
Appearances can deceive, however. The Tsushima Incident imprinted itself in the Japanese psyche and consolidated belief in Japan that Russia posed a grave and growing threat. Russia’s diplomatic interference after Japan’s Korea conquest exacerbated Japanese unease. At first, the Japanese sought to negotiate and cede Manchuria as a zone of Russian influence in exchange for Japanese primacy in the Liaodong Peninsula and northern Korea. Russia believed itself strong and Japanese concerns irrelevant and so haughtily rebuffed the island nation. Together, these led to Japan’s decision in 1904 to attack the Russian settlement and garrison and fleet at Port Arthur. The rest is history. Russia sought to reinforce its army and navy after its initial failure, but the logistical challenges were simply too great. In 1905, U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt helped broker the Treaty of Portsmouth that formalized Russia’s defeat. For his efforts, Roosevelt won the Nobel Peace Prize.
Back to Ukraine. Last evening, Russian President Vladimir Putin lashed out in a televised speech. He again warned he could use his nuclear arsenal, a very real threat for which responding with boilerplate diplomatic language does not suffice. He announced further mobilizations, presaged annexation of some territory, and said there would be fake referenda in others leading to the same aim. It was bluster meant to cover weakness, but dangerous nonetheless.
The White House is right to worry, but the cost of self-deterring in the face of Putin’s madness is too high to bear. At issue is not simply some tracts of eastern Ukraine and Russia-occupied Crimea, but rather the post-World War II liberal order. To compromise on Putin’s conquest, as former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger suggested, would be to reward aggression and lower the barrier to its use by immunizing aggressors from the consequences of their actions. In addition, if Putin is allowed to digest chunks of Ukraine, he will need to subsidize them in a way that will force Putin into further adventurism to distract Russians from the financial price of administering the new territory.
Instead of compromise, Putin’s threats require a supply of both defensive and offensive systems not only to Ukraine, but to Japan and pro-Western countries along the entirety of Russia’s frontier. Putin should know that while the Ukraine conflict is now limited to Ukraine, he puts Russian territory not only alongside Ukraine’s frontier at risk, but rather Russia’s entire periphery. After all, there is not a single neighbor of Russia that it has not victimized at some point in history.
Internally, Putin likely understands what Ukraine has become. While Putin hoped that the invasion of Ukraine might be like Catherine the Great’s Polish Wars, he has instead replicated the strategic disaster of the Russo-Japanese War. Putin knows that rather than expand territory and usher in a Golden Age like Empress Catherine the Great did, he has set Russia down the path of chaos, revolution, and perhaps territorial erosion as Nicholas II did. The humiliation of Russia’s defeat by Japan led to the 1905 Revolution that saw the creation of the Duma to constrain Tsar Nicholas II’s power, but it also presaged the collapse of the entire system and Nicholas II’s execution just over a decade later. Putin has, simply put, become a 21st Century Nicholas II.
Russia is a bear cornered. The situation is dangerous, but Russia’s defeat is one of its own making. The job of the West right now should be to limit collateral damage, not allow Putin to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
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 coeditor 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).
September 21, 2022 at 11:12 am
Interesting logic, if you don’t let me exterminate Ukrainians and their culture like gnats, I will use nukes.
Today it’s Ukrainians, tomorrow it will be Poles and so on. Yeah no thanks, Chamberlain already proved that doesn’t end well.
September 21, 2022 at 12:37 pm
No one should ever refer to Catherine as “the Great”. She was a typical Russian tyrant taking other’s territory…as well as imposing The Pale of Settlement on millions of Jews. There was nothing “great” about her. There is nothing “great” about Russia.
September 21, 2022 at 2:03 pm
Gary, Zelensky the Corrupt,do you know how dysfunctional Ukraine was before the war,why do you think ,it any better now, Putin seize upon Ukrainain dysfunctional, because he knew they were dysfunctional,while part of the Soviet Union 3 month from now all this US aid ,will be down a rat hole
September 21, 2022 at 2:51 pm
The Russian-Japanese war was the first major conflict in the east. Prior to 1905, it was mostly a non-kenetic, economic conflict neither Russia nor Japan wanted to escalate. it was precipitated by Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany, via his personal relationship with Tsar Nicholas. At that time, Japan becoming closer to England while Russia was warming up to France. To have a proxy of England fight a proxy of France, created a risk of France and England going to war with each other, both enemies of Germany.
On the seas, Japan was victorious, but on land it was mostly a draw, becoming a precursor to how WW1 would be fought trench warfare with massive casualties on both sides. One can postulate that both sides reached a culminating point and choose not to fight much more. At the same time, what started in Petrograd in 1905 spread to other cities in Russia. The civil discord, strikes and demonstrations at that time had a greater influence on the formation of the Duma then the war in the east.
September 21, 2022 at 3:20 pm
Ukraine offers zero peace for both russia and putin.
In feb 2014, US successfully orchestrated violent putsch in kyiv putting hand-picked neo-nazi banderites in power.
It was followed by mass entry of CIA operatives into ukraine and ukro forces launched all-out offensive in dobbass.
A string of CIA-supported victories soon ensued until battle of ilovaisk where ukros were surrounded.
Negotiations were held and there was agreement for ukros to withdraw from entrapment.
But rebel forces surprised ukros with a heavy strike during retreat causing severe losses.
The tide of war had reversed and ilovaisk was followed by stunning defeats at Luhansk airport, donetsk airport and debaltseve.
US through DoD & state dept alleged russia armed forces were instrumental in rebel victories and CIA was given free hand in donbass.
Ukros under CIA guidance operated trench warfare in donbass wearing down rebels forcing russia to intervene after biden made provocative statements and moves that were matched by similar ones from zelenskiyy and stoltenberg.
Thus there’s no peace from ukraine, only war and destruction and death under direction from washington and brussels.
What’s coming is just armageddon beckoning for neo-nazis in ukraine and total defeat for biden’s gamemanship in eastern europe.
September 21, 2022 at 3:50 pm
Another very good article Dr. Rubin. The bear is backed into a corner. As you state, it is a dangerous animal. It is also exactly where it needs to be put in order to destroy it once and for all. NATO countries need to be ready to destroy the exclaves, Transnistria and Kaliningrad. The Soviet leadership in Russia needs to be rooted out and ruined. And bring Pelosi and her Armenian friend back home. Nagorno-Karabakh belongs to Azerbaijan. No more Russian and Russian friendly forward deployed military outposts allowed.
Dr. Scooter Van Neuter
September 21, 2022 at 4:16 pm
The desperate actions of a faltering despot – Putin has never been more dangerous. NATO had better be on its toes…
September 21, 2022 at 4:18 pm
Russian iron doll says Russia should have nuked Queen Elizabeth 11 funeral while world leaders were their,what kind of bitch evil little bitch is this iron doll.The UK are as patriotic as any nation and I predict that when Russian scum travel the world and bump into mainly English royalists you will squirm because they will tear you limb from limb that’s any Russians for the most vile vulgar comment this iron doll piece of Russian scum made the revenge will be taken in Britain on the Russian scum residing their now you ugly cretin iron doll you could not put the fucking cat out you decrepid piece of shit for a face iron witch suits better.You have spoken words offended the Queens honour and Russians will feel the weather of BRITISH LADS.
Old Desert Coyote
September 21, 2022 at 10:00 pm
The Problem that Putin has (even if he gets his 300,000 more troop) is he will be facing a million man\woman strong Ukrainian army that is trained and battle hardened. Remember when Russia kicked off this war in February he was facing Ukrainian army of about 200,000 personnel and equipped with old soviet era cast offs.
Putin attacked with 190,000 troops and the newer (not newest as Russia does not have the Industrial capacity to produce 1000’s of new tanks and mobile artillery in a short time); and in 8 months they are on the defensive and reduced to using obsolete equipment.
Russia has probably lost 30k to 50k troops in the Ukraine and probably has 90k to 150k wounded. The 300,000 troops that Putin is raising will take about 60 to 90 days to train unless he uses them as cannon fodder. Putin can not replace his equipment losses so even if he gets them trained they will still be equipped with obsolete equipment.
Now has for his threat of Nuclear war HAS HE CLEARED THAT WITH Xi Jinping. I don’t think China will take kindly to Russia blowing away its markets for all the goods it produces. And if Russia does launch a nuclear strike on the West China will get nuked also because the west will go into the Kill them all mode.
Also the latest news out of Russia is 10,000’s of Russians have take to the streets to protest the war. Russian internal security forces have arrested over 1000 protesters so far. Then there is then the problem of people fleeing Russia, Already the foreign Airlines (and AeroFlot) are booked solid for the next month by people (mostly young men) fleeing Russia.
September 22, 2022 at 8:59 am
What psycho-neocon rubbish! Putin wants peace, but the US/UK/NATO want war! This madness must stop ASAP! “Blessed are the peacemakers” — but damned are the warmongers!
September 22, 2022 at 9:40 am
Meh. Bring it. In a few years I’ll be too old to appreciate the Apocalypse.
Besides, give in to a bully and he’ll continue bullying. Call him on it and he’ll either back off or you’ll have to break out the fisticuffs.
Either way, it gets over.
September 22, 2022 at 9:52 am
Michael, “putin wants peace”? hahaha. Is that part of a stand up routine? Or are you just another one of the Russian trolls flocking here to spin your fairy tale world?
We already have a few of those here such as Yrral and 403 forbidden. A few others have vanished since the Kharkiv offensive showed in stark terms, again, just how badly Russia is losing.
At first I was a bit surprised at the persistence of the troll army at maintaining the fantasy world… but Putin does have his cult followers drinking his proverbial Kool-Aid.
September 22, 2022 at 11:24 am
Gary Jacobs – the Russian troll army that comes here is probably one lone guy sitting in his parents basement in Moscow. He gets paid .10 rubles per post. He has multiple names. He never says anything that makes any sense, he just repeats the Russian nonsense.
September 22, 2022 at 1:05 pm
If Russia is going to use nukes soon, how and when will it use them? That is something to think about. Russia wants to win the Ukraine war. They will do anything to win at any cost, but the bottom line they want to win, and they don’t want to be destroyed. Also, Ukraine will never surrender under any circumstances, and neither side has anything to negotiate. I think they are going to hit the Ukrainian Army with hundreds of warheads simultaneously. But for this to work, they need to have infantry ready to go in and take the territory. The mobilization has to be completed first. So, maybe in January-March if their mobilization is successful, and if the front hasn’t moved all that much by then. But what if Ukraine is able to push the Russians back before the mobilization is even close to complete? Then the Russians will have to strike much earlier with less chance of success, because they won’t have the troops to move in after their nuclear strike.
September 22, 2022 at 1:49 pm
I see that Russian troll farm summer vacation is over.
September 22, 2022 at 3:31 pm
I have been hearing that Putin is going to die and the Russians are losing for about 1/2 a year now. Putin is still alive and controls more of Ukraine now than it did at the start of the war. He is now in the process of formalizing eastern parts of Ukraine as Russian territory.
When Communism collapsed in Russia decades ago the west continued to treat Russia as a threat rather than develop friendly relations. NATO pushed the military alliance right up to the Russian border. Christian Orthodox Russia is now facing a globalist western Europe. The West totally mishandled post Communist Russia