Russia — Ukraine 2.24.2022
How did we get here?
First, understand the Russian state. Russia is a small economy with a big military. Russia’s GDP is 1/20 of US GDP and ranks below South Korea. Their economy is small and almost entirely dependent on oil and gas (~40% of federal revenue), but Russia spends more money as a percentage of GDP on their military than any country in the world (>4%). While their economy is 1/20 of ours, the Russian military capability is almost half by some measures.
Military dependency is a Russian tradition predating the USSR. The Russian military expands the empire, then they ultimately lose a war and collapse. Tsarist Russia lost a war against Japan in 1905 and bankrupted the country setting the stage for the communist revolution. Soviet Russia lost the Cold War in 1991 and bankrupted the country setting the stage first for industrial scale grift by Russia’s oligarchs, then for Putin’s consolidation of power in opposition. Putin’s regime and his view of the Russian empire is more closely aligned with Tsarist Russia, which once extended east to Finland and Poland, far past Ukraine.
Ukraine is rich in resources and has access to the Black Sea, so is an important geography to the Russian empire in all its forms. Putin has aimed at retaking it for as long as he has had the resources. Russia poisoned the pro-western President of Ukraine in 2004 and has not stopped disrupting their western neighbor since.
As for US, our leadership in NATO is our primary counterweight to Russian aggression. This is why NATO was formed. Also, of high importance is the 1994 Budapest memorandum where Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons in exchange for territorial sovereignty from Russia (signatory) and security assistance from the west (US and UK signatories). Ukraine’s national identity crystallized from then on. In 2008, NATO committed to admitting Ukraine and Georgia, but has not done so.
Putin’s moves to weaken NATO involve a robust propaganda campaign including the recent disruption of US elections and the exacerbation of our internal divides (look no further than the FB platform) to turn us inward. The Republican party of Reagan and Bush oversaw the downfall of the USSR and weakened Russia. Today there is no party in the US who has a strong stance against Putin — you can connect the dots. Combine that with our weakening of NATO during the Trump years and our disgraceful turnover of Afghanistan to the Taliban completed by President Biden — Putin had his greatest chance to move. Here we are.
See below for a map of Russia’s envelopment of Ukraine as of last night. We should note Belarus is already ostensibly part of the new Russian empire (another long story) and Russian troops deployed from Belarusian bases. Russia is making the final moves in a long strategy to retake Ukraine, which brings me to what I think we should do now.
Many are calling for immediate military response. This is a long-game. While some military measures may be necessary, they will be inadequate and reactionary. If we want to use our power for good, and I think we should, we need to start thinking about the long game again. That’s what Russia and China have done to outmaneuver us. Right now, the chickens of our past mistakes are coming home to roost. What we must do now is start sowing resolve.
What does that look like? It looks like laying down our culture war weapons about masks or CRT or abortion — not to say there aren’t substantive issues at stake. Our priorities just aren’t right. Prioritize the strength of our country. Prioritize fixing the things broken with our system, both internal and external, over our favored policy outcomes. Bolster the NATO alliance and do the same in the Pacific because President Xi is absolutely watching this and thinking about Taiwan. The task is taking a long view lest we cede the world stage to authoritarians and communist dictators.