Tuesday, October 18, 2022

Tiptoeing toward Armageddon

What we have here is a cross between the Third World War and a Cold War 2.0, with Russia again at the heart of things, just as it was in 1914-1918 (the First World War), 1939-1945 (the Second World War), and 1948-1991 (the original Cold War). The outcome, alas, is likely to be equally unsatisfactory to all hands.

Defending Ukraine today are the US, Canada, Australia, most of Europe, and an assortment of less committed nations, almost all of them democracies. Doing its best to destroy Ukraine is Russia -- of course! -- with help from Belarus, Iran, and a few less-committed nations like Turkey and China.

The consequences have been awful, with much of Ukraine destroyed and as many as 90,000 Russian soldiers killed, captured, gone missing, or disabled by wounds -- roughly half the invading force. Europe faces a cold winter and the possibility of a nuclear disaster on the scale of the Chernobyl meltdown of 1986. (Moscow is a European city, and the wind tends to blow from west to east.) Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians and tens of thousands of Russians have fled their homelands to settle wherever they can. Millions of poor Africans go hungry from the damage to Ukraine's usually bountiful harvest of wheat, barley, and sunflower oil.

One man is behind all this: Vladimir Putin. He hopes to rebuild an empire that stretches from Warsaw to Vladivostok -- the Russian Empire as built by Catherine the Great in the 18th century, lost by Tsar Nicholas II in the 20th, restored by Joseph Stalin, and lost again by Mikhail Gorbachev. Putin failed in his first attempt, to topple the Kyiv government and replace it with one sympathetic to Russia. He then tried to extend his control of Ukraine's east and south, claiming that was his intention all along, only to have the Ukrainian army reclaim thousands of square miles in their astonishing counteroffensive in September.

What will Putin do now? Fiona Hill argues that he won't give up -- that he can't give up and still maintain his hold on the Kremlin. His weapons now are indiscriminate bombardment of Ukraine, a cold winter in Europe, hunger in much of the world, inflation everywhere, and occasional bluster about nuclear weapons. His Ukrainian adventure won't end prettily, and not this year, probably not in 2023, and perhaps not for another decade or more. Putin isn't a young man -- he's seventy -- but he seems to be healthy enough, and if not overthrown he could blight the world for another ten or even twenty years.


Post a Comment

<< Home