Putin's next move - by Aris Roussinos for Unherd - 24.02.22
We publish Aris Roussinos’ prescient article originally written for Unherd at the end of January, on the background history to the current international crisis erupting on Europe’s eastern border, and Nato’s slow and inadequate response to it:
An ethnic map of the province in the late 19th century reveals a Pollock painting of peoples, two of whom — the Jews and the Germans — have been entirely expunged from the region within living memory. Twice in the past 300 years, Poland has vanished entirely, carved up by hungry neighbours. Twice in the twentieth century, these borderlands were drenched in blood as great empires rose and fell. Now, once again, Europe’s eastern marches are witnessing the massing of armies and the threat of a sudden, violent reordering of borders as a great empire wanes.
At its moment of greatest strength in the Nineties, the American empire expanded to encompass these borderlands, taking the former satellite states of the Soviet Union under the Nato umbrella. Now that the great empire is itself weakened by political turbulence at home and an existential challenge in East Asia, a resurgent Russia feels emboldened to renegotiate this settlement by the threat of force, demanding that not just that Nato advances no further eastward, but also that it withdraws from the region.
“No-one can predict with certainty what will happen next: but as troops and materiel flood westwards in vast numbers across Russia to the eastern marches of America’s European empire, it seems clear our continent is at a great inflection point, like 1914 or 1939, 1945 or 1989. The generation-long slumber of the post-Cold War era has ended: Europe is awakening to history once again.
For Russia, there is therefore no better time to attack than now, while Europe is weak and divided and the Americans are distracted. The sheer size and strength of the Russian armed forces, which have rapidly modernised since 2014, will likely overwhelm any Ukrainian opposition. What happens next will be Putin’s choice, and perhaps he has not yet decided.”
In the coming days, the likelihood is that a shock and awe campaign analogous in scale to that of America in Iraq will take place in Ukraine; its chances of success seem far greater. The demands Russia has made of the United States — over the head of a Europe kept weak and powerless by its own leaders — cannot be met without America ceding its imperial role and prestige. Perhaps they are not intended to be met, and perhaps by enhancing the Nato presence on its borders, they will turn out to be counterproductive.”
Only time will tell. The story continues to play itself out even as we cover it.