I Didn’t Think Putin Would Do It

I saw no upside for Putin if he invaded Ukraine.  I saw nothing but headaches for him, to include but not limited to economic and diplomatic troubles, and potential ongoing guerilla war.

Putin is a ruthless murderer and dictator, but he never struck me as stupid.  Why would he shed Russian and Ukrainian blood in an effort that has little or no upside for him?  Opinion writers and what now passes for “journalists” around the globe are trying to understand Putin’s motivation.  Judging from the global reaction, it appears I’m not the only one surprised.

I’ve seen a lot of speculation lately about the natural and agricultural resources of Ukraine.  I find these credible but possibly not sufficient.  On one hand, when Russia put 140,000 or more troops along the border, one might reasonably assume an invasion was imminent.  On the other hand, one might also reasonably assume that Putin was bluffing and that the size of the force was intended to make the threat credible.

I also see some consensus emerging that the sole reason for the invasion was to prevent Ukraine’s membership in NATO.  If this is true, and I’m beginning to think it is, then the invasion was an act of desperation.  If Putin viewed NATO membership as an existential threat, and as imminent, he had to attack before Ukraine became a member.  If I assume this to be the case, it means Putin’s view of NATO does not align well with mine.  Does Putin believe NATO would suddenly attack Russia?  NATO was formed to prevent a Soviet attack on the west, not to engage in wars of aggression.

Jim Geraghty, writing for National Review, mentions “mirroring” in a context I had not previously heard.  He calls it “the erroneous assumption that the person on the other side of a dispute, conflict, or relationship sees the world the same way you do.”

There was a time when many western nations engaged in aggressive war, conquered other nations, colonized, and built empires.  World War II marked the end (or at least the beginning of the end) of that.  Britain gave up her empire as did France and many other countries.  The west lost its taste for empire and wars of conquest – at least for the most part.

NATO was formed, in no small part, as a reaction to communist aggression.  It’s worth remembering that communism had (has?) a publicly stated goal of “world revolution.”  It is entirely reasonable to view communism as a threat.  NATO, and its member countries, have no such stated goal.  How many countries has NATO invaded and conquered?  How many countries has Russia (or the Soviet Union) invaded?  Why didn’t the Soviets release the conquered counties of eastern Europe after World War II?  Who has the better track record here post 1945?

RucksackRadio on a show last week compared the Russian view of Ukraine with what the US reaction would be if Texas broke away from the union and formed an alliance with China or Russia (for example).  (I do not believe that show has been published as of this writing but I included a link to the website.)  That is a valid argument and it is certainly true that the United States would react badly to an enemy nation with a history of aggression forming an alliance on our border.  However, what if Texas peacefully broke away and formed an alliance with Canada or UK?  We may not be particularly happy about it, but I doubt we would view it as an existential threat.  If Cuba had allied with France instead of the Soviets, there would have been no threat of invasion from the United States and there would have been no missile crisis.

I guess the upshot of all this is that Jim Geraghty called it in my case.  If I were Putin, I would not have viewed Ukraine’s membership in NATO as a direct threat.  Would I view it as a substantial deterrent to invading Ukraine?  Absolutely.  But under my world view, it would not occur to me that a NATO war of conquest would be launched from Ukraine.  Putin’s worldview is different.

Why is this so?  The reasons are many.  Putin is a Soviet – pure and simple.  His worldview was formed long ago in a different era.  But that just explains one man (if indeed it explains anything).  I was struck by this idea of “mirroring.”  I think it explains much about U.S. politics today.  How can two people (or political parties) take the same information and arrive at opposite conclusions?  How, for example, can we look at rising violent crime and one camp concludes we should defund the police while the other concludes we need more support for the police?

I’ve always attributed these differences to ignorance (some willful, some not) or a disregard for the truth in favor of a political agenda (sometimes conscious, sometimes not), and I still believe this to be the case most of the time.  But when world leaders make such drastic decisions as Putin has in Ukraine, it makes me question my assumptions.


Leave a Reply