Hi, Dear Reader. It’s early afternoon here in Lithia, Florida, on Tuesday, February 22, 2022. It is a sultry, subtropical winter day in the Tampa Bay area. Currently, the temperature is 80˚F (27˚C) under partly sunny skies. With humidity at 62% and the wind blowing from the east-southeast at 12 MPH (20 KM/H), the feels-like temperature is 79˚F (26˚C). Today’s forecast calls for mostly sunny skies and a high of 88˚F (31˚C). Tonight, skies will be partly cloudy. The low will be 67˚F (19˚C).
Today I woke to the – unsurprising – news that Russia sent troops, tanks and other military hardware (helicopters, artillery, and logistical support) into two areas in Ukraine that have “majority Russian” inhabitants and have – encouraged by the Kremlin – declared independence from the Ukrainian government. These regions – Donetsk and Luhansk – are in the east of Ukraine, an independent nation that was once part of the Soviet Union. Before that, Ukraine – which was often referred to as “the Ukraine” in the West – was part of the deposed Russian Empire.
Yesterday, the world learned that Vladimir Putin and the Russian government recognized the “People’s Republics” of Donetsk and Luhansk as independent nations, and that the Defense Ministry was authorized to send “peacekeepers” to protect the new “countries.” Putin also gave a rambling speech to justify his government’s actions by citing Russia’s long-running relationship with Kyiv (Kiev) and Ukraine’s historical significance as the “cradle of Russian civilization.”
Like Saddam Hussein’s claims in August of 1990 that Kuwait was really part of Iraq’s Basra province or Adolf Hitler’s equally bogus story that Poland had attacked Germany on the night of August 31, 1939, Putin’s claims are false. They are, at best, fabrications intended more for internal propaganda in Russia than they are for Western audiences, just like the Kremlin’s lies that it is not behind the separatists in the two contested regions.
Russian-backed separatists in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions — collectively known as the Donbas — broke away from Ukrainian government control in 2014 and proclaimed themselves independent “people’s republics,” until now unrecognized.
Since then, Ukraine says about 15,000 people have been killed in fighting.
Russia denies being a party to the conflict but has backed the separatists in numerous ways — including through covert military support, financial aid, supplies of COVID-19 vaccines and issuing at least 800,000 Russian passports to residents.
Moscow has always denied it is planning to invade Ukraine. However, recognition of the rebel regions came as more than 150,000 Russian troops have surrounded Ukraine from three sides in what the United States and its allies saw as a sign of an imminent invasion.
It’s obvious – painfully so – that Vladimir Putin is counting on the reluctance of the West – especially the NATO alliance and a politically divided United States – to go to war over the sovereignty of a non-NATO country in Eastern Europe. After all, this is the same Putin regime that wrested the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine eight years ago, claiming that Russian troops had not invaded that part of Ukraine and that its mostly-Russian population merely wanted to be reunified with Russia after a 60-year separation.
(Here’s a bit of historical context. In 1954, a year after Joseph Stalin’s death, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, a native of Russia but who had once been the Communist Party ruler of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, and the Presidium of the CPSU transferred the Crimean Oblast from Russia to Ukraine, which, of course, was then a part of the Soviet Union. Be that as it may, when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 and Ukraine became an independent country, its 1991 borders – including the Crimean peninsula’s inclusion to its territory – were internationally recognized. The United States and most of the world do not recognize Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.)
Putin’s moves should not be surprising. His desires to maintain Russian hegemony over the territories that were once part of the Soviet Union are so long-standing and known to anyone who watches Eastern Europe or Russia saw this coming many years before the first land grab by Russia in 2014. In his last Jack Ryan novel completed before his death in October of 2013, conservative author and commentator Tom Clancy anticipated Putin’s moves in the plot of Command Authority, which he co-wrote with Mark Greaney.
Russia’s deeply-rooted desire to dominate the former republics of the Soviet Union (especially the Baltic States and Ukraine) is a theme that Clancy expounded upon in Command Authority, as well as Putin’s Machiavellian power plays as Russia’s strongman. Clancy, of course, does not use Putin’s real name – his Russian President is Command Authority’s Valery Volodin, but Putin and his policies and dislike of the West are clearly the inspiration for the character. I have not read the novel in a long time – I only did so once, and that was when Mom was still alive and I was her primary caregiver in Miami – but I do remember that President Jack Ryan and NATO as a whole stood solidly behind the pro-Western Ukrainian government in a crisis fomented by Putin…I mean…Volodin.
The current Russia-Ukraine crisis should also serve as an explanation – as if any were needed – of why Putin and his regime wanted Donald Trump to win in both 2016 and 2020. I don’t think it’s because Putin likes Trump personally; for all I know, he probably thinks the former President is not a competent leader. He probably has a lot of dirt on Trump’s dealings, not just in the business arena but also with women and underage girls as well. To borrow a term used by Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin to describe Western apologists for the Communist movement, Trump, at best, is a “useful idiot.”
See, I think – based on the Mueller Report and the various bits of news I have digested over the past 10 years – that while Putin does not want to destroy the United States (especially with Russian weapons), he does not mind if the “American empire” is weakened and made impotent so that Russia can once again be a superpower, feared and respected. He also – as a former KGB agent – does not like NATO and its “open door” policy for countries that wish to join the Alliance. Like many Russians of his generation, as well as his former career as a professional intelligence officer in the Soviet Union, Putin believes that NATO will someday invade Russia and destroy its sovereignty.
As such, Putin’s goals are clear, especially where Donald Trump is concerned. He wants to bully Ukraine into submitting to Moscow’s wishes, which include the demand that Kyiv never applies for NATO membership, and that NATO ceases its “open door” admissions policy. These goals are easier to achieve, in Putin’s estimation, if:
- The United States is led by a President and a political party – in this case, the Republican Party – that are friendly to the Kremlin
- The United States is distracted by deep and intractable political, socio-cultural, and regional divisions
- The United States becomes more isolationist and skeptical of multinational organizations and military alliances
- The West as a whole becomes less resolute, less resilient, if the most powerful nation in the Western world is navel gazing and on the verge of its own civil war
Even if we accept Trump’s claims that all he wants is to “make America great again” and focus on a 1930s-like “America First” rebirth of the isolationist movement because he genuinely loves the U.S., he was (and would be again) the weakest, most incompetent person to rise to the Presidency. He often expressed anti-NATO, Russia-friendly sentiments that Putin himself probably smiled at, including:
Brussels CNN —
President Donald Trump came out brawling in his first public comments here at the outset of NATO’s annual summit, accusing a close US ally of being “a captive of Russia,” calling members of the alliance “delinquent” in their defense spending and insisting they increase it “immediately.”
Trump’s provocative comments on Wednesday morning – particularly those aimed at Germany – set the tone for the first day of NATO’s annual summit, amplifying the sense of unease among the United States’ closest European allies and giving Trump a chance to once again shine a spotlight on uneven burden-sharing among the alliance’s members.
The invectives detracted from the summit’s goal of projecting unity in the face of Russian aggression, even as Trump and NATO leaders jointly agreed to bolster their defense and deterrence capabilities to head off Russian threats. Instead, Trump fueled a narrative of discord within the alliance, just days before he heads to Helsinki to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The Helsinki summit prepares to offer another jarring international affairs contrast and Trump has already suggested he is most looking forward to his meeting with Putin during his European swing.
“I have NATO, I have the UK, which is in somewhat turmoil, and I have Putin. Frankly, Putin may be the easiest of them all. Who would think? Who would think?” Trump said on Tuesday as he left the White House.
Putin never had a better “tool” than Donald Trump when he was President.
And, whether they realize it or not, Republicans who still support Trump – whether they are ordinary citizens who want him back to “save America from the evil socialist agenda of the Democrats” or GOP leaders at the federal, state, and local levels – are also Putin’s best allies.
The Republican Party, under the leadership – for lack of a better term – of Donald Trump, has become, in effect, the Party of Putin.
Don’t believe me? Just look at the current situation in Ukraine.