Later this year, on the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War, I’m going to be writing an article about how I view that war – but I’ll give one spoiler right now: the reason the war started, ultimately, was because the Germans thought they could win it. That is why all wars start – one sides thinks they’ll win. And not only thinks they’ll win, but thinks they’ll win in a walk over. Wars aren’t started by people who are resigned to a difficult task with a doubtful outcome – wars are started by people who think they’ve got it sewn.
And Putin has sent troops in to Ukraine because he thinks he’ll win – and win rather easily. Whether or not he’ll try to take over the whole country instead of the heavily-Russian eastern part remains to be seen. But if Putin thinks he can grab the whole of Ukraine in an easy war, he’ll do it. Now, why should Putin think that?
Well, first off, Ukraine is militarily not all that strong – a lot of their equipment is antiquated Soviet equipment (though upgraded a bit over the years), their armed forces are relatively small compared to Russia’s and, of course, a large minority of Ukrainians are Russians – not inclined to fight against the Russian army, even if not entirely favorable to coming under Russian rule. Furthermore, and probably decisively, Putin does not fear any serious response from anyone. NATO? Toothless. EU? Blind and toothless. United States? Distant and ruled over by fools who don’t understand how the world works. The harshest thing on the table so far is that we’ll kick them out of the G-8. Big whoop. Like Putin will care too much about that – and like he won’t be invited back in a few years from now when tempers have cooled.
The only thing which would have stopped Putin is either a militarily powerful Ukraine or a United States not only powerful, but clearly willing to make Putin’s life miserable for years over the matter. Neither being forthcoming, Putin moved. Whether or not there will be some “deal” to smooth things over or whether it will go all the way to annexation by Russia remains to be seen – but Putin has just shown that he is in charge in that area of the world. Ukraine knows that they can only go so far in offending Russia while other nations on Russia’s borders (especially the Baltic States) have been clearly warned that being tight with the west only offends Putin, while the west will do nothing concrete to oppose an offended Russia.
The worse problem is that the cat is really out of the bag, now. Every two-bit tyrant out there who wants to grab himself a bit of geo-political territory knows that now is the time to start grabbing – with the United States effectively out of the picture as long as Democrats are in charge, the sky is the limit.