Events unfold and everything is laid bare. The agenda of the Russian state was never hidden, but it is undeniable now. The inadequacy and delusion of its opponents are similarly manifest. Action is proceeding at a rapid pace, and any prediction based upon the status quo risks invalidation by the evening. Nevertheless let us proceed in the fool’s errand on that front, and make one. If we understand the signal outcome, vis a vis Russia, of the 1989-1991 settlement in Europe as being the rolling-back of its borders by roughly three centuries’ worth of territorial expansion, then that outcome will probably be mostly reversed by the end of this year.
To put it more plainly, Ukraine and Belarus are likely to fall under direct or de facto Russian rule: one through invasion, the other through coercion. (I continue to believe that the Russian invasion of Ukraine will not consume the entire country, instead seizing a gigantic crescent from Kharkov to Odessa, but we shall see.) The missing pieces will be the three Baltic states, but the apparatus of Moscow’s strategic agenda will begin its work upon them as well.
None of this is because Vladimir Putin is especially intelligent or possessed of a superior strategic mind. Nor is it because of some inexorable force of geopolitics, with Russian proximity overriding countervailing interest and power. Only one condition was necessary for the present state of affairs to arise: the shocking incompetence of the opposing powers, from Kyiv to Paris to London to Washington, D.C. Their inability to settle upon a singular goal, to grasp the grand-strategic picture, to repose in empiricism and realism, to pursue the logic of their own preferences to the hilt, and to act have led to this outcome. The Russian autocrat is capable of all these things.
A lifetime ago, a young KGB lieutenant colonel faced down a German mob demanding their freedom and his papers. He destroyed what he could and, in an act of genuine personal bravery, turned away the mob. He appealed for help from his countrymen, from the apparatus to which he had dedicated his life, and was told: Moscow is silent. Raised on the tales of his own family’s part in the heroic defense of Leningrad, himself a willing servant of the great state, an eager participant in the greatness of his nation, this young man in his country’s most desperate hour of collapse and degradation was told that, though he was there for his country in its hour of need, his country was not there for him. Moscow is silent.
Vladimir Putin’s life’s work was set in that moment. Moscow is not silent any more.