Putin is following a blueprint that dates back to Philip of Macedon.
Nothing that Vladimir Putin has done in gobbling up territories of the former Soviet Union is new. In fact, he simply apes every tyrant’s time-honored four-step plan of aggression.
INVADE, WAIT — AND INVADE
From Philip of Macedon to Napoleon, aggressors did not necessarily have a grand timetable for creating an empire. Instead, they went at it ad hoc. They took as much as they could at any given time; then backed away for a bit, if they sensed strong opposition was building — only to go back on the offensive when vigilance waned.
Hitler did not realistically believe in 1936 that he would within five years create an empire from the Atlantic to the Volga. Instead, he started out by moving incrementally — in the Rhineland, Austria, and Czechoslovakia — testing where he might grab land without a war, always both surprised at the ease of his success and full of contempt for the appeasers who had so empowered him.
So too Putin. Once the Obama administration had reset the mild punishments of the Bush administration for carving out parts of Ossetia, Putin went back on the move. Obama’s reset was a green light for Putin. Who in the real world of serious diplomacy shows up in Geneva with a red plastic toy reset button, complete with a mistranslated Russian label? When Putin soon sized up the Obama administration’s appeasement around the globe — from fake red lines for Syria, to a scramble out of Iraq, to chaos in Libya — he moved into Crimea. And then he waited.
Western sermons followed; outrage grew. Then the Western hysterics predictably passed, as popular attention went back to the Kardashians and Miley Cyrus’s metamorphosis from Disney girl to vamp. After a bit of digestion, Putin was ready for his next Anschluss. He repeated the formula in Ukraine: a persecuted Russian-speaking minority, an anti-Russian illiberal government, civil unrest, denial of a just and much-needed new plebiscite, a need for paramilitaries to help out their brethren, a Russian army standing nearby just in case, a few bombers buzzing the West, and magnanimous promises to leave crumbs for the victims.
Putin then waited to gauge the reaction. As he swallows eastern Ukraine, he now eyes the Baltic States. He does not quite have a map on his wall of a new czarist Orthodox state the size of the Soviet Union, but he does have a general sense that there are a lot more former Soviet republics to be had — and he is eager to poke here and there to find out which will be the easiest to grab next.
All dictators feign craziness, or at least exaggerate their undeniably unhinged tendencies. Appearing capable of anything was always a dictator’s advantage, well before the North Koreans, Pakistanis, and Iranians started playing nuclear poker. Demosthenes warned Athenians about the obsessed, one-eyed, limping Philip II, who would ruin every part of his hideous body to destroy the free city-state. Napoleon fired on crowds and kidnapped and executed dukes to remind the old regimes in Europe that his was a new order in which nothing was quite out of bounds.
When Hitler sweated quarts under the spotlights and screamed his lungs out at Nuremberg rallies, neighboring European statesmen with their ties and umbrellas fretted that such a nut might try anything — and thus should be given a little something before his derangement destroyed their comfortable world. Who in his right mind, just two decades after the Somme and Verdun, would want a replay?
Obama laughs at the bare-chested antics of Putin on horses, up to his waist fishing in freezing water, and posing with comatose tigers. For the metrosexual Nobel Laureate Obama, Putin’s muscle-flexing is obviously an adolescent “macho shtick” — like what schoolboys do when they cut up in the back of the room. Cannot the world see how juvenile these antics are, so crass in comparison to mapping out the Final Four in front of the television cameras or hitting the back nine in circus-colored sportswear?
But Putin without a shirt is no different from Philip on a charger, or Napoleon with braids and sword, or the Kaiser in his spike-topped helmet, or Hitler in his knee-high jackboots. Who seems more likely to risk destruction for an agenda — Demosthenes in his robes or Philip in his armor? Chamberlain in his Savile Row suit or Hitler in his brown shirt? Putin with his biceps or Obama with his bike helmet?
Putin struts about, as one of his generals, in Goering’s Luftwaffe style, boasts about Russia’s big arsenal. Sometimes he accidentally-on-purpose sends a bomber too close to British airspace or a sub too near to Swedish waters. His message is the same as Napoleon’s and Hitler’s: “I am not your run-of-the-mill statesman, but a revolutionary nut quite capable of bringing the global house down upon all of you — unless you are willing to give up a little to save a lot.” Playing the sociopath has always won concessions, from Philocrates and Isocrates to Stanley Baldwin and Neville Chamberlain.
ALWAYS A VICTIM
Aggressive autocrats always have had a list of perceived grievances, what Thucydides once called prophases.
For Philip, the pretext was supposedly Athenian aggression in northern Greece and cultural and racial disdain for his Macedonians. For Napoleon, it was foreign aristocratic cabals always plotting to overthrow his regime, forcing him to preempt and go on an offensive defense. For the imperial Germans, it was snotty colonial powers like France and Britain, neither of which was willing to accept the upstart unified Germany fully into their imperial club. For Hitler, it was the Jews, the socialists, and the Versailles Treaty that had combined to rob Germany of its destiny.
For the present terrorist Iranian theocracy, it is always the victimization of 1953 — as if Iran had never intrigued with Hitler, as if the Soviet Union in 1946 would have, on its own, given up its wartime presence in Iran, as if Mossadegh was a utopian democrat who had not grabbed emergency autocratic powers, as if the mullahs were democrats rather than co-conspirators in the efforts to see Mossadegh gone.
If the polis Greeks would just have allowed Philip to carve out a reasonable hegemony in his own region, he would have left the south alone. If Napoleon had been assured of a sphere of influence, he would surely not have gone east of the Rhine or challenged Britain at sea. If Hitler could just have returned all German speakers to the Third Reich, then he would have had no more territorial claims in Europe. The British and the French cared as much about “faraway” Czechoslovakia in 1938 as the Athenians did in 348 b.c. about faraway Olynthus.
Aggressors always assume there are, among their enemies, plenty of influential naïfs with whom such appeals will resonate. We hear today empathy on the Left with the Iranians and on the Right with Putin. Obama is talking, misty eyed, of a non-existent Iranian fatwa supposedly barring the development of nuclear weapons, as he sends both greetings and condolences to Iran’s theocrats.
If Putin can just be allowed parts of Georgia that were robbed from Russia in the chaos of the fall of the Soviet Union, he won’t take Crimea. If Crimea is rightfully given back to Moscow, then Ukraine can have its autonomy. If Eastern Ukraine is reunited with Russia, then the Baltic States will be safe from a satiated Putin.
Many in the West buy into Putin as the victim of a bellicose and opportunistic NATO, a money-grubbing EU, and a cowboyish America that conspired to carve up the corpse of the Soviet Union to ensure that the Russian people would never again become world players.
Every aggressor also advances sophisticated lies. These narratives appeal to the better angels of the naïve. They always seem somewhat logical, at least superficially.
For Philip, it was a grand Pan-Hellenic crusade under his aegis against the real enemy of Greek freedom: the slavish and effeminate Persian Empire.
Napoleon claimed that he was a reluctant autocrat, but that he alone had the muscle to protect the ideals of the French Revolution from monarchists at home and the old regimes abroad. He did not so much subvert the ideas of liberty, equality, and fraternity as ensure that they were protected by the proper revolutionary force.
Kaiser Wilhelm’s plans for a conquered Western Europe and Russia included something akin to a German Co-Prosperity Sphere, with swaths of France, Belgium, and Russia simply handed over to Germany.
Hitler wanted to redo the Versailles Treaty and convince the world that the Volk deserved most of Western and Central Europe — and a new Reich for all superior Aryan peoples.
Putin is every bit as crafty. He only wants two minor things: to honor the holy sites of Mother Russia and to save Western Civilization from itself.
Do we appreciate the sacred Russian soil of Ukraine, where in 1941 the brave Soviets fought to save Kiev — suffering 700,000 casualties in the greatest encirclement in military history? Does the West understand that the Russians lost another 120,000 in vain trying to save Sevastopol from Erich von Manstein’s Nazis? Does Obama appreciate that the Baltic States served as a direct autobahn for Army Group North to reach Leningrad — what is now once again St. Petersburg, as it was in pre-Soviet days — and starve a million people to death during the longest and most deadly siege in modern history?
Putin’s second story is more ecumenical. He claims to be the true knight of Western Civilization — not the counterfeit, decadent version that has sold out to the sickness of gay marriage, rap music, abortion on demand, and politically correct multiculturalism.
Indeed, from Pat Buchanan to the European Right, Putin is simply a reincarnated Byzantine Justinian sending out his knight Belisariuses to save what is left of the old Roman Empire after its collapse in the West from self-inflicted decadence.
NATO grandees talk of opposing Putin, but he is the most popular man in the Orthodox world. Countries like Greece, Serbia, and Cyprus prefer him to either the EU or the United States. Middle Eastern strongmen find him more predictable and reliable than Western leaders. Those who do not respect him at least fear him.
Nothing Putin is doing is novel, from his on-again, off-again digestion of nations, to his feigned uncouthness, to his victimization, to his idealistic and ecumenical agenda.
Putin is scary because his time-worn method of aggrandizement is as predictable as it is usually effective.
17 thoughts on “The Putin Way”
Putin may want more territory and reconstitute the old Soviet Union. Despite claims, no documented satellite evidence of actual invasion. At least he has “national pride” for his country and its people. America “needs an enemy” to blame. What do we have? A self serving narcissistic leader wanting political power to reverse our country’s heritage and founding principles, to our destruction? Our aims, as I and many others observe, are to maintain our monetary hegemony and corporate business, and bankster domination. What we do is invade other countries economically , disrupt them politically, and call it ” spreading freedom and democracy” across the world. TO THE DESTRUCTION of other nations and economies , hidden in the MSM by as you have said “keeping up with the Kardasians”, our Twerking world, LGBT rights, police condemnation, creation of racial strife,and group animosity. Look at ourselves, and quit ” the pot calling the kettle black” .
Looking back at history , many of your observations began as a revolt against the “elite” of the day, or in present times the “1 % ers, and political elite”
Methinks, Thomas, you daren’t believe in the goodness of good? The evils you bespeak is simply the 2nd Worldview of Controlling (i.e. Progressivism run amok!) The solution you perhaps deny, that there is a 1st Worldview of Liberty. The problem is, the manifesting of a champion of Liberty comes quite rarely in history… how often a Reagan, a Lincoln, a Founding Father? Not often enough, perhaps because the goodness of good is disbelieved, and it is in the end a cheap solution to critique 2nd World Controllers.
We need to believe in Liberty, that is is just, and worth living and dying for. And in champions of Liberty.
As usual, professor Hanson, your thoughts line up with the deepest understanding of humanity’s reality: The good can be very good, through self-discipline’s restraint; the bad can be very bad, astonishingly so.
It’s fascinating how the David Stockman style of libertarian economists seem to be effusively praising every tyrannical move of Putin, claiming the only thing for the US military-statesmen to do is give way! Reminds me of how John Adams had to spur his fellow leaders to grab a sword and help beleaguered Boston!
And how the Russian Orthodox Church blows a great historic opportunity to shame Putin, rather than go-alonhg-get-along with Russian statecraft evil.
Our next president needs to have a lot of heart, but also…titanium Avenger-Class balls. Clint Eastwood for President? Maybe Rand Paul, with Clint as V.P.?
Thank you Professor Hanson for this insightful commentary on the ‘Putin Way’. Required reading for those perhaps who just have a difficult time ‘getting him’. He is a man for whom the past has taught him well in pushing Russian ‘agendas’ throughout history and more importantly to win with those agendas.
The recent Russian travels of those with no passports into Ukraine and the grab of Crimea does indicate how Putin has learned to take advantage of global instabilities and check off as ‘accomplished’ the things that in his eyes needed to be done to aggrandize the Russuan state.
Historically, we saw this in ’56 when the Soviets barged over the borders into Hungary and crushed a popular uprising there. At the time the Suez was in tumult enabling the Soviets to get off lightly with censure for their crass invasion. Today we see that instability now again in the Middle East as well as in other areas of the world again paving the way for Russia to nick another of their goals through the posts. Russia has always thrived on chaos to get through its aims.
Time for the West to wake up. For surely as the sun rises and sets Mr Putin will steal the eyes out its head if it isn’t looking. A thought to ponder.
2016 presidential and senate elections. If the Kardashian ass-party wins, give it five to ten years and the West implodes. Europe/Middle East— lost to the powers of domination. North America is isolated as one country. Hard to believe? It almost happened in the 1940’s. The difference between now and then is the axis powers are much, much stronger today. Technology gains—-first-strike moves with geographical advantage. On our side, the Selfie-president is cooing in Beyonce’s ear while he sabotage’s border security and military readiness. Truth is stranger than fiction. Old-age can be a blessing.
“”” Jodi, iraqi reserves and ghawar””” . Marching for oil, water, food….
Reminds me of Nixon’s secret plan to end the Viet-Nam war. Send Henry K. over and tell the enemy that Nixon was mentally unstable and capable of launching a nuclear holocaust if some accommodation was not reached.
Russian foreign policy has been the same for 500 years: control buffer states to the west to protect against invasion, exploit the resources of the East, secure a warm-water port. Why is everyone surprised when Putin ACTS LIKE A RUSSIAN!
I receive my consolation from the breathtakingly convincing delivery of the “if it’s not good for everyone, there won’t be a deal” Iran treaty speech by Obama, even though, or perhaps because I can find not a syllable of truth in the speech.
My physics professor was simply out of the loop, living a life in a transitioning world of understanding. Newtonian and Einsteinian physics were not the final laws of reality. His career had been compartmentalized. All his career accolades hanging on the wall behind his desk did not enable him to calculate the reality of time-travel nor conceive how to locate the entry portal of a stargate near Earth. Yet he was brilliant, friendly and I loved him for all he taught me nonetheless. He of course lived inside the box of his own making and could not see his own limitations.
The core of our current national hatred for Putin is behind schedule. …”The hostility toward Russia goes back to the Wolfowitz Doctrine:”…. Says Dr. Paul Craig Roberts.
“Our first objective is to prevent the re-emergence of a new rival, either on the territory of the former Soviet Union or elsewhere, that poses a threat on the order of that posed formerly by the Soviet Union. This is a dominant consideration underlying the new regional defense strategy and requires that we endeavor to prevent any hostile power from dominating a region whose resources would, under consolidated control, be sufficient to generate global power.”
The Wolfowitz Doctrine IS very much at the core of our foreign policy. In essence Wolfowitz expresses in our current foreign policy, the outward expression of our inner selves, an animalistic instinct that drives male adult bears to eat baby cub bears. There has got to be a better central theme to the continuation of our National purpose behind our existence than the berserk animalistic lusts for domination of others.
The doctrine culminates in a barbaric First Strike Policy, in which the EU is our vassal state and Russia and China are both scheduled for termination. Nothing need stand in the way of this end result, not even WWIII. BRING IT ON!
These two polities, Putin resisting NATO as the untrustworthy infiltrator for the U.S. foreign banking hegemony on the left against a nazified military-industrial complex driving a continuous stream of neocon, Wolfowitz Doctrine backed chaos tactics among their proxy vassals from the right, create the reality box of fear we are constantly instructed to accept.
With all our combined career accolades hanging on the walls behind our desks we are told, do not leave this box, that to leave this box is pure fantasy.
Then the stars in the heavens slowly changed configurations. Hearts and minds began changing and leaving the box. As they left, they each began to see and experience new physical laws outside the box that enabled them to speak a fuller truth, see a bigger universe, and dare to trust in love. And that made all the difference.
sounds like you could easily lose your head
Indeed you may be right but that does not seem to end my existence. My world views where altered significantly as a result of a UFO encounter as a US Marine combat jet fighter pilot in 1965 after I encountered a 3000′ (+-) diameter high altitude airborne craft. There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy, perhaps.
japan has an earthquake, the backup diesel generators designed to keep 4 reactor cores cool are swamped and fail. there’s no history of any geological earthquakes in germany, but they turn off their nuclear power plants and how many months later was crimea was back in the bosom of mother russia ? i don’t know if it is true, but I have read – on line – that putin’s university thesis was how to use russian energy as a way to blackmail europe. nine years ago Mark Steyn wrote a book, ” America Alone “, detailing the suicide going on in eurabia. it’s speeding up. maybe it can be arranged to get the persians and the arabs to start lobbing nukes at each other too.
1. I think it’s unfair to compare Putin to Napoleon. The latter was a military genius and a polymath. By contrast, Putin is an ex-KGB bureaucrat who is probably out of his depth in his current role.
2. Putin appears to be in an awkward position on the domestic front, given the recent collapse in oil prices & the constricting effects of economic sanctions. HIs general response seems to be straight out of the Brezhnev era playbook – blame all economic problems on the malicious actions of the West & rattle the sabre occassionally in the name of ‘restoring’ nationalist glory. Both these things are intended to distract the attention of the general populace in the hope that it may reduce the grumbling. Putin’s problem is that the soviet era tactics for managing popular opinion may not longer work anymore. You see, back in the old days, the state monopoly on the media made the propaganda campaigns more effective and, in any event, popular opinion could be largely ignrored by the politburo within certain limits.
Where is this all heading? Probably, Putin will have to do a (secret) deal with OPEC to cut oil production slightly, so as to increase prices. If oil prices were to recover to around the $100 mark in the next year or so, that would take a lot of pressure off the Russian economic situation. It would give him the flexibility, as you suggest, to sit and wait for the West’s resolve to dissipate.
Victor knows what every worshipper of common sense knows: human nature doesn’t change, ignorance of history thrives on stupidity, and power despises a vacuum. If you didn’t care for the U.S. and its policies running certain parts of the world, you’re really going to suffer serious heartburn when the replacement world power and its philosophy take over.
I do enjoy the manner in which you have presented this particular situation plus it does present us a lot of fodder for consideration. However, because of what precisely I have personally seen, I really trust as the actual feed-back pile on that people today continue to be on point and not get started upon a tirade of some other news du jour. Anyway, thank you for this fantastic point and whilst I can not necessarily go along with this in totality, I regard the viewpoint.
I don’t think of VDH as a crazed neo-con, but speaking of unhinged, what a rant. I’d love to see a debate between the esteemed host and Peter Hitchens on the subject of Mr. Putin. Journalist versus historian. Hitchens would clean his clock.