Victor Davis Hanson
Americans want an autonomous Ukraine to survive. They hope the West can stop Russian President Vladimir Putin’s strangulation of both Ukraine and NATO.
Yet Americans do not want their troops to venture across the world to Europe’s backyard to fight nuclear Russia to ensure that Ukraine stays independent.
Most Americans oppose the notion that Russia can simply dictate the future of Ukraine.
Yet Americans also grudgingly accept that Ukraine was often historically part of Russia. During World War II, it was the bloody scene of joint Russian-Ukrainian sacrifices—over 5 million killed—to defeat the Nazi German invasion.
Americans publicly support NATO.
Yet most Americas privately worry that NATO has become diplomatically impotent and a military mirage—a modern League of Nations.
NATO members have a collective GDP seven times larger than Russia’s. Their aggregate population is 1 billion. Yet the majority will not spend enough on defense to deter their weaker enemies.
The second largest NATO member, Turkey, is closer to Russia than to the United States. Its people poll anti-American.
Germany is NATO’s richest European member and the power behind the European Union. Yet Germany will soon be dependent on imported Russian natural gas for much of its energy needs.
In a recent Pew Research Center poll, 70 percent of Germans voiced a desire for more cooperation with Russia. Most Americans poll the exact opposite.
Worse, 60 percent of Germans oppose going to the aid of any NATO country in time of war. Over 70 percent of Germans term their relationship with the United States as “bad.”
We can translate all these disturbing results in the following manner: The German and Turkish people like or trust Russia more than they do their own NATO patron, America.
They would not support participating in any NATO joint military effort against even an invading Russia—even, or especially, if spearheaded by an unpopular United States.
So, assume that NATO’s key two members are either indifferent to the fate of nearby Ukraine, or sympathetic to Russia’s professed grievances—or both.
Indeed, most Americans fear that if Ukraine ever became a NATO member, Putin might be even more eager to test its sovereignty.
Putin assumes that not all NATO members would intervene to help an attacked Ukraine, as required by their mutual defense obligations under Article 5.
If they did not, Putin could then both absorb Ukraine and unravel the NATO alliance all at once.
There are more complications in the Ukrainian mess.
Joe Biden, in wacky statements, has confirmed Putin’s bet that the United States is currently divided, confused, weakened, and poorly led.
Putin knows that the secretary of defense and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff appear more worried about “white privilege” and climate change than enhancing military readiness to deter enemies such as himself.
Putin sees polls that only 45 percent of Americans have confidence in their new politicized military.
The flight from Afghanistan, Putin further conjectures, has made the United States both less feared by enemies and less trusted by allies.
The prior failed American policy of Russian “reset,” the appeasement of Putin’s aggressions during the Obama years, together with the concocted hoax of “Russian collusion,” have all variously emboldened—and angered—Putin.
He knows a twice-impeached Trump left office unpopular. So, he assumes with Trump gone, American deterrence against Russia also vanished.
Trump’s now rejected agenda was to increase American and NATO defenses, and pump oil and gas to crash the global price of Russia’s chief source of foreign exchange.
Putin was once furious that Trump unilaterally left an asymmetrical U.S.-Russia missile accord. Trump ordered lethal force to be used against 200 Russian mercenaries who attacked a U.S. installation in Syria. He sold offensive weapons to Ukraine. He acted forcibly in taking out terrorist enemies such as Iran’s General Qasem Soleimani, the Islamicist Abu al-Baghdadi, and ISIS itself.
With Putin’s nemesis, Trump, gone, Russia assumes the appeasement years of the Obama-Biden Administration are back again. As in 2014, once more Putin is moving against his neighbors.
Finally, there is the unfortunate role of recent Ukrainian governments. Some were deeply involved in greenlighting the Biden family grifting and profiteering to ensure massive American foreign aid.
Some Ukrainian expatriates and current government members worked with the American Left to ensure the first impeachment of Donald Trump.
Now Ukrainians are exasperated that their prior intrusions into domestic American politics have backfired with the disastrous Biden presidency—and his apparent de facto acceptance of an inevitable Russian annexation.
Where does this entire mess leave America?
Putin is undermining a sovereign nation, fissuring NATO, and, if successful, might continue the Ukraine slow squeeze model in the Baltic states and elsewhere.
Meanwhile, China smiles, hoping the Ukraine blueprint can be used against Taiwan.
Exasperated Americans fear that Putin is deterred neither by sanctions nor by arms sales but follows only his own sense of cost-to-benefit self-interest.
17 thoughts on “Why Putin Has Not Been Deterred”
Germany, Scandinavia and others will be neutral. Have no idea about Erdogan, he’s tricky but the Americans will twist his arm or dangle someone else’s carrots (Greece) for him to move. Bad and desperate place to be MR VDH. No doubt you are a good man, representing the very best this country has to offer, but the problem is people like you are no longer in fashion as the red and some blue fashionistas canceled you.
My wife and I enjoy your assessment of political life in the United States …..it’s sad to see this Country going into decline……..I guess that’s what happens when “ leadership “ is more interested in money and power……we’ve been sold to China and I’ll bet in 20 years this Country will be irrelevant as a power in the world stage
Thanks for your insight
Democracy is a bitch: so the spiritual contest continues.
Sending American troops into this battle will not be tolerated by most Americans. The US is in a huge mess itself with this deeply divided country and consider people who have differences in values and morality are virtual enemies. Moreover, Russia is a very strong opponent. It was the Russians — not the allied forces — who beat back Germany. Mother Russia will always be first and foremost in the minds of Russia. But the USA is no longer a nation like Russia. It has become a multi-ethnic and culturally diverse (multicultural) democracy. Nations, on the other hand, are dominated by one group that makes up a strong majority of the population. Finally and most important, nations are inherently stable while multicultural democracies are always inherently unstable. Nations are naturally stable because a majority of the people mutually recognize each other as co-nationals. Multi-ethnic/multicultural democracies like the current USA never achieve true internal stability. They survive only by military and police suppression and break up the minute the dominant group loses the power to shackle the society together. To understand the future, study the past. Throughout world history, all multi-ethnic democracies have broken up, and almost always in cataclysmic violence. Therefore, the question is not if the multi-ethnic America will shatter, but when and under what circumstances.
Ironically, the collapse of the USA was initiated by the Nixon/Kissinger visit to China in 1972. Fifty (50) years ago! The rise of globalism by Dems and RINOs followed, China has blossomed (by means fair and foul) to soon be the world’s only superpower.
The USA has become the equivalent of Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union, a hollow shell of its former self. Gramsci’s ploy of the 1920s has been carried out to perfection though Mussolini had him executed.
Per Gramsci’s strategy, socialists are now in control of the American news media, TV and movies, and, worst of all, education at all levels. As a result, the majority of young American adults think socialism is best.
I do not think we can recover the damage done by the present corrupt, inept, even evil Administration, and it’s only been a year of four!
Russia is a corrupt oligarchy, led by a very competent oligarch. So, rather like the US, only we have an incompetent oligarch in charge. It may be that there is enough resistance remaining to stop the complete fall into a Russian model state, but I doubt it, given how many of the supposed “resisters” in the GOPe are more comfortable being in the oligarchy than they are in a functioning democracy. This trend is Western-world wide. The protests against it are weak, and effectively portrayed as “anti-social”. Just as in Russia, the facade of democracy will remain, but the reality of a ruling class will prevail.
I have heard it mentioned in several places that Ukraine is not part of NATO so there is no obligation. Also that the US helped convince Ukraine to give up its nuclear and conventional arms a number of years ago. So much for trust!
Dr Hanson, you are missing the point on this issue. Putin does not want US or NATO troops in the Ukraine any more than than President Kennedy did not want Soviet missiles in Cuba … or the US does not now want a Russian presence in Cuba, Venezuela, or Nicaragua. I’m with Putin and Lavrov on this issue. In this case, the US and NATO are the aggressors. And the Biden administration, by attempting to confront Russia, is simply trying to mask its many tragic shortcomings displayed over the last year — which you yourself have extensively documented.
Sign me a Lemay-era Cold War warrior and a Vietnam combat vet.
On the other side of the Russia-Ukrainian ledger is a bit of starvation during Lenin’s tenure. Isn’t Pripyat also in The Ukraine?
So Russian arrogance seems to check any sense of Pan-Slavism, while American indolence helps to unravel The West.
Though if the data on Germany is accurate, NATO is already unraveled.
I would add that maybe NATO can split the baby in a face-saving way.
By stating that, for cultural reasons, NATO will only extend Article 5 membership to nations who use Latin or Greek alphabets. If you use Cyrillic and want to join the NATO club, you gotta switch.
That might screw Bulgaria’s pooch a little, but hey, omelets.
I know, Cyrillic and Greek look a lot alike, but we ain’t The West without Greece, right?
There are too many unknowns, little-knowns and those unknowns we don’t know exist in these long suffering historical conflicts to determine the thoughts of Putin, Xi and senile Joe; and what is going to transpire. The one known with certainty is that Joe would mess it up. As for what Americans, (and we Canadians) think about the sovereignty battles of Ukraine and Taiwan, most (excluding expats) likely could not locate either on a globe, let alone care past answering yes or no on a phone survey. Armed conflict is not supported.
Let’s try something new. 1) Let the Ukraine go it’s own way. We got along during the post WW2 period. 2) Concentrate on former Warsaw Pact Eastern Europe Nations particularly Poland and the Baltic States 3) Germany has been allowed -by Biden- to become pressured by its dropping Electric power sources (AND making the Biden changes to US Oil/Gas/Electric 4) Along with 2 above, concentrate on Scandinavian Nations (FINLAND ! and Norway/Sweden/Denmark).
The most charitable descriptor of our Ukraine foreign policy is: “masochistic.”
My understanding is that Ukraine has been a cesspit of corruption and dysfunction for a long time. It has zero US national security relevance.
Yet we helped finance, facilitate and support the 2014 coup and its aftermath. In order to disrespect Russia, we have painted ourselves into a corner where humiliation and failure is the likely outcome.
Third detergent, most important. Pump Oul hit his pocketbook.
I find it bizarre when posters use carefully selected verbiage to hide a terribly flawed strawman. For example a poster above uses the verbiage : “Putin does not want US or NATO troops in the Ukraine any more than than President Kennedy did not want Soviet missiles in Cuba … or the US does not now want a Russian presence in Cuba, Venezuela, or Nicaragua. ” !
Lets add in facts. We did not want NUCLEAR missiles in Cuba. There are tens of thousands of Russian “missiles” and troops and offensive weapons in Cuba today. Of course the US does not want a Russian presence in Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Peru and Mexico. That said, are we massing on their borders? I would ask the poster, should we invade them?
Everyone keeps bringing up NATO, forgetting that NATO has nothing to do with this issue. Ukraine is not NATO. NATO nations are bolstering their borders should Russia decide that it’s time to take on NATO. It’s Russia’s choice if NATO gets involved. Don’t attack a NATO nation; problem solved.
So lets focus on the real problem. The 1994 Budapest Memorandum that was signed by the UK, the USA, Ukraine and Russia (by Lavrov !) . 1991 – 1994 , Ukraine was the 3rd most powerful nation on earth ! This formal document guarantees Ukraines borders, security, politics and that no nuclear power would EVER invade them. 2014 Russia meddled in the politics and invaded Ukraine !
Bring Russia into NATO.
Trump left office as an unpopular President? Excuse me?