History Repeats.  What Have We Learned?   -   February 24, 2022

Russia Invades Ukraine!  Deja Vu?

Last night, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a military operation in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine.  He added, “Our plans are not to occupy Ukraine, we do not plan to impose ourselves on anyone.”

Putin urged Ukrainian forces to lay down their arms and go home, saying all responsibility for possible bloodshed will be entirely on the conscience of the Ukrainian government.  As Putin spoke, big explosions were heard in Kiev, Kharkiv and other areas of Ukraine.

Putin’s invasion has not caught any serious observer by surprise.  He has been talking this line for a long time.  Some (not many) world leaders have been warning Putin that should he invade Ukraine there will be “serious” (though unspecified) consequences.

U.S. President Joe Biden condemned the “unprovoked and unjustified attack by Russian military forces.”  He said “President Putin has chosen a premeditated war that will bring a catastrophic loss of life and human suffering.  Russia alone is responsible for the death and destruction this attack will bring, and the United States and its Allies and partners will respond in a united and decisive way.  The world will hold Russia accountable.”

These actions and events leading up to them are eerily reminiscent of 1938-1939 when German Chancellor Adolph Hitler acted to “protect” the German people then living in the Sudetenland portion of Czechoslovakia.  He insisted that the Sudetenland be ceded to Germany and promised that in return he would not invade Czechoslovakia.  We know how that worked out.

As was Hitler, Vladimir Putin is an adamant aggressor.  He has specific territorial goals in eastern Europe.  Some of these have been attained.  Ukraine and others are undoubtedly on his list.  He will cease aggressive actions only if and when he believes he cannot succeed.  Vague threats, shifting ‘lines in the sand’ and inconsequential (to Putin) sanctions will not lead to such mind-change.

History provides four guidelines for dealing with an adamant aggressor such as Putin.

  • We must clearly understand how Putin’s goals conflict with our long-term interests, then make a choice – either forego our interests or prevent Putin from realizing his.
  • Putin will suspend his aggressive operations only because of a genuine belief that he cannot be successful (or, of course, at his death).
  • We must deal from a position of strength, both real and perceived. Ambiguous threats and unenforced ultimatums will be seen as signs of weakness.
  • Concessions will reinforce Putin’s belief in ultimate success and guarantee renewed conflict at a future time.

Have our leaders learned this history?

(For more, preview Adamant Aggressors here.)


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