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What to Do with Russia

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April 11, 2022

Within only a couple of months, Russia became a bigger world pariah than when it invaded Afghanistan in 1979.  The left, Russia’s historical ally since the times of the USSR, hates it.  The right, confused by suddenly finding itself on the side of the majority, followed Mark Twain’s advice: paused, reflected, and still found Russia despicable, too.

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Contrary to what detractors are saying, the widely shared condemnation of Russia is not some cynical campaign to deflect from the waning COVID-19 hysteria or to prop up the failing Biden presidency and the Democrats before the midterms.  It is a result of Russia’s own hideous actions.

It began with a miscalculation: the Kremlin had misjudged Ukraine’s military and its people, expecting Kyiv to fall within days.  Deceived by his own propaganda, Putin honestly believed that his troops would get the red carpet treatment.  Instead, he got torches and pitchforks.

Anticipating a quick victory, the Kremlin hadn’t bothered with the usual disinformation groundwork, and now it had to improvise.  The “Pentagon biolabs in Ukraine,” which supposedly infected flocks of birds to spread diseases among Russians (but not Ukrainians), ended up as fodder for hilarious memes.  The accusations of “Nazism” fell flat against a nation that had recently elected a Jewish president with 73% of the vote.  The alleged “fear of NATO” didn’t stand up to serious scrutiny, either.

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As the fake excuses for the invasion chip away, the real reason is becoming exposed in all its ugliness.

In contrast, Ukraine’s gritty resistance and heroism have amazed civilians and military professionals worldwide.  From Bill Maher praising Zelensky to Mark Levin quoting a  Ukrainian expat exposing Russian propaganda, the poles of American public opinion are now united in their anti-Russia sentiment.

The rest of the world feels largely the same way — from Poland and Estonia, who know what Russia’s victory would mean to their sovereignty, to Germany’s remorse over having enabled Putin for so long, to the U.K.’s  Boris Johnson’s aggressive rhetoric.  Even the otherwise xenophobic Japan has invited Ukrainian refugees.

That was even before the world knew of the Bucha massacre by the Russian army.

Such unprecedented unity provides an opportunity to finally bring down the Moscow regime.

If this talk shocks you, then you haven’t been paying attention.  The West has pondered this idea for a while without quite getting around to doing it.  The most recent opportunity was missed in the early 1990s.  In the absence of a thorough decommunization following the example of Poland and other ex-communist nations, Russia’s Communist Party was allowed to survive.  No living communist official or KGB officer was made to pay for the Soviet-era abuses.

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The USSR killed millions at home and abroad, and condemned the survivors to a life of misery unimaginable in Western societies, while at the same time gaslighting the world with its masterful propaganda.  Thus, the world knows that the USSR launched the first man into space in 1961, but few are aware that the first Soviet toilet paper factory was launched only in 1969.  In the 21st century, sixty years after that first space flight, one fifth of Russians continue to live without running water, and that’s just the official number.

Instead of addressing the misery at home, Russia seeks to spread it abroad.  It has been doing that for centuries — from the tsars sending their slave soldiers to fight anti-monarchist movements in Europe to the Politburo sending tanks into Hungary and Czechoslovakia and organizing bloody dictatorships in Asia, Africa, and Latin America to Putin sending his murderous hordes to suppress “color revolutions” from Georgia to Ukraine.

As Robert Heinlein said, “the Commies didn’t invent that attitude; it goes back at least a thousand years.”

In our era of mild-mannered political vegetarianism, of which this author is also a product, we are not calling for anyone’s death, except by the verdict of Nuremberg Trials 2.0.

Instead, consider the following measures:

A)  Let the Russian Federation break apart USSR-style; its vast territories have little affinity for each other and would be better off as sovereign countries.

B)  Given Russia’s history of threats and the first-use doctrine, all of these newly independent parts of Russia should be induced to surrender their nuclear weapons, as Ukraine and Kazakhstan were induced to do so in the 1990s.

C)  Vacate Russia’s permanent seat in the U.N. Security Council.

Does that seem to be over the top, even after a series of unwarranted invasions and war crimes?  Then consider that Russian officialdom is preparing something much worse for Ukraine, complete with physical and cultural genocide of the Ukrainian people.

This article in RIA Novosti, a government propaganda mouthpiece, titled “What Russia must do to Ukraine,” is calling for physical extermination of anyone who dares identify as a Ukrainian, and for a ban on the Ukrainian language and culture so that the survivors would have to be re-educated into Russians.

This could’ve been easily written by Hitler or Goebbels about the “Untermenschen,” yet the author is seriously claiming that Ukraine and the Western world in general are almost entirely Nazis who need to be conquered, occupied, and denazified:

Denazification can only be conducted by the winner, which means (1) their unconditional control over the denazification process and (2) the authority that can ensure such control. For this purpose, a country that is being denazified cannot possess sovereignty. The denazifier state, Russia, cannot take a liberal approach towards denazification. The denazifier ideology cannot be challenged by the guilty party that is being denazified.

How does the Russian propaganda define Nazism?  It’s quite simple: if you resent Russia, you’re a Nazi.  And since due to Putin’s actions most of the world has come to resent Russia, the world must be filled with Nazis.  Showing examples of such resentment, the propagandists then tell the Russians that their Motherland is surrounded by Russophobic Nazis.  That whips up even more domestic public support for Putin’s military adventurism, which causes even more resentment outside Russia, and so on, going in a vicious circle.  The latest opinion poll shows that public support for Putin’s policies inside Russia has grown to 83%.

The only way this vicious circle can be broken is if Russia is defeated and defanged before it’s too late.

Why now?

The three main impediments to doing this have always been nuclear threat, political risk, and business interests. For much of the 20th century, anyone even thinking of confronting the USSR or Russia had to consider its nuclear weapons, a technology stolen from the U.S. by American communists.  The nuclear threat is hardly real today.  Even if Russia’s aging (and rumored to be cancer-stricken) dictator gives such an order, the other top military and government officials are not likely to follow it, especially with their children and assets scattered around Europe and the U.S.

Political risk is not currently a factor, as the entire world has now turned against Russia.  This is a rare moment when neither the usual useful idiots nor paid propagandists can sway public opinion in Russia’s favor.  Given the sophistication of Russian propaganda and disinformation techniques, this moment may not last long.

Business interests with regards to Russia have almost entirely been extinguished by the sanctions.  Rather, there may be an anticipation of new opportunities in the renewed, de-Putinized Russia or whatever is left of it.

But how?

Military victories have always empowered a sitting government, while a defeat weakened it and brought about reforms.  Russia is not immune to this rule.

A defeat in the Crimean War, for example, drove Nikolai I to death in 1855.  By 1861, his son Alexander II had abolished slavery.

Losing a 1905 war to Japan caused civil unrest, resulting in a reform that turned Russia from an absolute into a constitutional monarchy.

Today, having invested its political capital in the ridiculous idea of “denazifying” Ukraine, the Russian government is unlikely to survive a military defeat by Ukrainian forces. Thus, a sound victory for Ukrainians will not only restore justice and right historical wrongs, but also be an instrument of Realpolitik, even if our “realpoliticians” weren’t prepared for such developments.

The cost of this is relatively cheap: provide Ukrainians with the weapons they need.  The portable anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles have been great so far, but they’ll also need heavy weapons to retake the occupied parts of their country.

A victory will allow Ukraine to seek reparations in European and American courts and rebuild the country with the Russian assets already frozen in the West, as well as with the proceeds from the export of Russian oil and gas.  To survive, the starved Russian government will be forced to reform its economic and political system, which at a minimum will make that territory a better place.  A permanent defanging and de-Putinization must be made a condition for softening the sanctions and normalizing relations.

Time is of the essence

This needs to happen  soon, and not just to avoid a prolonged suffering of Ukrainians. The unique international unity of today will not last forever.  It will certainly not survive beyond Putin.  Whoever succeeds him will fracture the anti-Russian coalition without even trying — by simply not being Putin.  The pro-Russian useful idiots and paid agents will be back, whipping up sympathy toward the “poor Russians” and demanding we forgive them because our own past hasn’t been spotless, either.

Should that happen and the sanctions on Russia be lifted for economic and political gain, in a few decades’ time, the world will face the same hideous but more experienced monster, on less favorable terms than we have today.

Image: W. Bulach via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0.

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