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Ukraine dominates the day's news
The big story of the day is Biden’s decision to put 8,500 U.S. troops on “high alert” for a possible deployment to Eastern Europe to reinforce NATO in the region. The Department of State has also ordered civilian dependents of U.S. Embassy employees and all non-essential personnel out of the country in preparation for Russia’s possible invasion of Ukraine.
This looks to me like a decision has been made in Washington that Putin doesn’t just have Ukraine in his sights, but has intentions if he invades to keep going and make more moves to threaten European countries that are members of NATO. Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia are mentioned most frequently, but Bulgaria and Romania are Black Sea neighbors of Ukraine that used to be part of the Soviet Union, which experts in foreign relations have speculated Putin wants to remake in some fashion.
A land war in Europe is everyone’s nightmare but Putin’s, apparently. The image of tanks followed by armored personnel carriers and ground troops is still in the DNA of European countries from World War II. Casualties in that war were in the tens of millions in Europe as well as Russia and Asia. Belarus lost 2.3 million of its citizens; Poland lost 5.8 million. Ukraine, which today has a population of 44 million, lost 6.9 million of its citizens. The Soviet Union, including Russia, lost somewhere between 20 and 30 million. Even tiny Latvia lost 260,000, and Lithuania lost 375,000. And those are just the figures for eastern Europe. Germany lost 9 million. France lost 550,000. Great Britain lost nearly 500,000. The U.S. lost 420,000.
This country has all but forgotten the sacrifices made during the great war in Europe, but they haven’t forgotten it over there. Unexploded artillery rounds and bombs are still dug up in farm fields and forests. Monuments commemorating Nazi slaughters of civilians can be found in villages all over Western and Eastern Europe. American cemeteries are not the only war cemeteries in the countries overcome by Nazi armies. The memory of that war, and those dead, is still a powerful force all over that continent.
Putin’s moves since taking power have often been compared to the game of chess, but I think they are far more basic than that. I think he’s playing an old-fashioned game of marbles. You remember marbles, don’t you? You drop a bunch of marbles into the middle of a circle and then use your “shooter” marble to knock as many out of the circle as you can. You get to keep the marbles you knock out of the circle, and you only lose your turn if your shooter goes outside the circle, but even when it does, you get to shoot from outside the circle again.
Putin is trying to knock Eastern Europe out of the circle of NATO, one marble at a time. If he knocks one nation out, he gets to keep it. The modern way of “keeping” a nation is to install a Russian-friendly leader in the target nation, which according to Great Britain, Putin has plans to do with Ukraine either before or after his planned invasion. He’s already got Belarus in his pocket. I’m sure Bulgaria, Slovenia, Slovakia, Romania, Czechia, and Poland are as worried as Ukraine.
You want to know why Putin is threatening Ukraine right now? Have a look at a map. Romania has a border with Ukraine. So does Slovakia. So do Hungary and Poland. If Putin were to “take” Ukraine, that would mean he could at will position his troops inside of that country on the border with these members of NATO and threaten them next. He’s already inside Eastern Ukraine, with troops in Crimea and the Donbas region which he seized in 2014. The other countries border Ukraine to the West and Southwest.
The Biden administration has announced that one of the sanctions against Russia it is contemplating would be to ban sales of anything containing semiconductor chips either made in the U.S. or made with U.S. technology. That would include pretty much any and all chips currently in circulation, so the ban would extend to things as basic as washing machines and refrigerators and automobiles to computers and cellphones and such things as aircraft tracking software used in air traffic control systems. If NATO were to join into this level of sanctions, there go Putin’s Mercedes limos, there go the kinds of sophisticated air conditioning systems used in modern skyscrapers, there go all manner of accoutrements to the luxury lifestyle currently enjoyed by Russian oligarchs, the Russian upper and middle classes, and the Russian government’s apparatchiks. We could also send home all Russian students in U.S. universities, especially those studying science, higher math, and the other subjects necessary to keep up in the modern world.
The other thing Biden could do is convince NATO countries, and other countries allied with Europe and the West, to deny landing rights to Russian aircraft. That would hit Russia where it really hurts. No more shopping trips for wives and mistresses of wealthy Russian businessmen and politicians and government figures. No more trips to visit real estate they’ve bought in London, New York, Miami, the French and Italian Rivieras, the Spanish coasts – no more visiting the fruits their corrupt brand of capitalism has brought them. How long do you figure Putin would last politically inside his own country if everyone were effectively speaking locked down within it by what amount to aircraft travel bans?
The United States, and the West, have this going for them. Russia is a gigantic, powerful nation covering 8 time zones with a population of 144 million. But its economy is almost entirely based on extracting fossil fuels at a time when Europe and the West are moving toward wind and solar. Technologically, Russia is still in the 20th Century. When the Soviet Union fell, stories leaked out about broken down military equipment, tanks and jets and even naval vessels that couldn’t even start their engines, and a nuclear arsenal that was rotting in its silos and launchers. Without Western technology, Russia is a third world country. Belching diesel exhaust, Russian tanks may be able to roll across the plains of Eastern Ukraine, and its military jets may be able to bomb cities and kill thousands of soldiers and civilians. But the modern age is passing them by, and they can’t keep up by taking territory and enslaving people the way the Nazis did. Information moves faster than tanks and jets, and the West owns the information age. It’s a war he cannot win.
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