The Day After Defender of the Fatherland Day, Or Why Dealing With the Russian Invasion of the Ukraine is So Critical
Can it be a coincidence that Putin committed to the full invasion of Ukraine the day following Defender of the Fatherland Day?
As someone who clearly longs for the old days of Soviet power, the symbolism of initiating the real invasion following what used to be called Red Army Day was clearly important. It also should say something very clear to the West, appeasement and minor threats of economic punishment are not going to cut it.
For those in the West who don’t know, the 23rd of February is celebrated in Russia (and many other countries) as Defender of the Fatherland day. It used to be called Red Army Day in the Soviet era and celebrates the forming of the first units of the Soviet army in 1918 during the Russia civil war.
Putin clearly feels both under threat and emboldened by the support of China. China has already announced increased wheat imports from Russia, in a clear move to cushion any economic impacts from sanctions. The timing means that Putin clearly wants to be seen as a Defender of the Fatherland. This was emphasised by the wording of his speech announcing the invasion.
The Fallacy of Historic Justification
In his justifications for the ‘special military action’, Putin used the tired and pathetic argument of the Ukraine being an historic part of Russia. It is a pathetic argument for two reasons — it is a common one used by dictators to justify some unjustifiable action by trying to garner some support from their own people and it demonstrates a stupid lack of understanding of history. The stupidity of this justification is that, for almost any piece of land on Earth, one can find different periods of history that will justify a different ‘historical ownership’. There have been periods of time when much of European Russia belonged to Poland, Germany, Sweden and even France.
Given history, we could therefore justify a Polish invasion of Russia. Would he be happy that it was justified for German tanks to be moving eastward into ‘historically German territory’? Of course not. But it would be as valid a justification for action as his.
The playing of the historic justification card is also often done by dictators who feel they have a weak claim to power, are under threat at home and feel the need to divert attention away from what is wrong at home. Putin is clearly not as really popular at home has he claims to be, as shown by his violent repression of opposition. You don’t need to do this unless you feel threatened. One is reminded of the justifications for the German expansions in the years before the Second World War broke out.
The Parallels With China
It is interesting that the same justifications have been used by China in backing its claims to Taiwan. This is one reason why China is failing to condemn the invasion, to do so would undermine a justification they intend to use, sooner or later.
It is also clear that the Chinese leadership is also not feeling as safe as it would appear to from the outside. The increased repression of perceived and real resistance, the disappearance and later reemergence of humbled and changed movie stars, singers or tech entrepreneurs who were becoming too influential and the reining back of the economic and political freedoms under previous Chinese leadership of recent years, all point to a similar issue in China.
Decisive Action Is Required
Sadly the lessons of history seem to have not been learned. The initial response of the West to Russia’s buildup around the Ukraine was pathetic and so inconsequential as to have no deterent value. Russia and China had clearly already organised various measures to soften any economic blows that the West might be likely to impose. What needs to be understood is that these measures will flow both ways. This means that what will prop up Russia will, in a similar way, prop up China when she decides to invade Taiwan.
Whatever actions are taken against Russia now are undoubtedly being closely watched by China to assess what they feel they can get away with. Many of the economic changes China has been making of late, especially a move away from export dependence to a greater focus on internal demand to fuel growth, is aimed at making China less vulnerable to economic sanctions. Think about the implications of that carefully.
The above makes it imperative that Russia is dealt with decisively and quickly. That probably means a direct military confrontation. There have, unfortunately, to be enough Russian casualties that it is clear that staying in the Ukraine will undermine Putin’s ability to hold onto power as whatever real support there is starts to fade away and instead shifts to protest and the rising threat of revolution. This is exactly what led to a Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in the late 1980’s. Let us hope that the number required is very small and that Putin’s regime is more fragile than it seems. It is so sad to see deaths caused for no other reason than Putin’s ego and need to hold onto power.
Failure to achieve this quickly opens up the prospect of China making a move against Taiwan. And nobody should want that to happen.