I want you to try (yet another) of my little thought experiments. It goes like this:
Suppose that China began forming military alliances with various nations in South America, and eventually signed a defense treaty creating the Sino-American Defense Organization, or SADO (admittedly a terrible name). Let’s say that at the same time the various nations of South America formed the Pan-American Union. They adopted a similar set of laws and a single currency, and did so with China smiling benevolently on the whole affair.
If this happened, we might start to get understandably nervous, much as we did when the Soviets were fooling around down there during the Cold War. Of course it’s no longer the Cold War, so no problem, right? We’d eventually adapt and come to accept what’s happening down there, though we probably wouldn’t like it.
Then suppose that the Sino-American Defense Organization began moving north. First Panama joins up, now putting what we’d view as Chinese proxies in charge of the Canal. Then they move up more, with Guatemala, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and other nations joining up. As they do, they also begin trickling their way into the Pan-American Union. Now we have a whole set of nation states that are apparently in league with China. But they’re still not touching us, so that’s ok, right?
Well, then suppose that Mexico starts making noises about joining, and as they’re doing that, there’s an uprising in Mexico City. This uprising claims to be about replacing a terrible government that isn’t responsive to the people, and puts in place one that’s much more responsive to China. Ooops, I meant to say, “the people”, though for all we know, that’s as in “The People’s Republic of Mexico”.
Now we’d really lose our minds. Here we’d have a potentially hostile country directly on our southern border that’s being influenced by another country that’s our ideological enemy, and that’s regularly competing with us in the global marketplace. Forget nervous; we’d be scared out of our minds.
Replace China with America, SADO with NATO, the Pan-American Union with the European Union, and Mexico with Ukraine and you begin to understand what Russians in general, and Putin in particular, might be thinking, and why they might be lashing out.
“But!” you might protest. “America and the European Union aren’t like that! We’re friendly, benevolent countries that only want freedom and peace!”
A reasonable point, but this is where the China analogy somewhat falls apart, because China hasn’t launched an illegal, unprovoked war against another country in a fair amount of time. We, on the other hand, have, and did so with much help from the EU.
So try to put yourself in Putin’s shoes. Try to actually think like him. While he is yet another in a long line of Russian dictators, he’s neither insane nor evil. He’s reacting to what he genuinely believes is a threat to his country. Thus Russian actions in Georgia, thus their actions in Ukraine.
I’m not saying this is in any way justifiable. Russia is jumping at shadows, and Putin is a dictator. Russia needs to calm down and Putin needs to step down. Democracy can and should come to Russia, and by that I mean real, solid democracy; not the mocking of it that currently exists with rigged elections and dissenters being punished.
But until that happens, we need to try and understand why Putin thinks the way he does, and we need to deal with him that way. The Cold War is pretty much over, and we need to avoid restarting it, and understanding Putin and treating him and his position with respect, is the only way to do that.
Oh, and for the record: him invading Ukraine and annexing Crimea had nothing to do with any “weakness” on the part of Obama. If it did, you have to ask yourself why he also invaded Georgia during George W’s time in office.