The Ukraine war and unintended consequences

The result of a Russian drone strike. PHOTO: REUTERS
The result of a Russian drone strike. PHOTO: REUTERS
Two years ago, when Vladimir Putin sent his armed forces across Ukraine’s borders, he was expecting a quick war.

His generals had reassured him that the Ukrainians wouldn’t fight, Nato would sit on its hands and his soldiers would be welcomed with kisses and flowers. Kyiv, they told him, would be his within three weeks.

Putin’s advice was ill-founded in every respect. The Ukrainians did fight — and are still fighting. Nato, far from sitting on its hands, has backed the Ukrainian war effort with massive quantities of munitions and economic aid.

Everything short of unleashing Nato’s own forces against the Russian invaders has been thrown into this war in Eastern Europe. More important, at least from Putin’s perspective, Nato has expanded.

Daunted by Russia’s naked aggression, and its disdain for international law, Sweden has abandoned 200 years of neutrality for Nato membership, Finland has done the same. Nato navies now control the Baltic from Copenhagen to Helsinki.

And Russia has given itself an additional 1200km of "hostile" border. To paraphrase Winston Churchill: From the Gulf of Riga to the Black Sea, all the ancient nations of Europe are gathered behind Nato’s security guarantee — its tripwire for Armageddon.

And yet, from his eyrie in the Kremlin, Putin’s eyes remain fixed upon the United States. Not in fear does he gaze upon the world’s unconquerable continental Goliath, but with rising hope. In President Biden’s palsied hand, the sword of freedom is loosely held.

Meanwhile, from the heartland of the continent, the people America has left behind are steadily pushing their comb-over Moses towards Washington.

Donald Trump’s army is distinguished not only by its enormity, but by its indifference to the rest of the world’s troubles.

"Beware of foreign entanglements", warned their first President, George Washington, and Trump’s followers are ill-disposed to gainsay their founding father.

"Why should we defend the borders of Ukraine", they demand, "when Biden refuses to defend his own from hordes of illegal immigrants?" Sufficient unto the day are the troubles of these "deplorable" Americans.

"Make America Great Again" is embroidered on their headgear, but the greatness they invoke is not the greatness of the American military cornucopia that supplied the Red Army with the wherewithal to defeat Hitler’s invasion. With the food that fed them, the boots in which they marched to battle and the heavy trucks that carried their ordnance across the limitless East European Plain — all the way to Berlin.

Nor is it the greatness that saw America garrison Europe with its own sons: those young soldiers who stared down their Soviet opposite numbers across the narrow defiles of innumerable Checkpoint Charlies, all along the Iron Curtain, for the four frigid decades of the Cold War.

No, the greatness Trump seeks to restore is the greatness of White America. The America that looks right through Native Americans, African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians, and all the other vibrant elements of the great American melting-pot — as if they don’t exist. The greatness of Christian America which, in spite of invoking "Jesus!" at every turn, conducts itself as if the New Testament does not exist. Trump’s people are seeking the greatness they passionately believe can be theirs only by putting "America First!" — and the rest of the world dead last.

In the hands of these Americans, Putin is placing all his hopes. And yet, even if Trump wins the presidency and, to the cheers of his followers, tells Nato to go to hell, Putin’s dreams of a defanged Europe may still not come to pass.

Even without the United States, Europe constitutes an unanswerable challenge to Russia’s imperial dreams. Half a billion strong, possessed of a technological and industrial prowess that far exceeds the Russian Federation’s, the nations of Europe have the capacity to become, in very short order, a truly formidable military power.

Two of its nations (the UK and France) already possess nuclear weapons, Germany could easily become Europe’s third.

Are these, the unintended consequences of his geopolitical hubris, truly the outcomes Putin was anticipating when, on February 24, 2022, his armies shattered the hard-won peace of Europe? An enlarged Nato? Germany furiously re-arming? And the Poles dreaming of once again rescuing Europe from eastern invaders, just as John III Sobieski did outside the gates of Vienna in 1683?

The West is not beaten yet.

 Chris Trotter is an Auckland writer and commentator.