There may be some Americans who still think that Russian aggression in places like Ukraine and Georgia does not affect them directly and can be ignored, but Californians disembarked the Good Ship La-La Land last week for good. Their concerns are nothing, however, compared to the stark terror striking the hearts of Latvians these days.
When they looked skyward last week, Californians heard the distant rumble of Russian nuclear bombers buzzing their coastline, and they weren’t alone. From the Netherlands to Japan to Guam, Russian nuclear weapons have been brandished all around the world with increasing frequency as Russia opens its gaping maw over Ukraine, even though the U.S. undertakes no such provocative action against Russian populations. Indeed, the head of NATO confirmed that Russian special forces were operating in Eastern Ukraine just as they earlier done in Crimea.
Putin’s message is clear, and copied from Hitler’s playbook: Let me grab whatever I want, or you’ll be next. And the next tasty tidbit on his menu may very will be the Baltic nation of Latvia.
As Russians celebrate their “victory” in World War II this month by rolling massive numbers of tanks and nuclear weapons through Red Square just as was done on Soviet times, clearing intending to menace the entire world, it’s worth remembering what Russia actually did in that war: It made common cause with Hitler, and fought him only when he turned on Russia. After Hitler was defeated, Russia took his place in Eastern Europe, committing barbaric atrocities like the Katyn forest massacre and forcing half of Europe to live in totalitarian darkness for decades. Russian soldiers sat across a river bank and watched the Nazis crush the Warsaw uprising, then moved in and took the Nazi’s places as Polish oppressors.
Polls show (Russian-language link) that Russians have an entirely different understanding of World War II, believing that they liberated Europe and needed no help from other countries to do so. They don’t know that nearly half a million Americans lost their lives in World War II, or that Americans parted with more than $50 billion (well over half a trillion dollars in today’s money) to provide critical financial support to Europe.
Russians don’t know the facts about World War II because the Soviet model of education and journalism still pervades Russia despite the collapse of the USSR. Textbooks are written by the government, and television news is broadcast by it. For years we were told that measures like these didn’t matter because Russia’s Internet would “always be free.” But Putin has just signed a new package of laws that formally lays that myth into its grave, directly attacking major Internet bloggers and choking the last vestiges of life out of the Runet.
Barack Obama came into office telling us this wouldn’t happen. He told us we just needed to treat Russia with respect and Russia would show itself to be a reliable partner who could help us control terrorism in the Middle East. What actually happened is that Russia played Obama for a fool, ratcheting up its support for terrorist like Hamas and Hezbollah in the Middle East while engaging in massive military spending in preparation for wars of aggression against Georgia and Ukraine.
Obama childishly ignored the fact that Russia’s twin overarching goals were served not by siding with the USA in the Middle East but by actively opposing it: First, to drive the price of oil as high as possible in order to line the Kremlin’s coffers, and second to punish the USA for defeating Russia in the Cold War.
In the past, we were told it was “impossible” for Russia to turn its face backwards to its Soviet past, impossible for Putin to remain in power for life, and impossible for the Russian Internet to lose its vibrancy. But in Russia today, impossible is nothing.
Now, we are told it is “impossible” that Russia could consider seeking to reassert control over the Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania), even though they sport the same Russian minority populations as are found in Ukraine and Georgia and used to justify aggression there. But polls (Russian language link) clearly show that Russians believe their minority population in Latvia is just as much oppressed as the one in Ukraine, and news reports daily show that Russia is fomenting the same kind of upheaval there.
There is a difference, of course, between Latvia and Ukraine in that the former is a NATO member and the latter is not. But the latter does border on not one but three NATO members, and NATO has not taken any real steps to push back against Russian aggression in Ukraine. Putin has no specific, tangible reason to believe that if he rolled tanks into Latvia NATO would respond with military force.
What’s more, Putin may not need to use military force openly. He didn’t in Crimea, and he’s trying to avoid it in Eastern Ukraine too. A photograph circulated on the Internet neatly captures his duplicity: an Eastern Ukraine rebel fighter tells a reporter he’s fighting for federalism, but a rocket launcher slung across his back states clearly that he’s fighting “for Holy Russia.”
Americans made a serious mistake under the leadership of Bill Clinton when they allowed Vladimir Putin to rise to power, and they made a second serious mistake under George “Dubya” Bush when they failed to challenge him as he began to consolidate his malignant neo-Soviet grip on the nation. Soundly defeated in war, Germany and Japan are now steadfast American allies. Allowed to wriggle free, Russia has returned to bite us from behind with poisoned fangs.