Vladimir Putin’s imperial fallacy

Ukraine

The fallacy should be immediately apparent:

Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer, the first European leader to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in person since the invasion began, said he thinks the Russian president believes the war is necessary for his country’s security.

“I think he is now in his own war logic,” Nehammer said in an interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press”, portions of which were released Saturday.

“I think he believes he is winning the war.”[1]

Let us stipulate that Vladimir Putin is indeed “winning the war.” Let us stipulate that he succeeds, against all odds and a determined resistance,[2] in pacifying Ukraine. If you conquer a country for your own security, then you have to defend that country in order to preserve that security; its security becomes your security. If you view countries surrounding that country as a threat, hello North Atlantic Treaty Organization members, then you must conquer them as well. And so it goes, in an ever widening circle, all to preserve the security that Putin perceives essential.

As I have previously said, repeatedly,

Fundamentally, imperialist logic exists on a slippery slope. There is always a necessity, indeed, an existential necessity, to expand; such is, in fact, intrinsic to our system of social organization and a fundamental reason it is unsustainable, for at some point, even after all the wars of expansion that can be fought have been fought, there is nothing on earth left to expand into.[3]

So if indeed Ukraine is existential for Russia and the dissolution of the Soviet Union is catastrophic,[4] then by what logic does Putin satisfy himself merely with Ukraine? Why not the entire former Soviet Union, including NATO members Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania[5] and non-members Belarus, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Moldava, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Armenia, and Turkmenistan?[6] Why not all of the countries formerly behind the Iron Curtain, including Poland, East Germany (now united with the west), Czechoslovakia (now Slovakia and the Czech Republic), Hungary, Yugoslavia (now several countries), Romania, Bulgaria, and Albania?[7] Where does Putin stop? By what logic?[8]

We still have zero reason to accept that the war ends with Ukraine.[9] And if, more probably, Putin cannot fully subjugate Ukraine, then, particularly as more countries join NATO, worsening his security situation as he perceives it,[10] he still must have “something,” whatever that “something” may be in the context of his imperial ambition,[11] in the context of not only his but Kremlin ego.[12]

And because it is so manifestly apparent that Putin’s conventional forces are not up to the job,[13] that whatever he may tell Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer about “winning the war,”[14] he must know that the only way forward will be nuclear.[15]

Bojan Pancevski and Georgi Kantchev, “Russia Warns It Could Station Nuclear Forces in Europe if Finland, Sweden Join NATO,” Wall Street Journal, April 14, 2022, https://www.wsj.com/articles/russia-warns-it-could-station-nuclear-forces-in-europe-if-finland-sweden-join-nato-11649958396

Dan Lamothe et al., “Russia says flagship missile cruiser has sunk after explosion off coast of Ukraine,” Washington Post, April 14, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/04/14/ukraine-russian-missile-cruiser-moskva-warship/

David E. Sanger, Helene Cooper, and Anton Troianovski, “Girding for New Battle, Russia Warns U.S. on Advanced Weapons for Ukraine,” New York Times, April 15, 2022, https://www.nytimes.com/2022/04/15/world/europe/ukraine-russia-us-weapons-warning.html

Karen DeYoung and Michael Birnbaum, “U.S., allies plan for long-term isolation of Russia,” Washington Post, April 16, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/2022/04/16/us-nato-isolate-russia/

Agence France-Presse, “Russian ultimatum to Ukraine forces in Mariupol expires,” Radio Television Luxembourg, April 17, 2022, https://today.rtl.lu/news/world/a/1899789.html


  1. [1]Agence France-Presse, “Russian ultimatum to Ukraine forces in Mariupol expires,” Radio Television Luxembourg, April 17, 2022, https://today.rtl.lu/news/world/a/1899789.html
  2. [2]William Booth, Robyn Dixon, and David L. Stern, “Russian generals are getting killed at an extraordinary rate,” Washington Post, March 26, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/03/26/ukraine-russan-generals-dead/; Larisa Brown, Charlie Parker, and Richard Spencer, “Ukraine forces ‘counter-attack’ as Russia loses estimated 7,000 troops and 230 tanks,” Times, March 18, 2022, https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/ukraine-crisis-world-war-three-may-have-already-started-warns-zelensky-f5fs72vq5; Larisa Brown and Richard Spencer, “Struggling Russians ‘plant mines’ and dig in for a long war,” Times, March 21, 2022, https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/retroville-mall-a-symbol-of-new-kyiv-is-destroyed-by-cruise-missile-0znsr9zc9; Robert Burns, “Russia’s failure to take down Kyiv was a defeat for the ages,” Associated Press, April 6, 2022, https://apnews.com/article/russia-ukraine-war-battle-for-kyiv-dc559574ce9f6683668fa221af2d5340; Helene Cooper, Julian E. Barnes, and Eric Schmitt, “As Russian Troop Deaths Climb, Morale Becomes an Issue, Officials Say,” New York Times, March 16, 2022, https://www.nytimes.com/2022/03/16/us/politics/russia-troop-deaths.html; Mark Galeotti, “How does Putin extract himself from this nightmare of his own making?” Times, March 5, 2022, https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/how-does-putin-extract-himself-from-this-nightmare-of-his-own-making-v2ktvw08g; Michael R. Gordon and Alex Leary, “Russia, Failing to Achieve Early Victory in Ukraine, Is Seen Shifting to ‘Plan B,’” Wall Street Journal, March 20, 2022, https://www.wsj.com/articles/russia-failing-to-achieve-early-victory-in-ukraine-is-seen-shifting-to-plan-b-11647824374; Jon Henley, “Russia laments ‘tragedy’ of troop deaths as Zelenskiy warns of atrocities in Borodyanka,” Guardian, April 8, 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/apr/08/russia-laments-tragedy-of-troop-deaths-as-zelenskiy-warns-of-atrocities-in-borodyanka; Jon Henley, Pjotr Sauer, and Shaun Walker, “‘Ukrainians are not naive’: Zelenskiy voices doubt on Russian military withdrawals,” Guardian, March 29, 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/mar/29/ukraine-russia-peace-talks-istanbul-war-kyiv; Richard Kemp, “The Russian army has run out of time,” Telegraph, March 22, 2022, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/opinion/2022/03/22/russian-army-has-run-time/; Dan Lamothe, Alex Horton, and Karoun Demirjian, “Ukraine’s military adapts tactics after enduring Russia’s initial invasion,” Washington Post, March 5, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/2022/03/05/ukraine-military-strategy/; Eric Levitz, “Putin’s War Looks Increasingly Insane,” New York, March 4, 2022, https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2022/03/putins-war-looks-increasingly-insane.html; Matthew Luxmoore, “Russia Refocuses on Ukraine’s East After Month of Heavy Losses,” Wall Street Journal, March 25, 2022, https://www.wsj.com/articles/russia-refocuses-on-ukraines-east-after-month-of-heavy-losses-11648243627; James Mackenzie, Natalia Zinets, and Oleksandr Kozhukhar, “Russia getting bogged down in Ukraine, Western nations say,” Reuters, March 17, 2022, https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/shells-hit-theatre-sheltering-ukraine-civilians-biden-calls-putin-war-criminal-2022-03-17/; Justin McCurry, Samantha Lock, and Luke Harding, “Russia targeting cities as strength of Ukraine’s resistance ‘continues to surprise’, UK says,” Guardian, March 6, 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/mar/06/biden-and-zelenskiy-discuss-more-aid-for-ukraine-as-russian-attacks-intensify; Ashley Parker et al., “‘No off-ramps’: U.S. and European officials don’t see a clear endgame in Ukraine,” Washington Post, March 11, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2022/03/10/ukraine-end-game/; Nebi Qena and Yuras Karmanau, “Russia shifts focus to try to grind Ukraine’s army in east,” Associated Press, March 28, 2022, https://apnews.com/article/russia-ukraine-putin-kyiv-business-europe-7386a5893a3b43bad7e438cfe45468c2; David Remnick, “The Weakness of the Despot,” New Yorker, March 11, 2022, https://www.newyorker.com/news/q-and-a/stephen-kotkin-putin-russia-ukraine-stalin; Dan Sabbagh, “Is an outright Russian military victory in Ukraine possible?” Guardian, March 17, 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/mar/17/is-an-outright-russian-military-victory-in-ukraine-possible; Liz Sly and Max Bearak, “Russia pulls back from battered Kyiv region in major shift of war to east,” Washington Post, April 2, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/04/02/russia-ukraine-east/; Liz Sly and Dan Lamothe, “Russia’s war for Ukraine could be headed toward stalemate,” Washington Post, March 20, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/03/20/russia-ukraine-military-offensive/
  3. [3]John H. Bodley, Victims of Progress, 5th ed. (Lanham, MD: AltaMira, 2008).
  4. [4]Julia Ioffe, “Will Putin Get His World War III?” Puck News, February 22, 2022, https://puck.news/will-putin-get-his-world-war-iii/; Julia Ioffe, “Putin’s New Iron Curtain,” Puck News, February 24, 2022, https://puck.news/putins-new-iron-curtain/; Julia Ioffe, “Europe’s 9/11,” Puck News, March 3, 2022, https://puck.news/europes-9-11/; Eugene Rumer and Andrew S. Weiss, “Ukraine: Putin’s Unfinished Business,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, November 12, 2021, https://carnegieendowment.org/2021/11/12/ukraine-putin-s-unfinished-business-pub-85771
  5. [5]Thomas E. Ricks, “7 Former Communist Countries Join NATO,” Washington Post, March 30, 2004, https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/politics/2004/03/30/7-former-communist-countries-join-nato/476d93dc-e4bd-4f05-9a15-5b66d322d0e6/
  6. [6]Russia Beyond, “The complete list of Soviet republics,” July 30, 2021, https://www.rbth.com/history/334057-soviet-republics-list
  7. [7]Public Broadcasting System, “Iron Curtain,” 1999, https://www.pbs.org/redfiles/prop/deep/prop_deep_maps.htm
  8. [8]David Benfell, “Where does Vladimir Putin stop?” Not Housebroken, April 12, 2022, https://disunitedstates.org/2022/03/04/where-does-vladimir-putin-stop/
  9. [9]David Benfell, “Where does Vladimir Putin stop?” Not Housebroken, April 12, 2022, https://disunitedstates.org/2022/03/04/where-does-vladimir-putin-stop/
  10. [10]Bruno Waterfield and Charlie Parker, “Finland and Sweden set to join Nato as soon as summer,” Times, April 11, 2022, https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/finland-sweden-set-to-join-nato-war-ukraine-latest-7m8bn6mf8
  11. [11]Eugene Rumer and Andrew S. Weiss, “Ukraine: Putin’s Unfinished Business,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, November 12, 2021, https://carnegieendowment.org/2021/11/12/ukraine-putin-s-unfinished-business-pub-85771
  12. [12]Bruno Maçães, “‘Russia cannot afford to lose, so we need a kind of a victory’: Sergey Karaganov on what Putin wants,” New Statesman, April 2, 2022, https://www.newstatesman.com/world/europe/ukraine/2022/04/russia-cannot-afford-to-lose-so-we-need-a-kind-of-a-victory-sergey-karaganov-on-what-putin-wants
  13. [13]William Booth, Robyn Dixon, and David L. Stern, “Russian generals are getting killed at an extraordinary rate,” Washington Post, March 26, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/03/26/ukraine-russan-generals-dead/; Larisa Brown, Charlie Parker, and Richard Spencer, “Ukraine forces ‘counter-attack’ as Russia loses estimated 7,000 troops and 230 tanks,” Times, March 18, 2022, https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/ukraine-crisis-world-war-three-may-have-already-started-warns-zelensky-f5fs72vq5; Larisa Brown and Richard Spencer, “Struggling Russians ‘plant mines’ and dig in for a long war,” Times, March 21, 2022, https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/retroville-mall-a-symbol-of-new-kyiv-is-destroyed-by-cruise-missile-0znsr9zc9; Robert Burns, “Russia’s failure to take down Kyiv was a defeat for the ages,” Associated Press, April 6, 2022, https://apnews.com/article/russia-ukraine-war-battle-for-kyiv-dc559574ce9f6683668fa221af2d5340; Helene Cooper, Julian E. Barnes, and Eric Schmitt, “As Russian Troop Deaths Climb, Morale Becomes an Issue, Officials Say,” New York Times, March 16, 2022, https://www.nytimes.com/2022/03/16/us/politics/russia-troop-deaths.html; Mark Galeotti, “How does Putin extract himself from this nightmare of his own making?” Times, March 5, 2022, https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/how-does-putin-extract-himself-from-this-nightmare-of-his-own-making-v2ktvw08g; Michael R. Gordon and Alex Leary, “Russia, Failing to Achieve Early Victory in Ukraine, Is Seen Shifting to ‘Plan B,’” Wall Street Journal, March 20, 2022, https://www.wsj.com/articles/russia-failing-to-achieve-early-victory-in-ukraine-is-seen-shifting-to-plan-b-11647824374; Jon Henley, “Russia laments ‘tragedy’ of troop deaths as Zelenskiy warns of atrocities in Borodyanka,” Guardian, April 8, 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/apr/08/russia-laments-tragedy-of-troop-deaths-as-zelenskiy-warns-of-atrocities-in-borodyanka; Jon Henley, Pjotr Sauer, and Shaun Walker, “‘Ukrainians are not naive’: Zelenskiy voices doubt on Russian military withdrawals,” Guardian, March 29, 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/mar/29/ukraine-russia-peace-talks-istanbul-war-kyiv; Richard Kemp, “The Russian army has run out of time,” Telegraph, March 22, 2022, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/opinion/2022/03/22/russian-army-has-run-time/; Dan Lamothe, Alex Horton, and Karoun Demirjian, “Ukraine’s military adapts tactics after enduring Russia’s initial invasion,” Washington Post, March 5, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/2022/03/05/ukraine-military-strategy/; Eric Levitz, “Putin’s War Looks Increasingly Insane,” New York, March 4, 2022, https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2022/03/putins-war-looks-increasingly-insane.html; Matthew Luxmoore, “Russia Refocuses on Ukraine’s East After Month of Heavy Losses,” Wall Street Journal, March 25, 2022, https://www.wsj.com/articles/russia-refocuses-on-ukraines-east-after-month-of-heavy-losses-11648243627; James Mackenzie, Natalia Zinets, and Oleksandr Kozhukhar, “Russia getting bogged down in Ukraine, Western nations say,” Reuters, March 17, 2022, https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/shells-hit-theatre-sheltering-ukraine-civilians-biden-calls-putin-war-criminal-2022-03-17/; Justin McCurry, Samantha Lock, and Luke Harding, “Russia targeting cities as strength of Ukraine’s resistance ‘continues to surprise’, UK says,” Guardian, March 6, 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/mar/06/biden-and-zelenskiy-discuss-more-aid-for-ukraine-as-russian-attacks-intensify; Ashley Parker et al., “‘No off-ramps’: U.S. and European officials don’t see a clear endgame in Ukraine,” Washington Post, March 11, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2022/03/10/ukraine-end-game/; Nebi Qena and Yuras Karmanau, “Russia shifts focus to try to grind Ukraine’s army in east,” Associated Press, March 28, 2022, https://apnews.com/article/russia-ukraine-putin-kyiv-business-europe-7386a5893a3b43bad7e438cfe45468c2; David Remnick, “The Weakness of the Despot,” New Yorker, March 11, 2022, https://www.newyorker.com/news/q-and-a/stephen-kotkin-putin-russia-ukraine-stalin; Dan Sabbagh, “Is an outright Russian military victory in Ukraine possible?” Guardian, March 17, 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/mar/17/is-an-outright-russian-military-victory-in-ukraine-possible; Liz Sly and Max Bearak, “Russia pulls back from battered Kyiv region in major shift of war to east,” Washington Post, April 2, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/04/02/russia-ukraine-east/; Liz Sly and Dan Lamothe, “Russia’s war for Ukraine could be headed toward stalemate,” Washington Post, March 20, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/03/20/russia-ukraine-military-offensive/
  14. [14]Agence France-Presse, “Russian ultimatum to Ukraine forces in Mariupol expires,” Radio Television Luxembourg, April 17, 2022, https://today.rtl.lu/news/world/a/1899789.html
  15. [15]David Benfell, “Nuclear survival,” Not Housebroken, April 11, 2022, https://disunitedstates.org/2022/03/13/nuclear-survival/

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