The Russian Problem: Turning a Blind Eye to Putin

By Daniel Greenfield l September 18, 2008

One of the reasons that appeasement is so popular is because it’s so easy. All you have to do is turn a blind eye, make the occasional vague statement asking both sides to take it easy and go along on your merry way never thinking about the consequences to come.

That has been the position of the Paleocons on Russia, just pander to Putin, concede that he has the right to conquer any part of the old USSR and Warsaw Pact nations that he feels like and admit defeat now. It’s the stale air wafting from the likes of Ron Paul and Pat Buchanan, the same old “Isolationism is the Best Defense” politics that allowed Hitler and Stalin to gobble up so much of the world in the first place.

The problem with turning a blind eye to Putin is that what happened in Georgia wasn’t simply a border dispute, but expansionism by a hungry former world power looking to reclaim vast stretches of territory and former subject nations. Russia finds it convenient to pass off the invasion of Georgia as a border dispute and a squabble over Russian ethnic minorities, much as Germany found it convenient to camouflage its invasions of Czechoslovakia and Poland under the guise of German ethnic minorities and border disputes.

The real tell can be seen from the attitude of Russia’s neighbors rushing to sign deals with NATO, while even staunch Putin allies in Belarus and Uzbekistan did their best to maintain an uncomfortable silence. While Westerners may debate the geopolitical meanings of Russian tanks smashing through Georgia, those nations formerly under the Russian boot didn’t need any interpreters. They knew exactly what it meant.

While too many self-proclaimed haters of war and imperialism are busy lecturing us on how it was all Georgia’s fault, much as their spiritual ancestors did in the 1930’s at mass anti-war rallies and in cafes and bulletins, declaiming that Poland and Czechoslovakia were pawns of Western European capitalists and bankers, the Russian bear growls and lays out the menu for the next meal. Will it be the Ukraine or Poland? In the aftermath of the Russian invasion of Republic of Georgia, both are doing their best to move closer to NATO, to frantic jeers from the Paleocons warning us that American boys risk dying for Poland.

The problem with this line of argument is that if you don’t fight for Poland, you will find yourself fighting Poland’s conquerors, except they’ll have Polish conscripts, Polish resources and Poland itself at their disposal. That was how it happened twice in the 20th century and yet the same apologists for Hitler and Stalin, from the far right and the far left are doing their best to shout down this most fundamental lesson paid for in blood.

Until less than 20 years ago, Russia controlled the Warsaw Pact countries all the way into Berlin. Germany is a NATO member. Even if this time around Russia stops at the German border and NATO expels all the Eastern European nations, then we’re right back where we were in 1988 and Europe has been cut in half. The loss of so many nations from the free world as a strategic and political disaster this would make Chamberlain’s appeasement of Hitler and FDR’s appeasement of Stalin seem almost mild by comparison.

But the problem is much bigger. Germany and Russia in the 1930’s were not carving up countries merely out of some historic claim to the territory, neither is Russia in the 00’s. They were seizing strategic bases, resources and subject nations for a vast empire. And while Europe was a starting point, it was not the end point. It is not the end point today.

The paralysis of wishful thinking that claims that if Russia were to take Poland, Czechoslovakia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Georgia, Ukraine and so on down the list, that we can sleep safely in our beds so as long as we don’t annoy the Russian bear with any missile defenses or promotion of Democracy is just that, wishful thinking. Restoring its old Cold War sphere of influence is a starting point for the New Russia, not the endpoint.

Russia is moving aggressively to control as much of the world’s energy resources as possible. It is a move that that has brought it into conflict with Georgia, but also with Canada as Russian submarines are laying claim to the Arctic, and eventually will drive a repeat conflict with Turkey. In the Middle East, Russia is Iran’s backer, promoting the Shiiatization of the Middle East and the takeover of Lebanon and a war with Israel.

We can of course turn our back on all of them too. We can also ignore Russia’s nakedly obvious plans to squeeze Western Europe with a pipeline noose, creating domestic chaos by pumping up oil prices, putting in governments that favor the Russian agenda and dismantling NATO. The riots in the UK and the employment of the former President of Germany as a Moscow lackey are only small signs of what’s to come in that regard.

But it’s not as if we have to worry about the price of oil. Somehow when the price of oil spikes, we will remain immune. And as Russia reinvents itself as a Water Empire but with oil in place of water, we will no doubt be safe. Never mind that Russia’s Lukoil has already bought up thousands of gas stations across America or that it has American Senators already lobbying on their behalf joining their voices to the “Leave Russia Alone” chorus.

The lesson of the Second World War was that the price of appeasement means having to fight the same enemy, now much stronger and enriched and empowered by the same countries you allowed him to gobble up. Growing empires need to eat and they will keep eating. An ocean may be a barrier to a Russian army showing up in Washington, D.C., but no army needs to be sent.

Russia can simply continue arming proxy states and terrorists, pushing the rise of a new left wing Latin American alliance centered around Venezuela and Cuba, while squeezing us with oil and gas prices until the American economy has been destroyed. And that is only the Russia of today. What the Russia of 10 or 20 years from now will be able to do to us can only be imagined.

During the 20th Century, in just a decade Germany went from a bankrupt nation to a world conqueror. Russia is making the same leap forward now, functioning as a capitalist totalitarian state, its economic boom compromised by the vast corruption and inefficiency endemic to such states, a gap that can only be filled through reform or conquest. Like Germany, Russia has chosen the path of conquest. Not because we were “mean” to Russia, not because we threaten Russia, but because empires do not stand still.

Russia’s rise to power is based on the Looter Principle. First the privatization of energy companies now followed by a drive to seize energy seize supplies in other nations and unclaimed territories, while spreading war throughout the Middle East; then, carving up country after country installing puppet dictators and putting members of the Putin mafia, generally former KGB officers in charge of the loot, following the SS role in the German model. The problem with the German model is that more always had to be seized.

German prosperity under Hitler was based on loot. First the private property loot of political opponents and Jews, followed by the loot of conquered territories shipped back to the Fatherland, slave labor in factories and finally collapse, as conquered territories had been stripped bare and the push forward reversed.

Russian prosperity under Putin is based on the same principle. Like Germany, it requires forward motion to subsist, except that Russia’s corruption problem is even worse than Germany’s, with estimates ranging as high as double the amount of federal revenues going to bribery alone. And that means the pressure on the Russian government to Expand or Collapse is even worse than that of Germany.

What that means is that as long as the current regime coup in Russia persists, the Russian problem isn’t going anywhere. It may have crossed the Georgian border, but it won’t end there. It isn’t driven merely by politics or rhetoric or national pride or injured feelings; it’s driven by the logic of Russia’s economic imperative. Putin’s reign over Russia functions as a form of organized crime leveraged through kickbacks pushed upward from the street level to the halls of power and it must expand to live.

Once the Russian regime has finished seizing private companies, squeezing foreign investors for bribes, it will have no choices but to keep those tanks moving and to spread war and chaos around the world in order to drive up energy prices and ring up more profits. From the Arctic to the Caucasus to the Middle East to Europe, we’re already feeling the effects now. What will they be like 5 years from now? 10 years from now? 20 years?

Sticking your head in the sand offers no immunity for the ostrich and turning a blind eye to the Russian bear won’t help us either. The folly of appeasement is to offer a choice, you can either be courageous now and stand your ground or find your courage far later and at a far higher cost. Today to block Russia we need not be heroes, we only need to show some courage. To block Russia in 20 years will take the sort of battles that gave the Greatest Generations its name.

Daniel Greenfield is a New York City-based writer and freelance commentator with a special focus on the War on Terror and the rising threat to Western Civilization. Mr. Greenfield is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center. He maintains a blog and is a contributor to

SFPPR News & Analysis.