The Ukraine Missile Crisis.

            As you age, anniversaries (birthdays, weddings) turn from fun to scary.[1]  In October 1962, the United States discovered that the Soviet Union had begun to place medium-range missiles equipped with nuclear warheads in Cuba.  This marked a dangerous turn in the Cold War.  If the Americans caught you doing it, they were likely to “blow your head clean off.”  The Cuban Missile Crisis followed.  Now, sixty years on, Russia’s dictator Vladimir Putin has begun threatening to use nuclear weapons as his war of bad choice against Ukraine goes south. 

            In the view of Walter Russell Mead, Mr. Putin isn’t that hard to understand because he keeps explaining himself.[2]  Putin sees an “Anglo-Saxon” hegemony that has long dominated the rest of the world and which continues to do so today.[3]  Given centuries of unavailing grievances, criticisms, and the use of armed force by everyone from Napoleon to Osama bin Laden, there’s probably something to the idea of Anglo-Saxon hegemony.  Many people around the world, including those within the walls the hegemonic powers, share some version of Putin’s critique.[4]  China’s Zi Jinping may well be among the believers, even if he has a somewhat different plan than does Putin.  In any event, Putin sees Russia as the champion of the vast majority of the world.  He has hoped to turn Russia into the leader of a global coalition that could hold the Anglo-Saxons in check. 

            Part of Putin’s effort at Russian revival has been a sustained effort to reassemble much of the old Soviet Union.  Belarus is a puppet state; the Shanghai Cooperation Organization expresses—among other, competing forces—a Russian determination to build tight links with the Central Asian “stans” that one belonged to Russia; and Putin has repeatedly tried to curtail Ukraine’s independence.  Another part has been his effort to undermine the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) through energy policy and meddling in the domestic affairs of European countries. 

            For Putin, the war in Ukraine is going badly, but he could be interpreting the larger context of international relations as tilting in favor of Russia.  Global economic conditions are imposing widespread suffering.  Such suffering often produces political strains, conflict, instability, and second thoughts.[5]  Threatening the use of nuclear weapons could intensify discord in the West.  Still, if Putin was playing a long game then he wouldn’t have invaded Ukraine in the first place. 

            Like Lenin and Hitler, Putin seems to feel a special personal urgency.  He may be “walking with Destiny” toward his vision of the Future, but he has to try to bring it into being in his own lifetime.  Observers might consider the possibility that he is determined to rush events to a conclusion without any regard for the consequences of failure. 

            The issue may not be the use of tactical nuclear weapons against Ukraine.  It may be the use of the full array against the Anglo-Saxons.  I’d be happy to be wrong. 

[1] For my Mom’s birthday one year, my Dad had a jeweler make a heart-shaped locket surrounded by filigree out of white gold.  Inside was a photograph of their lost daughter.  Still makes me feel very inadequate. 

[2] Walter Russell Mead, “Putin’s Nuclear Threat Is Real,” WSJ, 4 October 2022. 

[3] Although France has joined the resistance to Russian aggression in Ukraine, Putin’s critique of the Anglo-Saxons resembles that of Charles de Gaulle. 

[4] See the litany of carping op-eds in the New York Times and elsewhere upon the death of Queen Elizabeth II. 

[5] To illustrate the availability bias, look at Liz Truss. 

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