Russian History, Repeating Itself
At the end of the Quentin Tarrantino movie “Kill Bill” the heroine delivers a secret Kung Fu blow against her adversary while they battle, one which allows the nemesis to walk away apparently unscathed. But after taking a number of steps, he staggers and drops lifeless after his heart explodes.
Something very much like that happened to Russia after what it regards — quite insanely — as its greatest military triumph, namely World War II. Russians can talk all they like about how they “defeated” Germany, but while Germany united over the course of the next few years Russia fell apart. The USSR disintegrated, and today Germans enjoy a standard of living immeasurably higher in every respect than what is faced by Russians. Far from being the nation’s greatest victory World War II was actually Russia’s great defeat, in part because the nation did not even realize it had occurred.
In World War I, as brilliantly chronicled by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Russia suffered another massive military defeat. Over 100,000 Russian soldiers were captured as prisoners, the nation sued for peace and the Russian monarchy soon collapsed.
And how about Afghanistan? Chechnya? The disastrous campaign against Japan in the Far East? The Cold War, that administered the coup de grace following World War II? We challenge you to name a single major military conflict in the past century that has ended well for Russia.
And it is the same, of course, with Georgia.
Far from displaying Russia’s power, the Georgia adventure confirmed its weakness. Everyone knows Russia wanted regime change in Tbilisi, but it did not happen. Russia was faced with a unified international furor and forced to immediately remove its soldiers from Georgia proper, limiting itself to the nakedly imperialistic act of seizing Ossetia and Abkhazia. As Pavel Baev of the International Peace Research Institute in Oslo, Norway, writes in the Moscow Times: “Russia may soon discover that achieving a ‘military victory’ is not as simple as pushing Georgia’s U.S.-trained but poorly led army out of South Ossetia.” Baev points out that Russia could have shut down the worldwide energy corridor that runs through Georgia, but it didn’t because, we now see, it can’t afford to “to cause any additional anxiety among European consumers.” The price of oil did not rise because of the Georgian crisis, but rather continued its slide, having the result as Baev says of “punishing Russia with lost profits measured in billions of dollars.”
And the Georgia attack isolated Russia, too, inflicted “great damage” — in Baev’s words — on Russia’s reputation. Vladimir Putin’s repeated lectures about the evils of unilateralism, once aimed with some effect at the Bush administration, have proven to be meaningless propaganda designed to undermine an enemy. Years of propaganda victories by Putin were utterly undone by the five-day war. The nations of Eastern Europe rose up in outrage against Russia, and Poland embraced the U.S. missile defense system it had previously spurned, thumbing its nose at Russian power. There is now a serious threat that the West, moreover, will take aggressive efforts to wean itself off Russian oil by finding alternative sources and alternative energy technologies, something it would likely never have done without such vivid impetus as the Olympic War provided.