Vladimir Putin goofed.

He, like so many oth­er world lead­ers, appears inca­pable of under­stand­ing history.

He was born in 1952 so was not direct­ly affect­ed by World War II.  Still, the events of that con­flict were so momen­tous in the Soviet Union that he must sure­ly have received some edu­ca­tion about it.

Some of the most telling effects of war relate to what hap­pens when a coun­try invades its neigh­bor and the results therefrom.

The Soviet Union invad­ed Finland in 1939 and that small coun­try fought off the inva­sion and repulsed its foe because it was fight­ing on home ground and defend­ing its own ter­ri­to­ry and its own people.

Then Germany invad­ed the U.S.S.R. in 1941 and the tables were some­what reversed as the Soviets fought back with unpar­al­leled feroc­i­ty and tenac­i­ty that even­tu­al­ly result­ed in an esti­mat­ed 20 mil­lion Russians dying before the war end­ed as the coun­try fought for its own ter­ri­to­ry and its own people.

But Putin was cer­tain­ly around when the Soviets invad­ed Afghanistan in late 1979 and began a ten-year war before final­ly with­draw­ing with­out vic­to­ry because it was wag­ing war against a peo­ple fight­ing for their own interests.

The les­son which should be gleaned from all these efforts is that any peo­ple will fight more fero­cious­ly and more vig­or­ous­ly, and sac­ri­fice more when they are defend­ing their own coun­try and countrymen.

The United States has learned this les­son on numer­ous occa­sions includ­ing the “Banana Wars” and, more recent­ly, Vietnam and Afghanistan, although under dif­fer­ent purposes.

So, what, one might ask, ever pos­sessed Putin to think that he would have an easy go of it invad­ing a neigh­bor­ing coun­try — and that the costs of doing so would be minuscule?

Admittedly, Russia is more pow­er­ful, both in the size of its man­pow­er and its weapon­ry, but his­to­ry is replete with exam­ples of small­er and less pow­er­ful coun­tries mak­ing a good defense of them­selves against all odds. So the inva­sion of Ukraine in February 2022 should have been under­tak­en with at least some mod­est recog­ni­tion that it would not be a walkover.

And the aid that is going to Ukraine from neigh­bor­ing and NATO coun­tries and the U.S.A. is lit­tle dif­fer­ent from the out­side aid pro­vid­ed by Russia dur­ing the Korean War and the Vietnam War.

But Putin goofed a sec­ond time when he assumed that the NATO coun­tries would sit idly by tsk-tsk­ing while he ran roughshod over his neigh­bor.  Perhaps he was count­ing on respons­es sim­i­lar to that of the west­ern pow­ers in the late 1930s as Hitler goose-stepped into neigh­bor­ing coun­tries with­out push­back. What has actu­al­ly hap­pened is that NATO is prob­a­bly stronger than ever and more com­mit­ted to its goal of main­tain­ing peace in Europe. 

Putin was annoyed that Ukraine had applied for entry into NATO and he was telling his peo­ple that NATO posed a threat to the hege­mo­ny of Russia. Now he faces three coun­tries that had for­mer­ly main­tained neu­tral­i­ty apply­ing for NATO mem­ber­ship because they see the threat posed by an irra­tional leader. A leader who con­sis­tent­ly lies to his own peo­ple and to the world at large, and who has grandiose dreams of a new Russian empire.  Remember his assur­ances for months that he had no inten­tion of invad­ing Ukraine while build­ing up forces on its north­ern and east­ern borders?

Now he lies by claim­ing that he is try­ing to cur­tail the “Nazification” of Ukraine, at the very time that Ukraine is enter­ing a peri­od of democ­ra­cy that it has nev­er before experienced.

Putin is mak­ing sim­i­lar blun­ders to those Hitler made, fail­ing to under­stand how oth­er nations will react in war­like cir­cum­stances.  And he, like Hitler, is appar­ent­ly sur­round­ed by syco­phants who are afraid to tell him of the futil­i­ty of his lat­est venture.

  • Chuck Witt

    Chuck is a retired archi­tect, a for­mer news­pa­per colum­nist, and a life­long res­i­dent of Winchester.