On Ukraine, Putin and Trump
Terry H. Schwadron
Oct. 3, 2022
Even after a couple of days for dueling words to sink in, the war in Europe is ticking closer to expanded international conflict. The next steps could endanger us all.
— Russian leader Vladimir Putin announced an “illegal” annexation if not control of Ukrainian regions, insisting that people there will be Russian ‘forever,’ and, among other things, subject to the new Russian military conscription to fight previously fellow Ukrainian countrymen. It is a move beyond provocation — no independent country is prepared to recognize the annexation — and comes complete with Putin’s threats of justified use of nuclear weapons to defend an extended “homeland.”
— The United States and NATO allies responded with yet more economic and travel sanctions against hundreds of Russians, including the leader of Russia’s central bank. It is a move that, while coordinated with allies, seems horribly short of effective retribution, but will work to harden war-like stands.
— And Ukraine’s leader, Volodymyr Zelensky filed paperwork to join NATO formally and immediately — along with its promises of joint defense promises. This is a move that calls the resolve of the allies into direct question about entering the fight altogether.
Of course, saying annexation is illegal by the rules of international sovereignty and such things as United Nations protocols and being punished for it are two different things — lessons we still can recall from German annexation of Czech lands in 1938 with tacit consent of his opponents to forestall war.
Hmm. Perhaps, as in our continuing domestic battlefield, Putin should take the matter before that Donald Trump-appointed federal judge in Florida who could insist, despite the law, that Putin need not prove that he has any right to Ukrainian land. After all, U.S. District Court Judge Alison Cannon might just feel that Putin’s reputation might be unduly besmirched by any attempt to hold him accountable for stealing land that does not belong to him.
If it were not all reaching such absurd levels, if only it were not deadly serious, maybe we could be satisfied with thinking that power-hungry maniacs in Moscow and Mar-a-Lago are just off their respective rockers.
Putin and Trump in Parallel
In an uncanny parallel, we’re hearing similar messages of belligerence from Putin and Trump in stereo, both from their cornered positions.
In declaring Russian control over four Ukrainian regions based on election results whose outcome was known before a single vote was cast, Putin called out the United States for “Satanism,” took potshots at cultural divisions within America and declared the U.S “the enemy.”
Putin is doing poorly in his military quest for conquest of Ukraine and needs a new front to use to conscript 300,000 Russian civilians — who seem not to want to go to fight an unjustified war of invasion. Holding an “election” in these regions when the Ukrainian residents have fled, been killed, or been forced to cast a ballot at the point of a gun is not a legitimate plebiscite.
No wonder Trump has such affinity for Putin. He is doing the same thing. He insists on an alternative outcome for an election that went against him, subverting the means of voting and counting, threatening violence to regain power and coordinating the attack on Jan. 6, 2021, to overthrow democracy. Trump continues in the face of no evidence to support his case, all while ducking accountability through a friendly judge, delay and while calling the rest of us “enemies.”
Trump’s embrace of QAnon conspiracies of late even picks up on Putin’s “Satanism” theme.
Both men are under stress and using increasingly aggressive, defiant fighting words. Both deny responsibility to anyone but themselves for their actions. Both decry the institutions and rules that should have served as guideposts to legal action. Both are aligning with attacks on gender and identity issues that are part of American life.
And both remain linked politically. Enigmatically, Trump posted on his social media site that “the Russia/Ukraine catastrophe should NEVER have happened and would definitely not have happened if I were President.” We all believe that, perhaps for opposite reasons.
The Ukraine Case
Zelensky, meanwhile, is proving a wartime leader capable of resisting the Russians, and even forcing them to withdraw from several areas that had been declared won by Putin’s forces.
By fast-tracking an application to join the NATO alliance as well as the European Union, he is at once recommitting to national defense by any means against the Russians, but also putting the Western allies on notice that he wants them — us — in the war with him. Sending weapons and aid is welcome but applying to join NATO would commit the other NATO nations to actual combat in defense of a member.
No one from NATO has said what will happen to the membership request. But admission to the alliance — recently obtained by Sweden and Finland — requires unanimous consent from all of NATO’s 30 members. It is not clear that all would admit a country already at war.
Ukraine would have to demonstrate a commitment to democracy, individual liberty and support for the rule of law, which some American and European officials are not sure they have seen.
Putin has long sought the demise of NATO, whose expansion he sees as ringing Russia’s western borders. For his part, Trump, as president, sought actively to undercut NATO, and sought to withdraw the United States from the allied group, fostering the perception that his personal admiration for Putin was over the edge of diplomacy and national security.
With varying degrees of bipartisan domestic support, Biden has gone to great lengths to restore European assurances on the alliance, and yet just as forcibly has resisted U.S. commitment to ground combat or the use of its air power directly in the Ukraine-Russia conflict.
What should be apparent is that these concerns are not games. The question is where the serious leaders are in serious times.