US has opportunity to drive stake through Russia’s heart in Ukraine War

Commentary

Peter Zeihan

Geopolitical Strategist
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As the ninth month of the war in Ukraine concludes, it becomes even more obvious that Russia never expected this conflict to last this long. Even as it hammers Ukraine’s infrastructure with missile strikes, the Russian army is facing munitions shortages and relentless Ukrainian opposition, giving Ukraine a window of opportunity to make further gains. Straight Arrow News contributor Peter Zeihan thinks it’s also a significant “window of opportunity” for the U.S. to challenge Russia, without committing all that much in the way of weapons. If Ukraine wins this war, Zeihan argues, Russia will have a hard time surviving for more than a decade or two.

Excerpted from Peter’s Nov. 23 “Zeihan on Geopolitics” newsletter:

Anyone remember that famous Napoleon quote – “Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake.” Well, if there was a time in history when that quote rang true, it would be right now, watching the war in Ukraine unfold.

Let me take a step back to give you some more context. The United States has only ever faced 3 countries that presented significant threats: the UK, Mexico and Russia (aka the Soviet Union). The first 2 gave familial and neighborly fights, but Russia presented a new kind of threat…one of national survival.

Fast forward to the Ukraine War, and the United States has been given a golden opportunity – to let former Soviet citizens drive the stake through the heart of the only power in history to challenge the US economically, strategically and ideologically.

installment of our Ukraine consequences series. In the first couple, we went into the situation that the Europeans are facing with energy. Now I want to talk a little bit more about what’s going on in terms of the overall strategic situation, but particularly from the American point of view. Now, there have only been three countries in the history of the United States that have ever actually threatened the United States with absolute national oblivion. And so whatever policy set this or that President might want to have that’s open or closed or based on trade or trade strategic issues, there are three countries that have always been standouts, the first one is the United Kingdom, United Kingdom is the only country that has invaded the United States. And it did so twice. It’s the only power we’ve ever faced from the eastern hemisphere that’s actually ever had boots on the ground within the continental United States. And so there has always been a special
place in the American Heart for our cultural parents. And decision after decision after decision that was made not just in the early decades, but throughout the 19th century in the first half of the 20th century, was about how to handle Britain in a special way. So the Brits finally admit that the United States has grown up and is no longer a teenager.
Nations can be very familial. And so that came to a head with World War Two, when it became apparent to everyone that the Brits really couldn’t fight the war without American assistance, and we had LendLease. And for the low, low price of 40, odd, wildly outdated and technologically incapacitated destroyers, the United States forced the UK to give up the entirety of its entire military footprint in the Western Hemisphere. On top of that, once we got to the Bretton Woods talks at the end of the war, to figure out what the post war order was, we not only did not give the Brits any special dispensations, we actually charge them in terms of interest on their loans, excuse me, even more than we charge all the other allies. And that kind of put the United Kingdom into the position that it is today, as an American ally, that strategically cannot function independently of the United States. There was kind of one more little bit of underlining that happened with the Suez Crisis, where the United States actually threatened publicly, that the Brits would have to pay up on all the world war two loans at once, which would have thrown them into a depression, and even offered publicly to ally with the Soviets briefly, in order to drive British forces out of Suez, and that was really kind of the last hurrah for the Empire as an independent entity. The second country was Mexico, Mexico in the United States shared a border and between the Mexican rebellion in the Mexican American War, there was a concern that Mexican troops were going to be able to punch through the Texas territories, especially in the early days, days of the Texas and rebellion when it didn’t look like it was gonna be successful, and Capture New Orleans. And if that had happened, then the entire American hold on the middle continent would have gone away. And that would have meant everything from Ohio to Nebraska, would have basically been Mexican territory, and the West Coast would have never happened. So the Mexican American War happened. And the Americans ended up annexing about half of what had at one point been Mexican territory. Fast forward that a century and we glared at each other from time to time, but really didn’t have relations until we got to the 1980s. And then under Reagan, and eventually, under Herbert Walker Bush, we negotiated the NAFTA Accords, which are now fully in place, and the two countries are each other’s highest demographic intermingling factor and top trading partner. And I don’t want to suggest that the relationship is all sunshine and tacos all the time. But we’re definitely through the worst of it. And we’re building a form of partnership with a renewed set of expectations, just like we have with United Kingdom. And then there’s the third country, the Soviet Union, which started pointing nuclear weapons at the United States as early as 1950. The challenge posed by the Soviets was always different from the previous two, because with the United Kingdom, it was ultimately not a cultural issue, we were from the same cultural stock was an issue of control. And then the Mexican issue, it was to neighbors struggling to see who was the dominant power, and it was never going to be a battle for the dip to the death, it was a battle to see who was going to be the big man. But with the Soviets, it was economic, it was strategic was ideological, and it was about your ability to simply exist, you know, nukes do that to the conversation. So we always knew from the beginning of the American Soviet conflict of the Cold War, that there could really only be one. And so when the Soviet Union fell in 1992, there was more than a little bit of celebration. And there was this wonderful part in the 1990s. When we thought, you know, maybe maybe we can recreate Russia in a different way to become different in some way where we don’t have this bad blood between us and we can be a degree of partners.
And when Vladimir Putin became president in 1999, he became prime minister in 1999. President 2000 that general idea that maybe we really can all get along, got a lot of lift. Because Putin in his early days was an inveterate Westerner. And there was actually open discussion, maybe not all that serious, but discussion about Russia, perhaps one day joining the European Union and NATO. Clearly, it didn’t go that way. And so what we’ve been dealing with now is kind of a reversion to the norm. Because the Russian ethnicity is the only one that has ever actually threatened the United States with physical annihilation. It’s difficult to see any way out of this, where we agreed to try to get along again, especially now that the Putin government has repeatedly brought up the nuclear threat time and time and time again, it’s like the one way to get the Americans attention. Although I would argue, from the American point of view, America’s attention is not what you’re after, if you’re trying to prosecute a war in your corner of the world and not invite American intervention. It’s if anything that brings us to the table in a very bad way, from your point of view. And we’ve seen that time and time again. What’s going on here is in many ways,
a wonderful opportunity, you know, remove the morals from the equation, remove the human suffering from the equation for a moment, the United States is being presented with an opportunity to drive a stake through the Russian heart for ever think about what the United States is committed to this war to this point, a bunch of artillery, a bunch of stingers, a bunch of javelins.
These are not weapons systems that as a rule, the United States uses artillery systems are much longer range, none of those have been handed over. We don’t use stingers. Because we have an Air Force. We don’t use a lot of javelins because we have tanks. The weapons systems that the United States is transferred to Ukraine are for the most part surplus, and in many cases, were slotted for disposal. So if anything, the Ukrainians are doing us a budgetary solid here by throwing them into the teeth of the only country that has ever threatened the United States with annihilation.
And if, if if the Ukrainians can win this, it is difficult to see Russia in its current form surviving more than a decade or two, the Russian population is dying out. We don’t have great data because about a decade ago, the Russians just started lying about all their demographic data. But at that time, we saw a demographic collapse in progress. That was the worst in human history. Since then, they’ve been surpassed by the Chinese. But that’s a topic for another moment. If the old data is true, we were already looking at the Russian ethnicity losing hold of the territories we now know is Russia, sometime between 2045 and 2070. Probably it’s kind of iffy when you get to demographics, and that kind of scale. And there are other ethnicities within the Russian space, most notably the totters and the other Turkic minorities, like the Bashkirs are the Chechens who are actually experiencing robust population growth. So people in the United States on the right sometimes like to talk about replacement theory. In the case of the Russian space, it’s not quite replacement theory, it’s just you have zones, which are having explosive population growth, and then zones that are having explosive population collapse. They don’t overlap. They don’t ever mingle all that much. But it does mean that many of the principalities that the Russians had conquered and centuries past are getting very close to the point where they could chart out a different demographic, economic and strategic future from Russia. And they’re on the wrong side of natural borders. So you could have a robust independent Tatarstan right next to a dying Russian Empire. And in that sort of environment, it is impossible for the center to hold and all the United States has to do to make this work is helping the Ukrainians out a little bit. Now, if anything, I am sugarcoating the situation for the Russians here. Because if you remember back to 1992, Ukraine used to be part of the Soviet Union. Same with Belarus and with Latvia. Same with Georgia, same with Kazakhstan. And now with the exception of Belarus, all of the other 15 constituent states, the 14 Plus Russia that used to be part of the Soviet Union, all but one of them are either pathologically hostile to all things Moscow are neutral or in the case of Ukraine are actively fighting back. In many ways. What we’re seeing here is the final Civil War of the Soviet system, and 100% of the casualties are being felt by former Soviet citizens. From an American point of view, what we’re seeing is the single greatest threat ever, to the American republic, is in the process of defenestrated itself.


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