In the last decade, nationalism and authoritarianism were rising around the world. Some assumed that it was just the swinging of the pendulum and perhaps there was some aspect of that but think back to when it took on momentum, what was the central issue behind the nationalist fervor.
Immigration. And why was that? Because of the increasing influx of refugees from war-torn countries in the Middle East. European countries became inundated with refugees and those seeking refuge. This of course was not the refugees’ fault but it made especially European nations more fearful of “the others” coming into their countries in larger numbers.
The U.S. made a big contribution to this and began the Domino Effect by launching The Iraq War in 2003 (based on provenly false claims of Saddam Hussein possessing WMDs) and internally displaced approximately 3 million Iraqis while approximately 260,000 Iraqis fled to become refugees in other countries, as determined by the UN’s Refugee Agency (UNHCR). This directly led to the formation of ISIS and their conquest for an Islamic empire which ironically, chased hundreds of thousands of Iraq War refugees out of Syria and back into Iraq.
The Syrian civil war waged by Bashar al-Assad against a majority of his people and ISIS’ brutal war for empire in Syria was intensified and arguably decided by the involvement of Putin’s Russian military in support of Assad’s murderous assault on Syrians.
This alliance with Assad was a key building block in Putin’s preparation for rebuilding a Russian empire, even if it wasn’t necessarily planned by Putin to be so in certain ways. An analysis of Putin’s motivations for joining Assad in his suppression and destruction of Syrians as well as fighting ISIS proposes that Putin’s key motivations were to enhance Russia’s warm-water base in Tartus, Syria, support his fellow dictator in a proxy war against the U.S. (though Russians and Americans did face off at times there), and go to war against Muslims which Putin has a history of doing.
What is unique about the civil war in Syria is how many refugees fled the country. Again, as mentioned above, between the Iraq War and ISIS’ bloodthirsty crusade, hundreds of thousands became refugees in other countries. Due to the Syrian civil war, 6.8 million Syrians became refugees and asylum seekers.
Whether it was or wasn’t his intention, Putin was clearly aware of what his rescuing Assad from defeat was doing. It created a massive refugee crisis and history shows again and again that large influxes of refugees into another country often brings about a backlash fueled by bigotry and provincial sensibilities.
And this is definitely something that Putin saw happening that he could exploit to push his plan for re-establishing a “Russian World”.
Let’s put a pin in that for a moment. There is a very enlightening interview with Fiona Hill on Politico in which this respected expert on Russia and Ukraine (who was a key witness in the first impeachment hearing against Trump and his extortion of Ukraine to manufacture dirt on Biden) explains that Putin’s plan to rebuild the Russian empire date back to at least 2007 when he first threatened NATO not to expand any further.
So what stood in Putin’s way as the biggest threats to his moving forward with his plan to usurp Ukraine, Eastern Europe and more? The European Union, NATO and the United States. If he could weaken all three of these, if he could get them to become divided and hobbled, he could have far more confidence about marching forward with this conquest of half of Europe if not more. He would be unstoppable.
With that in mind, let’s return to how he began this softening up of “the enemy” to his imperialist plans, starting with leveraging immigration issues into bigotry, nationalism and division.
From the U.S., we watched the Brexit movement get traction in 2015-2016 in the U.K. with a bit of bewilderment. Really? There were many ongoing complaints and dissatisfaction that Brits had with the EU prior to this but it seemed unthinkable that it could push the U.K. to leave the E.U. What became very visible though from the biggest proponents of Brexit was the promotion of populism, nationalism and bigotry along with the use of blatantly false propaganda. The Brexiters were the forerunners of Trumpers and the similarity doesn’t seem coincidental, they had much in common in manipulating the public by portraying themselves as “patriots” and protecting their country from the threat that “outsiders”, who were invading and taking over their country represented. These divisive disinformation tactics appeared very familiar to analysts who were familiar with Russian tactics.
So it may not have been as much of a surprise when, after Brexit was voted on and passed due to a smug and ignorant PM David Cameron thinking a referendum would shut up the nutty Brexiters and it would fail anyway, the facts came out that Putin and those happy to collaborate with him, financed and engineered this coup.
This was a big win for Putin and multiple boxes checked for his plan to launch invasions of ex-USSR nations. The U.K. was now divided and badly weakened financially and socially, the E.U. was wounded and weakened and it looked like more dominoes could fall in terms of other countries following the U.K. out of the E.U. So, one key of the three he needed had been obtained by Putin.
Meanwhile, on Putin’s other front, the 2016 U.S. Presidential election was coming up. Putin had been developing his relationship with and bribery of Trump for many years in anticipation that he might be the vehicle for dividing and damaging the U.S. but perhaps even Putin never dreamed Trump could actually become President of the United States.
Trump had fawned over Putin before he even met him, publicly wrote a love letter tweet to Putin and begged him to attend his Miss Universe Pagent in Moscow in 2013 (holding the pageant in Moscow was arranged through one of Putin’s oligarchs, Aras Agalarov, who paid Trump $20 million for it) as The Guardian recounts:
“Do you think Putin will be going to The Miss Universe Pageant in November in Moscow,” [Trump] asked on Twitter, and “if so, will he become my new best friend?” A source in Moscow told the Guardian that a meeting with Trump was indeed pencilled into Putin’s diary by aides, but fell off his schedule a few days beforehand.
Agalarov later said that Putin sent his apologies to Trump in the form of a handwritten note and a gift of a traditional decorative lacquered box. It is not known whether Trump met any associates of Putin in lieu of the president himself, but he certainly claimed to have.
“I was with the top-level people, both oligarchs and generals, and top-of-the-government people,” he said in a radio interview in 2015. “I can’t go further than that, but I will tell you that I met the top people, and the relationship was extraordinary.”
Trump also spent days there in Moscow connected to the pageant and of course, the Steele dossier included info that Trump’s blackmail-worthy activity with prostitutes at the Ritz Carlton there could have provided Putin with valuable kompromat.
As to the bribing and money laundering between Russia and Trump, so many shady and conspicuous deals were made between Putin’s oligarchs and Trump, one of the most famous was Trump selling an estate in Palm Beach, FL that he bought for $41 million, for more than double that in just 4 years, for $95 million to Putin oligarch Dmitry Rybolovlev. For reference, using the highest median real estate prices for 2004 and 2008, the greatest increase in Florida real estate averaged 21%. So Trump’s estate would have been worth, in the best possible scenario, no more than $50 million. And yet, he received $45 million more than that.
And we have heard countless stories about Russian-money-laundering Deutsche Bank mysteriously providing Trump with hundreds of millions in loans despite no other bank seeing him as credit-worthy or financially stable enough to qualify for a loan.
There are many money trails between Putin’s oligarchs and banks and Trump and topping it off was the Trump Tower Moscow that Trump was secretly negotiating with Putin during the 2016 election despite lying to the public and claiming he had no business dealings with Russia.
Trump’s worship of Putin as perhaps a father figure, was really all Putin seem to need though to have total sway over Trump, a man who to date has never said one critical word about any atrocity or crime Putin has committed and only praised him…including the day he invaded Ukraine.
Trump had numerous phone calls and meetings with Putin, none of which he or his administration ever provided a readout on, as all presidents routinely have done when meeting with a U.S. adversary. What Putin may have asked of Trump or offered him, no one knows. But we do know what Trump’s actions were in the White House and how they aligned perfectly with Putin’s goals.
Among the items on Putin’s wish list that Trump checked off was attacking NATO and threatening to leave it, attacking our allies in the EU, denigrating them and even hitting them with tariffs, illegally withholding military equipment from Ukraine while they were in conflict with Russia and under immediate threat, insulting and disrespecting President Zelinsky which was also part of an extortion plan to squeeze out a declaration of Biden’s criminality that could be used to pervert the 2020 election, and promoting through the entire GOP that Putin and Russia were the good guys that the U.S. should be aligned with instead of the rest of the free world. Additionally, Trump and the GOP let Russia off the hook for invading and manipulating the 2016 election (in favor of Trump of course) and their ongoing meddling and use of dark money leading up to the 2020 election.
Putin’s goal again was weakening the U.S., making it divided along political, religious and racial lines and Trump performed this duty throughout his time in office (which he might have done anyway in pursuit of tweaking the country for his own benefit and pursuit of an autocracy).
And the final attack on U.S. sanctity and strength by Trump came of course on January 6, 2021 when he performed a premeditated scheme, as the 1/6 Congressional Committee is documenting, to overthrow the nation’s democracy and install himself as America’s Putin. So far, we have no evidence that Putin backed this attempted coup but one would have to be willfully ignorant not to recognize that it was obviously in Putin’s interest to keep Trump in power. Since then, Trump has spearheaded, along with his lapdog GOP, attacks on the legitimacy of our democracy, ongoing attempts to overthrow the 2020 election, laws passed by Republican state legislatures to suppress voter registration, voting and impartial vote counting, and cheerleaded greater hatred, violence and division between his supporters and the majority of the country.
Trump had delivered to Putin the other keys he had been waiting for to unlock his attack on Ukraine, former USSR countries…and the rest of the world after that. America was weakened, divided and in chaos. NATO had been left weakened and perceived increasingly as a useless and purposeless relic from a previous time that should be eliminated and the E.U. had been diminished and struggling to keep itself together while the U.K. foundered economically in the aftermath of Brexit.
From Putin’s POV, the three keys had been turned and his freedom to proceed with his conquest in Europe was freed. But there was one more complication called COVID. The pandemic made moving forward with his crusade problematic. Russia was hit badly thanks to Putin performing the same denialism that Trump did which discouraged the Russian public from becoming vaccinated and the Russian Covid vaccine, Sputnik, being less effective than vaccines that the rest of the world was using.
Hard to fight a war when your Army is in close quarters and falling deathly ill. So Putin waited and in the meantime, he tried to address the issues with his military to prepare them for what he saw as a quick invasion and takeover of Ukraine.
It is hard to see it as coincidental that as the Omacron spread of Covid had finally subsided, Putin massed his military on three sides of Ukraine and readied to launch his war. The last obstacle had moved out of his way and he was now free to pursue the next major step in his dream to return Russia into the empire it once was.
It is almost amusing that Trump and his party of unAmerican supporters brag that Putin didn’t invade Ukraine when Trump was president so that proves Putin was afraid of Trump. It is such twisted logic to propose that a leader acting as a puppet of another country’s leader, who praised him and deferred to him endlessly, even bowing to him over the entire intelligence community in his own country, was somehow threatening to Putin and scaring him from invading Ukraine.
Putin didn’t feel a need to rush. Trump was president, he was helping destroy the only obstacles Putin saw in his way, why jump the gun and rush into invading Ukraine when Putin perceived The West was being weakened every day with Trump in place. Plus of course, COVID dominated 2020, Trump’s last year in office so as mentioned above, Putin bided his time, hoping Trump would be re-elected and throw a monkey wrench in any retaliation the E.U. or NATO might seek.
It’s clear now that Putin’s assumptions were very flawed, as makes sense because he can’t see things for how they really are in the U.S. and The West. Yes, we have an entire party supporting sedition in this country but many Republicans follow Trump’s lead out of fear of being attacked by his supporters and losing their seats. And many Republican voters are comfortable playing the roles of furious, wronged, and entitled white people but after seeing all the prosecutions for crimes against the nation on 1/6, they’re not as keen to try such a blatant act of sedition.
And perhaps something should be attributed to the bravery of Ukrainians and President Zelinsky, which Putin, being an unprincipled beast and surrounded with cowering supplicants, simply couldn’t imagine. And that thing is the bravery and camaraderie that Western Nations and the E.U. have shown as they clearly recognized Putin’s plan and intent to claim the right to invade any sovereign nation that he deems illegitimate.
Putin was wrong in an enormous way and even though he is committing war crimes every day and murdering innocent people, he will lose one way or another. Ukraine will never give up and if Kyiv is taken and a puppet installed, their insurgency will break that phony “government” and break Russia in the process, just as the Afghans did when the USSR invaded their country. And in this case, NATO countries border Ukraine so weapons and support will be much easier to deliver to them.
It is also helpful to remember that the USSR was finally forced to give up in Afghanistan and it was widely seen as speeding up the fall of the USSR.
Putin got away with a lot. He meddled in democratic countries, used social media and money to empower his “soldiers” to attack from within. He won many smaller victories in taking over countries and building alliances with other brutal dictators. There is much we don’t know right now, what cyber attacks or military attacks he may launch to intimidate or damage The West but there is no going back for Putin now. The West knows they can never look away again or turn their backs on Putin or hope that he can be reasoned with.
Putin thought he had succeeded in weakening the West so he acted. Instead, he has found out that The West is strong (as are the remarkable Ukrainian people!) and it is Putin who has exposed himself as weak, ignorant, desperate and dangerous. The world knows no that there can never be peace and security as long as Putin leads Russia and there is cause to be confident that the world will not relent until Russia has a new leader, however long that takes.
The world now has their plans in action for Putin and he will fall in the end…but Ukraiane and the world will not.