What Will America Do?

Traditional history tells the mainstream story of the Cold War, the ongoing rivalry between the West (dominated by the U.S.) and the East (led by the Soviet Union), which began after World War II with the 1947 Truman Doctrine.

The first phase of the Cold War commenced as the U.S. and its allies created the NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) military alliance in 1949 to contain Soviet influence.

In response to NATO, the Soviet Union formed the Warsaw Pact in 1955. With that, the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. competed for influence in Latin America, the Middle East, Africa, and Asia-Pacific.

The relatively indirect conflicts and posturing came to a head in October of 1962 with the Cuban Missile Crisis, a dangerous confrontation between the U.S. and the Soviet Union when the two superpowers came closest to nuclear conflict.

One wrong move and I wouldn’t have been writing this and you wouldn’t have been reading these words.

The world came close to nuclear annihilation. After the failed U.S. attempt to overthrow Fidel Castro’s regime in Cuba with the Bay of Pigs invasion – and while the John F. Kennedy administration was planning Operation Mongoose – in July 1962, Nikita Khrushchev reached a secret agreement with Castro to place Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba to deter any future invasion attempt.

At the heart of the current crisis between Russia and Ukraine is Russia’s disapproval of the expansion of the U.S.-dominated NATO in its neighborhood.

These tensions reasserted themselves in 1989 as anti-communist protests swept central and eastern Europe, starting in Poland and spreading throughout the Soviet bloc. In January 1990, over 400,000 people joined hands in Ukraine in a human chain stretching 400 miles from the western city of Ivano-Frankivsk to Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital. What those protesters wanted was Ukraine’s independence from the U.S.S.R.

Then came an event that was decades in the making but seemed to happen by surprise: on December 25, 1991, the Soviet Union officially dissolved. Mikhail Gorbachev, who had been the leader of the U.S.S.R., stepped down, and Boris Yeltsin became president of a newly independent Russia.

There’s been bad blood between Russia and Ukraine ever since, particularly in the eyes of Vladimir Putin.

He has called the Soviet collapse the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century.”

NATO, on the other hand, has only grown bigger over the years. In fact, NATO now comprises 30 members, including 14 European countries that have been added over the past two decades. They include three former Soviet republics: the Baltic nations of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.

In 2018, Putin won a fourth six-year term as President of the Russian Federation, and his power has only reached new heights. 

With a combination of the carrot (incentives) and the stick (threats), Putin has held an iron fist over Russia, and the nation’s elections are basically foregone conclusions.

Ukraine’s recent history is no less fascinating. It was in April of 2019 when comedian and actor Volodymyr Zelenskyy was elected president of Ukraine. This was a monumental event because Ukraine is the largest country in Europe if you exclude Russia.

In early 2021, Russians (particularly Putin) were incensed with Zelenskyy for urging President Biden to allow Ukraine to join NATO.

Russia began sending troops near the border it shares with Ukraine for “training exercises” in the spring of 2021 and increased the troop count in the fall. By February of 2022, Russia has amassed well over 100,000 troops near the Ukrainian border.

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    On February 21, Putin ordered troops into two breakaway regions – Luhansk and Donetsk –in eastern Ukraine after recognizing them as independent states.

    On February 22, the U.S. imposed sanctions on Russian-controlled companies and two Russian banks and prevented Russia from accessing Western financial institutions. 

    It became evident that Putin was willing to sacrifice just about anything to invade Ukraine, even at a steep economic cost.

    Then came the equivalent of D-Day on February 24, not even two days after the imposition of sanctions on Russia. This was the day when Putin and Russia ordered military operations in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region.

    It was an unprecedented invasion of a neighboring country in the 21st century.

    Sirens blared and explosions were heard and seen as the military assault on Ukraine took place on both the ground and by air, with preliminary reports of the first casualties coming in from Ukrainian officials.

    Zelenskyy, interestingly enough, took to Twitter to demand “an immediate end to Putin’s war against the world” and said, “we are building an anti-Putin coalition.” He also called for immediate sanctions on Russia and “defense and financial support,” declaring, “the world must force Russia into peace.”

    As this is happening, we can’t dismiss the grand chess match that Putin and his allies have in defying the West, ultimately changing the world order.

    The parallels are undeniable since both Taiwan and Ukraine are Western-friendly democracies whose status quo could be upended by powerful anti-Western autocracies.

    China’s Communist Party seeks imminent “reunification” with Taiwan, which China claims as its territory despite having never governed it – and China hasn’t ruled out taking Taiwan by force. Thus, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen has said Taiwan could empathize with Ukraine’s situation given its experience with “military threats and intimidation from China.”

    Moreover, China is sympathetic to Russia’s concerns about the security threat from NATO because both countries seek to resist Western interference in their domestic affairs and view NATO as a threat to their security.

    If Russia has Ukraine and China has Taiwan, there could be a modern version of the Axis powers – not necessarily a military threat to the U.S. and E.U. but an economic alliance that could overpower all Western nations.

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