Previous occupants of the Kremlin would stand shoulder to shoulder with Vladimir Putin. From the mid-16th century to the end of Communism, Russia conquered territory the size of Holland every single year. At the treaty of Turkmanshai, Czarist Russia swallowed whole provinces of the Persian Empire, and Stalin nearly added to these gains. Russian support of today’s Iran is also predatory. The ayatollahs evidently believe that they are superior negotiators, and they may well be right, given the ease with which they are twisting President Obama round their fingers.
Putin does not even bother with twisting Obama, he merely sends in special forces without identification badges and lines up armored columns. He has the whip hand. Volodymyr Rybak was a pro-Ukrainian politician in the pro-Russian town of Slavyansk. His murder greatly increases the tension. Kiev is exaggerating when it claims that Russia wants world war, because there is nobody to fight it. But war will allow the dismemberment of Ukraine and the absorption of territory from which to make the next advance. When I heard the Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov say that this crisis arises because the West wants territory, I knew the die is cast. Those previous occupants of the Kremlin perfected this tactic of accusing others of the crime they themselves were about to commit. The murder of Rybak may not provoke Kiev to retort with arms, in which case some other unfortunate Ukrainians will be murdered.
Occupation of territory is not the end of it. Putin is in the process of humiliating Obama so brazenly that international perceptions of the United States must change. He may see himself as the avenger of Mikhail Gorbachev. Each time Secretary of State John Kerry promises to apply more sanctions in the indefinite future, the impotence of the United States to take immediate and effective action becomes more visible and the humiliation of Obama more certain. I wonder whether NATO can survive. Oswald Spengler forecast something like this a century ago, and I am off to the library to re-read his gloomy book.