The Corner

Putin, Machiavelli — and History Still Failing to End

Somehow in touch with the long-departed Niccolo Machiavelli, Joseph Joffe reports to the Wall Street Journal on a teacher well pleased with his pupil. Here’s an extract (but read the whole thing):

You did everything right. You grabbed an opportunity when you saw it. First, you calculated the “correlation of forces,” to use a Soviet term, and realized that it was vastly in your favor. Who would fight you? A Ukrainian leadership in chaos? A flimsy Ukrainian army? The EU that could not even bomb Libya without the U.S. Air Force? Barack Obama’s America?

…You factor[ed] in geography proper….You had the “interior lines,” as the great Prussian strategist Carl von Clausewitz put it; the West was a thousand miles away. And your troops were already in place in Crimea—tanks, planes and all. Now to the balance of interests, a more subtle concept. The EU has been contesting you over Ukraine, but more as a confused afterthought. Your country had more compelling fish to fry: Ukraine as former Russian heartland plus an ethnic majority in Crimea, a strategic gem that Khrushchev had absentmindedly given away to Ukraine 60 years ago. So you also held the psychological advantage that comes with having more skin in the game….

Best of all, you are a true Machiavellian when it comes to the economy of violence. Just enough, never too much, and with minimal risks. So you didn’t grab eastern Ukraine, which might have really riled the West and triggered a costly insurgency. You merely harvested the low-hanging fruit of Crimea, and with a fabulous profit. In Kiev, the “educative” impact will be enormous. Whoever gains power there will sing the theme of “democracy” and “EU affiliation” sotto voce. Here, my pupil, beckons the biggest payoff. You need not fear the democratic contagion of the Maidan spilling over into your own country. Not for a long time.

That’s about as depressing as it gets.

Meanwhile Moscow is calling for a more federal Ukraine, a “suggestion” that could easily evolve into calls  for a “Bosnian” solution for the country, and, more specifically, the creation of an ethnic Russian equivalent of Bosnia’s (ethnic Serbian) Republika Srpska within Ukraine’s borders.

And in Hungary, the far-right (and yes, I know the problems with that shorthand) Jobbik (which at around 15 percent in the polls is probably Hungary’s third-largest grouping)  is denouncing the new Ukrainian government as “chauvinistic and illegitimate” and (my emphasis added):

[D]emands the Hungarian government and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to take measures in order to protect the Hungarian ethnic minority in the Lower Carpathian region [in the west of Ukraine] Jobbik also points out that the West is using the current cold war-like situation to expand its sphere of influence to the East….the human rights of the minorities must be ensured, since Ukraine cannot do so on its own.

That’s an interesting choice of words from a party with some, shall we say, connections to the Putin regime. It also stirs up uneasy historical memories, even if Jobbik has no chance of getting into government, not least because this part of the world once played host to the ill-fated (essentially Ukrainian, but it’s complicated) Republic of Carpatho-Ruthenia, extinguished after one day by Hungarian troops in 1939.

Ah yes, the end of history, remember that?


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