One January 32 years ago, a young KGB officer, Vladimir Putin, was sitting in a train on his way from Berlin to the Soviet Union. Along with his wife and two children, he was actually deported from East Germany.
It is only a matter of weeks before the Soviet allies fall one after another in Eastern Europe. The entire communist world in which Putin planned and developed a career was crumbling.
A great shame
Many experts point to this failure in explaining the repercussions of Putin’s political backlash. The theory is that most of Putin’s life took advantage of what happened at that time, because the stigma attached to it at the time was so strong.
– Yes, it is clear that this is important, says Ståle Ulriksen. He is a researcher and author at FHS / Sjøkrigsskolen.
– Putin can rightly say that many of the things that happened at the end of the Cold War were unjust.
Helge Blacksmith, a senior researcher at Nubi, emphasizes another point.
– Putin learned that a strong and seemingly stable government will collapse. He understands that this can happen again if you are not careful, says Blackisrud.
He and Ulriksen refer to what happened after the Soviet Union lost control of so-called “satellite nations” in Eastern Europe. Countries shaded on the first map.
Putin did not return home before the collapse of the Soviet Union, the world’s largest country of 286 million people.
At record speed.
In turn, 15 Soviet republics, including Ukraine, declared independence. Finally, in December 1991, the Soviet Union was dissolved. Thus, Moscow was the only capital of Russia, a country of 148 million people. Slightly more than half of the original great power.
The map that now appears (above) is dirty and badly thought out.
– Ulriksen says that the dissolution of the Soviet Union went very fast, and gives an example that one should take the time to clean up the Crimean problem.
– It is true that Crimea was placed under the province of Ukraine in 1954 as a gift to the Ukrainian Nikita Khrushchev, who later traveled as the new leader of the Soviet Union, points out Ulriksen.
– Is this argument often dismissed as Russian propaganda?
– Yes, but this is just one of many examples of areas where borders are drawn, regardless of the fact that citizens may have been different. If the referendum had been held on that day, there would have been less conflict today in what was once the Soviet Union.
– The problem is that Boris Yeltsin could not solve it, says Blackisrud, a senior researcher at Nupi.
He emphasizes that no boundaries are natural.
– All boundaries are drawn more or less arbitrarily, there are always some that end on the wrong side. Within Russia’s borders, there were also ethnic minorities who wanted independence. He says the country would soon have been further weakened if the Yeltsin had begun to dismantle its borders.
The next 7-8 years became chaotic for Russia and its neighbors. The economy collapsed when a drunkard named Boris Yeltsin ruled Russia.
By the time Vladimir Putin took office as President on New Year’s 1999, the NATO security alliance was already expanding eastward. For the new president, it is even more humiliating that the former Soviet-dominated nations have now joined forces with the old arch-enemy, the United States.
– NATO expansion looks tough on the map, is this NATO’s aggression?
– This is a big debate, says Ståle Ulriksen, referring to John John Myershimer, an American who warned for years that NATO expansion would eventually provoke a war.
In particular, Mirsheimer has criticized NATO for initiating so-called “serious dialogue” with members of Ukraine and Georgia.
– I think all countries should decide for themselves. Ulrikson says the superpowers do not decide with whom the smaller states should cooperate.
Helge Blackisrud agrees that this discussion is very different from Moscow.
– Russian officials believe NATO has promised not to expand eastward in exchange for the Soviet Union’s agreement that West Germany and East Germany may unite.
In the early years of NATO’s expansion into the East, the Alliance participated in a number of controversial wars.
The bombings of Serbia and Libya in 1999 and 2011 and the failed invasion of Iraq provoked and threatened the Russians.
– The bombing of Serbia in particular must have had an impact on a young Putin, says Ulriksen. NATO then attacked Russia’s traditional allies in the Balkans without a UN order. Remember that Russia went into World War I to defend Serbia.
This conflict forced Serbia to give up the province of Kosovo. Within ten years, the country was recognized by the United States and a number of other countries. As in the “one time case”.
For Blakkisrud, an expert in unrecognized states, this is an important contradiction:
– Residents of the provinces of Crimea, South Ossetia and Abkhazia who want to secede from Ukraine and Georgia enjoy this double standard. Kosovo was recognized, but they were not.
Putin’s first war was settled with separatists in Chechnya. Putin inherited the conflict from Yeltsin and the provincial capital, Grozny, was completely bombed when the war ended.
In the middle of the 2008 Summer Olympics, Putin invaded Georgia, with the aim of defending the unauthorized states of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Here, too, Ulirksen recalls that the crisis can be traced back to the chaotic collapse of the Soviet Union:
– The majority of the two divided republics do not want to be part of Georgia. Georgia never had control over them. He says it would have been a lot different if the issue had already been resolved in 1991.
I think the train is gone for Putin
What about today’s war. Can Putin win?
– I think it’s too late. In 2014, things could have been different if there had been strong Russian support in cities like Mariupol and Kharkiv. But after eight years of war in eastern Ukraine, Blacksmith says the will of the people in Ukraine has changed dramatically.
– Putin may win militarily, but he will have big problems controlling the population
– Can the Ukrainians give up?
– No, I think they will stand up for a long time in the cities, quarterly, says Ulksen.
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