The Ukraine conflict seemingly popped up from nowhere, the world outside of Europe aghast at the spectre of another war inside Europe proper.
However, Joe Biden was a man of 20 when the Cuban Missile Crisis played out, and he at least should have known better. Russia cannot, in the age of hypersonic missiles, countenance the prospect of NATO missiles with less than one-minute flight time to Moscow situated in a land that is, culturally, religiously and politically speaking, what Canada is to the United States.
This war is Vlad the De-flagger's opus, his ninth symphony. Every step Putin has taken since the fall of the Iron Curtain has been leading up to this point. In a way, its coming to fruition is an indictment of the short-term democratic politics of the West, with its three-times-a-decade election cycles.
There have been many, many steps on this journey. For the sake of brevity, the most pertinent and recent of moves in this chess game have been the Russian invasion of Georgia in 2008, the Nord Stream projects, Russia's "intervention" in Syria and then the Donetsk drive.
Georgia was a combat litmus test for Putin. He needed to know exactly how far the quality of Russian soldiering had fallen since 1991. He also needed to establish a baseline for precisely how his people would react to in-principle expansion.
Putin has never been one to concern himself with international opinion, but the lack of protest over the invasion in the UN, and more importantly Europe, was of course noted and welcomed. What Russian forces got away with in Georgia set the tone for the art of the possible, according to Putin. Ethnic cleansing, blatant geographic absorption on blatantly manufactured political narratives, Georgia was the test run. After Georgia, the ultimate question on Ukraine became not if it could be done, but how.
Only the UK seemed to see the writing on the wall post-Georgia. Whether through age-old rivalries, strategic ignorance or indolence, the rest of Europe's power players sidelined British concerns - as in the lead-up to 1939 - and rather pursued the globalisation hypothesis to move further away from Britain and America. Indeed, Germany pushed both countries hard to sign off on a European energy policy that analyst after analyst warned was robbing Peter to pay Paul, sacrificing national security for "energy security".
Nord Stream 1 was laid in 2011, though the negotiations of course began years before. The Nord Streams are Putin at his most savvy; they utterly broke the possibility of unified European resistance to his plans for Ukraine. Consider as evidence Germany's well-publicised refusal to proffer lethal aid to Ukraine, while greater Europe sat all but silent (bar the UK) in any meaningful way.
Emmanuel Macron's hosting of a long-table to and fro could not have been more procedural nor more simply for the optics. Even the read taken from the meeting by France to the world, promising de-escalation, was almost carefree in its inaccuracy. European leaders, almost a century after World War II, were again Peacocks to Putin's Cold-War poltergeist.
The Syrian intervention has, if strategic analysts are honest, always perplexed. Russia didn't have any dire interests in that country. Arms sales to the Assad regime were inconsequential to the Russian economy, and the risks of war with Turkey or even run-ins with American forces seemed incongruent to the rewards by orders of magnitude.
Yet Russia was sending a message in Syria - it did not fear firefights with NATO forces. That was indeed why it was there. The only reason Russia went into Syria was to gain the crucial kind of combat experience American forces had gained with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Putin knew the sharpest blade wins the fight, and the kind of combat experience the Americans were getting could tip the scales in any future limited war between them over Ukraine, as unlikely as that contingency was.
It was not, however, until Afghanistan that Putin decided to go all in. If the West wouldn't fight for itself, there was no chance it would fight for Ukraine. President Biden all but signed off on Ukrainian subsumption when in turn he declared, with what can only be described as a rookie foreign-policy faux pas, that sanctions, not soldiers, would be the US response.
Of course the United States should not risk war with Russia over Ukraine, any more than it should war with China over Taiwan. But telling your opposite number, well ...
On the other hand, it wasn't a big surprise. Past American administrations did nothing either when Russia took Donetsk in 2014 as a proof-of-concept operation.
Vladimir Putin has just played the West strategically, to the same embarrassing level the Taliban did just last year. American power has receded - a fading star, an Arthurian story of what was and once could have been.
Putin, in contrast, has just won his war with the West by two small incursions, and for Australia, shown us our strategic future. He will likely take Kiev next, but it started with things like lasers, hacking and smuggling weapons.
Ukraine is our lighthouse. We are already in a de facto state of war with China.
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