Jim’s Morning Jolt today is even more essential reading than usual. In the wake of President Biden’s shockingly inept public concession that U.S. and NATO would essentially accept a “minor incursion” by Russia into Ukraine, Jim provides a much needed history lesson. Specifically, it’s about strongman Vladimir Putin’s “little green men” — the Russian soldiers who infiltrated Crimea and Eastern Ukraine and conducted battle operations while careful not to display any official insignia that would identify them as Russian soldiers.
The point is that this is Putin’s modus operandi: minor incursions by deniable military operatives, in the confident conviction that it will provoke no significant response from the West. The “unmarked” Russian operatives blend in as “separatists,” stir up civil unrest, and thus give Putin the pretext for marginally less minor incursions: identifiably Russian forces that purport to restore order and establish “peace” by occupying and ultimately annexing territory.
Jim further notes Biden’s acknowledgment at Wednesday’s press conference that this is already happening in Ukraine, again, even now. (Biden being Biden, he couldn’t help himself but detour into a mindless repetition of his observation that NATO had “differences” and thus lacked the consensus to meaningfully counter a minor incursion — you know, in case Putin hadn’t heard him the first time.)
I just want to add a bit to the history lesson — a Georgia chapter, related in the Wall Street Journal by Mikheil Saakashvili, who was that country’s president during Putin’s “minor incursion” in 2008. As Saakashvili recounted:
Long before its conventional assault on Georgia, Russia openly backed separatist militants, launched cyberattacks, and used disinformation to meddle in the internal affairs of sovereign states. Initial intelligence reports of Russian forces entering Georgian territory didn’t even cause enough concern to order Georgian military officials back from their holidays. Though Moscow had long attempted to thwart Georgia’s turn to the West, Russia had not launched a conventional military attack on a neighboring country since it invaded Afghanistan in 1979.
But in August 2008, under the auspices of “securing” the separatist enclave, Russia invaded my country. . . .
Leaving aside the practical impossibility of Georgia attacking a nuclear power 100 times its size, the entirety of the conflict took place on internationally recognized Georgian territory. The Kremlin’s claim that its land forces mobilized overnight in response to an emergency was absurd. Such an onslaught required careful preparation, especially given the mountainous terrain of the Russian-Georgian border.
This op-ed was written in 2018 to mark the fact that, a decade later, Russia still occupied a fifth of Georgian territory. That remains the case today, nearly four years later. Saakashvili observed that the U.S. and its NATO allies lacked both an effective counter to Putin’s strategy and a realistic grasp of Putin’s ambitions. Consequently, Saakashvili had been ignored when he and his then-counterpart from Poland, President Lech Kaczyński (since deceased), warned that Ukraine would be next.
Of course it was. And it is.