April 02, 2023

Putin’s Shakespearean Demons

Geopolitics will take you only so far in explaining foreign affairs. The more important element is Shakespearean. Ukraine is a perfect example.

Ukraine is engulfed by Russia on the north and east, its history and language entwined with its neighbor’s. But the greater part of the story concerns the personality of Vladimir Putin. The geopolitical argument that Mr. Putin invaded Ukraine because the North Atlantic Treaty Organization was expanding completely disregards the Russian leader’s Shakespearean demons.

Imagine the condition in the heart of Europe today had NATO’s boundaries remained frozen after 1989.

Mr. Putin’s decision to invade represented not the collective thinking of the Russian elite but his own thoughts. Many oligarchs and security heavies near him were as surprised by the decision as people in the West. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, pressed by an oligarch to explain how Mr. Putin could have planned such an invasion without his inner circle knowing, reportedly replied: “He has three advisers. Ivan the Terrible. Peter the Great. And Catherine the Great.”

Given Mr. Putin’s paranoia, isolation and delusions of grandeur, the question arises: Would Europe today be at peace with Mr. Putin’s Russia had NATO not expanded east after the Cold War and had there been a Western guarantee of recognizing Russian interests in Ukraine? Certainly not.

Read the full article from The Wall Street Journal.

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