Dear Editor of The Review:

Apparently, I got it wrong. In my own defence, I never really paid a lot of attention to Putin. Yes, I knew he was more or less a dictator and certainly ruthless on occasion, but that was pretty much all I knew of him. He seemed to be, from what limited attention I paid, successfully rebuilding Russia after the collapse of communism. He also seemed to be a reasonably smart, relatively worldly, sophisticated, pragmatist, well aware of current geopolitical affairs and focused on the future, both his and Russia’s. Quite different from the usual thugs and mass murderers which have been Russia’s lot for centuries. But, as I said, I got it wrong.

Now that we are all paying considerably more attention, we can see that he too is cut from the same cloth as Russia’s usual leaders. Increasingly autocratic, still obsessed with the old Cold War rivalries, he seems determined to rebuild all or at least some of the vanished Soviet empire. Notwithstanding his bizarre claims to the contrary, Putin and his military advisors are surely well aware that there is no threat to Russia from the Ukraine or the West. Their own intelligence assets and agencies, unless they are telling him and his generals only what they want to hear, no doubt keep the Russian leadership very much up to date on what is happening, militarily and otherwise, in Europe and North America. And so, they must know there exist no plans (and even less will) for any NATO or Ukrainian attack on Russia. Unless, that is, they judge that the example set by having personal freedom and electing one’s own rulers is itself a threat.

And yet, here he is. Bludgeoning his way west through the Ukraine in the best traditions of his Cold War predecessors. And ignoring the far more realistic threats to his homeland which lie to its south and east. A very unstable and corrupt regime in Kazakhstan on its southern border could one day spell real trouble for Russia. But an even greater threat lies further east. Russia and China actually clashed in the 1960s. Armoured divisions, massed artillery, bomber squadrons and hundreds of thousands of troops (1.3 million of them Chinese) were moved to the Russia-China border. Even a nuclear exchange was threatened. Fortunately, after only a few were killed or wounded, the conflict was stopped. Curiously, Putin seems to have forgotten all this. It is a safe bet that China has not. They play the long game.

No matter how the war in the Ukraine plays out (and in truth, at this point, no one really knows) two things are certain. First, however the conflict ends, Russia will be weaker financially, economically, and militarily. From a Chinese perspective, this can be nothing but good news. But there’s a bonus for Beijing. Russia has in the last month or so become an international pariah. Abandoned, sanctioned, reviled, and castigated, they are proclaimed an outcast by the whole world. Except China. And China will be there to provide the loans, economic and political support, perhaps even such basics as food and medicine, to its now crippled neighbour.

Inadvertently, perhaps even with subtle encouragement and promises from Beijing, Russia under Putin has turned itself into a client state, a dependency of China. Blinkered with his old Cold War obsession to somehow ”beat the West” and reclaim lost glory, Putin has blindly harnessed his country to a much darker entity. Not a pretend democracy like Russia, China is a self-proclaimed full-blown dictatorship and comes with all that that implies. Possessing the world’s largest army, the world’s largest navy and soon to be the world’s largest economy, China has ominous regional and global ambitions. Having a weakened and dependent Russia in their pocket will go a long way towards helping them realize those ambitions.

Respectfully,

Colin Affleck
Champlain Township