When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, marking the end of the long Cold War, the U.S. swooped in not as conqueror but as a partner, aiming to help Russia replace the debris of its destitute and brutal communist system with a market economy and democratic institutions. The hope was for a new era of comity and peace. That did not work out. Russia shed the worst inefficiencies of communism, but under the rule of President Vladimir Putin for the past 22 years has been making a comeback as a predatory autocracy, seeking to expand its reach and revive its role, via both commerce and conquest, as a major world power.
Putin has described the Soviet collapse as the 20th century’s “greatest political catastrophe,” for which he has by his lights been seeking remedy, and—to judge by some of his statements—revenge. He has been leveraging Russia’s military and huge natural resources, especially oil and gas, not only to resurrect the power of the Kremlin, but to undermine America, savage its friends and attack its values. President Biden, with a foreign policy signaling weakness, presented Putin with opportunities to advance his messianic projects. Putin, with his renewed assault on Ukraine, is seizing those opportunities to create the worst crisis in Europe since the end of the Cold War. Among the main features of the U.S.-Russia showdown:
- Russian bullying and aggression, both armed and more insidious, has exploded into a full bore military invasion of Ukraine—an assault Putin telegraphed well in advance, and America and its allies failed to stop. There are echoes here of the 1930s, in which the great democratic powers did too little, too late, to stop the cascading violations that finally turned into the conflagration of World War II.
- Russia is making common cause with what we might call a conglomerate of evil, expanding ties and coordination with other hostile tyrannies, especially the predatory communist regime in China, and including such malign regimes as those in Iran, Syria, North Korea, Venezuela and Cuba.
- The Biden administration, focused on its agenda of radical transformation of America at home, is failing to deter an array of interrelated and rising threats abroad, including Russia.