An analysis on the Ukraine-Russia war, by a philosopher
Normally I'd be skeptical, but it's actually a pretty good analysis by Hans-Georg Moeller.
Philosopher Hans-Georg Moeller recently put out an analysis of the Ukraine-Russia conflict on his YouTube channel.
Normally I wouldn’t look to a philosopher to do a breakdown of geopolitical issues. But this one was fascinating, so I’m sharing it here:
I’ll also note that I’m a huge fan of Moeller’s other content, as he has some really refreshing takes on our modern age with an emphasis on digital technology and social identity.
In this breakdown, Moeller talks about how over the past few decades, the West and Russia have become locked into a dangerous game of good guys vs bad guy. His analysis also relies pretty heavily on a heavily-watched presentation by John Mearsheimer on the Ukraine crisis dating back to 2015—and a lot of what Mearsheimer talks about in this presentation is very prescient.
I won’t go into too much detail here (watch the video instead!), but Moeller makes the point that Russia has been made into a pariah (outcast) state by Western liberal democratic countries (ie. the EU and NATO nations). Russia has been framed as this evil entity that’s bent on the destruction of democratic societies and the perpetuation of a corrupt dictatorship under Putin.
Moeller talks about how, over time, this pressure exerted on Russia—this framing of Russia as the bad guy—has become a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy. One way to create a pariah is to single them out and point fingers at them: call them an outcast, and an outcast is what they’ll become.
And this is, to Moeller, effectively what the West has done. We’ve painted Russia as the bad guy, and over time they’ve drifted further and further into that role. Like a method actor becoming overly obsessed with the character they’re meant to play. But what other options did Russia have?
According to Moeller, the West put a lot of effort into building up this evil profile for Putin and Russia. Every time they did something bad, it only reinforced this idea that Russia is a bad actor.
What this has effectively done now is back Putin into a corner. Ukraine has become the front line of the West-Russia divide. And the Ukrainian people are now suffering because of it.
The West has spent the last decade (or at least since the 2014 Ukraine crisis) promoting liberal democratic values in Ukraine and even providing them with a potential on-ramp to EU and NATO membership. The result is that Ukraine, a state which traditionally maintained close economic and political ties with Russia, has now drifted away and become more and more ‘Westernized’.
This Westernization has exerted a lot of pressure on Putin and on Russia: they’re simultaneously losing a long-time ally and an important buffer zone against Western political ideology.
Maybe this was the strategy of Western nations all along: turn Ukraine into an ally and a member of the Western establishment and, through a rise in liberal democratic sentiment in Ukraine, this will undermine and influence Russia’s oligarchical political system.
But Putin and Russia weren’t blind to this plan. It was obvious. They probably felt threatened by this perceived encroachment.
And now, there’s been this gigantic overreaction by Putin. And in many ways, this overreaction has played right into the hands of the West: Russia has become more of a pariah than ever before.
The West has essentially won this covert ideological battle. Russia played its hand, and it was a bad hand.
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Maybe there’s an allegory here in the game of Poker. Nuclear poker…
Putin’s chips have been steadily diminishing as a result of this unfair game being played (ie. imagine a poker table where everyone is covertly cooperating to take you down). Nearing the end of the game, he gets dealt a bad hand of cards. He knows he’s down and has minimal chance of winning. He decides to go against the expectations of the other players and go all in: play his hand, knowing its a bad one, but hoping for luck to be on his side. And it turns out he may have just lost it all, costing him everything.
The problem is that multiple people at this allegorical poker table have grenades. Putin, knowing he’s lost his hand, still has one option: he can pull the pin and blow the whole table up. This is the nuclear option that’s always available to him.
This presents a huge problem. Is Putin reckless enough to use nuclear weapons? I don’t think so. But I also didn’t anticipate an actual invasion of Ukraine (I thought it was just posturing), so what do I know!?
In his analysis of the Ukraine situation circa 2015 when warning about an escalation (as we now have), he said the following:
"The only circumstance, really, under which states use nuclear weapons is when they're desperate. When they think their survival is at stake."
In my opinion, this statement doesn’t match up historically. Nuclear weapons haven't been used against another nation for nearly 77 years. The U.S. bombing of Japan was the first and last time they were used. The U.S. wasn't desperate, and their survival wasn't at stake. They just wanted to bring about a quicker end to the war. It also seems like more Japanese civilians were killed by conventional bombing by the U.S. than were killed by the two atomic bombs—which is an interesting anecdote to add the conversation.
Nukes may have frightened Japan into surrender, yet they didn't surrender from more devastating conventional bombing that happened prior?
But in today’s context, we have no idea what might happen. We have no prior examples of nuclear weapons being used defensively or by a state that’s been “backed into a corner.”
I hope Putin loves his country enough that he wouldn’t want to see it destroyed in a nuclear war. I hope he respects the poker table enough not to blow it up, even if it was an unfair game from the start.
The threats of nuclear war have already done their job: frightened other nations into not directly intervening in Ukraine. In modern times, it seems the only purpose of possessing nuclear weapons (and expressing the willingness to use them) is to deter and invoke fear. Both of these goals have been accomplished. The grenade has been primed.
I just hope nobody is dumb enough to call him on his bluff. The threats only work if we treat them as real possibilities. If we stop believing in those threats, then Putin might just be reckless enough (as recent history shows) to prove us wrong.