GAVEL GAMUT By Jim Redwine

Why did Russia invade Ukraine on February 24, 2022? It appears wrong, unnecessary and self-destructive. Why did Russia invade Georgia in 2008 and 2014 and why does it occupy 20% of Georgia now? Why did Russia invade and annex Crimea in 2014? Why is Russia currently attempting to take over the Donetsk and Luhansk regions that are a part of Ukraine?

Russia is losing thousands of its soldiers, spending many billions, probably trillions, of its rubles, incurring harsh economic sanctions, affecting the world’s grain supply and causing catastrophic harm to Russia’s international relations. Why would it act in a way that appears to be so irrational?

Why is Vladimir Putin, President of Russia, and virtually a dictator in Russia’s autocratic political system, so fixated on bringing the one-time members of the pre-1991 Soviet Union back into a unified Russia? There are many important distinctions between the Russia of today and the United States of 1861 as well as between Abraham Lincoln and Putin. But, as it often is, it might be instructive to look to history to help us understand our contemporary situation.

When it comes to contrasting Lincoln and Putin we look to Putin’s ruthlessness versus Lincoln’s generosity of spirit as exemplified in his Second Inaugural Address as the American Civil War was coming to an end:

“…[W]ith malice toward none.

with charity for all …”

March 04, 1865

And although Lincoln was magnanimous while Putin is vindictive, they both had a vision of an undivided country. With Lincoln the preservation of the Union was the paramount issue. Putin sees the reconstituted Soviet Union the same way. Lincoln had war brought to him by the South’s firing on Fort Sumpter on April 12, 1861. Putin has been the aggressor against Ukraine, Georgia, Crimea, Donetsk, and Luhansk.

While Putin rails against the Nazis he claims are enslaving former Russian citizens as an excuse to invade, Lincoln was helping to bring actual slavery to an end. In other words, we must not attempt to equate Lincoln and Putin or Civil War America with today’s Russia. Such a false narrative would not only be wrong, it would not help us understand the political reality between Russia and its neighbors. On the other hand, an analogy comparing and contrasting Lincoln’s passionate drive to preserve the Union might help us understand and, therefore, better combat Putin’s passion to reunite the Soviet Union. It might also help us prepare for any possible further military expansion by Russia against other countries in the region.

We see Putin as an aggressor but he may have deluded himself into a self-image as a liberator and uniter. Perhaps we should more objectively study Putin’s motivations. As the great Chinese military philosopher Sun Tzu (c. 544–496 BC) instructed: the supreme art of war is to know yourself and your enemy. If we better understand Putin, we might better either help defeat him or even have him change his general goal of hegemony over his previous countrymen who now wish to remain free and independent of Russia’s control.

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