Masha Gessen writes: Much like the American gun lobby today, the Soviet rulers claimed that the only way to stay safe was to be armed to the teeth. Mr. Putin has now taken this logic a step further by claiming that the only way to maintain peace is to actually wage war.
“Peace, a life at peace, has always been and continues to be an ideal for humanity,” said Mr. Putin [speaking recently at the Valdai Discussion Club, a gathering of international political scientists and commentators]. “But peace as a state of world politics has never been stable.” In other words, peace is an anomaly, a fragile state of equilibrium that, Mr. Putin explained, is exceedingly difficult to sustain. The advent of nuclear arms helped, he said, by introducing the specter of mutually assured destruction, and for a while — from the 1950s through the 1980s — “world leaders acted responsibly, weighing all circumstances and possible consequences.” He thus cast the Cold War as the golden era of world peace.
Since the Cold War ended, the world has descended into disarray. “In the last quarter-century, the threshold for applying force has clearly been lowered,” said Mr. Putin. “Immunity against war, acquired as a result of two world wars literally on a psychological, subconscious level, has been weakened.” The United States is the primary culprit because it has thrown the world out of equilibrium by asserting its dominance. Mr. Putin, who has cited different examples of this American behavior in the past, this time focused on the missile defense system and its recent tests in Europe.
Mr. Putin’s speech then took a short detour as he ranted about the United States not playing well with others, including France and Japan. Then he got on the topic of Syria. He repeated what he has said before: Russian military intervention there is legitimate because Russia is protecting Syria’s sole legal government, that of Bashar al-Assad, and the United States can choose to accept this and negotiate with Russia, or find itself fighting a war against it.
It is important to listen to what Mr. Putin is saying. His narrative of resisting U.S. world domination is familiar, but the key point he made at his meeting concerns his views on war — and peace. The strategic purpose of his wars is war itself. This is true in Ukraine, where territory was a mere pretext, and this is true of Syria, where protecting Mr. Assad and fighting ISIS are pretexts too. Both conflicts are wars with no end in sight because, in Mr. Putin’s view, only at war can Russia feel at peace. [Continue reading…]