As you might have heard, there’s a war not between Russia and Ukraine but rather a war in Ukraine. This is odd, not in the sense that wars are never fought on the territory of one but not the other. Think of America in WWII. It’s odd because the lion’s share of the ordnance levelling Ukrainian cities is being launched from the complete safety of Russian territory. Complete safety? How so? Because the Ukrainians are declining to respond in kind. Not only are they not targeting Russian cities. They’re not even targeting the launch sites of the missiles raining down on them.
What explains these constraints? Twofold. First, the ordnance being provided by the West is conditional on it not being lobbed onto Russian territory. Why? Because, by the twisted logic governing this conflict, that would make this a war against Russia, rather than merely a defence of Ukraine. And second, from the very outset of the conflict as far back as 2014, the Ukrainians themselves insisted it be a war in defence of Ukraine rather than a war against Russia.
Not unlike Al Qaeda and 9/11, with or without the ordnance imports from the West, the Ukrainians are fully capable of bringing the war home to the Russians. Belgorod could be made the mirror image of Mariupol. So what’s holding them back? Do they worry that if they respond in kind the West will abandon them?
But the West has abandoned them. Obama drew the line in the sand in Syria and promptly stepped back from it. Biden has done the same. And Article Five notwithstanding, he’ll step back yet again when Putin invades Lithuania to ensure access to Kaliningrad.
Such are the consequences of nuclear weapons. Since nothing can be worth nuclear war, nothing can constrain the aggression of a nuclear power. Nothing save the brinkmanship of another nuclear power. That was the role of the United States during the Cold War. Not so since. I blame Ronald Reagan. He should never have told Mr. Gorbachev, “Tear down that wall!”