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The Union State of Russia and Belarus: Searching for a Development Vector

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A Russia–Belarus European Union

The full implementation of the Treaty on the Creation of a Union State of Russia and Belarus signed on December 8, 1999, envisaged the creation of a unique post-Soviet association that would combine the features of an international organization and a state. The idea was for the Union State to resemble the European Union, and even surpass it somewhat in terms of the degree of integration.

The Union State was expected to feature not only a single economic space, but also a common constitution that would form the basis for the creation and functioning of supranational governing bodies such as a union government, parliament and a unified judiciary system. The decisions of these bodies would have the force of law and would be binding for the member nations.

The joint policy was to be implemented with the help of a common supranational budget, which would be created through a joint tax system with a single pricing mechanism, common currency, etc. As a result, a significant share of government functions was to be transferred from the national to the supranational level, with neither Russia nor Belarus losing their sovereignty in the process. They would also retain their subjectivity, including in international relations.

Despite all of this, only half of these plans have been implemented over the past 20 years at best. Political integration stalled immediately after the creation of the supranational Council of Ministers, Parliamentary Assembly and Standing Committee, which was expected to be the permanent governing body of the Union State. These international structures are unable to exercise broad powers because a common constitution has yet to be drawn up.

Economic integration has progressed far more successfully. Even without the single currency, pricing and taxation systems that were originally envisaged, the economies of Russia and Belarus have “merged” in the form of over 2500 joint ventures, 4 billion USD of Russian investments into Belarus, more than 600 million USD of Belarusian investments into Russia, preferential oil and gas supplies and approximately USD 34 billion in mutual trade in 2019.

The most considerable progress has been achieved in security and the social sphere. Russia and Belarus jointly defend the Union State airspace, have set up a common regional air defence system and operate a regional armed force. More than 30 defence cooperation agreements are currently in force between the two countries.

Even more has been done to ensure the equal rights of Russian and Belarusian citizens when applying for jobs, enrolling at universities and crossing the shared border. However, there is still room for improvement in this area. This is most evident in education. For example, Belarusian high school students can write the Russian Unified State Exam and thus gain entry to a Russian university on a full scholarship. However, Russian universities do not accept Belarusian state examination results in their admission criteria. This is because the national curriculums in the two countries differ. Granted, harmonizing humanitarian subjects such as history and literature would prove to be problematic, but doing the same for the exact sciences is entirely possible.

Twenty years on, and we can say that citizens and enterprises in the Union State still do not enjoy complete equality. However, even with the current level of integration, the two countries receive image-boosting, economic and military dividends from their association. Therefore, the main issue in the further development of the Union State is whether these dividends can make up for the costs the sides incur in the process of maintaining the union.

An Audit of Integration Processes

The incompleteness of the Union State’s governing institutions and legal framework means that the contradictions that periodically emerge in Russia–Belarus relations cannot be resolved entirely through the Union State mechanisms and guided by Union State logic. As a result, controversial issues either remain unsettled or get resolved through political compromises at the level of the leaders of the two countries. As the global economic and political situation worsened, especially in the 2010s, the number of problematic areas in the dialogue between Russia and Belarus started to grow. The Ukrainian crisis and the confrontation between Russia and the West proved to be serious catalysts for such contradictions.

These problems have been compounded by the issue of Minsk’s support for Moscow’s foreign policy, the worsening conditions for economic integration, the increasing lack of trust between the Russian and Belarusian elites, the intensified efforts of the West to hinder the development of the Union State, and so on. The growing number of problems that could not be solved through Union State mechanisms came to a head in late 2018, when the presidents of the two countries effectively decided to revise the process of the Union State’s further growth. Special governmental working groups were set up in both countries for this purpose. The result of this work was 31 roadmaps for the further development of the Union State, which will be submitted to the two presidents in late 2019.

Russia views the roadmaps as an instrument for resolving the most challenging problems in bilateral relations, including compensating Belarus for the Russian tax manoeuvre in the oil and gas sector. Minsk believes that the Belarusian budget stands to lose approximately USD 300 million annually as a result. However, the unification of tax legislation envisaged by the roadmaps will allow these costs to be offset and prevent similar problems in the future.

Belarus, for its part, believes that further development of the Union State is only possible after the existing problems have been resolved. In the case of the tax manoeuvre, Belarus thinks it should have received compensation before any roadmaps were signed.

These approaches to the roadmaps are indicative of more fundamental differences between the two countries when it comes to the issue of integration. In the coming years, these differences will play a crucial part in determining the further vector of development of the Union State.

Through Targeted Agreements

The Belarusian approach to the roadmaps demonstrates that, as far as Minsk is concerned, integration processes should be based first of all on economic considerations: minimizing costs, expanding export opportunities, attracting new loans, etc. All other measures to deepen integration are merely derivatives of Belarus’s economic needs. This logic implies that political superstructures and humanitarian projects as part of the Union State may well be abandoned entirely if they do not contribute to the development of economic cooperation.

Russia prefers a more comprehensive approach. It is not especially interested in the economic aspect of relations, if only for the fact that Russia’s share in Belarus’ foreign trade is approximately 50 per cent, while Belarus’ share in Russia’s foreign trade amounts to about 5 per cent. What is more, the Ukraine situation demonstrates that economic preferences alone do not automatically imply humanitarian and political proximity, nor do they provide protection against the gradual gestation of anti-Russian sentiment within society and the elite. This is why Moscow, in its Union State talks with Minsk, insists on a more systemic approach that would provide safeguards against disintegration in different aspects of cooperation.

The fact that the two countries failed to sign the complete package of documents on the further development of the Union State on December 8, 2019, indicates the fairly deep contradictions in their approaches to further integration, meaning that we are unlikely to see any breakthroughs in this area in the coming years. The Union State will undoubtedly continue to evolve, but not along the lines of the EU model, with its powerful bureaucratic superstructure and massive delegation of government functions to the supranational level.

As the current uncertainty in international relations continues, Russia and Belarus will most likely further economic cooperation above all, with safeguards in the form of legislative harmonization in individual aspects of cooperation. This path of targeted agreements on the most pressing aspects of interaction has more in common with the erstwhile Council for Mutual Economic Assistance than it does with the European Union. Without powerful supranational institutions, the Union State will go the way of horizontal integration, with the gradual harmonization of new aspects of life in Russia and Belarus.

In the long run, however, this approach may lead to the functions of the Union State being delegated to the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) and the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). In fact, the EAEU is already seizing the initiative from the Union State not only in terms of economic issues (such as forming a uniform industrial policy, resolving disputes related to the free movement of goods and abolishing roaming charges), but also with regard to a number of humanitarian issues (the introduction of a uniform EAEU entry visa, a standard pension system for the five EAEU member states and so on). In addition, the EAEU has become a subject of international law, signing preferential trade agreements with Iran, Vietnam, China, Singapore and Serbia. Moldova has joined the EAEU as an observer state, and the governments of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan are considering the possibility of joining. If the Eurasian Economic Commission is successful in having its powers and controlling functions expanded, then the demand for the Union State formats may shrink further.

Eventually, the relevance of the Union State could be increased by returning its original ambitions to create a unique international organization in the post-Soviet that would encompass the political, economic, humanitarian and military components. However, a tactical approach will likely prevail amidst chronic uncertainty in international relations. This means that the Union State will continue to exist in more or less the same form as today, with breakthroughs in individual areas of socioeconomic cooperation and periodic crises that the presidents of the two countries will have to resolve on a case-by-case basis.

From our partner RIAC

Editor-in-Chief, RuBaltic.Ru, Director General, Information and Analytical Centre on Social and Political Processes in the Post-Soviet Space, Moscow State University

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The U.S. doesn’t want to protect Ukraine; it wants to defeat Russia

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If the U.S. (and its allies) wanted to protect Ukraine, then it (they) would not be doing all they can to prolong Russia’s invasion and destruction of Ukraine. They would not be flooding Ukraine with their weapons to kill Russians. They would not be demanding that Ukraine fight on, which destroys Ukraine even more. But this is what they are doing. 

Is this because they are so stupid that they don’t know that they are destroying Ukraine? Or is it instead because they don’t care about their destroying Ukraine but do care about their defeating Russia?

The U.S. (and its allies) are doing everything they can to defeat Russia. They are also doing everything they can to increase the sales, and profits, and stock-market valuations, of Lockheed Martin and the other corporations whose only or main customers are the U.S. Government and its allied governments which buy their weapons — buy them increasingly now in order for those weapons to be used even more now by their vassal-nations such as Ukraine, and Israel, and Saudi Arabia, against the nations that they also are wanting to defeat, such as Palestine and Yemen, and other countries that the U.S. and its allied governments care nothing about except that they want them to be defeated — to be punished for NOT caving to the U.S. Government and its allied governments, and which nations they condemn while calling themselves ‘the free world’.

How evil is this? Let’s see:

On May 19th, U.S. President Joe Biden signed into law an additional $40.1 billion to Ukraine in order to continue its war against Russia, which Biden and his boss Barack Obama, and Obama’s organizer of the 2014 U.S. coup in Ukraine Victoria Nuland had begun by means of that coup, which had transformed Ukraine from being a peaceful neutralist country on Russia’s border, into becoming promptly a rabidly anti-Russian and pro-U.S. country on Russia’s border that’s in a civil war and that is a prospective future basing-area for U.S. nuclear missiles there (like a 1962 Cuban-Missile-Crisis in reverse) to hit Moscow only a 7-minute flight-time away. It would be a checkmate in the U.S. regime’s long war to add Russia to its conquered prizes, if the plan would succeed.

To place that $40.1B additional expenditure into perspective, the comedian Jimmy Dore headlined on May 19th “ALL DEMOCRATS Vote [in Senate] To Send $40 Billion To Ukraine”, and Dore said “That’s more than three times what the entire U.S. music industry makes in a year,” and he called it “a wealth-transfer to the military-industrial complex.” He said that if this $40.1B addition to the current year’s expenditure on Ukraine’s war were instead to be spent domestically, “that would stop homelessness.” 

I checked those allegations. Here’s what I found:  

The entire U.S. music-recording industry is $11B retail sales per year. (That’s sales; profits would be some percentage of sales, but even if it were ALL of sales, then this $40.1B would be “more than three times” it.)

Annual cost to eliminate homeless in U.S.=$30B.

He wasn’t exaggerating; he was under-stating. This is how evil the U.S. Government actually is.

Mr. Dore also noted that all Democratic Party U.S. Senators and members of the U.S. House of Representatives voted for this additional $40.1B expenditure, and that the overwhelming majority of the Republican ones also did. Are Republicans now even more neoconservative than Democrats are? Not really: it is always the case that a neoconservative bill in the U.S. Congress gets virtually 100% support from the Party in power, and gets an overwhelming majority of the votes of the Party that doesn’t happen to be in power at the time. All the while, America’s ‘defense’-contractors increase their sales and profits and stock-market valuations. So, Dore expressed anger that in the Senate, even Bernie Sanders voted for this. And Glenn Greenwald presented a scathing condemnation of the hypocritical ‘progressive’ Democrat Octavio Ocasio-Cortez’s “complete reversal of everything that she pretended to believe in for years”. He attributed this contradiction of herself to “In 2016, when Hillary Clinton lost to Donald Trump, … instead of accepting responsibility because they themselves had nominated one of the most destructive and outright hated political candidates in modern American history in Hillary Clinton, … they decided to blame everybody else, … especially Putin and Russia. … And so Democrats have been feeding on this anti-Russia antipathy and hatred” ever since. And, so, “there is no viable anti-war [political] left in the United States.”

Though I enormously respect Glenn Greenwald, and everything that he said is true, I think that his analyses suffer from shallowness due to his apparent ignorance of history — his excessive focus on the obvious and recent news, outside of the broader context that’s required in order for there to be a deeper analysis, a scientific understanding, which identifies actual historical causes behind current events. This is not to deny that what Greenwald says is true, but to assert that it lacks the wisdom that ONLY an authentic historical analysis can bring to current events and to public-policy issues. Only by understanding causes can one move forward into the future (if there will be a future) so as to control future events in a constructive way, that will benefit future generations, instead of for future events to continue to degenerate even further into a hell which comes closer with every passing day.

I documented at Greanville Post, on May 19th, “The Secret U.S.-&-UK War Against Europe”, showing that BOTH American political Parties are controlled, at the very top, by a cabal of very closely connected individuals who are basically servants of the billionaire controlling owners of firms (such as Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, and General Dynamics), which corporations’ major or even ONLY customers are the U.S. Government and its allied governments, but especially these controlling individuals are an organization that was started in 1877 by the British aristocrat Cecil Rhodes, and which finally took control over the U.S. Government itself on 25 July 1945, just three months after U.S. President FDR died and became replaced by the naive and manipulable Harry S. Truman, who set America’s Government irrevocably onto its control by “the military-industrial complex” and in league with Britain’s aristocracy, to ultimately control the entire world and obviate altogether the United Nations that FDR had started planning and hoping for back in 1941. (The Republican Dwight Eisenhower was also a key part of the Rhodesists’ American operation.)

This organization by the Rhodesists is the source of the evilness that pervades today’s U.S. Government, and it cannot be overcome unless and until it first becomes widely known-about, and then condemned so that all of today’s U.S. Government becomes replaced, because the corruptness of America’s (and UK’s) Government has, by now, become virtually 100%. And if this assertion doesn’t seem credible, then check the links in this report, which explains (and those links document) the actual source for the 19 May 2022 law to pour an additional $40.1B into Ukraine, which after the 2014 coup is a U.S. vassal-nation that’s self-destructing in order to serve as today’s main battleground (and U.S.-proxy) in the American (and British) aristocracy’s long war to conquer not only Russia, but also Europe, and the entire world.

First, the entire world (especially in Europe) has to recognize and publicly acknowledge the unacceptability of America’s Government, so as to condemn it and to order all of its troops out, ASAP. It is a hostile power, to the publics, everywhere — even in places where its stooges and hangers-on-billionaires are in political control (like a cancer) (such as in Europe). America’s Government is NO DEMOCRACY. No empire can be, and America’s most assuredly IS NOT a democracy. (Nor is UK’s.) It is a hostile occupying alien force, even inside the United States. (And this is widely suspected to be true, even by the American people.) In fact: the U.S. is the world’s #1 police-state. It is a cancer, everywhere that it occupies, and needs to be rooted-out everywhere. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln, and the majority of America’s Founders, would have viewed this nation, today’s U.S. Government, to be their enemy, because it violates everything that they believed in, and hoped for, about America’s future, and the world’s. Everything.

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NYT Presents Strong Case for a War-Crimes Prosecution Against Russia

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Dozens of bodies near the cemetery in Bucha. Photo By Rodrigo Abd. Image source: war.ukraine.ua

Whereas numerous instances of U.S. war-crimes have been documented in some news-reports well enough to be successfully prosecuted in international war-crimes tribunals (but the U.N.-authorized agency the International Criminal Court cannot prosecute U.S. war-crimes but only war-crimes by third-world countries’ leaders), such well-evidenced instances by Russia are far rarer. However, on May 19th the New York Times presented precisely such an instance, under the headline “New Evidence Shows How Russian Soldiers Executed Men in Bucha”. Local security-cameras there recorded the frog-marching to their death of nine Ukrainian men who weren’t in Ukraine’s official armed forces but who had become armed to fight against the invading Russian soldiers in Bucha, and who were then executed by specifically identified Russian soldiers and their corpses abandoned on the ground as Russia’s soldiers left Bucha. Locals also told the NYT’s reporters what they had seen, and it fit with what those security cameras showed. The NYT reported:

The execution of the captured fighters and the homeowner in Bucha “is the kind of incident that could become a strong case for war crimes prosecution,” said Stephen Rapp, former United States ambassador-at-large for war crimes issues. The captives, having been disarmed and taken into custody by the Russians, were “outside of combat,” under the laws of war, Mr. Rapp said. According to the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross, such laws mean that prisoners must be treated humanely and protected from mistreatment in all circumstances.

In addition to the soldiers who shot the men, their commanders could be charged if they knew about the killings and failed to act to prevent or punish the conduct, Mr. Rapp said.  

However, Ellen Ioanes at Vox posted on April 9th an excellent article, “Here’s what the ICC can actually do about Putin’s war crimes”, and documented in detail that the consequence would be nothing except bad publicity which the U.S. and its allies could exploit, but even that would entail “a lot of hypocrisy” because:

one of the most vocal nations suggesting Putin be tried at the Hague — the United States — isn’t itself a party to the ICC. The US government voted against the ICC during the Rome Conference in 1998; former President Bill Clinton signed on to the Rome Statute in 2000 but never submitted it to Congress for ratification. Former President George W. Bush in 2002 notified then-UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan that the US would not ratify the Rome Statute and didn’t have to abide by any of its provisions.

The U.S. Government, and many of its allies (such as the post-U.S.-coup-in-Ukraine’s government ever since 2014) perpetrate war-crimes (such as this) far more heinous than what the NYT reports there, but that doesn’t excuse what these Russian soldiers did. None of these war-crimes will be able to be successfully prosecuted.  

Here is the reason why the ICC, and the U.N. itself, turned out to be this way (Ioanes’s article provided only a superficial account regarding that matter — “A permanent international court is still relatively new,” etc. — but the actual cause, or reason, goes all the way back to answering how and why that has turned out to be the case, and this requires history going back to the 1940s):

Though the United Nations had first been conceived by U.S. President FDR in 1941 only shortly before the U.S. itself famously entered WW II on “a date which will live in infamy”; and though FDR developed, prior to his death on 12 April 1945, a remarkably detailed plan for what the U.N. would be and for what its Charter would need to include, his immediate successor, Harry S. Truman, while he was at the Potsdam Conference with Churchill and Stalin in July 1945, became persuaded by his hero, General Dwight David Eisenhower, that if the U.S. would not conquer the Soviet Union, then the Soviet Union would conquer the United States; and, so, on 25 July 1945, Truman made the decision (which soon thereafter became irrevocable) to set the U.S. Government onto the path of world-domination, to conquering the Soviet Union, and he even decided to demand of Stalin, regarding eastern European countries that the Soviet Union had freed from Hitler’s grip, that “I told Stalin until we had free access to those countries and our nationals had their property rights restored, so far as we were concerned ther’d never be recognition. He seems to like it when I hit him with a hammer.” Stalin was shocked at this turn of events, because he knew, in general terms, what FDR had been intending for the U.N. to be — a democratic federation of all nations which would terminate all imperialisms and be restricted to addressing only international relations (thereby excluding anything that pertains to intranational matters, such as Truman insisted upon) — and he still hoped, even for a few months afterwards, that Truman wouldn’t turn out to be a 180-degree reversal of what FDR had been, but thereafter Stalin gave up altogether on any such hope, and knew that the U.S. was now at war against the Soviet Union. Tragically, Truman, instead of FDR, oversaw, and basically dominated, the creation of the U.N., and so it turned out to be a toothless tiger, nothing like what FDR had intended, which would have been the international democracy of nations and possessed of a practical monopoly of geostrategic weaponry and international armed force, and also including, at the earliest practicable date, an international criminal court, which would try not only the international crimes by the former Axis powers, but the international crimes by the former Allied powers. The U.N. would have been fundamentally different than it is.

And, so, though there do exist international war-crimes cases regarding which the solidly documented historical record is sufficiently complete for an unprejudiced and trustworthy conviction to be possible, it cannot happen unless and until all of the bad history since 12 April 1945 (FDR’s death) has become effectively condemned, repudiated, and reversed, by enough of the world’s nations, so that the needed type of world government (international laws and their enforcement and juridical handling), replacing all of the existing imperialisms, becomes finally instituted (which was FDR’s obsession from 1941 on). However, even today — after all of these many decades of bad history — no one is even so much as talking about this.

One of the experts that Ioanes quoted said “‘It really shows a lot of hypocrisy,’ and encourages the perception of ‘justice for thee, not for me’.” And that (“for thee, not for me”) is, really, a pervasive and total impossibility of justice, for anyone. In its place can only be hypocrisy. Perhaps that’s what “liberalism” (which is certainly NOT progressivism) comes down to: hypocritical conservatism. Rule by the aristocracy (the super-rich), everywhere.

What is bad in the past must be publicly acknowledged (no longer lied about), if ever we are to go forward to an authentically better world. If that fails to happen, the world will only continue to get even worse.

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Putin’s House of Cards: What will happen to Russia’s satellites if his regime falls?

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The war in Ukraine has astonished even knowledgeable observers, impressed by Ukraine’s valor and ingenuity and by the Russian military’s ineptitude. While the war’s outcome remains unknown, many are beginning to speculate what Putin’s failure to achieve his objectives in Ukraine might mean for the empire he has tried to reconstitute. 

Alexei Navalny has even suggested that a defeat for Moscow would result in the break up of the Russian Federation. But what would Putin’s humiliation on the world stage mean for those countries beyond Russia’s borders that he has dominated? What would it mean for leaders who derive legitimacy not from popular support, but from Vladimir Putin’s brutal patronage?

Bashar Al-Assad’s regime might be the first to fall. Assad recently traveled to the United Arab Emirates in search of new allies. Prior to that trip, he hadn’t left Syria in eleven years except for brief excursions to Tehran or Moscow, his main benefactors. Were Putin to fall, Assad could find himself as isolated internationally as North Korea and possibly the victim of a coup by his elite. Assad currently controls only 60% of Syrian territory. With the coming shortage of bread as a result of severely reduced grain exports from Russia and Ukraine, another Arab Spring could erupt.

The Lukashenko regime in Belarus cannot exist without the economic and power support from Moscow. The Belarusian democratic revolution of 2020 was suppressed by the Russian Federation. Lukashenko possesses few independent resources to defend his unpopular regime. His participation in the Ukrainian war has left him completely dependent on the Kremlin, effectively relinquishing his country’s sovereignty. The moment a political crisis arises in Moscow, the turmoil will immediately spread to Belarus. Currently detained opposition leaders, including Viktar Babaryka and Sergei Tikhonovskiy, whose wife Svetlana probably won the  2020 Presidential election, would likely come to power.

The government of Kassym-Jomart Tokayev sacrificed Kazakhstan’s national sovereignty by inviting Russian troops to help suppress protests there last January, alienating the Kazakh-speaking majority, and the Almaty elite, who largely shape public opinion, and were already outraged by Tokayev’s orders to shoot peaceful protesters. The continuing turmoil has helped produce and is exacerbated by the sharp decline of Kazakhstan’s economy, Central Asia’s largest, a downturn compounded by sanctions imposed on the Russian Federation, and by Kazakhstan’s membership in the Eurasian Economic Union.

The future leader of Kazakhstan will be someone who has the support of the Kazakh-speaking majority, and isn’t tainted by last January’s bloodshed. Imangali Tasmagambetov has the best shot. Immensely popular, and not a Kremlin puppet, he might be the only candidate who could consolidate support throughout Kazakh society, and enact independent and pragmatic policies.

Putin’s downfall could encourage the advancement of universal principles of democracy and human rights in all of Russia’s former satellite countries, and the restoration of their territorial integrity. With the support of Turkey, Azerbaijan will take complete possession of Karabakh while ensuring its historic autonomy within Azerbaijan. Georgia would be in a strong position to recover South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

In Moldova, despite Acting Russian Commander Rustam Minnikaev’s recent claim that Moscow’s forces could extend control along the Black Sea coast to Transnistria, should the Russian army falter, Transnistria could be unified with Chisinău, paving the way for Moldova’s European integration. 

At the same time, Russia’s defeat in Ukraine could propagate new geopolitical risks. Ambitious Turkey will increase its regional influence, and countries bordering Taliban ruled Afghanistan like Tajikistan and Uzbekistan will be subjected to greater Islamist challenges.

China will take advantage of the situation. With Russia’s decline, Beijing’s Belt Road Initiative could supplant the Eurasian Economic Union in Central Asia. The influence of the democratic West will be limited unless the West provides greater economic assistance to countries in the region to encourage their commitment in word and deed to democratic principles.

Although Putin often compares himself to Czar Alexander III, his real historical parallel is Nicholas II, who believed a small victorious war with underestimated Japan would elevate his second rank power to great power status in the courts of Europe. The result was defeat on the world stage, and more violence and chaos in Russia. Putin made the same mistake with Ukraine, and the consequences will threaten the survivability of his regime and his cherished goal of restoring a great Russian empire.

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