Earlier this year, I enthusiastically reviewed (in Swedish) Daniel Ellsberg's important book The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner. Based on unique inside information, Ellsberg makes such an overwhelming case that the nuclear balance of terror between the United States and the USSR/Russia has been (and still is) even more dangerous than most of us have realized, and that disarmament is the only sensible way forward, that one begins to wonder how anyone could possibly oppose disarmament. Well, for the sake of balance (no pun intended!), let me offer the best counterpoint I've seen, given to the world through the actions of Vladimir Putin, and reluctantly put into words by Timothy Snyder in his most recent book The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America as follows:
- [The Russian invasion of Crimea in 2014] violates basic consensual principles of international law, the United Nations Charter, every treaty signed between independent Ukraine and independent Russia, as well as a number of assurances that Russia has offered Ukraine about the protection of its frontiers. One of these was the Budapest Memorandum of 1994, in which the Russian Federation (along with the United Kingdom and the United States) had guaranteed Ukranian borders when Ukraine agreed to give up all nuclear weapons. In what was perhaps the greatest act of nuclear disarmament in history, Ukraine handed over some 1,300 intercontinental ballistic missiles. By invading a country that had engaged in complete nuclear disarmament, Russia offered the world the lesson that nuclear arms should be pursued. [p 142]
The Road to Unfreedom is Snyder's follow-up to his marvelous little book On Tyranny from 2017. His new book is very different but just as important. It offers a detailed history of Vladimir Putin's misdeeds in the 2010's, his multifaceted fight against democracy at home, in Europe and in the United States, his war on Ukraine, and his successful effort to install in the White House a person who for all practical purposes can be regarded as his puppet.1 Solid sources are provided throughout, and the events are skillfully integrated into a highly readable narrative, including the necessary background on Stalin's, Brezhnev's and Gorbachev's Soviet Union and on Yeltsin's Russia, as well as on the fascist thinkers (mainly Ivan Ilyin) whom Putin has chosen as his and his country's pet philosophers to support his aggressive geopolitical views. The Road to Unfreedom is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand current events in Russia and in the West.
Let me add something to my Swedish compatriots who will go to the election polls on Sunday (September 9). One of the main lessons from Snyder's book is that Putin aspires to destabilize Europe and ultimately to dissolve the European Union, so as to make it easier for him to attain dominance over Eurasia. There is no end to the cynical things he will do to this end, including bombing Syria to fuel the refugee crisis. His other main tool to the same end is to support right-wing and EU-skeptical populist parties across Europe, for instance using his troll factories. If you vote for Sverigedemokraterna on Sunday, you play right into Putin's hands.
1) This is convincingly argued in the book despite it being published several months prior to Putin's and Trump's July 2018 press conference in Helsinki, where Trump's puppet status was made overwhelmingly clear to anyone who cared to look.