I predicted Ukraine in 2016. Here’s what we all need to do now.
In 2016 I wrote an essay about how humans never learn from history. In it I predicted that Brexit and Trump would lead to Putin invading Latvia and triggering a world war. In effect, I was predicting today’s invasion of Ukraine. I said this because both Brexit and Trump stood for breaking down the alliances that have prevented conflict since the last world war. Brexit has weakened the EU, and Trump weakened NATO. It is no coincidence that Putin is invading Ukraine now, and that he so actively supported both Brexit and Trump.
The point of my essay was that someone voting for Brexit, or for Trump, was unlikely to have understood how this could lead to Putin invading Ukraine. Small events ripple out into huge outcomes, and humans have a habit of making small decisions that eventually lead to huge consequences.
Thinking back, Ukraine makes more sense for Putin than the imagined scenario I played out in Latvia simply because there are no NATO troops there, so he is less likely to trigger the world war that can spin out from attacking a country with strong military alliances.
World War One started because of alliances. An attack on one became an attack on another, which rapidly dragged different countries into taking one side or another, until everyone was at war. We can only hope that Putin will avoid doing that now. A direct attack on a NATO country would leave our leaders having to decide whether to attack a nuclear superpower, or to allow a bully to run around the playground punching the other children. It will be a hard call.
What I wrote about in 2016 was simply that if we, in the West, vote for populists who break down our alliances, we empower those whom the alliances have been keeping in check. Most obviously, geographically, that is Putin. To that extent, Putin hasn’t changed. He has always been a reckless gangster, left behind by progress and isolated within a tiny network of elderly men who still think in terms the rest of us left behind decades ago.
In that sense, we are to blame. We have used the freedoms our grandparents fought and died for…