God, I want a smoke!
In Paris everyone was smoking. Short order cooks smoke while they prepare croque monsieur and talk aggressively to their comrades.
Alcohol loses its edge when there is no presence of nicotine, and damnit, I need nicotine!
How am I supposed to concentrate on geopolitical events without alcohol? How can I have alcohol without nicotine. This whole f#@$ing thing is so god damn uncivilized.
The bartender at Habanas is looking at me again. Why is she looking at me that way? What does she know? Why is an early 30-something-year-old blonde Asian so interested in a bald 50-something-year-old man? This is creepy from both sides.
I have to concentrate. The fate of the world rests on my shoulders. Damnit… she is looking at me again.
“Would you like another?”, she says without a single trace of flirtation in her voice.
I glance down at my old fashioned and see that it is empty. Which one am I on? This isn’t my first one… is it my third? Damnit, I need a cigarette. Do they have the same stupid anti-smoking laws in Cuba?
“Yeah… and let me have a couple of empanadas… it is critical that I have empanadas.”
Now to think… what to do about Vlad?
As most of you remember, I have been befuddled as to the casus belli for Russia, more specifically, Vlad the Putin, as it relates to Ukraine. This whole thing, at least on a primary level, just doesn’t make a lot of sense. Ukraine is important to Russia just as Tampico, Mexico is important to the United States: close, corrupt, marginally valuable, and easily bought. Why then spend the time, treasure, and blood to conquer what could just as easily be acquired through mortgage?
There has to be something more.
Yeah… that is a thing I suppose. The Chinese want Taiwan, of course. (Again, “why” remains an eternal question. Taiwan is like trying to seduce a German woman… which is complicated and success can be detrimental to one’s health.) Yet, nationalists are enthralled with jewels, and China is definitely a country of nationalists with hidden knives as eager to slit the throats of their leaders as their enemies. People like that are wildly interesting and unpredictable. This makes them complex… we have been told that complexity is an admirable trait. I’m not sure that is entirely true.
So China walks a fine line with Russia, cheering them on from the sidelines, nodding with agreement at Vlad’s pronouncements, realizing he is making the same argument they will use for invading the island of Formosa as he makes for marching into Ukraine. They want to be the hegemon of Asia (if not beyond) and they see Russia as a multi-polar partner and the hegemon of Europe.
But they also did that whole Belt and Road gig with Ukraine. In fact, they have about 30 billion dollars invested in the ever shrinking country. Has Vlad the Putin promised to make them whole and throw them a little extra walking around cash? Perhaps.
Joe the Biden has embraced his 30% popularity and decided to go full Jesuit. He has brought strongly worded statements and “targeted sanctions” to a gun fight. Sanctions that are quickly negated by Chinese “investments” in Russia.
As the blonde Asian bartender winks at me giving me my newest glass of poison, I go back to my original question… why? What is the end game? Where is the value?
The only thing I can think of is something the Cadet told me during our last FaceTime call…
She mentioned there is a general ambivalence in Latvia (where she is currently deployed doing her semester abroad from West Point). The Latvians she talks to are watching the events unfold in Ukraine, but are not particularly concerned. “Ukraine is not NATO….we are NATO!” They proudly proclaim. “Russia would not dare attack us! An attack on us is an attack on all NATO allies!”
Sigh…were these people not paying attention to our withdrawal in Afghanistan? Reliance on NATO is like betting that your Nigerian cab driver is going to get you to Murtala Muhammed International Airport on time with both kidneys still in your body.
This might be the Vlad’s big gambit. NATO is a problem for him. Well… sort of. It’s a framework with him as the opposition, so ridding himself of that would be, as the Russians are fond of saying, “convenient”.
Maybe once Ukraine is absorbed (or while the digestion process is underway), a reclamation of the Baltic States takes place, essentially under the same theory as Ukraine.
With weak American Leadership… (scratch that)… with non-existent American leadership, Germany and France, looking to maintain energy contracts with Russia, decide that protecting Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia is, frankly, not worth the effort. Besides… they are ethnically Russian, aren’t they? Of course they are! Why are we getting ourselves involved in “internal” political squabbles? Who let them into the NATO club anyway?
So, the help never comes.
The PIGS (Portugal, Italy, and Greece), who are not fond of paying for anything, decide to repudiate their bill to NATO. If a mutual defense alliance doesn’t offer guaranteed mutual defense, then why pony up money that could be better served lining the pockets of corrupt domestic politicians? NATO then begins the inevitable collapse.
Maybe this is the real motivation behind Vlad’s actions.
God, I really do need a cigarette.