The War in Ukraine Highlights Two Empires in Decline

Bumper sticker graphic by John Walker. Public Domain.

Nearly three months into the war Ukraine, events upended quite a few assumptions by quite a few people. I count myself in that crowd.

I didn’t expect Vladimir Putin to order the invasion.

When he did, I expected it to go the way of the 2008 Russo-Georgian War – a quick rout of Ukrainian forces, a stern “don’t ever do that again” warning from Putin (as with Ukraine, the Georgia dust-up had to do with attempts to re-conquer seceded, pro-Russian areas), and a quick return to International Relations Business as Usual.

When it didn’t go that way, I at least expected Russian forces to wrap up the obvious objectives – securing the seceded Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republicans and a land corridor along the Azov coast connecting them to Crimea – in time for Putin to give a “mission accomplished” speech on World War Two Victory Day (May 9), wag a “don’t do that again” finger at Kyiv, and stand down.

Instead, Putin seems to have made a poor decision and bought himself a quagmire. Some blame his inability to get the job done on a US/NATO “proxy war,” and they’re not wrong, but it’s not like there’s anything new or novel in the idea. The US and Russia have been playing the “proxy war” game since the beginning of the Cold War, each assisting the other’s opponents in an attempt to expand their own empire and limit the expansion of the other.

In the 1990s, John Walker’s “bumper sticker” graphic popped up on the Internet: A Soviet flag with an “X” through it, next to an American flag without the “X.” The slogan:

“Evil Empires – One Down, One to Go …”

Both empires are, indeed, going, and the US “proxy” war in Ukraine, even if it brings about a Russian defeat, will likely hasten the US empire’s decline as onlooking regimes realign – not necessarily “with Russia,” but toward a studied neutrality.

Some take Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine as evidence that he aspires to reconstitute the Soviet empire. But while he’s described that empire’s disintegration as a “geopolitical catastrophe,” his record suggests he’s less interested in reconstituting it than in preserving some semblance of its remnant state’s “sphere of influence.”

If either “proxy war” party is guilty of “reconstitution” (even “expansion”) hubris, it’s the United States. Instead of taking “yes” for an answer, reaping a peace dividend, and moving to a peace economy when the Soviet empire collapsed, the US reveled in its role as self-perceived “only remaining superpower” and went right back to fighting – and losing – wars of aggression and conquest. Only when it brought prospective NATO expansion to Russia’s border with Ukraine did Putin rouse himself to real belligerence.

While the timelines are very different, both the Soviet and US imperial bankruptcies resemble the process of Mike’s in Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises: “Gradually and then suddenly.”

For the US, “suddenly” now knocks at the door. The alternative being nuclear holocaust, might I suggest that we consider beating our swords into plowshares?

Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism. He lives and works in north central Florida. This article is reprinted with permission from William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism.

36 thoughts on “The War in Ukraine Highlights Two Empires in Decline”

  1. May 12, 2022 Rand Paul Blocks $40B Ukraine Bill, Explains Why

    In remarks on the Senate floor Thursday, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) spoke about why he was blocking a $40 billion Ukraine bill.

    1. It’s good Paul is blocking it and he and all the other antiwar Senators and Members of Congress would knock Biden and the other hawks off the block.
      I thought the Squad, Ayanna Presley, Ro Khanna, Pramila Jaypal and certain other Democrats and Bernie Sanders would be against funding Zelensky’s war machine. I expected them to be different from Chris Murphy and other hawkish Democrats.

      1. A wise and brilliant man once said, “Hope in reality is the worst of all evils because it prolongs the torments of man.” Friedrich Nietzsche

      2. Presumably Presley, Khanna, Jayapal, Sanders, et al. already got the money for their districts’ / states’ “defense” contractors that Paul is holding out for and will probably have by the time the Senate returns on Monday.

      3. Presumably Presley, Khanna, Jayapal, Sanders, et al. already got the money for their districts’ / states’ “defense” contractors that Paul is holding out for and will probably have by the time the Senate returns on Monday.

  2. Russia will, of course, free Russian Donbass including Mariupol, keep Russian Crimea no matter what the Zelensky regime says, and create a landbridge between them. The Ukrainian coup regime miscalculated when they thought they could increase bombings of Donbass to more than 1,000 a day in February.

    And then it will be Iraq, Afghanistan and now Ukraine that neocon policy has failed in. And the attempt to invade Russian South Ossetia with a Georgian army quadrupled in size, but no one remembers that.

    I hope this ends as soon as possible, and definitely before the midterms. Biden was right in sticking to Trump’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, but he – and officers in Kabul – bungled it. If the Ukraine war is over, he’s bungled that too. They’ll say. Ironically, as he has held fast against some of the more insane suggestions from media-hungry congress critters. But Biden deserves it, considering the many other things he’s done. 8 percent inflation, great. Spills over into economic troubles in Western Europe, thanks a lot.

    1. The Afghan war lasted ten years; Ukraine was meant to be another Soviet Afghan war for Russia.

      Putin seems to have decided to take the bear trap and make NATO eat it.

      Its now only a question of who runs out of economic steam first, the West or Russia. This could last another couple of years, even three.

        1. Lack of soldiers, lack of equipment, lack of economic strength.

          The failed river crossing at Bilohorivka has Western observers convinced the Russian expeditionary force has lost up to a third of its original strength now.

          The hype is the Russians were caught off guard by new longer-ranged NATO artillery donated to Ukraine.

          1. I’ve seen some claims that the fight at Bilohorivka wasn’t nearly as one-sided as the western MSM are pretending.

            But Ukrainian ability to even substantially oppose a Russian movement only 20 miles or so from the center of the city of Luhansk doesn’t seem to support the notion that the Russians are close to securing LPR.

          2. The Ukrainians were prepared by NATO. NATO advisors likely remain on the ground with key AFU units, with full satellite contact to war coordination centres located outside of Ukraine.

            Russia stereotypically relies upon ‘cauldrons’ to defeat opponents. This works fine against an offense, when the enemy force is trying to take new ground and has no time to dig in deep.

            However, Ukraine forces in Donbass had seven years to dig in. Envelopment tactics can’t be relied upon.

            Donbass is hilly and full of ravines. Its not a problem for NATO experts to read the terrain and figure out the natural pathways to reinforce/sabotage against piecemeal envelopments and encirclements of the contact line.

          3. Looks to me like the Russians were caught crossing the bridge and most of their equipment is now in the river.

            The consensus of most observers, is that this was a Russian defeat.

            According to Ukrainian information, the battle took place over five days, with five attempts made to force the crossing. The pictures appear to be a snapshot of the aftermath.

            If you look closely at the lower bank of the main picture, you can see a few Russian tanks with characteristic ‘Jack in the box’ damage, turrets thrown clear after a penetration set off the munitions stored within.


            Further supporting evidence, is the lack of any substantial Russian progress in the immediate area.

            Had the Russian crossing been successful, the Ukrainians would have been forced to noticeably cede ground.

  3. An Anglosphere perspective. Given the Anglosphere media is in full propaganda (distortion) mode, it is easily forgiven. Mr Kopp thinks South Ossetia-Georgian/Russia War. Why not the two Chechen wars when Russia was intially losing (but Chechens fight for the Kremlin now).? Antiwar’s Walt Z. says it well “U.S does the supplying, Ukraine does the dying”. Time for a negotiated settlement to minimize the suffering, & take escalation out. We have seen this ugly abomination before. The only winner is the undertaker. I remind left progressives how their leaders are squandering limited resources on this.

      1. No. The propagandists & state sponcered media give the illusion of their path only. Demands are a selling point*. They may want to be
        ArchDuke Ferdinand (the trigger for World War One), but eventually they will find out their limits. The Ukraine administration has bluster and throw everything against the wall & see what sticks. Any closely tuned eye can see the degeneration. EU expansion is unwieldy. The Anglosphere viewer sees what its owners wants them to see**. Europe needs to wory about those six million refugees become eight, nine, or eleven.We stick with the Walt Z. prescription and agitate for sanity.
        *Scott (Horton/Antiwar radio) interviews David Stockman about the war in Ukraine…they turn to the economy. Stockman recounts the trouble the American economy was in before the pandemic and war in Eastern Europe…making it worse… end by discussing the painful path ahead.
        **but that lasts for a limited time.

        1. Limits? The Globalist elites by and large have drank their own illusory Kool-aid of having limitless power.

          At best the sound observations of insightful critics are tolerated for identifying challenges to be solved, not limits to be adhered to.

  4. Coming to think about it, the US hasn’t won a war since WWII. And that war was really won by the Soviet Union. Western allies specialized in killing civilians.

    How on Earth do US decision-makers think this is the odd war out they can win against all the odds?

    It boggles the mind.

    1. No, no, no! Reagan said that the Grenada expedition showed that we were on top of our game again! Vietnam erased from memory. G-d Bless America! We “won” in Panama too! Victory!

      1. George Warmonger Bush said “Mission Accomplished” and Tony Blair Witch Project agreed with him but they both insisted on letting the war go on forever. They had no exit strategy only an entrance strategy. Their goals were to be co-colonizers of Iraq and to commit genocide there except to the people becoming subservient to them.

        1. Soleimani almost resolved the problem for Iraqis (and Americans…)

          Just before his death the Iraqis seemed on the verge of doing an ‘Occupy’ of the US embassy.

          Then the Iranian regime foolishly sent him to his death in a diplomatic meeting that all but screamed ‘trap’, bypassing Soleimani’s usual security precautions.

          Just my ‘opinion’. However, the event smacks of Persian intrigue not unlike what befell the ancient General Surena.

          Supreme Leader Kahmenei wanted the US in Iraq to proxy war and prop up his rule.

      2. Kuwait war was a clean win. Objectives were limited and strictly defined ( Iraq out of Kuwait) and were quickly achieved.

        1. Unfortunately, it also whetted warmonger appetite for war.

          The ease of the Kuwait win cost President Bush I re-election because the neocons wanted to go all the way to Baghdad, as a stepping stone to going all the way to Tehran.

          He ended up looking weak, not prudent, in the MSM.

          1. Sure, they win one and keep going till they lose big, see Napoleon, Hitler, USA to Afghanistan and now Putin

          2. Russia hasn’t won even one.

            Syria is a draw, and Russia had nothing to do with NATO defeat in Afghanistan.

    2. The US did NOT win WWII. Russia won WWII. The US only entered the war (boots on the ground) in late Dec 1941 early Jan 1942 when the Russians were annihilating the German armed forces during Operation Barbarossa.

  5. Good article, though the US Empire seems to keep rolling along no matter what.

    Putin’s seeming errors in the Ukraine war… were they really errors, or an invitation for the US and NATO to further hang themselves?

    Just when you think Russia’s remembering how to fight, they get themselves wasted.

    Putin knows best how well Russian forces can fight.

  6. For Russia, this is a matter of national security; for the US, it’s a matter of redistribution of wealth (to the nobs from the plebs). We have already bankrupted quite a few generations of Americans with our Middle Eastern adventures, and throwing money into the Ukraine hole is only making it worse- except this time we have the added chance of nuclear war with Russia thrown into the mix. The US/NATO war machine keeps inching its collective finger toward Russia, all the while claiming innocently, “I’m not touching you!”

  7. Good article. Deceptive headline. It seems to imply that Russia is now an Empire. If it was, it left the scene, peaceably dismantling the USSR and the Warsaw Pact – with the understanding that NATO would not expand. (It is a historical tragedy that Gorbachev did not get that in treaty form – although it is likely the US would have shredded the paper at the earliest possible date.)
    So now there is only one Empire left the most dangerous history has witnessed since it seeks to dominate the entire planet and it has thousands of nuclear weapons.)

    1. It’s still at least a vestige of an empire. It exercises less, and less direct, control over fewer satrapies than it did at the height of the Cold War, and that control continues to decline.

      Putin seems to be resigned to working with what he still has for the most part, rather than trying to reconstitute the former regime’s glory days. It seems to have taken quite a lot to get him to go to war, but his “red line” was any more NATO expansion into Russia’s “near abroad.”

      The US, on the other hand, keeps doubling down even though it has likewise been in imperial decline for decades. It seems to have taken the collapse of the Soviet Union / Warsaw Pact as a victory for its own ambitions and an opportunity to pursue those ambitions, rather than as a cautionary tale.

  8. I stopped reading where the author started repeating the lies of Russia invading Georgia.

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