This was a new world order in which Russia was increasingly diminished, searching for relevance and — with a smaller gross domestic product than even tiny Italy — increasingly relying on its military strength and nuclear arsenal to be heard. Using that military, Putin has spent the last few decades trying to re-prime the engine of the Cold War. He has aggressively increased military spending, updated Russia’s nuclear weaponry, sent thousands of Russian troops and mercenaries into Middle Eastern and African countries, occupied 20 percent of Georgia, and fomented separatist revolts in two provinces in Ukraine. In this context, the idea that Putin would invade its peaceful – but crucially non-aligned neighbor — seems much less far-fetched. Other former Soviet republics outside of the NATO alliance will certainly take notice, but the move signals dangerous times ahead for the whole Western world. Putin wants a Cold War do-over — in fact, he’s insisting on it. And he’s capable of wrecking the board if everyone doesn’t sit down and play.
KIT R. ROANE is a senior producer at Retro Report. This article first appeared in Retro Report’s free weekly education newsletter. Subscribe and receive lessons from history in your mailbox. Follow us on Twitter @RetroReport.